With annual wholesale revenues of approximately $17 billion, Calif.-based Advantage Sales and Marketing LLC is a national service provider to leading food and consumer products companies.

Acting as a third party sales and marketing arm for over 3,000 manufacturers in the United States, Advantage professionals handle the sales and promotional needs of such leading brands as M&M Mars, Tropicana, and Lipton to major retailers, including Kroger, Safeway, Albertson's, and Wal-Mart. With the help of Comshare® Inc. (Nasdaq:CSRE), the leading provider of e-business software applications for management planning and control (MPC), Advantage Sales and Marketing's national, regional, and local brand managers will track and improve financial reporting anywhere, any time. Advantage chose Web-architected Comshare BudgetPLUS(TM) using the company's existing Microsoft SQL Server database to get the job done.

The Challenge

As a member-owned company, Advantage's success is ultimately measured by revenue generated by the individual offices that comprise Advantage. Each office must coordinate and share resources, to provide national services to the company's clients and customers -- major food and consumer products companies across the United States, as well as major retailers. Executive VP and CFO for Advantage, Bob Vesely, knew that to take the 13-year old company beyond simple Excel-based budgeting and reporting, he needed to make information readily available to hundreds of sales, marketing, and financial professionals nationwide. His goal: to empower decision-makers with the most current information and analysis capabilities via a robust Web-based solution, that is integrated with the company's Enterprise Information Portal, called TriNet.

"Excel is a great vehicle for a small company, but when you start consolidating nine, ten different files, it just gets to be monstrous. And the risk of error is too great," says Vesely. "A Web-based solution was not only fundamental, but the only solution that was considered! Ultimately, our goal is to create accountability for the budgeting process at the department manager level. Today we have hundreds of department managers nationwide. In the near future, the application will need to go beyond the department manager level to thousands of users that would want to have access to it."

In addition, Vesely wanted a Web-solution that would work with the company's database of choice -- Microsoft's SQL Server 7.0. "We had already made the decision to run our mission-critical applications on SQL 7.0 database, so that was another requirement of the solution we chose." Comshare applications operate on all major market-leading relational or multidimensional platforms, including Microsoft's SQL Server 7.0.

The Solution

Advantage secured a consultant to advise company decision-makers about the major players in planning and budgeting software marketplace. Comshare won hands-down against the competition. "We knew that we were rapidly moving to a national reporting platform, and that we wanted a Web-based budgeting and reporting application with multidimensionality. There weren't many vendors out there that could provide that. We didn't want to spend as much money as we might have with alternative products, and it turns out they didn't have the Web-based functionality Comshare had," admits Vesely. "Furthermore, since Comshare is Web-based, the integration with and access to our TriNet EIP was a breeze."

"Our ability to slice-and-dice revenue by client and by customer on any desktop in the world, using Web-architected Comshare BudgetPLUS via a Web browser, is a huge advantage. And, with BudgetPLUS, if a particular prospective client approaches us to represent the company, we can readily understand whether it is a good business decision for Advantage with just the click of a mouse. It used to take about a hundred e-mails to get to the bottom of those types of questions and a week's worth of effort. With Comshare, we have data integrity and analysis capabilities at a level we never had before."

The Benefits to Advantage Sales and Marketing LLC

"The primary benefit of having the new Comshare MPC system is that I can give the CEO visibility of every component of revenue related to our 3,000 clients across the country," indicates Vesely. "Before Comshare, the CEO had to act on consensus and gut feeling. Now we can slice-and-dice up-to-the-minute information to base his decisions on. It's the difference between flying by sight vs. flying by radar. Now, we just look to the Comshare system to get the answers we need."

Advantage's accounting, payroll and order entry -- $17 billion of transactions -- will ultimately feed into the new Comshare system with daily updates. Using Comshare BudgetPLUS, Advantage's professionals will be able to track and improve effectiveness at the local level with access to information anytime, anywhere. Vesely relates a recent success story using the Comshare system: "I flew out to New Jersey one day to meet with a new partner at their offices. The meeting took place at about 9:30 in the evening. They had their entire management team out there, unbeknownst to me, and we started talking. At about midnight, we got around to what I was doing with Comshare and got right onto the system -- right into the package, and it just blew them away! That's crucial. Wherever you are in the country, no matter what time it is, you can access it. That's the power of the Web!" Vesely sums up the net effect Comshare will have on Advantage: "The Comshare system will ultimately be the single, most-widely used application for information and decision-making within the company."

About Advantage Sales and Marketing LLC

Advantage Sales and Marketing LLC began in 1987. The company expanded rapidly in the southwest with acquisitions of select sales and marketing companies, and continued to grow dramatically by establishing a strong reputation as a premier sales and marketing agency. In response to industry consolidations separately occurring with retailers and food manufacturers, Advantage expanded into a nationally-based, member-owned company. The Midwest, Texas, and Southeast regions of the country were added in 1998 and the Northeast region joined in 1999 to make Advantage the first national sales and marketing agency in the industry. The combined operations of Advantage currently have a wholesale revenue base of $17 billion, with an associate base that exceeds 9,400 persons. The company is focused on operational excellence to ensure it meets and exceed client expectations. As the company enters the new millennium, it is positioned as the strongest sales and marketing agency in the country.

About Comshare Inc.

Comshare® Inc. (Nasdaq:CSRE) is the leading provider of e-business software applications for management planning and control (MPC), which includes planning, budgeting, financial consolidation, management reporting and analysis. Comshare's MPC applications deliver business-critical information over the Web that can be used to make sound planning and management decisions. In business for nearly 35 years, Comshare is one of the top independent software companies, with customers around the world, many of which are Fortune 500 and Financial Times Top 1000 companies. Comshare is an Hyperion Alliance Partner, an IBM Business Partner, a Microsoft Certified Solutions Provider, and an Oracle Business Alliance Partner. For more information on Comshare, call 1-800-922-7979, send e-mail to info@comshare.com or visit Comshare's Web site at www.comshare.com.

Comshare is a registered trademark of Comshare Inc. Comshare BudgetPLUS is a trademark of Comshare Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective holders.