Nobody tells you when you decide to become a RevOps consultant that a big part of the job is playing detective on behalf of clients to determine whether app X or platform Y will deliver the optimization promised. Or, before that, whether it integrates with what they already use. So, when my clients started asking me What is CPQ? and Should we buy it? I put on my fedora and grabbed my magnifying glass.
What Is CPQ?
CPQ stands for Configure, Price, Quote: essentially shorthand for any quoting software that’s more sophisticated than what comes baked in with your CRM. What differentiates it from those baked-in quoting options is that a CPQ tool typically goes well beyond the ability to add some line items and a price to a template you then send over via Outlook.
Let’s break it down by looking at each of the elements of CPQ separately.
C is for Configure
Configuring a quote is deciding which services and components are required to meet client needs. Speaking from experience, this is simple for a solo consultant, where a quote might be a single line with a fixed price for a workshop or training session. However, for something like a custom bicycle manufacturer that offers highly customized products, this could be a list of hundreds of individual components and options, plus labor, shipping, and a raft of other variables involved with configurable products.
Without a CPQ solution, the work of product configuration falls on sales reps, which chews up their time and opens the door for errors and the associated costs that go along with them. Most likely, you'll end up absorbing these costs since there’s no faster way to annoy a client than by adding things to a signed off quote.
A good CPQ solution connects to your product catalog and streamlines that process by bundling, recommending or automatically adding products and services to create error-free quotes while giving sales reps the freedom to customize, omit or add to what’s been added by the system. It can also include guided selling logic which encourages upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
P is for Price
Multiple currencies, seasonal discounts, preferred partners. There are infinite reasons why you can’t sell an item for a fixed price. Sadly, all those different pricing models make it difficult for simple quoting systems—and, frankly, your sales team—to keep up.
The pricing component of a CPQ solution uses pricing rules to manage this complexity and ensure accurate pricing with features like managing volume discounts, allowing for fixed percentage discounts, channel partner pricing and much more. This can even extend to approval workflows, so you have some control over the discount your sales team is offering when it’s late in the quarter and folks are looking to pad their numbers.
Q is for Quote
The last and simplist part of CPQ is quoting. Simply put, the system can take that complicated mess of prices, products and quantities and create sales quotes a salesperson feels good sending to the client.
That might be a PDF, or it might be a link to a cloud-based quote. It might allow the client to accept and sign right within the quote, but it might not. Regardless, it’s what your client will see, so it’s a critical part of the CPQ equation.
Does my company need CPQ?
There’s a good chance that question is what started you down this rabbit hole.
Unfortunately, there’s no pass/fail test that tells you if it’s time for CPQ. There are, however, some common scenarios I run into that tell me a company might benefit from bringing a CPQ app into its tech stack.
Scenario 1: They’ve tried off-the-shelf quoting and it failed
Most CRMs include some type of default quoting feature, even if those tools rarely meet the needs of companies, for two main reasons:
- They don’t eliminate enough manual processes to make up for the extra admin work required to use them.
- They can’t handle the complex order process involved with more complicated quotes.
Of course, the fact that it’s included in your subscription makes it the logical place to start when streamlining the quoting process. That’s why I see so many CRMs with several open quotes from March two years ago, then nothing.
If you’ve found yourself trying to leverage the native quoting features of your CRM platform only to be met with friction, frustration, and failure, that’s the closest you’re going to get to an alarm bell that it’s time for CPQ software.
Scenario 2: Every rep has their own quoting process
This is tougher to diagnose than scenario 1, but it’s much more common. It’s the bane of sales managers and RevOps teams and it can manifest as different quote templates, too many spreadsheets, quotes coming from different apps, or any one of a hundred other symptoms.
Regardless of what it looks like, it’s almost certainly negatively impacting your customer experience and almost impossible to consistently meet your customer needs without some standard sales process. Implementing CPQ software won’t solve that problem single-handedly. Still, it does force a level of consistency on the quoting process that sending Excel templates and PDF price lists around via email will never deliver.
Scenario 3: Your quoting system is your CRM
The reality is that getting quotes to clients is more important than tracking the progress of those deals on the way to becoming quotes. You can do business without an accurate pipeline forecast, but you can’t survive if you never put a quote in front of your client.
That truth is why, particularly in traditional industries like manufacturing or agriculture, I often see the CPQ becoming the de facto CRM. It’s already got the quotes in it, it’s probably got a place to put some contact and company information, and the team handles the rest from Outlook.
If you’re stuck trying to jerry-rig a CRM out of a platform that was never intended to manage the full sales and marketing journey, there’s a good chance you need CPQ.
Is my company ready for CPQ?
Something that doesn’t get talked about enough in any software discussion is whether the company is ready for the product. That’s not surprising, since it’s not in a software salesperson’s best interest to turn away a customer, but it’s also one reason why some estimates put enterprise project failure rates at a stunning 70%.
A well-implemented CPQ process has the potential to improve life for sales, service, marketing and beyond, but it’s also deeply tied to finance, inventory, and fulfillment. That means a lot of collaboration between departments that, historically, haven’t been the best at sharing a sandbox. So, before you get started, ask yourself these questions.
Do I trust my ERP setup?
To succeed, you need confidence in your inventory management system. A CPQ system will likely pull quantities, SKUs and a host of other important information directly from your ERP system. If your team doesn’t feel that information is accurate in real-time or easy to work with, they’re not going to embrace a sales tool built to rely on it.
Can my systems integrate?
As I mentioned above, integration is key to the success of CPQ software. That’s why it’s so critical that you double-check the compatibility of all the platforms in your stack. If you’re using something like Salesforce or HubSpot as your CRM software, that’s probably not an issue, but it’s still worth confirming that it’s possible (or going to cost extra).
Am I ready for pushback?
This is the most important question because, even if you have all your ducks in a row on the technical side, there’s still going to be pushback. You’re asking your team to change their process for what, in their minds, is likely one of the most important things they do. That’s never simple, and you can highlight the benefits of CPQ all you want, but you’re going to have to police your team for at least a little while.
What are the benefits of CPQ?
1. More accurate quotes
As I said earlier, nothing annoys a client more than having changes made to a quote that has already been signed off. Frequently, it’s why companies simply eat the cost of those errors. CPQ software minimizes the potential for those situations by standardizing all of the elements (like pricing, inventory and dependencies) that cause those errors in the first place.
2. Shorter response times
Building quotes is time-consuming. Part of that is due to the desire to avoid errors at all costs, but mostly it’s because products and client needs are complicated. However, we also need to get quotes in front of clients as soon as possible. CPQ software makes complex configurations and unique solutions much easier to manage via bundling and automation.
3. Simpler onboarding
Complicated, disjointed, and inconsistent quoting processes are self-sustaining problems. Your system is bad, thus it’s hard to learn. It’s hard to learn, so people develop their own ways of doing things. This in turn makes it harder to learn for the next person.
Because it requires a consistent process, CPQ software reduces the amount of peripheral knowledge a new team member needs to start quoting effectively.
4. Improved branding
Templates are great, but even the best templates can’t stand up to life in the sales trenches. Whether it's outdated logos, off-brand colors or simply being presented in Excel, if your team isn’t using CPQ software, there’s an ugly quote sitting in a potential customer’s inbox right now.
A quote is the ultimate bottom-of-funnel document, so presenting a polished brand image is critical.
5. Fast ROI
Well-implemented CPQ software can deliver ROI quickly. That’s the advantage of making process improvements so close to the bottom of the funnel. Improved close rates, higher quote volume, a faster sales cycle and fewer errors: this group of benefits translates to ROI faster than almost any other piece of software in your tech stack.
What’s the best CPQ platform?
There are hundreds of CPQ apps on the market, from household names to niche platforms. Choosing a definitive winner for your company requires a deep-dive into your needs and some pointed questions for the person trying to sell you the platform. However, there are some clear market leaders, so let's start there.
1. Salesforce Revenue Cloud
Unsurprisingly, Salesforce CPQ is an industry leader with an excellent reputation and a strong community of users. If you’re already using Salesforce, it’s almost certainly going to be a strong contender for your business.
Reviews regularly highlight the power, flexibility, and positive impact Salesforce CPQ has on rep efficiency. However, the big caveat is that it’s dependent on whether you’re already all-in on Salesforce. If you’re using another CRM, or just aren’t ready to sink your teeth into the beast that is Salesforce, this likely isn’t the option for you.
2. HubSpot Sales Hub
HubSpot is another major contender in the CPQ space. Like Salesforce, it has name recognition, a strong community, and a lot of credibilities. It’s also got the same issue, which is that you’re unlikely to buy HubSpot just for the CPQ functions. On the other hand, if HubSpot is already the core of your business processes, many CPQ functions may be included in the same license you’re already paying for.
Ease of use is the big winner when it comes to reviews of the platform, with the native integration between Sales, Service and Marketing being another massive benefit. Frequently mentioned downsides include the lack of customization and a pricing structure that seems stingy with features at lower tiers.
DealHub is a much smaller company than HubSpot or Salesforce, but despite a smaller user community, their CPQ product offerings garner a lot of praise. Also, unlike the two major players, this is the first platform we’re looking at that doesn’t lock itself into an ecosystem. DealHub integrates with HubSpot, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamic and many others.
That community also consistently mentions how easy the platform was to set up and how the DealHub team is willing to work with customers to meet their custom requirements.
Unlike other platforms on this list, PandaDoc originates from the world of document management rather than sales automation. It’s a platform that excelled at the quoting portion of CPQ and offers a host of integrations—including Canva—so it likely plays nicely with whatever CRM platform you decide to use.
That focus on one element of the CPQ trinity means that it’s not as feature-rich as its competitors when it comes to features related to bundling, automation, and pricing.
How do I get started with CPQ?
By now, you should have a basic handle on what CPQ offers, how it works, whether it’s right for you and some of the most common platforms on the market. That's a lot to digest and it’s understandable if you’re unsure where to start.
In my experience, if you’re already using a platform that has quoting features, start there. I mentioned earlier that those features frequently fail to meet the needs of customers, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth looking into. At the very least, you’ll get a sense of the needs it doesn’t meet, which will help you when looking at other options.
If the native quoting features of your CRM have proven inadequate in the past, start with an autopsy on why. The information might not be the freshest, but you should learn as much as possible from those failures.
If your system doesn’t have native functions, the best way to test the waters is with a pilot project. Find a platform that looks promising and recruit an enthusiastic sales rep to start using it to deliver simple quotes. You’ll get a lot more information than you would from a few demos and you’ll get some real feedback before you potentially roll it out to other team members.