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Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams Part 4: MS Excel Tips

Continuing our discussion on how to improve upon our employee skillset, let’s review Microsoft Excel.  This is quite possibly the most important tool in the Microsoft line of products, because it allows anyone with a basic understanding of some Excel tools to analyze, manipulate and comprehend data. Because knowledge is power, Excel can empower your workforce to be more analytical, and thus more capable of making decisions on actionable data.

The following example data will be used throughout this blog.


 

PROPER
You’ll notice that all the names are in lower case. To change this without hand keying everything over again is simple―by using the Excel function called PROPER.

Step 1: Add a new column called, ‘First Name Proper’ or anything that makes sense to you
 
Step 2: Place your cursor in the cell where you want your corrected name to go; in this case, C2. Then, using the function field in Excel, enter the function as follows: =PROPER(A2) 

This tells Excel to look at cell A2 and to capitalize the first letter of each word and use lower case for the rest of each word.  Had the cell contained multiple words, each word would have the first letter capitalized.
 
Repeat the steps above to add a column for the Last Name field.

Crosshairs
Now that you’ve created the formula for one cell, you can apply the same formula to other cells using the crosshairs feature in Excel.  To do this, hover your cursor in the lower left corner of the cell that contains the formula you want to extend to other cells.  You will note that the white cross becomes a black crosshairs. When you see the crosshairs, double click and the formula will be applied to every cell below it until it comes to a blank field in the column on the left of it.
 
Pasting Values
Now that you’ve made the data look better, you may be bothered by the fact that you have two columns of first names and two columns of last names. This too can be easily fixed, though not as simply as an inexperienced Excel user may think.

Because the fields you’ve used the PROPER function on are tied directly to the cells they’re referenced to (i.e., Column C cells are referencing data in Column A cells), any change you make to column A will immediately affect the data in column C.  So if you delete the column in lower case, your PROPER column will “error out,” because it will no longer have anything to reference.

You can fix this by pasting values.  By highlighting Column C and copying (using Ctrl + C or using the contextual right click menu), you can then highlight Column A and right click.  From there, you’ll click on the clipboard with the numbers on it.  This is the PASTE VALUES function in Excel.  This literally instructs Excel, regardless of the formula of the copied cell, to paste the value itself and not the formula that created it. 
 
You can repeat this for the Last Name column, leaving you with duplicate First Name and Last Name columns.
 
From there, you can now delete Columns C & D, leaving only two columns.
 
In our next blog, we’ll show how to easily turn these two columns into one, and how to use the VLOOKUP function to drill into data.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Analyzing Your Risks for Business Success

We manage risk in our personal lives from issuing car insurance to dental cleaning, in hopes to reduce the consequences of potential unwelcome events. No one wants car accidents or dental problems, right?

Yet what we often fail to do is identify and manage risk in a business environment, similarly as we recognize risk in our private lives. More often than not, companies do not investigate everything that could impact their business, but rather, look only at the obvious areas of risk. They need to engage in proper risk management.

Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing, and controlling risks that arise from operational factors, and making decisions that balance the risk costs with the benefits.

You might be asking, why manage risk at all? What would happen if we choose to cliff dive in an area that no other swimmers have dove into before, and all it took was a minute of our time to prevent a catastrophe? All businesses encounter circumstances that can be identified and mitigated appropriately to gain positive risk benefits and reduce the impact of negative risks.

Typically, risk is considered to have a negative connotation, but in reality, risk is what provides a business the ability to succeed and we often fail to differentiate between good risks versus a bad risk. For example, if a company decides to increase its product lines to service a different customer demographic, this risk could potentially increase revenue while growing the overall business. If this risk is not taken, the company may remain at the same growth level, or have negative growth due to lack of innovation and customer retention.

That said, there are two types of risk:

  • Good risks are called opportunities
  • Bad risks are called threats

The goal of risk management is to really minimize potential negative risks, while maximizing potential positive risks.  While some companies go without a defined strategy, hoping everything will “work out for the best,” the reality is that businesses must be proactive in assessing risk versus the “hopeful” alternative.

