Installed sales often is a convoluted process that requires managing each job through a combination of paperwork and multiple software programs that cannot share information. It's a world apart from managing a retail operation, and a number of software developers are now stepping up to meet the challenge with new programs designed specifically to manage the processes of installation operations.

Some dealers currently use POS systems to manage installed sales services, says Mike Butts, director of installation services for Winona, Minn.–based United Building Centers. “But they don't get enough information to make them really successful,” he says.

A leading installed sales trainer, Butts helped address the issue while working for the Michigan Lumber and Building Materials Association by developing Installed Advantage, a software program that fully integrates with Microsoft Office products, contains a relational database that tracks all pertinent customer information, and automatically produces proposals, change orders, and other documents.

And more help is on the way from software developers. Enterprise Computer Systems is currently testing an installed sales module that will integrate completely with its Windows-based ECS Pro POS system. Developed with guidance from Butts, Enterprise's new module (which should be available in general release next month) will focus on tracking the materials and costs associated with each job, and ensuring that materials used in an installed sales job are not tracked as regular inventory.

“It will give dealers the ability to track materials and labor (both internal and external) [and] assist in keeping track of billing, sales tax issues, overall installed sales process, and job status and progression,” says ECS Pro product manager John Carroll.

When an installed sales order is created in the module, an order is automatically created in the POS system, eliminating double entry of data. A planned phase-two enhancement will add scheduling functionality.

Activant Solutions (formerly known as CCITRIAD) has begun work on a set of tools for its Falcon and Eagle software to guide dealers in the deployment of an installed sales business. The company has already begun introducing a series of manufacturer data integration tools that allow users to import product price lists into Activant's software. “We are also planning to introduce a wide range of delivery tracking features throughout our software,” to help dealers in scheduling and managing deliveries, says Activant's marketing manager Neil Patil.

Activant's integrated modules will provide dealers with complete visibility into their program, Patil says, and allow them to track their installed sales business alongside their retail business. A beefed-up inventory management module offers more detailed customer trend reports and activity reporting.

In addition to utilizing the timesavings and organization that software tools can provide, it's important to remember that software is not the only key to a successful business, points out Roy Burleson, manager for Guardian Building Products' installed sales program development. Called Opportunity Plus ISP, Guardian's installed sales program includes both software and management support. As he sees it: “Your leadership and management skills, purchasing ability, and commitment will determine your success.”