Does it really need to take SO long? No.
I came across a rather sobering statistic - sales reps spend just 34% of their time actually selling. Among other things, a huge chunk of a sales rep's time is spent on generating quotes, proposals, and gaining approvals. In fairness, it takes time to get a quote right. You want to promise the right configurations, get approvals for discounts (which can sometimes take a committee!), and get the pricing right for the specifications that the customer is requesting. Now, here's the fun part - these variables change constantly, right up till the last minute. So, of course, it takes a huge chunk of time!
Moreover, this isn't work that adds value, per se. Sales reps are sellers, not administrators and project managers and consensus builders. This isn't work that is suited to their skill set. It is, essentially, a double whammy, in terms of time taken away from selling.
Fortunately, we have CPQ. Configure, price, quote (CPQ) software helps companies automate the lifecycle of the quoting and proposal process, from the time a customer supplies their needs, and ending with sending a detailed quote. CPQ allows businesses to configure logic for the offering, standard and custom pricing, and quote tracking. It contains information that salespeople can use to quickly create offers and it offers workflows to create, modify, send, and track quote documents in different formats. It also allows sales reps and sales leaders to evaluate the profitability of each offer based on financial rules, customer pricing, costs, and external factors like competitors, market changes, or laws and regulations.
In effect, the offers that come out of a CPQ tool are often much more scientific than those derived through decision-making by the committee. It keeps us level, and consistent in our pricing, while giving us the flexibility to operate outside the bounds when needed.
However, CPQ is expensive, and especially when we're just starting out, CPQ is overkill. Our offering catalogues aren't large enough, and neither are our teams. Decision-making is faster and it usually happens in the form of a conversation between the rep and the business founder. No approvals are needed after that. So we have a sword when all we needed was a needle.
This is where Proposal Software comes in. RFPs are a part of our lives, the moment we set sights on larger organizations. Even if we aren't responding to RFPs, we're still sending out proposals, and our sales reps are struggling with them. There are SO many reasons that a proposal can land wrong: It isn't tailored to your audience. Too much technical jargon. The pricing is too low or too high. It missed mentioning your USPs. It didn't position the solution right.
Also, (and I know you'll relate) proposals have a tendency to bring out the overthinker inside all of us. Remember the last proposal that went into an infinite loop of edits and changes? Or the one before that? Or the one before that? Proposal software interrupts that loop by creating a really strong first version and then letting all the relevant parties collaborate on it in real-time. Some of the best tools also include analytics.
Why SaaS rules
CPQ and Proposal Software has been around for a while, and like all tools that try to do everything, everywhere and all at once, they've grown unwieldy. As a sales rep and sales leader, I've suffered through them. In many cases, they've replaced the problem they were attempting to solve in the first place. Why did we stick with them? Because we'd invested a big chunk of money into them, and needed to justify the expense by actually using them for as long as possible. Sigh.
This is why I like SaaS. I'm all for brand loyalty. As an entrepreneur, I seek it from my customers. But as a SaaS entrepreneur, I know it is something I need to earn month-on-month. This is as it should be. As a customer, I shouldn't be tied to a solution I no longer like or want to use. The Pay As You Go SaaS model keeps everyone competitive, and current.
Of course, all the tools I'm looking into right now are for my own SaaS baby SmartCue, so my lens is skewed towards tools that are most suited to small organizations and startups that are yet to achieve scale. However, all these tools are the sort that can scale rapidly with you when you grow.
With these considerations in mind, here's my list. Please bear in mind that this list isn't exhaustive, and I've only included those tools that I or my tribe have used. Also, I've relied on G2.com and Capterra.com for most of the customer reviews.
Free version: No
Trial version: No
DealHub is a sales engagement and CPQ platform. The platform allows you to share relevant content, quickly produce error-free quotes, track buyer engagement, and automate sales workflows and approvals. It can be easily used by your AE and CSM teams and it fully integrates with Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It works beautifully with predictive sales, guided selling, content sharing and contract management. They also offer great support, which is a BIG plus! If you want to reduce administrative inefficiency and get a complete view of customers throughout the deal stages and if you want to scale your sales operations without hiring lots of staff, then this is the tool for you.
Cons: Implementation can take months!
Free version: No
Trial version: No
Salesforce CPQ is very, very large and expansive. It automates your quoting, contracting, and ordering processes. I’ve used it before and what I like about it is that it helps sales reps by creating accurate and elaborate quotes within a short period of time. It integrates seamlessly with Salesforce CRM and other major cloud-based CRMs. What I like about it is that it connects directly to a predetermined price book, making it very easy to create a proposal based on a standard cost and/or add discounts and reflect those reductions on the order form as needed.
Cons: You need extensive training to be completely comfortable. Also, it takes its own sweet time to load. Also, it is super pricey.
Free version: Yes
Trial version: Yes
Proposify is a proposal software for all business sizes. It is clearly a tool that is curated for salespeople with customizable templates, proposal analytics, and a live customer dashboard, it gives you everything you need to create effective proposals. It offers superb metrics and interactive quoting and is great for pipeline management. I like the fact that the ultimate end proposal that is sent is consistent as far as branding and language and that it is really easy for the prospects to read and execute.
Cons: The UI can be a bit glitchy sometimes. Users also complain about it being difficult to get PDF downloads to align properly.
Free version: No
Trial version: No
Similar to Proposify, RFPIO is a cloud-based RFP software and it has a pretty dynamic interface. It automates import and export functions, centralizes content for proposals and security questionnaires, and facilitates collaboration among key stakeholders. It is a robust platform that has many great features that allow for easy uploading past questionnaires to your library and/or completing new questionnaires/RFPs/RFIs. The ability to build a centralized answer library increases efficiency and greatly improves the quality of our proposals. You can even collaborate with stakeholders to answer and review different sections of the proposal.
Cons: The reporting function is significantly weak. It’s not intuitive or user-friendly.
When it comes to CPQ, my clear preference is DealHub. Not only is the UI cleaner and more user-friendly, but the load times on DealHub are also significantly better than SalesForceCPQ. The offering is more or less comparable, but the price is not. SalesForce is much, much pricier. This is, of course, a personal opinion not shared by many of my peers. Even back in the day when I worked as a sales leader, I knew several colleagues who swore by SalesForceCPQ.
When it comes to proposal software, hands down, it's Proposify. As SmartCue grows, I can see myself using it. The UI is intuitive, there are lots of custom templates, and I love the pipeline management features. It is also way friendlier to use, and I can see it saving us a lot of time and trouble.
For me, anything that takes my sales reps away from their core function is time wasted. We're SmartCue - we're in the business of selling! SmartCue makes demos more effective. It makes my clients better at selling their products. It allows their sales reps to really shine. For my reps to shine, all I need to do is streamline activities that keep them away from selling. SmartCue does the rest.
There's a certain inertia when it comes to certain processes. We like doing them the way we've always done them… irrespective of how inefficient they are. RFPs, Proposals, and Quotes - they're all inertia adjacent.
Don't fall for it. There is a better way, and what I've listed here for you is just the start. Sales are hard, but it's also exciting. Some of our best people are our best because they love what they do. Why keep them from it? Look at what your team achieves today. That's what they're doing with just 34% of that time. There, you did the math already.