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According to TSIA's PS Benchmark Study from Q2 2018, it takes about 38 days for a technology services proposal to get to a customer. What if it only took a few days or a few hours? First, it would make customers and Sales teams a lot happier! Next, it would drive revenue due to significantly increased sales capacity. Finally, it would reduce the cost of sales operations. So, unless multi-week proposals is the best we can do as an industry, there is a major opportunity here. In this post, I will explain how (and how not) to automate sales proposals.

Why Services Proposals Take So Long

So, why exactly do services proposals take so long? In a word: Labor. Four words, actually: lots of expensive labor. In Services, there are two crucial elements in a sales proposal: pricing and proposal content.

Pricing is what’s being sold. It’s the quantity, hours, price, pricing model, timeline, discounts, etc. Pricing is almost always created in spreadsheets.

Proposal content describes the services that you plan to deliver. It includes requirements, scope, assumptions, expected outcomes, exclusions, etc. Proposal content is almost always created in Word documents (or equivalent).

The problem is that pricing and proposal content are currently two silos, forever separated, except through manual effort to combine them into a final sales document. With even a modestly high volume of proposals and lots of internal and customer requested changes, you get a process that is slow, expensive, and error prone.

The companies that we talk to estimate that their sales reps are spending over 30% of their time on proposal admin, while the cost of sales operations is going up, not down. This is not a winning combination.

Sales reps are spending over 30% of their time on proposal admin, while the cost of sales operations is going up.

Proposal Automation Software Will NOT Automate Services Proposals

Proposal and document automation products have a fundamental weakness: they don’t include pricing functionality. This means the proposal content is static, that is, it’s not dynamically linked to pricing, which sits in spreadsheets. So, the pricing details have to be manually inserted into the proposal, over and over, for each iteration or change. Other than offering consistent documents, this is hardly an improvement over using Word. It simply misses the heart of the issue.

Product-Focused CPQ Will NOT Automate Services Proposals

Unless the services pricing is very simple (i.e. line item or SKU-based services), most CPQ software will not work for services. Why? Because CPQ evolved as a solution for pricing products, not services. They are missing the elements that define services proposals: timeline, skills and roles, tasks, pricing models (fixed price, T&E, etc), quote level analytics, and dynamic proposal content creation.

One more thing they are missing: simplicity. These products are notoriously complex and assume IT involvement. Dropping CPQ on a Services team accustomed to spreadsheets and Word docs will not reduce cost and it will not increase sales capacity. It will produce the opposite results.

But, CPQ for Services WILL Automate Proposals

CPQ for Services is an industry-optimized version of Configure Price Quote (CPQ). It’s a collaborative sales platform built for automating services pricing and high quality proposals (and quotes and SOWs) with speed, simplicity, and low cost.

With just a few clicks, a salesperson (or a Sales Support/Solution team collaborating together) can select a template or answer guided selling questions, and auto-generate all the details of a services proposal: timeline, roles, rates, pricing, and the proposal, all of which can be manually adjusted, very simply and quickly.

zimit cpq for services  

(Click image to enlarge.)
CPQ for Services: Answer guided selling questions to auto-create all pricing and proposal content.

Improve Efficiency by 10x

Reducing the proposal process from weeks to days or hours, will be 10x improvement in efficiency, literally. These gains will unlock sales capacity resulting in new services, packaged in simple and unique ways. It will reduce the costs of sales support, and will help modernize a sales infrastructure in Services that hasn’t changed in decades. It will speed up sales cycles and reduce the time to revenue. It will help Service teams improve margins with real-time visibility. But mostly, it will make customers smile and reinforce their confidence in your product or service. Isn’t that the goal?

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James Cramer

About Author James Cramer

James Cramer works for Zimit, the leading provider of Services CPQ. Other popular blog posts of his include: “CPQ for Services: The Spreadsheet Killer” and “How to (Actually) Automate Services Proposals.”  

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