What is a CPQ process?

Definition

CPQ stands for Configure, Price, Quote. The CPQ process includes selecting components (configure), handling prices and discounts (price) and generating various documentation (quote, technical specifications, 2D- and 3D-drawings).

The CPQ process has a long history with manufactures of complex products, but with the introduction of SaaS (software as a service) the market is currently expanding into service offerings and less complex products.

The CPQ process

- supports a simple way to select valid product combinations with respect to product rules and limitations

- prices the product according to bundling and discounts (manual or automatic)

- creates an accurate and persuasive quote documents based on configuration and pricing information information

CPQ software connects front and back end systems and automates the lead-to-cash process.

What is a CPQ process?

What’s normally included in the CPQ process? Is it all automated and in what way is it adoptable and flexible?

Configure (the C in the CPQ process)

The overall problem is that complex products often have limitations in the way a product can be configured. This can be physical limitations how options can be combined. It’s also very common that there are sales/marketing reasons for limiting availability of certain product combinations. 

A modern CPQ process simplifies the interaction by asking high-level questions about requirements. This is often referred to as guided selling.

The magic bullet when it comes to the CPQ process is the ease of maintenance. The time it takes to do updates as the product portfolio evolves is the real differentiator between a “good” and a “not so good” CPQ process.

Price (the P in CPQ process)

The pricing can, if you let it, be just as complex as the product itself. Manufacturing costs, geographies, competitive situation, and local protocols all comes into play with a clever pricing strategy.

More and more companies are currently moving to a more value-based pricing. What value does your superior product offer deliver to a specific customer? This requires some heavy lifting when it comes to analysis but once that’s in place the CPQ process can really leverage the bottom-line profit and still keep customers loyal to your brand.

Price adjustments is also an important part of the pricing step in the CPQ process. This can be set up to be automatic but should also offer flexibility and advice for sales tactics.

Quote (the Q in the CPQ process)

Once the product is configured and prices correctly, respecting both product limitations and pricing rules, the result is presented in one or more documents. These documents describe the product and is often personalized to resonate with various stakeholders it should be presented to.

The documents generated in the CPQ process describe the product an includes texts, illustrations, data sheets and sometimes drawings, all customized for each offer generated. 

The level of details can be personalized, and document generation should be fully automated.

Why use CPQ?

As the product portfolio grows many companies choose to use a CPQ system. A typical CPQ-user works for a company that offers a very wide range of products or services. The sales representatives (and to be honest usually others in the staff as well) have a hard time managing product prices and product dependencies. The products sold often have many options with critical technical/commercial dependencies.

CPQ software is useful by companies that need to quickly calculate prices. If a sales representative needs to quickly prepare a quote for a customer, the CPQ software automatically sums up all important information. This means that the representative can produce the quote and come back to the customer far quicker. Time is an important differential factor for all companies, regardless of whether the company works in faster or slower markets. Speed ​​is always important.

Global companies, large and small, use CPQ to quickly and effectively send pricing information to partners and customers. This means that customers can get the information right when they need it.

CPQ software is an effective way to unify how the products are presented to the customer. By using an automated tool for quote documents product can be presented in a consistent way and critical information is never missed due to human errors.

Studies show that the companies that respond the fastest have the greatest chance of finally winning the deal. This means that the speed offered by a CPQ system can have a major impact on the company's bottom line results.

In the past only large corporations could afford to use CPQ, but nowadays we see a big expansion of CPQ in small and medium sized business.

What we learned from a Renaissance man

Will the Swedish manufacturing industry be better or worse off five years from now?

I’m an optimist and I will always believe that we can create a better future. I’m also a realist, and I know that hoping, planning and wishing won’t make it so. Doing is what matters.

500 years ago da Vinci wrote: “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

Da Vinci was definitely a doer.

We can all have some da Vinci’s genius. We can all learn from his Renaissance-man-drive and the emphasis he placed on putting things into action.


That’s the reason why we decided to start a new company.

We’ll be the doers that help Swedish companies compete in the global arena.

A company that can bring Swedish innovation to the world.

A company that - with help of big-company-tools (what we both been working with for the last 15 years) – can make a difference for small and medium business of Swedish manufacturing industry.

Are your ready? Do you see and opportunity and a challenge to get ready for the global future? Do you have world-leading products but are lacking the resources to do global business?

This is where we want to help you DO and we’ll bring some genius along. That’s a promise!