Risk management helps establish the framework in which the project team will identify and develop strategies to mitigate or avoid the risks associated with activities such as a new project, ERP implementation, or upgrade/migration venture.

The risk management process should include the following tasks:

  • Risk management planning
    • Define the risk management plan
  • Risk identification
    • Risk register
    • Risk statement
    • Categorizing notations of risk
  • Risk assessment
    • Rating scale
  • Risk responses planning
  • Risk monitoring & control

We can take control by consistently evaluating and adjusting our processes to achieve the greatest impact on the success of the business. The process of implementing effective risk management will result in a more predictable and profitable business. To learn about analyzing risks for your businesses, visit our consulting services page to download the whitepaper:

http://www.epicor.com/Services/Pages/Consulting.aspx.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams Part 3: MS Word Tips

In our previous blogs, we started discussing the need to focus on upgrading employees through skills enhancements, and shared some cool tips and tricks that can be applied in Microsoft Outlook to provide added efficiency and organization.  Now let’s expand upon that and discuss another application from Microsoft Office, Word.

Quite often, I see front line employees using the mouse and keyboard to accomplish tasks within Word, which is sometimes a necessity. However, many individuals heavily rely on using the mouse when the keyboard is faster (and thus more efficient). Here are the basic keyboard shortcuts that individuals can use to save time and eliminate the need to drag a mouse all over the screen:

Ctrl + N: This creates a new Word document
Ctrl + O: Open an existing Word document
Ctrl + C: Copies highlighted text or objects in the document
Ctrl + X: Cuts text or objects from the document
Ctrl + V: Pastes text or objects from the document
Ctrl + Z: Undo the last action performed
Ctrl + Y: Redo the last action performed
Ctrl + P: Print the current document
Ctrl + A: Select all text and objects in a document

All of the above keyboard shortcut keys have contextual drop-down menu equivalents, which is where the inefficiency lies. It requires the physical movement of a mouse to drop down menus, oftentimes in multiple, in order to find the command the user wants. If you were to conduct a time study, you’ll likely find it takes 10-25 percent longer to use the mouse with contextual menus than to use the keyboard keystrokes.

Here are some other quick keystrokes and mouse combos your users may have never heard of, but could provide significant value:

The Triple Click:  By triple clicking anywhere in a paragraph, a user can highlight the entire paragraph. No more clicking and dragging down, hoping to not race past the paragraph; only having to start the process all over again.

Alt & Drag:  This allows the user to create rectangular boxes across text, and then apply the formatting window to change only the area they’ve selected.

Hide the Ribbon:  Users can hide the ribbon at the top of the screen by double clicking the Ribbon Name. This creates more visual real estate, and therefore less movement to read a document.

Ctrl + Click: Allows users to select an entire sentence.

Format Painter: Use the paint brush icon to apply a particular format to another area of the document.

Ctrl + Shift + <&>:  Users can increase or decrease their text font size by selecting the text to change; to increase, use “Ctrl + Shift + >” and to decrease, use “Ctrl + Shift + <”.

Create an Excel Table: Users can quickly create an Excel table within a Word document by typing a plus sign (+), then pressing the Tab key. Repeat this for however many cells you want in the table and then press “Enter.”  The table will magically appear.

Ctrl + H: This opens the traditional Find and Replace window.

Ctrl + Tab: Allows users to jump between the document and the Find menu.

F7: Initiates a Spell Check.

Shift + Arrow Keys: Allows the user to quickly select entire rows of text. This works very well with the Copy, Cut and Paste keys.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of shortcuts, but you should find a majority of them will provide lots of value and efficiency to you and your fellow users.  Stay tuned for the next blog, where we’ll be covering great tips and tricks using Microsoft Excel.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams – Part 2: MS Outlook Tips

In the previous blog, I stated that business professionals seeking efficiency, additional sales opportunities and better ways to do business, can upgrade not just systems or processes, but also employees, through skills enhancements.

This type of upgrade starts by observing your best employee(s) and writing down the attributes that you believe make them your “A” players.  What is it that they do that you believe gives them a “leg up” over their peer group?

