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Minimising the paper work after the handshake...

A roving salesperson scribbling orders with a pen and paper sounds like an anomaly in today's digital economy but it still happens in many fields where sales reps must visit clients regularly to secure on-going business.

Now a New York-based Aussie expat is among those changing the face of the sales deal, by introducing an iPad app to simplify the process.

Glen Coates led the wholesale operations of Australian reusable grocery bag manufacturer Envirosacs, when he observed existing technologies had failed to adequately replace the traditional analogue tools sales people used to record product sales, and the sales iPad app was born.

A screen shot of Handshake displaying a catalogue clothing item.

A screen shot of Handshake displaying a catalogue clothing item.

Coates leveraged the intuitive qualities of the iPad to develop the app for Envirosacs reps to record orders when they are with a customer. Orders are immediately sent to back-end accounting and enterprise systems, bypassing email, fax and doing away with the need to re-enter data.

The company started charging for the app in July, after a free beta period, and it was around this time that Coates founded Handshake with former Sydney Grammar classmate Mike Elmgreen.

Elmgreen said many companies still use pen and paper.

"The primary technical challenge really is how do you take a database of tens, hundreds of thousands of products - you may have tens of thousands of customers and also writing a large volume of orders - and make that survive and work well in a high performance way on a tablet device, which is a fairly lightweight piece of computing equipment?" said Elmgreen.

"How do you have that communicate effectively and in real-time when you have 150 to 200 sales reps using it many hours out of the day, to get their primary job done?

"The challenges there are a scalability and stability problem - and then that has to be balanced with also trying to create something user-friendly enough, so when you have a rep that's not the most technically savvy person in the salesforce how do you design the app so they can still understand and easily use it."

In the 12 months after launch customers used the app to order more than $100 million of products, Elmgreen said.

One customer Goldwell-KMS armed its 29 sales staff with iPads, who use the Handshake app to sell up to 1000 hair products to almost 5000 hairdressers across Australia. The demand for the app grew organically from the grassroots - the sales people who sell direct to salons - rather than being dictated by the IT or business executives, according to state manager Greg Richards. The app cut the ordering process from 30 minutes to five minutes.

"What we were doing before would probably be akin to scratching on the wall and then sending out a smoke signal, or something similar, to try to get the message," Richards said. "It was archaic. Horrible."

"We would write down the order on a bit of paper or pad, or type laboriously into a nine page deep Excel spreadsheet. And we'd either a) call customer service and repeat the whole order, ad nauseum, or b) email and hope they understood everything and checked every page at the other end."

"It was a very painful, laborious process. It also allowed for errors from time to time because the order was bring transferred from the client to the sales exec and the sales exec to the customer service, verbally."

"It's so easy now. You can just take a call while you're on the road, pull over, send off the order right there, and receive the confirmation email."

Richards wishes it was possible to also make notes alongside an order, and synchronise the order with customer relationship (CRM) applications.

The app already connects to applications such as QuickBooks, Sage, SAP and Salesforce.