Magazine Article | June 16, 2014

Deliver The Mobile Experience From Inception To Retirement

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By Jay McCall

This solutions provider’s year-over-year double-digit growth stems from its ability to remove customers’ IT burdens by providing comprehensive IT consulting, implementation, and management services.

We all know mobility is a hot topic that’s causing a major disruption across every vertical market — including retail. Research firm MarketsandMarkets estimates the BYOD (bring your own device) and enterprise mobility market is growing at 15 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) and will reach $181 billion by 2017. Additionally, the Pew Research Center says that 56 percent of all American adults are now smartphone users. With the mobile computing explosion comes a new wave of opportunities and challenges for retailers. On the one hand, brick-and-mortar retailers’ biggest threat is no longer the competition across the street; it’s Amazon. Amazon is also credited with the showrooming phenomenon, a practice whereby a consumer visits a store in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price. And the same technology that’s causing a serious threat to retailers’ bottom lines is being used to empower store associates and managers with real-time enterprise and product-relevant data as well as the ability to provide meaningful customer services (e.g., price markdowns, mobile checkouts, and payment processing) that improve the customer experience, which ultimately bolsters the bottom line. Tolt Solutions, a systems integrator and retail technology services provider formed out of Kyrus Solutions’ acquisition of Tolt Service Group, understands the mobility trend as well as the business challenges retailers face. Its skill selling, implementing, and servicing mobile (and other) solutions is a driving force behind its continued double-digit growth.

Why Wireless Point Solutions Miss The Mark
Aaron Hagler, VP of solutions strategy at Tolt Solutions, doesn’t mince words when he’s asked what differentiates Tolt Solutions from its competitors who are trying to capitalize on the same opportunities to sell mobile solutions to retailers. “We’ve been selling mobile solutions for 24 years, and we’ve learned over the years what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “We’ve learned that it’s best to deliver a comprehensive retail solutions offering from inception to system retirement — something few competitors can match.” The logic is sound: Rather than requiring your customers to source various point solutions from half a dozen service providers, become the one company that can sell and service all the solutions customers need. Not only does your cost-per-sale increase dramatically, you also create more customer value leveraging your services capabilities, and you avoid the finger pointing that’s inherent when something goes awry with a multiprovider project.

For 40 years, Tolt Solutions (under former business names such as MidSouth Data Systems, Kyrus, and Agilysys Retail Solutions Group) has served clients in the specialty retail, grocery, convenience, and food service industries, constantly evolving its business to stay ahead of its customers’ technology and business demands. The insights this 960-employee solutions provider has gained over the years are well worth paying attention to.

What Does A Total Solution Really Entail?
Lots of VARs and integrators claim to be one-stop IT shops, but that’s oftentimes a far cry from reality. When Tolt Solutions makes this claim, however, it can back it up. The company’s breadth of experience ranges from initial consultation and analysis, to software development, to complete staging and implementation, to remote monitoring maintenance, 24/7/365 helpdesk support, and depot repair and on-site maintenance services. “We even provide asset disposal services for clients’ hardware that’s reached end-of-life,” says Hagler.

Tolt was one of the first large solutions providers to embrace the idea that you don’t need a fixed terminal to transact with consumers, an opportunity that came to fruition about 11 years ago when helping a specialty retailer implement mobile POS to support peak shopping demands during grand openings and holiday periods on a traditional retail-hardened mobile device. More recently, Tolt expanded its mobile solutions to support both traditional retail-hardened devices as well as Android and iOS mobile devices. Specifically, its NextVision Suite of mobile solutions was built on the premise that retailers can drive significant productivity gains and a better customer experience by gaining a holistic view of inventory, price, and promotions across stores, catalog, and e-commerce channels.

Within the NextVision software suite are five products:Subscribe to Business Solutions magazine

  1. NextGateway. This is the foundational product of the NextVision Suite, enabling multiple store associate applications to pass store or enterprise data to various brands and types of mobile devices. NextGateway provides a common entry point to store or enterprise data, extending it to any mobile device browser or native application. A key advantage is its extensible architecture for continuous enhancement and portability to other POS system interface modules (plug-ins).
  2. NextPOSition. This product enables mobile point of sale for store associates to assist customers on the sales floor and to process credit and debit card payments, take cash payments via remote cash drawers, and issue receipts anywhere in the store. Tolt has implemented NextPOSition across three different vendor POS applications.
  3. NextCollection. Increasing store associates’ visibility and availability on the sales floor by allowing them to receive real-time information updates while they are interacting with customers and employees is NextCollection’s bailiwick. As a result, this product allows managers to audit, add, delete, or modify item records; create price tags with a mobile printer; receive goods at the back door and update the POS system in real time; process store transfers for incoming and outgoing goods; generate orders for store replenishment using the host system; and view user reports.
  4. NextManager. This product is designed to allow store managers to spend more time on the sales floor, while maintaining real-time information access and monitoring operations. Real-time information flows within and among stores and headquarters, providing a communications platform that allows store managers to complete a variety of tasks while monitoring the sales floor. They can assist customers with price checks, supervise and train employees, receive alerts from the POS, monitor cashier and register performance in real time, email, retrieve departmental reports, and approve or decline and forward exception reports.
  5. NextService. This product includes multiple consumer-facing applications enabling price checking, loyalty information access, and personal shopping on a variety of kiosks and mobile devices.