The next step is to then sit down with each employee and ask them what they believe are their greatest skills.  Be sure to ask them what they do to ensure success in their daily workflow.  Is it their attention to detail? Perhaps it’s the way they start off each day, with a few moments spent prioritizing their tasks before getting knee-deep in the day-to-day activities of the business.

Next, consider how these “cream of the crop” employees might improve themselves, as well (because there’s no such thing as an employee who can’t).  How do they interact with the organization’s business system (e.g., ERP system)? How efficiently are they using the other applications on their computer or virtual terminal? 

Because a majority of the front-line employees in almost any distribution or manufacturing organization use Microsoft Outlook, let’s take a look at some best-in-class features in Outlook that can increase an employee’s efficiency exponentially:

Organizing folders
How does the employee manage their e-mail inbox?  If while looking over an employee’s shoulder, you see only the Inbox and the Trash folder, you’ve got A LOT of work ahead of you!  Employees should be using folders broken down into a tree structure that makes sense to not only them, but to others, as well (i.e., if they win the lotto and take off to Tahiti, the company needs to be able to access the e-mails quickly and find what they need).

Quick search tools (e.g., Ctrl + Shift + F)
Ask an employee to find that one e-mail you know they received six months ago or more, and you’re likely to see them spend 30 minutes plus tracking it down by searching frantically in an unorganized fashion. Outlook has a very powerful search tool that you can access by hitting Ctrl + Shift + F. The search query window that pops up lets the employee search by any number of fields, date periods, folders and subfolders, and the results come back very quickly. 

Managing tasks
Did you know you can click and drag an e-mail onto the Task icon in Outlook and it will create a task for you automatically? There’s no need for yellow Post-Its when it can all be kept within the confines of the computer screen.  Outlook tasks allow employees to create deadlines for themselves, set reminders, assign tasks to others, and even track progress of a project to completion.

Creating calendar events
Employees who understand not only how to create a calendar invitation, but also how to confirm availability of other employees they want to invite to an event, will save time avoiding countless back-and-forth e-mails.  There are a number of fields and functionalities available throughout the Outlook application, such as color-coding, which can be used as prioritization tools. It only takes a minute to establish the meaning of each color.

Creating rules
Quite possibly the most controversial functionality in Outlook is the ability to create rules. I’ve witnessed many a horror story on how a critical e-mail was missed because an employee had inadvertently created an e-mail rule to forward any e-mail with “X” in the subject line straight to a special folder for later review.

Creating rules can be of great benefit with the right education on the impact and power of this tool.  I’ve seen individuals create multiple Inbox folders, each with its own purpose.  For example, they’ll have their main Inbox, an “Inbox – CC” for any e-mail where they are in the CC field of the e-mail, “Inbox – Outside” for any e-mail where the sender is from outside the company, and “Inbox – Invites” where any Outlook calendar invitation goes. 

The argument can be made that you are simply increasing the opportunity for errors, but I believe there are ways to leverage this functionality to increase efficiencies.  By setting these various folders as Favorites, and retraining ourselves to manage our e-mails from the Favorites drop-down, you can prioritize and focus on the folders that mean the most to you (which will vary by company, for obvious reasons).

Stay tuned for more posts on skill sets (Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.) to improve your team.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams

As business professionals, no matter the industry, when we are looking for efficiency, additional sales opportunities and better ways to do business, we usually look to upgrade our system (e.g., implementation of ERP, CRM, etc.), or our processes (though process improvement), but very rarely do we ever look to upgrade our employees, through skills enhancements.

The process of upgrading our employees requires a two-pronged approach: Upgrading through skill set improvement, and the much less comfortable upgrading through replacement (which will not be covered here). Both upgrade paths can yield significant improvements in our company’s efficiencies, allowing for higher output and having a direct impact on profitability.

Why Upgrade?
In the case of industrial distributors, for decades, they have been family owned and family run.  While many of these companies still exist and are profitable, there are even more distributors that have grown, or have been acquired, and are part of a much larger global organization. But the type of employee and the skill level of these employees have yet to be looked at and improved.  Let’s explore a real-world example of how a simple skill improvement can drastically improve efficiency.

