Closing the quote-to-cash gap with Salesforce CPQ

Closing the quote-to-cash gap with Salesforce CPQ

In business, quoting is the process whereby you go from promises made by the sales rep to making customer commitments in writing and kick-starting the quote-to-cash effort.

The way that businesses produce quotes has historically been a function of their size and maturity. For many companies, quoting was and often remains a manual process, prone to error, due to the complexity of the underlying product line and price book and each organisation’s unique business processes. In larger companies, creating the quote may even be handed off to specialist employees, freeing up the sales team to continue to seek new business opportunities.

The business challenges of quoting

A recent study by Pace Productivity estimates that the average sales rep spends 12% of his or her day preparing quotes or customer proposals. For complex solution selling or international sales involving channel partners, this number can easily go much higher, meaning that sales reps are spending a significant portion of their time producing quotes rather than prospecting for new business.

Average portion of day creating a business quote

All too often, companies are faced with numerous challenges that can slow down or otherwise hinder the quote-to-cash cycle:

  • Time-consuming, error-prone manual quoting process
  • Product catalogue and price lists spread across multiple spreadsheets or databases
  • Large product selection with multiple variable configurations, including product bundles, to consider
  • Out-of-date list of products; many products no longer available and many recently introduced
  • Out-of-date pricing, including promotional pricing that is no longer in effect
  • Out-of-date product documentation and contractual terms and conditions
  • Customer or partner-specific discounts and payment terms
  • Multiple quote versions to meet different customer purchase scenarios

For companies that operate internationally, additional concerns may include:

  • The ability to price products and services in multiple currencies
  • Managing availability based on geographic region, market vertical, or channel partner

Nowadays, automated quoting tools such as Salesforce CPQ are helping companies relieve the business pain of quoting, enabling quotes to be produced and delivered faster than ever before. Professional quoting solutions such as Salesforce CPQ provide support for complex product configurations, product bundles, guided selling, and authorisation workflows (aka governance) as well as support for international sales channels, including agents and distributors.

Salesforce’s quoting platform

In the past, customers of Salesforce’s Sales Cloud had access to the native quoting module, which while very functional for some scenarios, was not able to handle complex requirements faced by international sales organisations with rich product catalogues. As a result, many users either turned to a third-party quoting solution from the AppExchange, or they had one custom-developed for their specific needs.

Enter Salesforce CPQ. In 2015, Salesforce acquired SteelBrick and began the process of incorporating the solution as a Salesforce product, by integrating SteelBrick into the core Salesforce flow and leveraging the Lightning user experience. Since rebranded as Salesforce CPQ, the solution has evolved to include invoicing, enabling Salesforce to get closer to covering the range of business activities from lead to cash.

Nubik and Salesforce CPQ

Performing Salesforce Sales Cloud, as well as CPQ, implementations has taught Nubik much about the dynamics of business quoting. It is this experience in serving the needs of multiple customers across multiple industries that has enabled Nubik to develop a solid understanding of the quoting dynamic, in particular, and how it fits into the larger business picture, in general.

To deliver Salesforce CPQ implementations, Nubik counts on a team of certified Salesforce SteelBrick blue belts. These are Nubik team members that are specially trained for the deployment of Salesforce CPQ, in addition to their training on and years of experience in deploying Sales Cloud and Service Cloud.

Nubik helps launch Salesforce CPQ

One of Nubik’s customers is a fast-growing, international company that provides subscription-based solutions to some of the world’s largest industrial manufacturing organisations. With hundreds of employees spread out around the world, not to mention numerous joint ventures and channel partners, this company offers direct sales in addition to working with a worldwide network of distributors as well as what it calls “bundled resellers”.

Historically coming up with a price for a customer or channel partner meant consulting at least three different Microsoft Excel workbooks; for international sales, a 4th workbook is required.

The first workbook contained each of the various product configurations and subscription options, with over 400 variations in all. The second workbook featured pricing for each major geographic region, such as the Americas, Europe, or Asia. A third workbook provided the negotiated discounts and payment terms for each business partner. The fourth workbook provided the exchange rates used for reference purposes. (The company prices its products in US dollars and revises its exchange rates on a set timetable to even out short-term fluctuations and better support business forecasting and reporting.)