Top 5 things you should read or listen to before starting your CPQ project

Ok, so you're planning to implement CPQ at your business. You figured you should maybe do some reading to learn some tips and tricks. Where should you start?

We've collected the 5 most important things you should read or listen to about CPQ before starting your project.

1. Gartner's Magic Quadrant

Gartner publishes a research paper once a year in the form of a Magic Quadrant. The latest version was released in November 2018. The document can usually be downloaded for free from some of the vendor's web sites (CloudSense).

2. Knowledge-Based Configuration: From Research to Business Cases by Alexander Felfernig, Lothar Hotz, Claire Bagley, Juha Tiihonen

This is an academic-styled book about configuration. We don't recommend you to read the whole thing, as it will gain you limited value for actually implementing CPQ. We do recommend chapter 2 for a brief history of configuration, chapter 6 for understanding of different technologies for CPQ and chapter 16-19 for valuable insights into implementations at different companies.

3. Product Customization by Lars Hvam
This is a really good book for preparing your company for a CPQ implementation, how to document your CPQ data before the implementation.

4. The CPQ Podcast

Novus CPQ is an independent CPQ analyst firm. Their podcast is focused on CPQ tools and processes, and will provide you with useful insights. They conduct interviews with many CPQ leaders and analysts.

5. Top 10 reasons why CPQ projects fail

Don't miss this blog post describing the top 10 pitfalls when implementing CPQ. Learn from mistakes made in other CPQ project, and avoid doing them in your project.

Top 10 reasons why CPQ projects fail

The CPQ does not have backing from senior management

The CPQ process is spread all over the enterprise and touches many groups including sales, IT, engineering, marketing and order management. The planning and development of a CPQ solution must involve all of these organizations and must address the requirements of each group.

CPQ is a knowledge-based tool, and it's never better than the actual knowledge and data in the tool. Usually the product expert or senior sales rep who is too busy working with deals, is the person most needed for this type of project.

Backing from senior management is essential, to allow for prioritization of the implementation of the CPQ over the day-to-day business tasks for all these organizations, including the busy experts.

Scope creep

Scope creep is an uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope after the project has begun. This is very common in CPQ projects as you learn about and define processes that quite often were never documented before. 

This is why it's important to define project objectives early in the project, and refer to them as much as possible when deciding on changes to the project. It's also important to have a defined change control process, with a steering group that has backing from senior management. 

There's no easy solution to scope creep, but being aware of the problem is essential. 

Aiming at 100% of sales done with CPQ

If you ask an engineer working for an elevator company how many floors the elevators can have the most, he might answer 100. However, maybe 95% of the sales have fewer than 10 floors, and all elevators above 20 floors require some engineer-to-order? So, does it really make sense to allow for 100 floors in the configurator?

We recommend aiming at 80-95% of the configurations done automatically by the CPQ software, and allowing for some manual work for the rest. The reason is that there is typically an 80-20 rule in regards to implementation, where the last 20% of the configuration complexity will take 80% of the implementation time of the tool.

It is much better to focus on 80% of the sales initially in the project, and to make sure there is a ready process for the other 20% of the sales. If the project is a success, why not aim higher in the next phase of the project?

Bad data quality

A good sales configurator will use your product data existing in current systems. But how good is the quality of that data today? Do you have an organization in which all knowledge is stored in people’s heads and documentation is missing? As stated above, the output from the configurator will never be better than the input, which means you need to make an inventory of your product data and documentation.

You might need to structure and systemize your product data before selecting or implementing sales configuration software. If you don’t, the implementation will probably take much longer than expected, and changes of the tool will be done multiple times back and forth before being able to release.

Too few or too many integrations

Implementing integrations take time, whatever the IT-guy will tell you. Even a standard integration may require some adaptation because the software you are already using and want to integrate to is probably customized. Adding integrations to all your surrounding tools will add up to a hefty budget, and with some delays added, your project might get stopped before it is released.

Hence it is important to prioritize integrations, and to allow for manual integration in the early phases of the project. Do your prices reside in ERP? Are they only changed every 6 months? Can you export them to Excel initially, to get the project going? If you can get a manual integration to work, try to push the implementation work to the future.

However, from a similar perspective pushing integrations to the future which require a large amount of manual work is also a bad idea. The manual work will cost money and may cause update errors.
When selecting a vendor, make sure they have standard integrations to the essential systems you need to integrate to. Focus only on crucial integrations in the early phases to allow for a quick return on investment. Add the additional integrations in later phases, and do separate ROI calculations for the specific integrations.

The configurator cannot solve the configuration problem

Configuration is a complex subject. To put things into perspective; the number of atoms in the universe is estimated to be 10^80. A configurable product with 100 choices, and 10 alternatives for each choice has 10^100 combinations.

It is important to select a configurator that is able to solve complex configuration problems, an incorrect selection of sales configurator may lead to being force to simplify the configuration problem too much and hence giving incorrect configurations or prices to the sales person.

Too much focus on tangible products

A typical product does not only consist of hardware, but also other intangible products. It’s not uncommon for companies to have higher margins on services, spares and extended warranties. These products should not be forgotten when implementing the configurator – because without these the configurator is not complete. And if the configurator is not complete, the deals will either be missing these high margin products, or the sales will simply not use the CPQ due to the missing products.

The CPQ isn’t easy to use

If the solution is difficult to use or just slow – it will fail because no one will use it.

Your solution should simplify a complex process, not replace one complex process with another. There are often tradeoffs in functionality when simplicity is the primary goal. Make sure your CPQ is achieving a good balance between these two elements.

The CPQ doesn’t focus on the key users

CPQ projects tend to be initiated by all other departments at companies except sales, because sales are too busy working on quotes for customers. Hence the key tasks of the tool often misunderstood and not implemented properly.

The most important task of a CPQ is to help the sales person create a correct, competitive and valid quote quickly – and what that means exactly is different for different companies.
Makes sure key people from the sales department are involved in the selection and development process to insure that their requirements are covered.

No focus on data maintenance

In most configurable products, the master data changes continuously. New options are added and old ones disappear, new suppliers emerge, prices change, etc. Often, these changes are made on a daily or weekly basis. Typically, these changes are managed in ERP or PLM systems by people not involved in the CPQ maintenance.

It's vital that master data maintenance requires minimal amount of changes in the CPQ software. It is also equally important that an organization is set up to be responsible for the maintenance of the software, because with even a minimal amount of maintenance it still needs to be tested and validated.

8 secrets for a successful CPQ project

1. Focus on solving concrete problems 

Always start with a concrete product and set a goal to get the product live in a production environment. With today's SaaS-CPQ-solutions, efficient product modeling/pricing tools and a straightforward system configuration, it is not at all impossible to launch a first product within a month or two.

2. Be aware of the limitations of CPQ

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their knowledge in a specific field is greater than it is. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.

When you try to launch a CPQ-system, it is easy to fall into this trap. To describe the logic that limits how the product can and may be sold in a general way is somewhat cumbersome. Here it is important to understand what you need to understand before you start with product logic. Then the way to a working CPQ will be as straight as it can now be.

3. Listen to everyone involved – and to the customers

For some, external assistance may be required to ensure that the CPQ system provides useful results. Ideally, if you kick-start a project with a whiteboard meeting where all the key people involved spend an afternoon figuring out details and documenting the requirements you have.

4. Take on industry expertise

More and more companies have begun to realize that CPQ is not a miracle cure in itself. Many companies that start working with CPQ assume that "we have a lot of product data – plug in a CPQ and let it tell us something interesting".
Here we see that we as consultants have an important role to play in moderating, questioning and provide industry best practices.

5. Realize the value of tests in reality

By making a rapid first version of your CPQ-system you’ll get a quick take part in multicultural, multilingual and even intergenerational insights and learn from them. By going live quickly and exposing the CPQs ability of the organization, you can quickly make customizations that make the system several hundred percent better.

6. Be aware of the "black box-problem"

Trust is another subject that CPQ is forced to face when it comes out in reality – something that is known as the black box problem. How can this be overcome? An important part is not to complicate things more than that they can be explained.
Often it is domino effects in product logic/price models that gives weird (but accurate) effects. Here it is important to be well prepared to explain and describe the logic in an educational way.

7. Establish clear measurements

Having clear operational measures for your CPQ-project is important to prove that it works – and deserves continued support. But many companies do not give this aspect sufficient attention in their CPQ projects.
This is a problem with emerging new technologies such as CPQ. The result is likely to be CPQ projects that are bridges to nowhere, pilots that are not scaled up and projects without any business value. Therefore, we do not make pilots. We make sure to go directly to production and in this way are the goals we set up linked to the company sales. It makes it very easy to judge what works and not.

