One of the axioms of sales is that, when the customer’s decided to buy, you must get their order right away. Any delay brings uncertainty, along with the potential for that sale to slip out of your fingers. But in a complex B2B sale, it’s not always been possible to move fast. There are multiple products to juggle, complex pricing and discount rules to negotiate, compliance hurdles to overcome, and credit checks to complete. It often takes time to work through all of these sales order capture steps and incorporate everything into the paperwork the client must sign.
At the $3.4 billion-a-year revenue legal division of global business information provider Thomson Reuters, a seasoned sales rep would typically spend about two hours to create an order. This was a source of significant frustration for the sales team and meant the customer experience was not as seamless as it ought to be. So Craig Eiter, VP of Sales Enablement, went shopping for a configure-price-quote (CPQ) solution that would make it possible to simplify and automate the process. As he explains:
My job is to make it easier for the people that knock on doors to do their job.
Sales order capture 10x faster
In February this year, the division, whose customers include lawyers, bankers and tax and accounting advisers, started the roll-out of its Apttus sales order capture system. This runs in the company’s Salesforce instance, enabling sales reps to achieve in one screen what they used to have to hop between fourteen or so separate systems to do. The impact was immediate, reducing that two-hour process to around twelve minutes, says Eiter — a 10x improvement.
Within a month, word came through from a sales manager in New York City that reps were starting to get paperwork signed during half-hour meetings on site with clients — a feat that would have been inconceivable before. The sales rep would pull up the client’s existing subscription, make amendments, validate the pricing, and then email the completed contract to the client, all during the one meeting. The client then electronically signs the contract and by the time the sales rep is leaving, the closed order is already sent to the back-end system for processing, says Eiter:
The sales rep walked out with an order that was already being transmitted to SAP.
Customers appear to be just as impressed by the impact of the new system. Net promoter score, a standard measure of customer satisfaction, has more than doubled since the roll-out, he says.
That’s an incredible business accomplishment. In the legal market, you have to do something to separate and differentiate yourself. We believe our content is the best, but at the end of the day, customer experience and how customers feel about doing business with you is becoming more and more important in the global marketplace.
Apttus embedded into Salesforce
Having everything in a single screen was an important goal of the implementation. Previously, sales reps would sit at their desk with six to eight browser tabs open as they prepared a customer order. Product descriptions, pricing, sales collateral would each be in a separate application. Some products are subject to compliance constraints, which means validating a customer’s eligibility to purchase them. New customers require a credit check. In all, there were at least fourteen different systems that sales reps were routinely using. Now all of that is presented within a single order capture function that has the feel of an online shopping experience, says Eiter.
All of those places to go, we defined early on by sitting with sales reps to find out what they had to do to create a quote for a customer.
We embedded Apttus into Salesforce, so it sits in Salesforce and it’s seamless. Our sales reps don’t really know that we have something called Apttus. They call it order capture.
Behind-the-scenes automation is an important element of the new system. Price validation, applying a discount, firing off an email to marketing for authority to exceed the default discount limit — “all of that machination happens literally within Salesforce,” says Eiter.
Assembling contracts on the fly
The system dynamically assembles contracts using templates and the X-Author structured document framework within Apttus, combined with its business rules engine. Setting that up was a complex task, with legal preparing the clauses while Apttus configured the business logic. “I got some gray hairs out of that part of the project,” confides Eiter. But the outcome is contract automation without the need for a separate contract lifecycle management (CLM) component:
The good news is the business engine is so robust we’re actually assembling contracts right now on the fly, embedded within the system, without CLM.
That helps achieve another goal of the project, which was to reduce the volume of ‘held orders’ — submitted orders that are then put on hold because the backend system rejects them. It’s bad news when that happens, says Eiter: “The customer doesn’t get their product. The sales rep doesn’t get paid for it.” So far, the new system has reduced the number of held orders by three quarters, and the ultimate goal is to achieve a 95% reduction.
Because we’ve got this so dynamically stitched together and you will not have product terms that are inconsistent, you will always be assured that your pricing exceptions have been approved so you will have 95% fewer held orders.
The integrated e-signature capability also helps speed up the sales cycle. The underlying technology is provided by DocuSign, but the emails that manage the process go out under Thomson Reuters branding. It’s a dynamic, adaptable system that plays an important role in the end-to-end process, says Eiter.
Signing that deal electronically on the spot is a really big linchpin of what we’re doing with Apttus.
Sales cycle shorter by a third
The various elements add up to significant productivity gains across a team of more than a thousand sales reps who process ten thousand orders every month. Deals are closed faster, too. The division has already seen a one third reduction in its sales cycle, Eiter tells me. There’s just one piece of bad news for sales reps. Inevitably, their quotas have increased.
We have built in sales quota increases for the assumed productivity improvement. That’s a tough thing to message organizationally. But we’re seeing the results on the dashboards — so we think we’re getting economic value, as well as intangible value, from Apttus.
Looking back on the implementation, Eiter feels vindicated in the selection of Apttus from an initial field of eight configure-price-quote (CPQ) contenders, three of which were shortlisted.
No other CPQ vendors would have been able to handle our complexity. We ended up with so many complicated business rules and dynamic processes, terms and conditions — [across] four channels in how we go to market.
I’m utterly convinced, with any of the other vendors I would not have succeeded in my rollout. None of the other vendors would have got us over the finish line.
Connecting systems, getting rid of paper, and automating processes — these are all core ingredients of what we at diginomica like to call frictionless enterprise. This story from Thomson Reuters shows the financial and operational impact of taking that approach to the order capture process in a complex B2B sales environment. The results are impressive — reducing the time taken to complete an order by 10x, doubling customer satisfaction as measured by NPS, and shortening the sales cycle by a third.
Image credit - Sales order speed needle points to max © Sashkin - Fotolia.com
Disclosure - Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing. Apttus is funding the author's accommodation to attend Dreamforce.