Why service providers are looking beyond Excel for configuring, pricing & quoting (5mins)


In today’s world of increased expectations, drive for increased sales and productivity, service providers are looking beyond excel as the tool that has evolved to be the lifeblood of product, sales, pre-sales technical and account teams.

Here we will look at some of the limitations and challenges providers are now facing with excel based pricing, these are now overcome by new innovative cloud-based Configure Price Quote (CPQ) systems.

Features

· Central excel workbooks cannot service multi-client solution scenarios i.e. client specific auto rate card pricing, this leads to workbook sprawl and data management issues

· Challenging to integrate with CRM systems such as Salesforce.com for client and opportunity quote management

· Excel as a sales document generation system is limited in being able to produce quotes, orders and solution documentation outputs, commonly leading to manual high-risk transposing of data, frustrating, time-consuming and costly when the inevitable change then occurs.

· Linking of workbooks for say supplier vendor catalogues is extremely challenging, manual and high risk of data integrity issues

· Lack of systemised quote approval workflows, resulting in timely, costly confusing reviews, confusion over which is the correct file, high risk of quoting errors

· Lack of ability to manage client solution change life-cycle, no central data-source providing clarity as to current representation of entitlement and the order history that made it up.


Usability

· Product managers typically struggle in launching new and maintaining existing offerings in a way that enables sales teams in excel, leading to problematic sales launches

· Accurately building large quotes involving a mix of products services, licenses and complex offerings typically takes time and guru-like excel knowledge

· Given solution providers have many clients, this commonly results in many workbooks and inability to effectively product life-cycle management

o Account teams not using most current portfolio, cost and pricing

o Product duplication and miss-selling of parts i.e. licensing which can come back to bite hard

· Navigation of large complex spreadsheets is very challenging leading to avoidance by sales users and over-reliance on the few creating serious bottlenecks and time delays.

· Navigation of user customised content can become investigative like activity using rule traces to pick through sheets.

· Simplifying and safeguarding the sale of product and service options by rules is a tricky error-prone and cumbersome process, consuming valuable time for a sub-optimal result. Typically ending in not just one pricing sheet but many, making the life more challenging.


Performance

· Excel is not the fastest application, it uses VBA compared to more performant C# programming languages, it must be kept in mind that Excel is a generic spreadsheet engine and not a specifically designed database driven application built to scale.

· Excel has many limitations with concurrent collaborative updates, “Shared workbooks” is now classed by Microsoft as an old feature making it unusable for anything beyond very simple sheets.

· Excels new co-authoring is available in certain versions of excel but you must be using Office 365, this online nature introduces many features and GUI limitations making it almost impossible for complex sheets to be multi-authored.

· Collaborative update synchronisations can have a negative impact on users and worst of all corruption can occur.

· The opening of large excel files can a few minutes and longer when working over remote VPN connections


Availability

· Excel is a file-based technology, users require

o Direct access to the file rather than an online encrypted web-based authenticated remote access

o Careful collaboration to centrally manage versions this is riddled with challenges

· Typically excel files are themselves a single point of failure and not data replicated to a disaster recovery instance to maintain high availability


Recoverability

· Recovery of data is subject to corporate backup and recovery, copies kept on local drives are at risk of data loss

· Recovery from application or system crash commonly results in data loss from the last save point which is likely not a real-time


Controls & Reporting

· The tendency to end up with spreadsheet and product sprawl, with unclarity on what is and isn’t standard, causing downstream delivery, invoicing and reporting mayhem.

· Challenging to integrate with CRM systems such as Salesforce.com for preferred quote financial sales pipeline reporting.


Security

· While security can be added to Excel workbooks and sheets, its full of challenges, the security is designed for protecting the structure of the workbook rather than the data within.

· Excel files are subject to be copied and sent onwards over unencrypted email, risking valuable intellectual property leakage from your organisation for your entire portfolio, not just the client quote.

· Excel is also more susceptible to hacking and viruses than purpose-built web applications


In summary

For this use case, Excel workbooks tend to evolve into cumbersome, highly customised and sometimes unruly data sources, only understood by very few people. Typically this only results in basic pick lists with little guided selling and creates significant challenges when people move on. Service providers now have a chance to question the legacy approach and take advantage of new CPQ innovation specifically built for the job.

It is worth being aware that cloud-based CPQ innovators are far from static they are constantly evolving to benefit their industry focus. For retail, this means boosting online sales via augmented reality selling such as Lego, Ikea and Converse. For service providers imagine a future of being able to configure quote and price all aspects of a Client Solution in one application window the context of a Clients business. Maybe even selecting from a consolidated portfolio presenting partner offerings such AWS, Azure, a swathe of service provider licensing along with your own portfolio of products and services be it managed, consultancy or professional services. Pushing this further with artificial intelligence assisted product selection, pricing and automated order processing and fulfilment.


Don’t be left behind, today’s service providers who are looking for higher performing businesses or simply need to address these challenges should be moving to professional Configure Price Quote systems. This should be done along with the reviewing of process, content and operating model, this doesn’t have to be a mammoth business change activity, if approached correctly it can be rapid and phased to maximise return on investment and shorten time to benefit.

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