In a world where people want everything available on demand and delivered instantly, services businesses face a problem. Their quote-to-order processes are trapped in hand-crafted Word and Excel files that don't connect to any other systems. None of the moving parts of a services quote — from resources to timelines, tasks to projects, pricing models to service mix — move freely.
This logjam is what Zimit, which yesterday launched its partnership with professional services automation provider FinancialForce, was created to solve. The rising trend of Everything-as-a-Service — what diginomica calls the XaaS Effect — is making services more like products at the same time as products become more service-like. Services businesses must overhaul their quote-to-order processes to keep pace with these changing market demands, as Zimit CEO James Cramer told us in a phone briefing earlier this week:
Traditionally people have used Excel and Word. If you want to package things and go faster, it's incredibly difficult. As the world shifts more and more to a service-based model, especially in [the] technology [industry], there's a gap here.
CPQ for professional services
Zimit is a configure-price-quote (CPQ) platform specifically designed for professional services companies, whose quotations and contracts are composed of completely different elements than those of a product company. Instead of parts and components, a services project will comprise a range of elements such as resources, skills, hours, timelines, stages and tasks. As well as building the quotation, Zimit also builds the Statement of Work that defines the project. This brings together two functions that have traditionally been separate, says Cramer:
The industry has thought of pricing as one thing and content as something different. The way customers really want this to work is, when you go through the [CPQ] pipeline exercise, that [SOW] content is a function of that process. We produce both sides of that equation and it's available for publishing in a variety of ways.
The partnership with FinancialForce means that, once the SOW has been agreed, all of the elements that make up the proposal can then be written directly to the PSA to begin delivering the project. Taking friction out of this part of the process is "a very compelling proposition," says Cramer, especially for the enterprise prospects the two vendors will be targeting.
The amount of energy it takes to get a proposal built in a Word document — and then email that round to a load of other people and type it into FinancialForce — just that problem alone is something a lot of companies are interested in.
This is even more of an issue in the services business now that the market is increasingly asking for packaged services. While a bundled service offering provides a much simpler buying experience for the customer, it doesn't remove any of the complexity involved in delivering that service, as Cramer explains.
If you just translate your service to a SKU, that's not the problem. The problem is how that translates into what goes out the door, how does that translate into resources, timelines and so on ...
You've made it simpler for your customers, you've not made it simpler for your operations. When you sell a packaged deal you also need to be cognizant of what that's going to cost, the resource that's going to need ... [getting all that] into the planning system for project execution is vital if you want to scale these solutions.
This is where Zimit comes in, providing a configuration framework for creating the quotation and SOW, and then transferring the details of the confirmed order in a format that FinancialForce and Salesforce can understand. The platform already integrates to Salesforce, while the FinancialForce integration is currently in prototype with a first tranche of customers. Zimit can handle any combination of pricing model on a single quotation, including consulting service, fixed-price, time and expense, managed service or subscription service.
Bringing services up to speed
The two companies already share around a dozen customers or prospects in common, says Cramer. These are mostly service organizations within software companies, although Zimit also sells to VARs, security specialists, systems integrators, professional consultants and also marketing services companies.
One of the barriers for software companies that want to streamline their services offerings is the difference in quote-to-order processes between the two sides of the business, believes Cramer. Often these companies have moved to more automated subscription sales processes on the software side, while the lack of automation in their services organizations looks slow-moving in comparison. Cramer believes the speed and flexibility Zimit can offer in tandem with FinancialForce will change that perception and bring services up to speed:
Inside of a software company you've got two dimensions. If you're selling software you probably have tools to make that software selling process more efficient ... The perception is the services component is very slow, very outdated and is getting in the way.
There's a new way to make services on par with all the other technology being sold, so as not to drag the other components down.
The quote-to-order process is a prime example of why there's little to be gained from taking paper-based processes and simply recreating them electronically. Unless the information held inside those documents is given some digital structure, there's no efficiency gain at all.
The rise of configure-price-quote (CPQ) has gone some way towards rectifying this gap in the product sector, where components and features are typically standardized. The services sector has been less amenable, as services by their nature tend to be more custom, especially in the B2B sector. This has left them stuck in Word, Excel and the like.
Finally, the trend towards XaaS is starting to increase pressure on service providers to offer more speed, flexibility and responsiveness. This in turn creates a demand for automation that can at last break out of the old silos. That creates a new opportunity for companies like Zimit who are there at the right time and place to answer that need.