A few weeks back, while trying to share a Powerpoint Deck (MS Office 365), I noticed that I had to click ‘Share’, then click ‘Create link’, then click again ‘Create link’, then click ‘Copy Link’ to finally get the link to the file that I could share. That’s a whole 4 clicks to generate one link. While at the same time, sharing a Smartsheet file, it took only 2 clicks. So, that’s a 50% savings in clicks! Now, if Office 365 is being used by 365 million users, that’s a lot of time lost in clicking!
My focus is not here to talk about Office 365, it’s just an example that everyone can relate to. We can use the same logic for CRM and CPQ benefits. CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, software platforms (e.g. Salesforce, Oracle, MS Dynamics…) are very common for mid-size companies to the biggest enterprises in the world. The most common benefits of CRM include centralized customer data, more revenue through deal conversion, better customer satisfaction & retention, automation to minimize data entry/human errors, data analytics including reporting & Dashboards, and so on. While using CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) platforms (e.g. Salesforce CPQ, Oracle CPQ, SAP CPQ….), businesses can automate their Lead to Quote process and improve over the Quote to Cash process. The benefits of using CPQ platforms may include automating configuration, pricing, and quote creation process by replacing legacy/Excel-based tools, streamlining end-to-end quote & approval processes, minimizing duplications in data entry, improving overall revenue & win rates, centralized data management & data accuracy, better analytics, and predictions, etc. There are countless measurable benefits of CRM & CPQ, also even more intangible benefits.
Now, to get users on-boarded on CRM/CPQ, we are asking them to move away from offline systems/legacy systems that they’ve been using for decades. Roughly a decade back, when I was calculating the potential tangible benefits of a CPQ platform, one user raised a very good point, he was ‘clicking’ more and filling in ‘more data’, than he used to need to get the same quote out. While overall the platforms added significant values (e.g. 10% y/y revenue increase), individual users like him were spending more time in generating quotes, or in other words, the hrs/quote using CPQ was going up compared to hrs/quote using Excel.
After analyzing further, including but not limited to shadowing the user from the beginning to end of a quote generation process, we managed to capture (in addition to other data) the number of ‘clicks’ he had to get through in the process. It was, actually, true that he didn’t need to click that much to get a quote out of Excel. To solve the problem, we had to go back to the drawing-board and re-looked at the value stream map, but this time, from the user perspective. We did notice that we could reduce the number of clicks by 40% (for example) through automation. For example, we identified more fields that could be auto-filled from CRM to CPQ, so the user wouldn’t need to manually fill those; another example was to let the user save the quote in Favorite and also introduce a better guided selling (few clicks to generate the whole quote) to the CPQ. Overall, in the
Have you ever got tired of Sales reps complaining complaining about the complex CPQ interfaces, and all the steps they have to go through to get a simple budgetary estimate? While CPQ platforms (Salesforce, Oracle, SAP…) are developing new functions faster than we could imagine a decade back, the challenge of user experience and adoption have been there all along. Good news is that, if we think outside the box, there are other opportunities to improve the user experience, still taking advantage of all the benefits a CPQ platform can provide. Note, my suggestion here is for mostly simpler quotations, where the quote manipulations are limited. For complex quotes, let’s say, to configure and price a turbine generator worth millions, it’s better be done directly in CPQ platform itself.
From Forbes, “Chatbots have taken a quantum leap forward in user support, contributing substantially to the emergence of the modern service desk. Even in their earliest form, they heralded the promise of versatile new advances to come, such as sentiment tracking, NLP and machine learning.
As chatbots evolve, we are seeing a continuum of progress that will soon make it nearly impossible to tell the difference between human and artificial intelligence in service desk and customer service functions. I believe it’s enlightening to understand the chatbot journey, as it has evolved from the first generation to next-gen conversational AI that is unsupervised and context-aware.”
The key points to note that the chatbots are much more capable; though in most consumer world, most of the chatbots function to help the visitor find answer to a question, querying a database of pre-scripted questions and answers. Sometimes, these chatbots can also connect to the live agent. However, when we talk about B2B commercial activities, the true power of chatbots come from its ability to interact with artificial intelligence and back-end systems, in this case, a CPQ. Modern CPQ platforms, which we use for commercially to configure a product, price it properly and send the quote to the customers (CPQ: Configure, Price, Quote), have the ability to process almost all key functions and feedback the result to other systems, in addition to user driven configuration & pricing activities (for example, if we want a Dell computer, we can go to Dell.ca and configure one computer and get the latest pricing).
Now, let’s make sure we understand what is a guided selling. The word ‘guided selling’ is so broad that everyone can have a different definition. In theory, it is the function of the CPQ platforms where it ‘guides’ the user in selecting the right product. However, a true guided selling will analyze ‘what’ customer needs, and suggests the ‘right’ solution instead, taking advantage of the analytics and other logical calculation capabilities of CPQ platforms. For example, if the customer knows they want a Laptop with Core i7, 15″ screen, 16gb Ram with 1TB SSD, a CPQ can ask those questions one at a time and narrow down the selection for them. However, if the customer wants a PC that can enable his small business accounting work, then CPQ can ask about the work volume and other parameters, calculate the potential options and recommend the right computers built for that purpose. Chatbots can play a role in both simple and complex guided selling process, and it can actually make it easier for Sales Reps or Business Customers to get the quote they want with minimum administrative procedures.
Here’s an idea how it might work out, assuming, we’re using 4 platforms for this purpose; I won’t go through each step, they’re pretty much self explanatory, but you get the point. We can make it as complex as needed, or as simple as needed; in the end, goal is to give a very friendly user experience to the sales team. Let’s briefly talk about the platforms and how they can work together to create this seamless experience.
Chatbot Interface: This is the main user interface, and in this case, ONLY interface the sales rep will use to get the quote. Because of the versatility of such interfaces, it is possible to have it anywhere from a website to a mobile phone, as long as the system allows it to connect to the Chatbot Engine/AI Engine. We expect the user to enter questions, information and get the feedback from the same interface. However, because of the complexity of the data coming from CPQ, this interface should have the ability to show tables, bulleted list and attachments in PDF or some other format.
Chatbot Engine/AI Engine: This is the brain of this whole schema, it will parse the input/questions from the chat interface, create a series of action items, and communicate with CPQ and CRM to perform the actions. When the actions are completed, it will feedback the result to the user via the interface. For example, as the user enters answers to the guided selling questions, it should be able to parse and combine the data points, send those back to CPQ for processing; and when CPQ processes the data, and comes back with follow-up questions, it should be able to compile those and show to the user via the interfaces. Note, for some simple scenarios, it could be possible to keep the guided selling rules in Chatbot AI Engine; however, I’ve seen situations where I had to build hundreds of rules and CPQ Engine is better suited for such task.
CPQ & Analytics Engine: Most common and top-tier CPQ platforms can handle routines and send the feedback to any other interfaces. For this schema to work, CPQ should be able to take input from multiple sources (Chatbot AI, CRM…), perform necessary calculation, run the routines, and send the result back to Chatbot. I’ve assumed that the cloud-based CPQ has the necessary horsepower to do so in a very fast speed. Nothing drives the user away if they don’t get a response from their Chatbot within a very short window.
CRM: Standard cloud-based CRMs can be easily used to extract data and send the data back to it, in this case writing to the Opportunity entity and the Account entity about the latest quote.
I know this is a simplified version, and there could be many points of failure. However, with the modern technology, AI engine, powerful Middleware and ever-growing top CPQ engines, this is possible.
If any question, please don’t forget to reach out.
Copyright: Reza Rahman, CPQ World
I’ve learned how leader value passion roughly two decades back, when I was fresh of the university and just started working. One day my then manager took me out for dinner, though it was a common practice in that company to build team spirit, during the dinner, she pointed out that she’s noticed that I was not as passionate as I was when I started the job. I was focusing a lot more on my deliverables, and was not engaged in other activities that would have made the work more enjoyable, and as my leader, she noticed the lack of passionate creativity that I was engaged in earlier in my job; creativity was valued a lot in that company, as it helped the company establish global footprint through innovative products. That was my first lesson in value of passion at work, and even now I value it for sure. So, when I look for a Project Manager to lead my projects, in addition to skills, I also look for the ‘spark’ that the person may have, which may ignite the passion for the work that the person will do. In project management world, where things change every day and challenges pop up everywhere, passion plays a big role to help us drive the project forward.
Why passion at work is important for delivering projects?
Fosters Creativity and Innovation
We all know that a good project manager is always full of energy, an energetic project manager will transfer their energy to the project team members, energize them to focus on delivery of their assignments. When we are passionate of our work and our projects, we always find the energy to do a bit extra more, an extra call to make sure we’re progressing as per our project schedule, an extra call to stakeholders to ensure they’re updated, or just an extra note to the team members to appreciate them. Passion creates a zeal for the project completion, giving us the zest to keep trying until we reach our goals. It keeps us going under the pressure we face everyday during the project execution, pushes to be our best and continue striving towards the project completion.
Make Work Fun
Happy project team is a productive project team, they get more work done, while still enjoying the work. When we spend our days doing something that we are passionate about, we actually doing the work. It improves the team spirit among the project team members, motivating them, and bringing joy to the work. It also enables the project manager to get along better with others, avoids creating more tension and turmoil, and reduces the stress of being in a project with a tight timeline.
