For contractors, pricing gets tricky. Mueller Inc. has a fix.

American steel building and metal roofing manufacturer Mueller Inc. wanted to speed up the pricing process. A new app did the trick.

In the course of a construction project, people rarely stick exactly to the initial plan.

“You have these iterations that go back and forth. People start thinking, ‘What if I put a window here and what if I put a lean-to on the side and what if I move the doors over here?’” said Mark Lack, the Strategy Analytics & Business Intelligence Manager at American steel building and metal roofing manufacturer Mueller Inc.

When people change their minds about design, they inevitably want to ask about the impact on price. At Mueller, and many other manufacturers in the industry, salespeople have traditionally been the single point of contact for those inquiries. Lengthy back-and-forths are common, which add lots of time to a project.

“Contractors have to send an email to a salesperson, who has to reconfigure that and then give a new price. It could take 24 hours before they get a return. If you do this three to four times, you’re talking about a week,” Lack said. “That obviously becomes a bandwidth issue when you have a salesperson that’s dealing with hundreds of customers a week.”

This summer, Mueller decided to find a way to streamline the process by enlisting IBM Services and employing the Garage Method—a way of working that enables organizations to unlock insights and business outcomes at unprecedented speed.

Enhance your operations

The process began when IBM designers met Mueller customers in the field. At their job sites, Lack said, the designers witnessed firsthand the delays that come with relying on a single salesperson for price quoting. After their research was complete, they came to Mueller leaders with a mockup of a solution—a mobile-friendly app that allows contractors to price orders on their own in real-time.

“We looked at it and said, ‘Okay, this looks great. Thank you.’ But then IBM said, ‘Well, hold on a second, we can help you stand this up,’” Lack said.

Working in an agile fashion over the course of seven weeks, Mueller and IBM developers made the app a reality. Today, some Mueller customers are already using it to submit orders and rework quotes in real-time. Now, Lack said, contractors can develop quotes for their customers, and then once they’re ready, come to Mueller with their exact needs.

“In seven weeks we rewrote the way that we have been doing business for 25 years,” he said. “We’ve had members in the organization saying, ‘We need to change our internal systems to match this because this makes more sense than what we’ve been doing all of this time.’”

Salespeople, Lack said, have always been crucial to Mueller’s success. By removing them from the rote work of crafting and re-crafting price quotes, he said, they can be freed up to do other critical customer-facing activities.

“Do salespeople add value by lugging numbers into a computer, or do they add value consulting on projects and determining solutions? Obviously, it’s the latter,” he said.

Today, Lack said, just 40 Mueller customers are testing the app in the American southwest. But as the project expands and rolls out to more customers, Lack said, the app will likely serve as a key differentiator for the company—providing just one more reason for contractors to keep coming back to Mueller.

“In the construction industry, people say time is money—and it is,” he said. “The more we can do to make our customers’ lives easier as they’re doing business with us, the better off we’re all going to be.”

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