These four different Excel files would be revised manually on a regular basis to take account of new products, retired products, new channel partners, expired or renewed discounts and payment terms, as well as updated reference exchange rates. Notes would be left in the workbook to remind the reader of any imminent planned changes. Workbooks could also be updated on an ad hoc basis, necessitating the distribution of revised workbooks.

This manual process left a considerable margin for error, and greatly impacted the company’s ability to quote.

Salesforce CPQ, with its automated configure-price-quote workflows was key to the company’s plans for growth, to help them streamline and improve their processes.  But, they needed help to ensure the success of the project. This is where Nubik stepped in.

Nubik undertook a series of workshops with the customer where they jointly discovered its specific quoting needs as well as the resources available to support quoting activities. Together, we helped refine the project scope and objectives, to identify key project resources both at the customer and at Nubik, to build out a schedule, and to identify project risks. Leveraging interviews with various stakeholders in the quoting process, as well as through surveys and questionnaires, Nubik worked to understand the company’s unique business processes. Armed with this information, Nubik was in a strong position to help launch a secure, efficient CPQ system.

Accelerating the quoting process

At the outset, the company identified five areas critical to their business that needed to be resolved:

1) Enabling the ability to quote

As described earlier, producing a quote was a major undertaking, featuring lots of manual, out-of-band processes. These include back and forth communications by email and phone with key stakeholders to address product dynamics not formally captured in the price book, as well as consulting multiple complex Excel workbooks that needed to be cross-referenced during the quote building process. These contained lots of business rules, different products carried by each distributor, different pricing levels per country, and different currency exchange rates that may or not be current. Finally, the calculation and management of channel partner commissions were a major challenge.

There was also no single “source of truth” but rather multiple sources of truth, one for each copy of the Excel workbooks in the hands of personnel and channel partners. Tracking changes to the Excel workbooks was not easy—nor was ensuring that account reps used the most recent version—and participants in the quoting process could never be sure that they were employing the most recent information. That would require a phone call or an email to confirm, adding complexity to the quoting process and delaying the production of a quote.

The status quo was overwhelming the company’s resources and threatening its future growth plans. Even though the customer had used Salesforce’s CRM offering for a long time, it could not figure out how to put its quoting process, including its price book, on to Sales Cloud. That is when it reached out to Nubik and Nubik proposed Salesforce CPQ. Nubik worked to consolidate the information from the different Excel workbooks into a single price book and a single set of business rules, thus providing the company and its business partners with a single source of truth, enabling the production of quotes promptly. In addition to implementing rules that would avoid the creation of erroneous product configurations, Nubik implemented a guided selling capability, ensuring that valuable opportunities for upselling and cross-selling we never missed.

2) Improving quoting accuracy

Historically, providing a customer with a quote would require an account rep to consult at least three Excel Workbooks—four for international sales—and the creation of a new deal-specific workbook for calculations. This deal-specific workbook could see multiple worksheets created in response to different quoting scenarios and customer feedback. When creating a quote, the sales rep would have to take it on faith that he or she was accessing the most current, approved pricing information as well as the most current channel partner entitlements.

By moving to a price book managed by Salesforce CPQ and accessed from the Cloud, the company could be sure that its reps were always using the most recent prices, discount levels and payment terms, across its four core products as well as the 400 configurations and ancillary services that it offered. By codifying business rules, such as geographic pricing and partner or customer-specific discounts, quote calculations could be automated, and the company was able to remove the margin for error typical of manual calculations. Consequently, it  was able to vastly improve the accuracy of the quoting process, leading to improved profitability

As of its initial implementation, the company can address 80% of its quoting needs with Salesforce CPQ. It continues to use some exceptions to retain some flexibility in the quoting process to support its existing channel partners and end customers. That being said, the company intends to standardise on Salesforce CPQ for all channel agreements going forward.

3) Subscription management (and service contracts)

Before providing support to a customer, a company support rep or third-party support partner would need to consult the status of the customer’s support relationship. Because the quoting and invoicing processes were managed outside of Salesforce, the customer’s technical support entitlements would have to be modified in Salesforce’s Service Cloud manually. At some predetermined interval, customer support entitlements would be reviewed, with support periods extended or terminated where applicable.

In addition to adding complexity and additional time to the technical support process, this approach could end up negatively impacting the customer experience by unnecessarily refusing support to an eligible customer. On the other hand, the company’s support usage factors and costs, and, ultimately its profitability, could be negatively impacted by providing support to a customer that was no longer entitled to it.