The Mobile Solution Sales Process Has Changed
Despite carrying an array of products, when Tolt’s sales reps first engage with prospects, their discussions go well beyond NextVision’s suite of functionalities. “It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of talking about technology selection,” says Hagler. “We’ve learned over the years that when it comes to selling mobile solutions, the real opportunity lies beyond the technology where the customer’s business challenges reside. Our customers’ success in maximizing their ROI requires more than just technology; it’s also dependent upon the seamless integration of technology into their retail operations.”

Having these business-focused discussions is a key to selling deeper into a customer’s organization and ultimately developing a higher value consultative and ongoing partnership, but it requires a deeper understanding of the customer’s operations to accomplish this.

For starters, Hagler says that VARs and integrators need to recognize that the decision-making process has changed significantly over the last four years. While it used to be the CIO who was the key stakeholder in the sales engagement process, today it’s much more likely to be another C-level executive, such as the CMO (chief marketing officer). Analyst group Gartner’s research corroborates Tolt’s experience, predicting that by 2017 CMOs will outspend CIOs on technology.

What’s important for IT service providers to understand about this trend is that unlike the IT-focused decision makers of the past, the new retail budget decision makers care more about business concepts such as customer loyalty, reaching the millennial generation, and meeting omni-channel consumer expectations. The CIO will help support these initiatives, but marketing and merchandising are the budget holders service providers need to engage with and influence.

Often Overlooked Key Ingredients To Mobile Sales Success
When it comes to selling mobile solutions, the biggest change most IT service providers need to make in light of the new decision-maker reality is to learn how to be more consultative. And how do you go about making that change? Hagler suggests consultant-led engagements and sharing with customers your experiences gained through multiple customer engagements are important enablers in the process. Being mindful of some of the top retail business drivers is also important. “Giving retailers the ability to see inventory across stores and across multiple channels is huge,” says Hagler. “And enabling them to view client shopping history for clienteling and providing access to enterprise CRM and loyalty data — not just what a consumer bought from a single store, but a customer’s buying history across all stores and all channels — is invaluable.”

“Ultimately, the mobile solution needs to be branded by the retailer and owned by store operations — not by IT.”

Aaron Hagler, VP of solutions strategy at Tolt Solutions

Another important lesson Hagler has learned over the years is that the success of a mobile solution sale isn’t determined by signing a contract and completing and implementing a solution; there are a couple of additional details that need to occur before and after the install. “First, the solution needs to be communicated, supported, and accepted by all the stakeholders prior to the implementation. Secondly, you need to determine how and when you plan to use the technology from the store associates’ perspective,” says Hagler. “If you skip either prerequisite step, you end up having technology being implemented for technology’s sake. Additionally, following the implementation, store managers and associates need to be trained on how to use the solution, and the training needs to be reinforced and updated regularly. Ultimately, the mobile solution needs to be branded by the retailer and owned by store operations — not by IT.”

Beyond Mobile Sales: Security And MRR
Hagler believes firmly that IT service providers who focus on enhancing the customer experience and can combine a consultative sales process with integration, implementation, and postsales support services will have a much higher likelihood of success. And, while most VARs and integrators don’t have the luxury of a Tolt-sized workforce that can handle all aspects of a sale and implementation internally, leveraging complementary partnerships is another way smaller service providers can become one-stop shops.

Presently, mobile hardware, software, and services comprise approximately 17 percent of Tolt’s revenue, and Hagler sees that number continuing to grow as the mobility trend continues to evolve and additional complementary opportunities arise. “As more customers go mobile, there is a growing demand for mobile IT security solutions and services,” says Hagler. “Some areas we’re seeing growth in include mobile device management, wireless intrusion prevention, and WLAN monitoring.”

Next on Tolt Solutions’ radar is adapting its IT consulting, sales, implementation, and support services into a subscription model. The managed services option would replace customers’ up-front capital investments with a predictable monthly fee, which over time could lead to higher profit margins and revenue for Tolt. “The biggest challenge we’re faced with is that there is no shortage of ideas and possibilities,” says Hagler. “With anything we do, we need to stay focused on the ideas that make the biggest impact for our customers — and for our business.”

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