Improving quote to cash processes improves the customer relationship – here’s how


Modern CPQ extended by BI significantly improves the business-to-business relationship enabling vendors to meet customer expectations. Here’s how.

Before getting into this – excuse the three letter acronyms liberally sprayed on this topic. Trust me, it makes for easier reading.

Adding business intelligence (BI) to Configure Price Quote (CPQ) has enabled the Quote To Cash process (QTC) to blossom. Interestingly, no human jobs are destroyed in the process, but the sales reps who use these systems and the businesses that employ them all benefit from stepped up professionalism. Dare we say these are the things that really delight customers?

For many years the CRM discussion has been over the relationship part of business and while paying attention to the relationship aspects has its merits, there has been an aspect of the exercise that leaves one perennially short of sticking the landing. As long ago as 2010 an article in Harvard Business Review, Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers summarized the short comings of playing for the relationship but figuring out what to do differently has taken some time.

Consumers’ impulse to punish bad service—at least more readily than to reward delightful service—plays out dramatically in both phone-based and self-service interactions, which are most companies’ largest customer service channels. In those settings, our research shows, loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic, even plain-vanilla promises than on how dazzling the service experience might be. Yet most companies have failed to realize this and pay dearly in terms of wasted investments and lost customers.

So a long time ago we learned that the superficial aspects of delight are hard to replicate and delight to one customer is not necessarily seen that way by others. The surprising solution to this dilemma that I wrote about in “Solve for the Customer” is that when you really, absolutely, must delight your customers the core blocking and tackling of business usually suffices, much as HBR surmised.

This translates as do your job. Live up to your brand promises both real and implied. It means not only doing what you say but also understand that if ease of use or hassle-free business processes are expected (because that what your competition offers) then deliver.

All of this came into sharp focus with the rapid rise of CPQ software. The category had been around for a long time and there are installed legacy systems in the corporate world today. But what’s really moved the needle in CPQ and everywhere else has been the move to the cloud and incorporation of BI. In moving to the cloud, CPQ vendors also took the liberty of improving the process that CPQ has always been associated with, QTC or quote to cash, and here the plot thickens.

By itself, CPQ has an aspect of delighting the customer and it had the same shortcoming. Doing something like quickly delivering an accurate error-free quote to a customer is great for the customer but only potentially so for the vendor because it doesn’t do much to advance the relationship. A sales rep can still spend hours closing a deal or redoing a quote so that a customer can play what-if scenarios.

Technology can enhance a sales rep’s natural abilities but when a rep lets himself or herself get dragged through an interminably long quoting process, it’s likely not the technology’s fault. So what’s good about the QTC process and CPQ’s support of it is that the process goes further to things like contract lifecycle management, order management, invoicing and revenue receipt. As you might expect many of these functions are rightly the province of other tools but it is the modern, cloud based CPQ system that has to coordinate with them and most importantly share deal data with all of them.

So QTC is not the CPQ of 20 years ago and one of the big reasons is the inclusion of business intelligence (BI) in cloud CPQ suites. According to a Forbes article by old pal Louis Columbus, 5 Ways Intelligent Agents Are Revolutionizing CPQ intelligent agents are now capable of,

[C]ompleting quotes, contracts, recommending upsells, cross-sells and pricing,

But also,

Sales automation apps that combine intelligent agent, machine learning, real-time integration to data and voice-activated CPQ workflows are breaking down the functional silos holding companies from selling more.

And that’s the big difference between legacy CPQ and the apps that operate the QTC cycle today.

But let’s break this down further. A quote might become embedded in a paper contract that stipulates performance expectations for all parties. For vendors this often means delivery and training, for customers it offers protections and guarantees of performance. But often missing from the equation is management of things like the second or third tranche of product acquisition. Principles to deals might have a clear understanding of what a deal encompasses but their successors often do not. Too often responsibilities are turfed to subordinates or new hires and the situation degrades into having someone who can’t buy on one side and on the other, someone who can’t sell.

But when a modern CPQ system, is embedded in a QTC process the contract is machine readable and usable so that the contract lifecycle and management duties can more easily pass from one individual to another. In effect, the deal for the first time is more about an interaction between businesses than one between individuals.

My take

We hear a lot, maybe too much, about how machines and automation are killing jobs. But at least in this case, automation, in the form of CPQ, is simply improving a job that had too many moving parts to begin with. The job of configuring, quoting, pricing, and then managing a large multi-part deal was always more than a single person could do and it showed. Adding business intelligence to the QTC process had two results only one of which was predictable.

Modern CPQ made the quotation part easier to do and alleviated some of the drudgework that keeps reps from customers. That was largely predictable. What wasn’t so predictable is the way modern CPQ extended by BI could significantly improve the business-to-business relationship enabling vendors to meet customer expectations, to make good on the real and implied brand promises. By supporting the whole QTC process, modern CPQ has efficiently improved multiple aspects of life for vendors and their customers. All without killing a single job.

Image credit - Simplis and Apttus