Most distributors have large customers with special annual contract pricing.  Each year, those prices need to be tweaked, usually as a result of the distributor’s suppliers raising their prices.  Inside Sales or Customer Service is quite often tasked with the spreadsheet side of the project.  This involves:

  1. A spreadsheet of the previous year’s sales
  2. A spreadsheet of all the supplier brands the customer buys from the distributor and the expected price increase (expressed as a percentage)
  3. Merging the two spreadsheets and formatting the result before sending it to the individual responsible for setting the new price (oftentimes the outside sales rep)

The average, less skilled employee will take up to two weeks to complete the project in their spare time, in between phone calls, quoting customers, processing orders and working with their backlog.  TWO WEEKS! The process usually goes something like this:

  • CRS goes line by line on the sales history report, sorts by part#, removes duplicates, adds the supplier name if it’s not already on the report.
  • CRS goes back through each line, finds the supplier for each item and compares it to the other spreadsheet.
  • CRS populates the sales history report with the percentage from the price increase spreadsheet.
  • Repeat the process for the two hundred or so lines on the sales history report.

Now let’s take a similarly skilled employee performing the same job functions, but add one skill the other does not have, Microsoft® Excel.  We can take what would otherwise be a two-week project and have it completed in less than two hours (giving us plenty of time to spend on cleaning up the formatting).

By investing in the right training and enhancing our employees’ skill sets, we will save in both man hours and payroll.  Now imagine the savings that can be gained with a workforce that knows two, three, or 10 specialty tools. 

How to Upgrade?
First, we create a profile of our ideal employee. What skills would this employee have? What core competencies would they possess? A good place to start would be to look at our best performers and add to the list from there.

A starter list of skills that will help our employees perform could include Excel, Word, Outlook (e-mail) and Internet Explorer. We’ll be covering these skill sets in more detail in future posts. Stay tuned on the many different ways you can improve your team.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Going Beyond Technology: ERP Process Review and Graphical Modeling
There are a number of ways to help ensure a timely, on-budget enterprise resource planning (ERP) system implementation. One key area revolves around properly planning and documenting business processes that will be used with the new solution.
 
Graphical modeling is often perceived as a narrowly focused tool for documenting the flow of isolated processes. However, by using a more flexible tool to expand that view to create a hierarchical, top-down map of the entire system, organizations get the full picture of how the processes can be made most effective.

Starting from the high-level perspective, it is necessary to drill down further to get to heart of detailing what really should occur for each business process. This “stage” level consists of the major steps taken to complete the process. This is also where responsibility should be assigned to particular roles within the organization that are affected by each particular stage.

The goal is to utilize these models throughout the implementation and beyond. The ERP implementation team can use the completed models to assist during the implementation with role-based activities and training, and to serve as a repository for important implementation documentation. After go-live, the models should be updated as the business grows and changes to help ensure the organization is getting the best return on its ERP investment.

To learn more about the benefits of conducting a process review, and the use of a graphical model as the repository of project documentation and “guiding light” of project continuity, download the white paper Effectively Documenting Business Processes for a Successful ERP Implementation here.
 
Posted by Beth Karlin and John Steele, Senior/Principal Consultants, Epicor Professional Services
Epicor Optimization Services for Prophet 21 and Eclipse ERP

Epicor Prophet 21 and Eclipse customers can take advantage of post-implementation Optimization Services to improve the return on their ERP investment. By leveraging optimization around key business areas such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, production orders and secondary processing, distributors will typically enjoy more efficient processes and better system utilization.

Common challenges in these areas that can be addressed through optimization include:

Accounts Receivable

  • Profit margins are decreasing and cash flow is becoming an issue
  • Having more customers on credit hold than on approval

Accounts Payable

  • Managing multiple dates and check payments to vendors
  • Having inconsistent vendor terms

Production Orders

  • Using manual processes for allocating materials
  • Using too many steps to create a production order
  • Having difficulty tracking an order in the system

Secondary Processing

  • Set-ups are taking a long time
  • Having to do multiple set-ups for the same process

Epicor Optimization Services help distributors capitalize on Prophet 21 or Eclipse system efficiencies to benefit both employees and customers beyond the ERP go-live date. Sometimes these efficiencies may be achieved by leveraging new or updated system features that have not been used up to this point. A typical engagement involves working remotely with an Epicor Application Consultant for about 2-4 hours to review and refine processes.

