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Closing the Quote-To-Cash Gap

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In business, quoting is the process of going from promises made to putting customer commitments in writing; it’s all about 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 has been a manual process, prone to error, due to the complexity of the underlying product line, price book and each organization’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.

QUOTING CHALLENGES

A 2017 study by Pace Productivity estimates that the average sales rep spends 12% of their day preparing quotes or proposals. This number can easily go much higher for complex solution-selling or international sales involving channel partners. Shouldn’t that time be put to better use prospecting for new business?

Average portion of day creating a business quote

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

  • Time-consuming, error-prone manual quoting processes;
  • Product catalog and price lists spread across spreadsheets and databases;
  • Large product selections with variable configurations, including product bundles;
  • Out-of-date product lists with some products no longer available and others recently introduced or modified;
  • Out-of-date pricing, including promotional pricing that is no longer in effect;
  • Out-of-date product documentation, contractual terms and conditions;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 Revenue Cloud with configure-price-quote (CPQ) Software are helping companies produce and deliver quotes 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, Sales Cloud customers 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.

Salesforce Revenue Cloud (formerly CPQ + Billing) has evolved to include invoicing and billing functionality, enabling Salesforce to get closer to covering the range of business activities from lead to cash.

NUBIK AND REVENUE CLOUD

Implementing Salesforce Sales Cloud and Revenue Cloud has taught our teams quite a bit about the dynamics of business quoting. Through our experience serving the needs of multiple customers across industries, our consultants and developers discovered a deeper understanding of the quoting dynamic in particular, and how it fits into the larger business picture in general.

To deliver Revenue Cloud implementations, our team participated in an early 2021 pilot program to be the first North American consultants fully certified in Revenue Cloud. These are Nubikians who have specially trained for the deployment of Revenue Cloud by earning the billing super badge, the advanced badge and Revenue Cloud certification in addition to their years of experience deploying Sales Cloud and Service Cloud implementations.

CASE STUDY: SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES REJOICE

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 digital 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 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 Revenue Cloud, with its automated CPQ 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.

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 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 a workbook in the hands of personnel and channel partners. Tracking changes within the 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 a Revenue Cloud solution. Our team consolidated information from the different workbooks into a single price book and a set of business rules, 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

By moving to a price book managed by Revenue 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 Revenue Cloud’s CPQ software. It continues to use some exceptions to retain flexibility in the quoting process to support existing channel partners and end customers.

3) SUBSCRIPTION MANAGEMENT (AND SERVICE CONTRACTS)

Before providing support to a customer, a rep 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 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 Revenue Cloud, quotes were built using manual software. Once the terms of the quote had been settled and internal approvals completed, the contents would be copied from a spreadsheet to a document. There, additional elements were added to 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 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.

Revenue Cloud automates this process, ensuring that product and pricing tables are correctly formatted for the printed page. It 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 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’ve 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 Revenue Cloud, 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.

Common business problems when creating a quote

Implementing an automated quoting solution requires not only a solid understanding of CPQ and Billing, 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 Revenue Cloud, 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.

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