Using Salesforce CPQ, Nubik’s customer is now able to automate the subscription management process, including the ability to auto-renew subscriptions. Accounting for subscriptions has been simplified as well with data flowing automatically from Sales Cloud to the company’s  accounting systems. Salesforce CPQ also enables it to consolidate multiple customer support contracts into one, with the ability to harmonise renewal dates and prorate support fees.

Customer support has also been simplified as well. Leveraging the same underlying database, the company’s Support Cloud instance is always up-to-date with the latest customer entitlements. The company has thus been able to reduce the amount of upstream time required to manage customer subscriptions, renewals, and amendments, and the downstream time required to validate customer subscriptions, enabling support personnel to spend more time focused on customers.

4) Efficient International Quoting

The vast majority of the company’s sales take place outside of its home country and are billed in US dollars, though its operating expenses are in a different currency. As a result, the efficient operation of its international distribution network is paramount to the company’s success.

Supporting that network requires the company to provide region or country-specific pricing in local currency. However, in pricing its products in local currency, the company exposes itself to exchange rate risk, such as short-term currency swings. As a result, the company’s finance department has implemented a quarterly exchange rate policy to standardise the exchange rate for a set period. (The company uses currency hedging to mitigate the risk of major movements in exchange rates.)

Irrespective of actual currency movements, the company provides this fixed local currency price to its channel partners and customers, which greatly simplifies the sales process as well as the calculation of commissions and tracking of payments. Though the company currently uses set reference exchange rates, Salesforce CPQ offers support for real-time currency conversions.

Salesforce CPQ also supports the company’s ability to offer tiered pricing and discounting specific to each channel partner. It also greatly simplifies the tracking of channel partner incentives.

5) Automated Quote Generation

Before implementing Salesforce CPQ, quotes were built using Excel. Once the terms of the quote had been settled and internal approvals completed, the contents would be copied from Excel to Word. Once in Word, additional elements were added to the document, such as boilerplate texts about the business opportunity, documentation for each of the products and services covered by the quote, and general contractual terms and conditions. The document would then be further customised to the customer’s requirements, including a discussion of the customer’s operations.

This entire process was manual and was prone to error, so doing it well meant ensuring that each component featured the latest version, resulting in additional time required to produce a quote. Also, the component texts of the quote, such as the product documentation, the support entitlements, or the governing terms and conditions, could be expected to change over time, but the quotes that the company produced for its customers might not reflect that. Nubik’s customer could easily find itself committing in writing to feature availability or support entitlements that were out of line with current or projected practices.

Salesforce CPQ automates that entire process, ensuring that product and pricing tables are correctly formatted for the printed page. Salesforce CPQ also automatically appends the appropriate documentation for each company product or service referenced in the quote. The most recent approved contractual terms and conditions are included as well. While implemented in Salesforce CPQ as separate document components—simplifying their maintenance over time by the relevant company stakeholder—these are consolidated together when generating the quote to produce a document with a professional look and feel. As a result, Nubik’s customer always appears at its best, reinforcing its positive perception in the minds of its customers.

Conclusion

As we have seen, quoting is one of the most important aspects of running a growing business. By implementing an automated, cloud-based quoting solution such as Salesforce CPQ, any organisation—but particularly those with international sales—can achieve numerous benefits. These include simplifying the production of business quotes, including the gathering of all relevant documentation; providing unparalleled levels of accuracy in pricing, discounts and entitlements; supporting channel relationships and eliminating channel conflict; freeing up account reps for more value-added activities, such as prospecting for new business opportunities; and delivering enhanced levels of profitability.

Common business problems when creating a quote

Implementing an automated quoting solution requires not only a solid understanding of Salesforce CPQ but also an intricate understanding of the underlying capabilities of the Salesforce platform to minimise the level of manual data capture and to optimise the customer experience. As one of less than two dozen Salesforce partners worldwide with the expertise to deploy Salesforce CPQ, Nubik has the technical savvy and the business prowess required to make such a vision a reality.

Linking quoting with lead management, customer relationship management and financial management solutions, such as those offered by Salesforce, it is possible to fully automate the quote-to-cash cycle in addition to providing a truly comprehensive customer experience.