For more information about Epicor Optimization Services, contact your Epicor Customer Account Manager or email cams@epicor.com for more information.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

Epicor University Provides Safety Products Distributor with Learning Support to Introduce New Technology and Business Workflows
Safety Supply Illinois (SSI) is a distributor of safety products ranging from earplugs to high-end safety equipment, including fall protection and confined space solutions. SSI converted to the Epicor Prophet 21 enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution in 2012.

According to SSI Owner/Chief Operating Officer Mary Porter, “The online learning classes from Epicor University were extremely helpful in introducing the new functional aspects of Prophet 21 to our employees. The online training schedule provided by Epicor’s Learning Management System (LMS) allowed me to create, schedule, and track user-specific training timelines.

“The LMS is wonderful for training new users on Prophet 21, and because it is organized by business function, I encourage our existing employees to listen to other classes and learn about all functional areas,” continues Porter. “We are slowly incorporating many of the Prophet 21 enhancements into our business practices with help from the Epicor Learning Center.”

The results speak for themselves. Porter observes, “In the last three years, we have tripled sales, in part because we converted to Prophet 21. In addition to increasing our overall customer base by about 20 percent, we are also attracting much larger customers such as utility companies. The Epicor technology and tools for learning and growing are all there; you just need to access them.” To read the full story of SSI’s success, go here.
 
Posted by Epicor Social Media Team
Getting the Most Out of Your Epicor Prophet 21 ERP Investment

Implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution is not a “once and done” activity.  It is vitally important to continue proper maintenance, reviews, and education for your company’s system and employees after go-live.

Whether you went live last week, last month, last year, or several years ago, there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of your system. Like many Epicor Prophet 21 users, you have probably spent a lot of time and effort getting ramped up. Now that you are fully up to speed on the system, it is important to keep the momentum going by developing a timeline for leveraging additional features and processes that will have the greatest impact on improving your business.

Immediate action items after go-live can include:

  • Gathering feedback from your management team on current system usage, challenges and desired improvements
  • Determining priorities for the next year
  • Developing a Business Continuity Plan to protect your data and put failover solutions in place
  • Reviewing the Epicor Learning Management System (LMS) for employees with incomplete courses

In the months following, you can:

  • Review Business Alerts to optimize productivity and profitability
  • Assign additional LMS courses that were not a priority during implementation
  • Take advantage of DynaChange to alter the appearance of screens to suit the needsof your employees and business processes, and create your own drilldowns from any field in the Prophet 21 system
  • Opt-in for e-mail alerts from the Epicor Customer Web Site
  • Develop a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy
  • Assign shortcut and efficiency training courses to all end users
  • Conduct a process review to prevent the inadvertentintroduction of bad habits
  • Create a Business Intelligence framework for your organization
  • Review new feature training courses

Epicor Business Consultants can provide you with additional recommendations, roadmaps and checkpoints to advance your business with Prophet 21.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

Epicor Prophet 21 Helps Medical Distributor Achieve World-Class Results
Since Mercedes Medical of Sarasota, Florida, first started using Epicor’s Prophet 21 software in 2004, their sales have almost doubled. Margins have increased by 15 percent, and A/R days outstanding have decreased by about 20 percent. In addition, sales per employee have increased by almost $100,000.

Every year, the company benchmarks against competitors in the healthcare industry, looking at everything from inventory, to gross profit margin, to financial performance. “We consistently perform at the top of the benchmarks, and I think our Prophet 21 system has a lot do to with it,” says Chief Operating Officer Andrew Wright.

Analyst firm Nucleus Research found that the Epicor Prophet 21 implementation enabled Mercedes Medical to improve visibility and efficiency, accelerate collections, reduce bad debt, and increase profits, for an estimated ROI of 605 percent and an average annual benefit of over $2 million.  To read the full story, including a detailed financial analysis by Nucleus Research, go here.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team
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