Using Cloud Computing to Facilitate Sales CyclesBy Drew Robb
January 12, 2011
According to IDC, cloud spending will increase by 30 percent in 2011, which is five times the growth of the rest of the industry. IDC analyst Frank Gens thinks this is happening because organizations are moving a wider range of business applications into the cloud.
We'll see the IT industry revolving more and more around cloud-based application and service delivery, said Gens.
Companies with complex products and sales cycles, for instance, are finding value in the cloud. Such organizations, after all, tend to operate in unstable market environments. In order to support the volatile market requirements, there is a need to have tools and systems that can be kept very current.
Unfortunately, many IT organizations have difficulty keeping up with anything that is constantly changing, anything composed of a large number of agents, systems and locations.
Most IT groups just arent wired to handle the level of product and pricing change required by the business, said Bill Brun, customer success manager at cloud vendor FPX. Its related to the common strain between marketing and IT its marketings job to change with market needs. IT generally wants to minimize change and variation.
If the system implemented isnt flexible enough to handle complexity and the frequency of adjustment in products/pricing, a headache can sometimes result in terms of supporting mission-critical processes. IT staff is left to scramble, attempting to troubleshoot in-house applications. Typically, this leads to a lot of customization and that often means continual babysitting.
Thats why some companies are looking to the cloud as a way to reduce the complexity, increase the flexibility, cut costs and improve the pace of implementation of more sophisticated sales applications.
Take the case of Genband, an IP infrastructure and communication network service provider. Its customer base includes two thirds of the worlds largest service provider networks, spanning more than 80 countries. Arriving at the close for one of these customers is a long and winding affair.
We had various tools in place, but they were slow and cumbersome, said John Weidenfeller, senior manager of commercial marketing at Genband. Our goal was to make the sales team more productive, efficient and independent. We needed to allow the sales people the flexibility to customize the offerings but also ensure this was managed within the parameters of approved pricing and configuration practices.
FPX delivered a cloud-based application to configure products, price them, allow various departments (finance, legal, engineering) to view and approve them, while at the same time allowing for accurate discounts, charges and fees to populate the quote. Known as FPX CPQ OnDemand, Genband combined it with Salesforce.com to allow the organization to capture all quotes and create proposals using the most current rules and pricing.
Before, this was a very manual and time consuming process, said Weidenfeller. Today, the proposal package can be generated as soon as the quote is completed. And most important, we are confident that what the sales team has presented to the customers is going to be accurate, resulting in greatly reduced quarterly adjustments and happier customers.
Brun said this is not an unusual example. Companies growing through mergers and acquisitions, for instance, need to be able to quickly integrate new products/solutions, sales processes, bundling, and sales personnel so they can present one face to the customer. Many of them resort to spreadsheets to manage product and pricing information. But a system like this is only as good as the data that is entered.
Done right, simplification of the processes and information that feed quotes, proposals, and orders means a better experience for customers, said Brun. The company is able to bring products to market faster.
Eliminating delays on approval and data verification is also a plus as is the ability of sales management to be able to effectively manage pricing, discounting, and ordering costs.
Cloud-based applications remove the hurdles around in-house infrastructure and support while allowing ready collaboration with stakeholders and in team-based sales, said Brun. In the cloud, its much easier to represent one version of the truth across sales channels, across customers, and across the Web.
For companies with a high level of product and pricing complexity, then, the cloud could be an interesting proposition, particularly if cloud-based sales applications can be blended with existing investments in Salesforce.coms Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementations.