10 Jul Closing the quote-to-cash gap with Salesforce CPQ
In business, quoting is the process of going from promises made 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, 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 seeking new business opportunities.
A 2017 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.
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 catalog and price lists spread across multiple spreadsheets or databases;
- Large product selections 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- Out-of-date list of products; many products no longer available and many recently introduced;
- Out-of-date pricing, including promotional pricing that is no longer in effect;
- Out-of-date product documentation and contractual terms and conditions;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.
Automated quoting tools such as Salesforce CPQ are helping companies relieve the pain of quoting, enabling them to be produced and delivered faster than ever. Professional quoting solutions provide support for complex product configurations, product bundles, guided selling, and authorization 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 catalogs. As a result, many users either turned to a third-party quoting solution from the AppExchange, or relied on custom-developed options for their needs.
In 2015, Salesforce acquired SteelBrick and began the process of incorporating the solution as a Salesforce product, integrating SteelBrick into the core Salesforce flow and leveraging the Lightning user experience. The rebranded Salesforce CPQ 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
Implementing Salesforce Sales Cloud and CPQ has taught Nubikians quite a bit about the dynamics of business quoting. It is this experience in serving the needs of multiple customers across various industries that has enabled us 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 Nubikians who have specially trained for the deployment of Salesforce CPQ, in addition to their 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, while international sales required a fourth workbook.
The first workbook contained each of the various product configurations and subscription options, with over 400 variations in total. 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.
We 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 level and internally to build out a schedule, and identify project risks. Leveraging interviews with various stakeholders in the quoting process, as well as through surveys and questionnaires, we worked to understand the company’s unique business processes. Armed with this information, our team was in a strong position to help launch a secure, efficient CPQ system.
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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 business rules, different products carried by each distributor, varying price 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 an Excel workbook in the hands of personnel and channel partners. Tracking changes within 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 they were employing the most recent information.
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 was when they reached out to us and we proposed Salesforce CPQ. Our team worked to consolidate the information from 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, we implemented a guided selling capability, ensuring that valuable opportunities for upselling and cross-selling would not be missed.
2) Improving quote 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, our client 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.
3) Subscription management (and service contracts)
Before providing support to a customer, a company support rep or third-party support would need to consult the status of the customer’s support relationship. Since 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 whenever 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, costs, and ultimately its profitability, could be negatively impacted by providing support to a customer who was no longer entitled to it.
Using Salesforce CPQ, they were able to automate the subscription management process, including the ability to auto-renew subscriptions. Accounting for subscriptions was 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 harmonize renewal dates and prorate support fees.
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 far 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 standardize 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 customized to the customer’s requirements, including a discussion of the customer’s operations.
This entire process was manual and 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 product documentation, support entitlements, or 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. The client could easily find themselves committing in writing to feature availability or support entitlements that were out of line with current or projected practices.
Salesforce CPQ automates this 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. When 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.
The Last Word
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 enjoy numerous benefits. These include simplifying the production of business quotes and the gathering of all relevant documentation; providing unparalleled levels of price accuracy, 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.
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 minimize the level of manual data capture and to optimize the customer experience. As one of less than two dozen Salesforce partners worldwide with the expertise to deploy Salesforce CPQ, our team at Nubik has the technical savvy and 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.
Further reading: CPQ and Manufacturing related Blogs
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