If you're an established LBM dealer with a small but growing installed sales business, it's OK to start out managing sales leads the old-fashioned way: on paper. Later, advance to personal productivity tools, such as spreadsheets or contact management systems. But as leads convert to customers, you'll need sophisticated tools that allow information sharing and data analysis among various departments in your company.
It's vital to use automated ways to record sales data to measure the profitability of accounts, individual projects, and so on. With sales management software, you can look at sales by month, by quarter, and by year. You can produce automated comparisons of you current situation vs. earlier times to measure if your business is growing according to plan. Capturing this data will help you drive a profit-and-loss philosophy deep into your company.
As with any software, you will likely get flooded with data at first, but that's a necessary part of determining what you need to track aggressively and what information is less critical. Over time, you'll refine your use of technology to focus on the most actionable data your system can give you.
Once you have experience tracking automating sales, it could be time to look at a sales management package with features geared specifically to installed sales. Such packages will let you analyze profitability down to the level of individual materials–windows, doors, insulation, roofing–as well as how profitable a job is based on the crew of installers you assign to it.
At the "better" threshold, you'll want to have certain functions more deeply ingrained in sales. An integrated contact management system can help record customer information associated with a lead and ensure multiple sales reps aren't calling on the same account. You may be able to directly tie in customer information with the sales application; when a lead converts to a paying customer, much of the data is already in-house.
Some of the more sophisticated users of sales management technology will look to outsource or have a third party run and manage their software. It may not be the right path for larger operations, but third-party "hosting" can free a small business to stay tightly focused on its areas of expertise.
The most advanced strategy is to track sales as part of a larger automation system that manages the business from end to end. Such systems often take the form of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) program.
A dealer with an ERP system can automate lots of functions: recording information about prospects and leads; tracking communication with those leads; generating a quote after evaluating a job; electronically capturing related permits and insurance papers; inputting a signed order from the customer and converting a quote into an order; performing profitability analysis; setting up a billing and payment schedule; transferring billing information into an accounts receivable application; generating reminders to customers if their bills haven't been paid on time.
These systems carry the biggest price tag, but you're unlikely to put them on the radar unless your business is thriving.