Don’t replace your CRM or ERP. Enhance it!
In order to benefit from recent cloud-based technologies, it is no longer necessary to replace existing CRM and ERP systems.
Forward-looking companies are now adopting a different approach – embracing new, innovative applications in low-risk ways. They are extending current system capabilities.
They are also gaining a competitive advantage by deploying proven motivational techniques to bring about change in their organizations.
This article looks at a growing front-office software solution that delivers cost savings, removes sales constraints and increases revenue.
And it suggests ways to plot a path to effective implementation.
IT projects, of whatever flavor, can be high risk.
Some projects include the discarding of incumbent systems, and the adoption of expensive replacements. Sometimes this can even involve removing systems that may still adequately perform to their original specification.
Two of the biggest ticket items within any business are its front-office (CRM) system, and back-office (ERP) system. They may have been in place for some years.
However, many companies are now recognizing gaps within and between these systems, and they are investigating how such gaps can best be plugged. Frequently, the gaps are associated with the production and processing of quotes.
Applications using the three-letter acronym ‘CPQ’ are now offering solutions. CPQ stands for ‘Configure Price Quote’ – and the term has been adopted to describe applications that specifically address the shortfalls between and within CRM/ERP.
Anyone still using spreadsheets for producing quotes will be familiar with the problems that can exist.
The good news is that with the arrival of CPQ solutions, it is no longer necessary to replace either a recently acquired CRM system, or a well-worn ERP system. The less good news is that CPQ is becoming a bit of a ‘catch-all’ for a range of quite different solutions. It is now not uncommon for terminologies such as ‘Quote to Order’, ‘Quote to Cash’ and ‘Lead to Order’ to appear alongside CPQ.
It is important to understand the differences between these terminologies – as an understanding can reveal the strength, experience and philosophy of a software solution and its provider.
Ultimately, gaining such an understanding can help to indicate the best fit of a solution for any given business.
Determining which flavor of CPQ best suits a business will often flow from a review of objectives, and a determination of the key issues which are affecting the customer journey and experience.
Identifying the type of CPQ most suited to your organization is, however, only one element of a successful implementation. The other is delivering a successful project outcome.
IT projects are by their nature challenging. Largely because they involve change – and crucially because they involve change for people.
Moreover, they involve uncertainty. Even when a business is convinced it knows what it wants, there are always unforeseen requirements or factors that may only emerge during the life of a project.
These ‘Unknowns’ need managing. They can be categorized at the outset of a project as either ‘Known Unknowns’ or ‘Unknown Unknowns’.
The former will usually be accommodated quite easily, because in well-managed projects they are built into a planning phase. However, ‘Unknown Unknowns’ are higher risk, and can in extreme circumstances even throw into doubt the originally perceived wisdom – as a project progresses.
The reality is that these ‘Unknown Unknowns’ are very likely to remain so until an undetermined point in the project – when they will suddenly become clear.
The size of an organization is not a key factor here. All teams will be challenged to know everything there is to know at the outset when designing an optimized process that will be loved by its users.
But these challenges can be anticipated and addressed.
Sharing project objectives and involving an appropriately wide audience at the outset, will provide the best opportunity to flush out known issues, and capture ideas.
But this also presents a challenge – the challenge of explaining requirements to a broad team in terms that they can understand, and in ways that encourage their relevant insight and input.
It has long been recognized, however, that high levels of involvement across an organization during the introduction of a new system, increases ownership and results in better solutions, adopted faster.
So choosing the right team, from relevant organizational disciplines and users is critical. Having selected that team, it is important to find ways to encourage positive contribution from all.
In a CPQ project, Sales Operations and IT can play a pivotal role. Although organizational titles will vary, these functions, if appropriately supported by Sales, Marketing and Product/Service specialists, are well placed to deliver the desired outcome.
Individuals involved in any project, of an IT nature or otherwise, need to understand the direction of travel, and how it relates to them.
An exciting vision of where an organization wants to be or what it wants to achieve, can encourage individuals to contextualize how they fit in and contribute to the overall aim.
And taking time to really think about how business processes contribute to an organization’s success is important. So is setting out the future of the business in terms of specific objectives and tasks.
Each person on a team needs to have the opportunity to assimilate the desired destination in their own terms, and appreciate how they can contribute. This is often achieved better with a vivid description of the future.
An example of a vision – within a CPQ project context – might be:
We need to make it easier for buyers to say YES and continue to come back for more. We want our customers to be so impressed with their experience that they feel COMPELLED to post fantastic reviews of the product or service they bought.
There can be a temptation to motivate teams simply by setting revenue or profit targets, or other numbers based objectives. This is generally too simplistic. Of course, financial outcomes will be an important element of the ultimate goal.
We all hope that our employees, and certainly those who are asked to deliver as part of an IT project team, will be self motivated. However, this does not ‘just happen’ – organizations need to work to achieve a good outcome.
Often within project teams, individuals are asked to contribute in ways that are outside their normal comfort zone. And their involvement in a team will likely be in addition to their daily work. So if we want a good project outcome, we need to carry them with us.
Invite project team members to become involved in the delivery of a clear vision. When done in the right way, this will encourage individuals to focus on improving their individual processes, practices and service provision, thereby contributing to the delivery of the business goal.
Always provide opportunity for early project successes, ideally with wins that demonstrate the value of the contribution made, thereby helping to secure enthusiastic participation. Successful projects always involve visible achievements along the way.
Empowering people taps into their intrinsic motivation. It leads to greater enjoyment of a task, and to continued motivation over a sustained period.
In a CPQ project, start with a basic solution that contains just the core building blocks. Users will quickly understand the nature of their tasks, and suggest rules that will speed and ease their work. This gives the vision meaning to individuals. It demonstrates that the team has choice in how they can deliver. It opens the space for all to contribute their knowledge and experience. And it delivers early, tangible success.
Once a vision has been articulated, its impact on current business processes needs to be assessed. This is necessary in order to identify specific requirements that will need to be addressed; and also to help identify those in the organization who could best be assigned to a delivery team.
For each of the business processes that will be affected, the delivery team should identify and record the main requirements that are involved. And it should set down the steps that will be required in order to align any new or revised processes – to meet the overall vision.
Don’t get lost in the detail. Keep the requirements list at a high level. Distill and refine it, until it contains only those requirements that are fundamental to a successful outcome. This provides important flexibility for the ways in which an outcome can be delivered. It can also help reduce the impact of any ‘Unknown Unknowns’, as they emerge.
Having conducted this exercise, the team should address each business process in turn and determine the high level steps that will deliver the requirements. This can now be done, safe in the knowledge that the project is being built on solid foundations, and with a broad understanding of the ultimate goal.
Avoid any temptation at this stage to work only on immediate points of pain. Rather, take time to consider and document each essential step. This will reduce the risk of coming to hasty conclusions and selecting a solution that does not offer a robust long-term outcome.
As the steps for each business process are addressed, it is wise to revisit and review, against the documented high-level requirement. This will ensure that a team remains focused on delivering the benefits that each step is required to contribute to the desired outcome.
Kevin's passion is helping companies become easier to buy from. He is a pioneer and thought leader in CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote). Quick to spot how technology (in particular CRM and product configuration software) enhances sales team performance, he was instrumental in the development of cloud based CPQ applications. He co-founded BlueprintCPQ in 1999, and built this to become one of the most powerful and flexible CPQ platforms. BlueprintCPQ was acquired by Xait in December 2020 where Kevin is Head of CPQ practice and Managing Director of Xait Ltd where he continues to apply his innovative thinking and experience to drive sales efficiency.