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CPQ and Touchless Buying, Part II: Truly Agnostic CPQ

Ben Blaney< Ben Blaney May 26, 2021

What are the capabilities you should expect in a best-in-class, truly agnostic CPQ solution? First, we need to recognize that some offerings may claim to be agnostic, yet there’s room for doubt.

In the first post in this series, we looked at the selling mechanisms companies will be using in the future. Now, let’s look at what constitutes a truly agnostic CPQ solution to best serve those mechanisms.

Many providers claim they offer multiple integrations and can play in the “agnostic” arena. They will say they play nicely with Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics; this may be somewhat true, but they will commonly lean toward one or the other. Why?

I’d hate to ascribe ulterior motives to anyone, but could it be because they’re hoping to get acquired by Microsoft or Salesforce?

CPQ as a Center of Connections

An agnostic CPQ deserving of the label will effectively and impartially serve as the center of multiple connections.

Agnostic CPQ Diagram for Touchless Buying on Vendavo
First Connection: CRM

A CPQ should be truly agnostic about the CRMs it works with. More than that, a single instance of this CPQ can be accessed through an integration to Salesforce for one region or division, and through Microsoft Dynamics for another region or division. By doing this, it’s integrating the sales user experience with the environment in which they spend all their time. As I’ve pointed out above, however, most other “agnostic” CPQ providers are really associated with one CRM platform or another.

Second Connection: Portal Mode/Direct Connect

In this connection, rather than going through a CRM, the same single instance of the agnostic CPQ solution can be accessed with a direct link, with a username and password or, even better, SSO authentication. Many of the CPQ providers I’ve mentioned literally can’t do that because they’re so entrenched with one of the primary CRM platforms. But that’s a bad setup for the customer: If you’re accessing via CRM, you’re paying subscriptions for people who only use CPQ and don’t have any need for broader CRM capabilities.

Additionally, this access mode is helpful for mobile users, who can get a full-screen experience. Another benefit? It cuts down user subscription costs and enables mobile approval outside of a CRM frame.

Third Connection: Partner Portal

Channel is a very big thing this year.  At Vendavo, we’ve learned a great deal about different selling motions, and they vary by industry – sometimes we see manufacturers subverting their channel partners to see the improved margins that they perceive from direct-to-consumer sales. Yet other manufacturers are actively embracing channel selling during and coming out of the pandemic, because they understand that local positioning of inventory, plus the force-multiplier effect of a channel partner’s sales organizations, are huge differentiators. 

Big manufacturers have channel portals for product information, material safety data sheets, and whatever else. An agnostic CPQ solution lets these organizations enable access for their selling tool to configure products, get inventory information, pricing information, and even place an order. 

What’s different in their sales experience? They can now customize pricing and types of products by user. Your CPQ powers their portal, but your proprietary or internal data (your margins, for instance) are still secure from your partners’ eyes, thanks to access control features.

Fourth Connection: eCommerce

In this case, you’ve got a public storefront site that allows your users to browse a catalog, change the product options, see a 3D rendering, et cetera? At the end of this engagement, it gives them a price.

A best-in-class agnostic CPQ will allow you to decide what price to display, or whether you want to sell it right there on the site; the solution will allow integration of a payment processor. The front-end experience will be totally configurable, and completely powered by the CPQ provider, and the right provider should offer other products to complement this.

Importantly, the experience you’re delivering should be completely on-brand, and indistinguishable from any of your other digital experiences. A truly agnostic CPQ will be able to completely skin the sales experience in your brand’s look-and-feel.

One note on this? That best-of-breed CPQ you want will accomplish this seamlessly via APIs, without the development delays and costs involved when other providers attempt it.

In our next post, we’ll examine the importance of solid price management to all this.