Better Project Deliverables
When project team members and the project manager are passionate about their project, they will bring in added value to the project itself. Although passion alone cannot guarantee work quality, the project team members who enjoy being part of the project can have significant impact on how efficiently the project runs. They also try their best to deliver quality services or products, within the project timeline, to meet the stakeholders need.
How to foster passion in project teams?
Make Passion for Work a Priority
From the hiring stage to the selection of the project team members, the Program Leader should look for the passion in the team member, in addition to other skills and experiences. Passionate team members will have shorter learning curve, and higher productivity. It is also important not to lose focus on the importance of the passion at work, and support the employees to ensure they are still passionate about the deliverables. Passion is a type of emotion, though we sometimes focus a lot on deliverables, we need to encourage the project team members to get engaged in other ways as well, including taking additional interesting roles, encouraging them to find a creative solution, or acknowledge their contribution.
Overcome the Challenges
Sometimes even the most passionate team member can lose their passion when the cannot get the work done, get roadblocked by others or just get discouraged. A leader needs to break down the barriers, encourage cross-functional discussion, help the team members deliver so that they can continue to be passionate about their work. However, interesting note is that, it is also equally important to have the passionate project/program leaders, passion is infectious, when project team members find passion in their leaders, they also naturally feel encouraged to be passionate at work.
Sometimes, the project team members need to make time so that they can work on their passion; passion requires time, and many employees struggle to find the time for it. To encourage the team members to be more passionate, both at work and outside work, the program leaders can work with them to create the flexiblity of work. With remote work being more common, it is less of a challenge than pre-pandemic time, however we still need to encourage team members to take time to learn something that they’re passionate about, or do something they want to do, in addition to the project deliverables. Another way the program leaders can take steps to encourage passion among project leaders is to encourage them to share their passion with their other team members. It will not only improve their morale, but also improve their team spirit as their bond will be stronger.
There are many interesting articles about passion and how to foster it, I’ve just summarized a few for the folks to read quickly.
Today I took 4 hour long grueling online PMP certification exam, and finally passed it. It is one of the longest exams I’ve taken in my life, and two masters under the belt, I’ve taken a lot for sure. Anyway, here’s my journey to get PMP certification in 2021:
a. Applying for PMP: They have simplified form, very easy, as long as you have the list of the projects and approximate timeline, good enough to get started.
I did not take any online course or in person course (COVID restrictions), instead, I’ve dependent upon some books to help me get it through.
Must read books: PMBOK and Agile Practice Guide
Almost all the questions were either about Agile or Hybrid projects or Predictive/Waterfall moving to Agile/Hybrid. Agile Practice Guide is a must read. On the other hand, compared to common misconception, don’t waste time on ITTO or Lead/Lag calculations. However, the questions did include several multiple options and drag/match types for sure.
Another book that helped me get there is Rita’s 2021 PMP Exam Prep, this book is very well written. Even though the book is almost 600 pages long, I’ve never felt bored reading it. It is recommended to read at least once, then review twice.
However, for project integration, the best is the video, and the video itself has some links to process maps, it’s a must watch (at least 3 times!): Ricardo Vargas
For some specific topics, I’ve also used a lot of videos for quick refresh, e.g., risk response types or fund reconciliation.
After analyzing for a while, comparing different options available, I’ve decided to go with PM Prepcast, they have a huge database of questions, extremely good quality, around 2000+ questions. Considering that very few people can have 4 hrs available to take full mock-exams, I’ve taken 50 or 60 at a time max. Over a month, it helped me cover more than half of the questions in the database. A quick trick is that, use the Learning Options, which provides hints, and review all the wrong answers later.
Overall, I prepped for 3 months….1 month to read the Rita Book and PMBOK, 2 months to take mock exams and review. Any question, let me know and good luck!
Very interesting analysis done by Technavio and published in AP News.
Some interesting points:
The configure price and quote (CPQ) software market is expected to post a year-over-year growth rate of 13.45%.
35% of the growth will originate from the North America region.
The US is the key market for configure price and quote software in North America. Market growth in this region will be slower than the growth of the market in APAC.
Our work lives have been changed, after the pandemic has started. While going through the 2nd wave and another partial lock-down, it seems to be that we need to just face the reality and prepare for the changes coming to our work lives. A few articles to highlight the changes we’ll see.
When I have realised the magnitude of Covid 19 globally, I have made a few predictions about CPQ market, including big investment in updating existing CPQ platforms, focusing more on self-serve options, and move away from on-premise solution to cloud-based CPQ solutions. Here’re are some articles about CPQ and other technical shift because of Covid 19.