Smart Selling

CPQ Tools Focus on What You Are Selling

CPQ tools will help you focus on what you are really selling. It is natural to think that everyone knows and understands exactly what the product is, but the fact is, this is frequently overlooked or misunderstood.

Imagine the assembly line at a successful automobile manufacturing plant. The line rolls by, and assorted models of automobiles pass through the various stations receiving seats, dashboards, windows, engines and other components.

You will see an almost astonishing amount of variability on the same line. Not only are different trim levels accommodated on one assembly line, so are different models. The entire process, the personnel and the plant itself are a tribute to timing and synchronization.

But, in the case of most automobile assembly operations, there is one commonality. Everything on that assembly line is indeed, an automobile. Highly variable? Yes. However, they are all automobiles. No tractors, no fishing boats, no furniture or textiles are coming down that line—just cars.

Product configurators at the sales end of the process select high-level choices such as sedans, coupes, convertibles or SUVs. Further into the process, the configurators spec out engines, trim levels and option packages.  The selection menus in the product configurator don’t offer choices like “hull type” or “neck size.” All of the available choices are related to parts in an automobile.

It’s not so much that the processes involved couldn’t handle the variability; indeed, we are rapidly approaching a point where technologically this would be possible. The limiter is not capability, it is by intent. The company is an automobile manufacturer. The product managers, engineers, marketing team, financial folks and executives all know the auto business. They know nothing about farming equipment, sporting goods, household furnishings or clothing. They choose to build cars. They manufacture automobiles.

It would never occur to any of them or any of the managers or workers in the plant itself to deviate from that decision.

Why does Sales need the limits imposed by a product configurator?

For some reason, this hard decision begins to lose effect within the selling process. Marketing puts together messaging and content to support the sale of the product. Sales, left out of this decision-making process, will go its own way and sell the product as they understand it.

It’s too easy to just blame Sales for this. The reality of this situation is that too frequently all of the little decisions about product, market and message are created upon high and handed down to Sales. This is unfortunate in that Sales should participate in this decision-making process. Sales has a unique view; they engage with customers and prospects every day. Leaving them out of the discussion makes it difficult for alignment between Sales and Marketing to fully develop.

Practically speaking, all sales reps can’t be present in those formative discussions, so the product limitation understanding has to be conveyed to them in another manner. Also, customers watching an ad or reading about a product may make assumptions about the product that simply aren’t true. If these processes don’t address these situations, misunderstandings occur.

The result is, Sales is selling something that really doesn’t exist.  So as unheard of as it might be for the assembly-line guy to decide that the plant is going to build parade floats instead of cars one day, it is not unusual at all for Sales to decide to oversell the performance envelop of a given product essentially turning it into something that it is not.

When this happens with regularity, you have chaos. Product liability risks skyrocket, legitimate opportunities are lost, production efficiency plummets and everyone is asking, what business are we really in? This is where CPQ tools bring together product and Sales in a very meaningful way …

CPQ Tools help Marketing and Sales achieve alignment

Marketing and Sales must answer the following questions:

1) What is the product?
2) What does the product do?
3) What problems does the product fix?
4) Who benefits from and buys the product? and
5) What makes the product better than competing products?

This is what alignment is all about. This is the most basic and critical level of integration between Marketing and Sales.

Marketing and Sales must agree on these basic questions before any other decisions about the product or market are made.

CPQ tools and alignment

CPQ tools are beneficial in making sure that the decisions made with regard to product and market are built into the selling process and sales conversations during the selling process.

CPQ maintains product definition data and builds the interview questionnaire around specific needs, usage intentions and other specific elements of product usage. If a prospect asks a question or requests a capability that is not supported, the CPQ interview system will not proceed.

In a simple example, if the customer wants a blue widget and only red and green widgets are available, the specification and BOM functions within CPQ will stall. If the customer wants to sell “specials,” the sale will move into that special-needs process. That “override “process is customer-defined.

Without product definition alignment between Marketing and Sales, a great deal of time, money and effort will almost certainly be wasted. The customer will ultimately be poorly served, and the result will most likely be an adversarial relationship between buyer and seller.

Agreement on these most fundamental definitions is essential. CPQ tools ensure that agreement (and those definitions) are uphold across your entire Sales organization.

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