Key Elements for Evaluating Quote and Proposal Software

Quote and proposal software has generated a lot of buzz. Postings in social media, commentary from industry analysts, as well as user and vendor blog postings and white papers, all offer advice and information about automating the quote and proposal functions within the enterprise.

The most sophisticated quote and proposal software offerings provide AI-powered interfaces that communicate with customers and sales agents to fully configure and price highly complex products.

Due to the great potential quote and proposal software offers, in terms of improved selling efficiency and improved customer experience, it is hardly surprising that companies are interested.

The level of performance that these systems offer varies greatly. Some products are limited to simply “doing the math” to assure accurate price calculations, while more sophisticated products fully integrate with back-office systems, CRM and marketing-automation applications.

The most sophisticated quote and proposal software offerings provide AI-powered interfaces that communicate with customers and sales agents to fully configure and price highly complex products.

For those who frequently require written proposals, a few systems will even automate that phase of the selling cycle.

Evaluate Needs Before Purchasing Quote and Proposal Software

All quote and proposal software systems are definitely not created equal. Price, sophistication and performance widely vary. Before you invest in this technology, you will benefit from carefully considering some specific factors related to finding the best option for your needs.

Not everyone needs the most feature-rich systems. In some cases, all that may be needed is a price checker or online product reference. However, many companies will find great value in bringing this technology into the selling process as a way to deliver greater value to their customers.

Before deciding what is best for you or your company, let’s consider some specifics related to your enterprise.

Buyer Attributes that Drive Quote and Proposal Software Selection

If you have a high level of complexity in your product and selling processes, you will likely need a more sophisticated quote and proposal system to fulfil your requirements. Look at your selling needs in terms of the following attributes.

Product Complexity

What kind of products does your company manufacture or sell? How many different product lines do you offer? How many models are produced? How much variability is involved in your product line?

If your sales reps are tasked with taking many diverse products to market or offering products with high levels of variation in terms of models and optional configurations that address multiple uses, you are likely dealing with a highly complex product.

Product complexity is a continuum that ranges from the simplicity of highly repetitive, low-variation products such as paper clips, on one end, and the highly differentiated unique products found in a contract manufacturing environment on the other. As you move toward the complex end, your requirements for quote and proposal software will become more demanding.

The more complex the product, the more challenging it is for Sales to be conversant on the product, as a whole.

Impact on Quote and Proposal Software: If required, the software must be able to deliver, to the buyer and seller, expert knowledge related to configuration alternatives, model selection and optional features based on the specifics of the buyer’s needs and requirements.

In the event a proposal is required, the logic that drives the selection of these options must be explained or justified within the generated proposal. Additionally, physical drawings or representations of the specific solution may also be required. Some solutions offer this type of documentation, as well as bills of materials (BOMs) and itemised pricing.

Pricing Complexity

  • How many pricing models are used to price the product?
  • How are variable pricing models invoked or limited?
  • Are there multiple price lists devoted to special classifications of customers, such as national accounts or GSA discounts?
  • Is the product priced for multiple markets such as different vertical industries or geographical locations?
  • How does pricing scale to accommodate “big versus small” customers?

Complex products and complex pricing make it nearly impossible for a salesperson to produce a quotation without carefully considering the customer’s situation and referencing technical product memos and multiple price lists. Errors are common, and the result can be money left on the table or lost sales because of overpricing or undercharging customers for products sold.

Impact on Quote and Proposal Software: Selecting the correct price usually involves the application of expert knowledge. Complex pricing that features multiple price lists, multiple currencies and different pricing models for different types of transactions must be understood in terms of when they each are applicable.

All pricing requires ongoing maintenance. Centralised control and maintenance of these price lists is critical to prevent misuse of pricing discounts and pricing models.

Additionally, the maintenance of pricing related to market pressures, promotions and other requirements makes centralised control highly advantageous. It’s more than one throat to choke; it’s simply a matter of reaction time and keeping your pricing current with the realities of the marketplace.

Selling Model Complexity

If you sell your product through a single direct sales force, your sales-management burden may be comparatively simple. But, if your product is sold through multiple channels, using resellers, partners, integrators and direct sales, you have a decidedly more complicated sales-management challenge.

Additionally, your geographical footprint may require you to work with multiple currencies, floating exchange rates and localised selling customs.

Finally, consider the actual selling process for your product:

  • How do you identify qualified buyers?
  • How do you justify the value of the products you sell?
  • Does this vary by prospect, or is it a consistent value message?
  • Is there a specific technique built into your pitch that focuses the buyer/seller conversation on achieving an effective solution?

Impact on Quote and Proposal Software: The ability of the system to scale to multiple price-list requirements is critical to global or multi-channel selling environments.

Additionally, multi-market selling frequently involves different pricing models. One market may expect prices per pound; the other market may express value in access to the solution by a specific number of people.

The solution should be able to accommodate variable pricing models driven by the sales transaction that is taking place.

Transaction Complexity

When you quote a price, what does that price represent? So many units, pounds or gallons? A limited number of users? Ownership of a specific discrete product? Use of a product for a specified amount of time or number of transactions? What exactly, are you selling?

Is the transaction based on a transfer of ownership? Is it a rental or lease? Is it a usage license or access granted to a service?

All of these transaction variables require an array of possible selling instruments, and they are evidenced by contracts, agreements, various definitions of what constitutes delivery and fulfilment of obligations between the seller and buyer.

Impact on Quote and Proposal Software: The nature of the actual product or service sold must be handled in terms of pricing for various quantities or other units of scale.

These must be easily translated to the proposal language and supporting documentation, and an accurate description, unit price and extended price must also be presented.

Selling Infrastructure Complexity

How do buyers and sellers communicate with one another? Are sales transacted via eCommerce online, on the phone or via person-to-person discussions between field reps and customer buyers?

  • What systems are involved in documenting and inputting specifics related to the sale?
  • Are orders manually created via hard-copy forms, or is the system automated with tablets or online stores?
  • How is the sales order communicated to the billing system, production scheduling system and logistical systems?
  • Are there accommodations for auto renewal or replenishment in the future?

Selling may occur in the field by being documented on a paper napkin, or it may be totally automated. The infrastructure that supports these two process extremes are very different.

Impact on Quote and Proposal Software: The solution should be able to capture the specifics of the transaction and communicate the relevant information to the order management system, production scheduling system and other back-office systems.

The manual process of order entry is error-prone and time-consumptive. Automation of the order-entry process will address both of those weaknesses.

Enterprise Requirements, Software Performance and Automation Benefits

Quote and proposal software can deliver huge benefits to the user when properly utilised. There are many systems and levels of performance available to address a wide range of selling transactions.

It is important that buyers be aware of their own needs related to the sophistication of the system selected. Risk is present for overbuying, as well.

If your requirements are driven by low-complexity products, pricing or transactions, your needs will likely also be met with a lower-complexity quote-and-proposal-automation product.

However, if you are dealing with multiple products, model price lists or markets, your needs will lean toward the more highly evolved systems. And, if you are frequently delivering proposals in highly competitive transactions, you will find great value in the automated proposal process.

Take time to understand your requirements, and you will find the perfect system for your needs.

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