8. Look inward

Where do you find people who can both understand CPQ and the requirements from the business? It is not an easy task. There is a clear lack of CPQ skills.
One often overlooked method to bring down skills shortages is to look internally to find people who can take CPQ trainings. This way you can work so that there are people who have both CPQ and industry expertise. This is a very important part of our deliveries. We see no long-term benefit of the system if it cannot be managed internally. Our role should only be consultative once we have released the first product.

Configure Price Quote Software


CPQ is normally a cloud-based software that helps sales teams to automate their quotation routines and manage interactions with clients.

Configuration

The C in CPQ stands for configuration. This means keeping track of all the logic that goes into a complex product. Certain options are required, others can not be combined.
The number of permutations is normally enormous. Even simple products often have millions of possible ways of combining a product. This means that the maintenance-effort required to keep the product logic up to date is one of the most important factors when evaluating the configuration engine.

Pricing

The P in CPQ stands for pricing. The next set of logic to master is the rules and constraints regarding prices and discounts. Certain items come cheaper as a bundle, some item are alliable for bigger discount while other can not be discounted at all.
This means that workflow and organizational hierarchies are needed to do pricing effectively. Keeping track of prices and the possibility to escalate the sales opportunities to management is all part of pricing.
Support for different pricing models, pricelists and purchasing agreements are essential in pricing.

Quotation

The Q in CPQ stands for quotation. Texts, specifications and images all come together in an advanced template that dynamically adjusts the quotation for each customer.
The ease of use and flexibility of the document generation is a very important factor when evaluating how the quotation can meet your business needs.

For a global company it’s often a requirement that both configuration and quotation must natively support multiple languages.

Vendors

According to analysts the leading vendors in CPQ are Apttus, Oracle, Salesforce and SAP. Niche players in manufacturing are PROS, FPX and Tacton. 

CPQ Analytics

Here's a presentation on CPQ Analytics, presented in Stockholm at Tacton Day October 8-9 2015.

How diverse products can ruin your business

Yesterday I talked to a dear friend who is also a web shop owner. She sells STEM-education kits to Swedish parents and sometimes to Swedish schools. If you didn’t hear the term STEM before it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These skills are most likely good to know in the future.

In kids-electornics we have two big-sellers” she told me. “One small kit retailing around $60 and a bigger kit retailing at around $130.

Then we have some other similar kits in the range from $80-$100. You basically get what you pay for, the more expensive the more STEM-experiments you can do.

There’s basically only market demand for the big-sellers and therefore she decided to lower the price on the mid-range products to reduce stock. This is when something strange happened…

The surprise

Instead of an increase in sales (when prices were cut) there was an overall reduction in sales.
After some analysis there was one obvious but maybe not intuitive conclusion.

When prices of the mid-range kits came to close to the small kit (with the discount there was only a 10 % difference) it became more difficult to decide what to buy. And when it becomes difficult to decide there will be no sales.

What can we learn?

When deciding how to price make sure that it’s easy to differentiate products. Remember that price is a very important factor in making this decision. By keeping a clear separation of prices you help your customer to decide what to buy, and thereby speed up the purchase processes significantly.

Prices don’t need to be logical, just make sure they help the customer decide how to pick and choose your various options. It's equally important, no matter if you run a web shop or if you're responsible for a CPQ-system.

As a "pricing officer" you need to do quick changes and sometimes quick adjustments. Don't forget that the correct prices will help you both to sell and earn some money while doing so.

CPQ as a cartoon

Looking for a simple way to introduce CPQ. This video was made within 15 minutes.

Publicly available CPQ examples

Configurators built using CPQ software :

Bennington Marine (Verenia)
B├╝rkert (Tacton)
Demag (Camos)
Ebara (Intelliquip)
Festo (Camos)
Grundfos (Configit)
John Deere (FPX in the old version, Configit in the new version)
Maxon motor (Camos)
Mercedes-Benz Trucks (CAS Software / SAP)
Piab (Tacton)
Scania (Tacton)
Tuff Shed (KBmax)

Demos by vendors:

8-queens problem (Configit)
Bike/Lawn Mower/Etc (e-Con Solutions)
Cabinet Configurator (Configure1st)
Hi-tech, SaaS and IT/Managed Services (CallidusCloud CPQ)
Scissor lift/Cupboard/Etc (DriveWorks)
Sudoku (Tacton)

Notable configurators built in-house:

Aritco
DAF Trucks
International Trucks
MAN Trucks
Montech AG
Renault Trucks
Schindler
Siemens AG
Volkswagen

Other configurators may be found in the configurator database, however most of them are very simple B2C (Business to Consumer) products.