Bottom Line: Professional services (PS) organizations need to close the gaps in their CPQ selling strategies to win more deals, capture more revenue and protect margins from ongoing price pressure.
Why Services CPQ Is Too Slow Today
When PS organizations compete in sales cycles, the first competitor to have a complete quote with accurate pricing, schedules, and an engagement plan will often win. However, getting a complete quote out fast is a major challenge for most PS organizations today. Many PS organizations manually create their quotes by taking into account a broad base of factors that include the following: talent profiles of employees and the market value of their skills; utilization rates; direct and indirect engagement costs; typical gross margins by type of engagement; and, competitive pricing. The average PS organization takes six weeks to deliver a quote or proposal. John Ragsdale’s excellent recent article Automating Services Quote-to-Cash: Emergence of CPQ for Services provides useful insights into what needs to change for PS quoting and selling to increase its velocity.
Getting Services CPQ Right Is Hard
Gaps that drain revenue and margin grow wider when PS organizations attempt to use product-centric CPQ platforms to sell services. Too often, PS organizations attempt to wedge their quoting, pricing, and revenue management into a product-based CPQ system – and get mediocre results at best. Earlier in my career, I led a product management team that defined, created, and launched a quoting system for professional services inside a large IT organization. The most valuable lessons learned from that experience include the following:
- PS bundles only work if they have simple, solid direct cost structures. Adding a synthetic SKU that represents a PS bundle only works for the most simple, automated PS engagements. Think of those PS engagements with long-standing direct cost structures that are simple, clear and easy to implement. Attempting to group PS bundles can easily lead to quoting mistakes that drain margin when a product-centric CPQ system is used for PS.
- The greater the differences in PS revenue management, the more the need for a new CPQ platform. Many PS organizations are making a mistake by attempting to make product-centric CPQ platforms work for their unique costing, pricing, and selling needs. My team and I learned that the more a PS revenue model is unique and one-of-a-kind, the more it requires a unique CPQ platform.
- Getting product-based CPQ rules and constraint logic right is hard in PS. Our teams’ biggest challenge in recycling IT’s CPQ app for PS was how difficult it was to get the rules-based engine to work for the wide variety of variables in a common service engagement. Rules created for transaction velocity needed to be reworked for greater variety. PS engagements didn’t follow a common logic structure like a product, making the constraint logic code only somewhat usable.
- Only launch after CRM and Revenue Management integration is complete. Our team was handed a project that had languished in IT for nearly a year because PS selling teams wouldn’t use it. The problem was that the quoting module ran batch updates to a series of databases to get customer records and fetch the latest price tables off of a mainframe. In addition, CPQ wasn’t connected in real-time to CRM or Revenue Management.
Closing Long-Standing Services CPQ Gaps
The more a Services CPQ app can close the gaps between CRM, PSA, Revenue Management, and CPQ apps and their workflows, the more effective it will be stopping margin and revenue leakage. Having APIs that share data in real-time between CRM, PSA, and Revenue Management within each quote creation session has the potential to save thousands of hours a year. FinancialForce’s recently announced Services CPQ shows how a platform-based integration strategy works. The following graphic shows how revenue potential increases as a Services CPQ’s systems become more integrated.
FinancialForce’s approach to taking on the challenge of providing an enterprise-grade Services CPQ is noteworthy for several reasons, including the following:
- Real-time visibility and control of Services CPQ Effectiveness. Having Services CPQ, PSA and Revenue Management on the same Salesforce platform provides the visibility and control PS sales managers need to track quoting effectiveness by program, geography, customer segment, and rep. The more real-time the data integration across these systems the greater the potential for revenue growth in existing accounts and winning new ones.
- Changing professional services quotes in real-time without impacting sales cycles is possible. Due to the integrated design of Services CPQ, one change made anywhere on a quote will replicate through the entire system and change all related factors immediately.
- Getting in control of professional services engagement dates and utilization rates by associates helps reduce time-to-market and assures better time-to-customer performance. Keeping track of the myriad of factors that influence a services quote using a manually-based process is too slow for how quickly engagements are decided. Instead, having a single, unified data model that can track effectiveness and provide updates on how they impact engagement project plans is needed to excel at selling with Services CPQ. Adopting an agile CPQ strategy that relies on an integration thread to unify all systems is the secret to scaling and selling more with an agile approach to services CPQ.
- Pricing needs to be one of the core strengths in an integrated Services CPQ platform. Realizing how a customers’ requested changes to a professional services engagement will impact costs and margins gives PS teams with an integrated system a formidable pricing advantage. FinancialForce’s approach to solving the Services CPQ challenge shows the potential to take on this challenge and provide its PS customers with the insights they need to upsell engagements – and not lose margin doing it.
- A must-have for any Services CPQ platform is support for channel partner collaboration and team quoting. For any Services CPQ to scale up and deliver its full potential value, there needs to be support for customizing partner selling experiences while providing for team selling and quoting. FinancialForce solves this by relying on the Salesforce platform. By closing the gaps between the systems Services CPQ relies on, the channel selling teams and partners gain greater flexibility in defining customized products.
Services CPQ needs to scale out on a platform to achieve its full potential by providing the analytical insights to track engagement lifecycles and customer lifetime value by engagement. FinancialForce has proven they can do this in their Spring 2021 release. Taking on the most challenging aspects of a Services CPQ architecture starts by providing insights and guidance on how best to optimize the mix of associates and their utilization and billing rates, locations of each engagement, margin threshold levels, and the expected duration of each engagement. Additionally, the world’s leading professional services organizations could use an automated Services CPQ solution as many of them don’t rely on enough data, letting revenue leakage happen without knowing it.