Customers have changed a lot over the last 20 years. If you’re a customer you can likely recognize that in your own life. Your expectations of the buying process have changed, and the companies you buy from are the ones that have adjusted to those changes most effectively.
Think about buying a car two decades ago. This used to involve a lot of back and forth informal negotiation with the sales people, culminating in an initial agreement on a price. That price would be rejected by some unseen manager, then more back-and-forth moved the needle back toward the price the dealership wanted. Even after agreeing to a price, you’d be hit by upsells – extended warranties, extra features, and on and on. Since you’d already been worn down by the first part of the negotiation, you’d now be more of a pushover for the upsell, or so the thinking went.
Times have changed, mostly because customers will no longer stand for this treatment.
Customers control the buying relationship. Their time is too valuable, they can find alternative sources to buy from, and they come to the negotiation with as complete a set of information as the salesperson. In the face of this, auto sales have been forced to change.
The same goes for B2B buying: time is too valuable, alternatives abound, and your customer can quickly compare you to your competition. So how do you evolve?
One key way is to change the way your quotes and proposals are generated and presented. Cars are complex, but they’re nothing compared to custom manufactured goods and tailored services. These can result in an unlimited number of options for customers (and salespeople) and create real pricing and proposal-generating headaches.
As the number of products and bundles expands – at times on a weekly or even daily basis – salespeople are presented with a nearly impossible mental task. There’s simply no way a salesperson can hold an ever-growing and ever-changing set of products and prices in his or her head. As a result salespeople sell not what’s best for the customer, but what they know best. That’s not what customers expect – the whole point of that growing product catalog is to deliver the precise solution to their needs. When salespeople can’t deliver on this, the customer is likely to look for alternatives.
When the salesperson successfully presents a solution that matches the customer’s needs, the quote generation process itself can collide with customer expectations. In today’s point-and-click world, customers want a quote immediately once their purchase details have been discussed with the salesperson. The idea that a salesperson would need to retreat to the office to consult with product books and pricing books, or sift through out-of-date spreadsheets, seems like something from another era. But for some companies, this is how quoting still works, and those books can be thousands of pages long for some businesses. They can also go out of date rapidly and cause the salesperson to build a quote with incorrect information, leading to heartburn down the road.
There’s a saying in freelance work: you can have it fast, you can have it good, or you can have it cheap – pick two. Without some automation, quote and proposal generation offers a similar Hobson’s choice: you can have it fast, you can have it correct, or you can have it profitable – pick one. If you rush proposals, they’re going to be riddled with mistakes. If you get them right, you’re going to have to spend time (time the customer often can ill afford to wait). If you want it profitable, it’s going to mean getting approvals from managers who will have to review proposals for margin protection, slowing the process and doing nothing to improve accuracy. In each case, manual proposal generation creates a conflict with the expectation of the modern customer.
However, there is a way to avoid these pitfalls and to deliver exactly what the customer wants in a time frame than meets modern expectations. Configure price quote software allows you automate your product and pricing information; salespeople can build quotes not just in a point-and-click way, but in a guided way.
How does this appeal to the modern customer and his or her modern expectations? The most obvious way is in terms of speed; reducing the time to create a quote allows customers to have proposals in hand soon after they conclude their discussions with sales, allowing them to act on what they need to do to complete the sale. This improves your sales velocity and allows your customers to get on with their business.
CPQ has other positive impacts as well. Improving quote accuracy means the customer gets exactly what he or she wants, and when it’s delivered it will work as advertised. Conflicts between the things you sell are caught by the system. For example, a piece of machinery can’t be sold with mismatched connectors or with the wrong gearing system because that logic is built into the CPQ solution – the wrong parts simply can’t be added to the order without an override and special approval.
The same CPQ functionality also allows salespeople to upsell at the right time and with the right upselling offers. In a complex scenario, these upsells can be afterthoughts; CPQ flags them for salespeople during quote creation and allows customers to consider additional products and services during the proper point of the sales process instead of at its end.
From the customer’s point of view, CPQ allows the salesperson to present a thorough mastery of everything his or her company offers. It provides an encyclopedic knowledge of how various products and services work together, the agility to suggest the best ways to use what the customer is buying through upsells integrated into the sales conversation, and the ability to deliver a quote at the speed of the customer’s expectations.
The buying experience is radically different when CPQ is involved. With it, accurate quotes are in the customers’ hands in under an hour. Without it, you’re back to a process that can take several hours or even days, leaving the customer hanging. Sales take longer to close and customers are forced to wait for the purchases they need to run their businesses. So, as your product and service mix becomes more complex, CPQ has become essential to create the sales experience your customers have come to expect.
Edited by Maurice Nagle