We are excited to introduce CPQ Masters, an ongoing interview series with experts in revenue operations, business systems, and business operations who have significant experience implementing, managing, and maintaining a CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) system. CPQ Masters aims to highlight and share the unique perspectives, experiences, and knowledge of these SaaS industry experts in order to better educate other practitioners on CPQ best practices.
Abhijit currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in his free time, he loves reading books and watching content about history, religion, self development, and business. He also enjoys volunteering with an India-based organization called Freedom Employability Academy (FEA), where he mentors students from underprivileged backgrounds in India.
In your own words, tell us about your roles and responsibilities at Cloudflare.
I joined Cloudflare about a year ago as a Sales Operation Manager for the business. My focus is on improving sales productivity and being a subject matter expert on CPQ processes. I also serve as a liaison between IT and the sales organization for CPQ implementations and enhancements in the company.
How did you get started in Business Systems?
I started my career as an Oracle CRM & ERP consultant. The reason I was drawn to the field was that it offered scope for problem solving. I enjoyed working with stakeholders to identify pain points in their business processes and then collaborating with developers to design solutions. Over time, I shifted my focus to become a Quote-to-Cash Architect. I found that I had a real knack for mapping business requirements to fit into the architecture of the product to streamline the processes and make them more efficient.
What do you like most about Business Systems?
Applications like CPQ and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) are important because they lay out the foundational data structure and processes that drive your company. Basically, your data accuracy and process efficiency is driven by how well your solution is designed and what your product offers. What excites me about business systems like these is that they offer scope for analysis and problem solving.
At times, there is creativity involved in adopting a product to fit the unique requirements of a business. It’s not just about implementing the latest technology or software, but also about building it a certain way to fulfill those requirements. I’ve worked on building the extensible pieces that are required to support the packaged products, such as custom billing engines, custom components for pricing, or the whole custom logic for Service Level Agreements (SLAs), etc. How you implement and customize a solution can make or break your business, and that’s what keeps me excited about the work that I do.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in your role?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve experienced is when the logic from our CPQ system doesn’t align with our company’s specific needs. Say, for example, my company offers list pricing, but my CPQ offers volume-based discounting. It can be frustrating when we’re trying to map a product to our business requirements, and the system just doesn’t seem to understand what we need, which often means spending more time than we’d like to get the system to do what we want.
Another challenge I face is when our existing systems lack the necessary functionality to support our business processes. While these products come with lots of features, they have some inherent limitations that aren’t typically uncovered until the product is implemented. When there is a gap in functionality, we are forced to create workarounds to get the job done. For any product implementation, most of my time is spent bridging that gap between our existing systems and what we need them to do.
I’ve also faced significant challenges when it comes to integrating a CPQ system seamlessly with our ecosystem of existing applications. We need to ensure that our GTM applications and back-end applications can communicate with the CPQ system in real-time, so that any changes made to pricing or product packaging are immediately reflected across all systems. Achieving this level of integration can be time-consuming and requires significant resources.
How important is CPQ software in your day-to-day work?
As someone who works with CPQ software on a daily basis, I know how important it is to have a system that is user-friendly and talks to our ERP systems. Having a good CPQ tool is essential for streamlining our sales processes and allows us to quickly generate accurate quotes for our customers. In addition, having a system that talks to our ERP systems is critical for ensuring that data is transferred accurately between our sales and operational teams.
What best practices do you follow for successfully implementing, maintaining, and using a CPQ system?
When you’re implementing a CPQ product, you have to understand the whole end-to-end sales process. I’ve seen a lot of CPQ architects or experts who are just thinking about their own product and don’t try to understand the whole gamut of requirements. They understand how to build a product configuration, but they don’t know the billing requirements, the configuration requirements, or reporting requirements. They are not looking at the touch points. I really think that all CPQ experts need to have that whole understanding of the end-to-end process.
Another best practice I follow is ensuring that the CPQ solution is user-friendly. When someone is using your solution, how usable is it? How is a new user going to pick it up quickly? I feel like IT organizations focus on implementing a solution and don’t think about the usability aspect, but it’s a very important item to consider.
In the past year, what is one tip you can share that made the biggest performance difference in your role?
Typically, IT teams are working on the business system and are supposed to meet the business requirements, but IT and business teams are often working in their own worlds. Having a business counterpart with an understanding of your systems is really key for product resolution. You basically need someone who can be a liaison between IT and business teams and understands the system limitations. That way, you can identify the gaps in advance, highlight the limitations to the business team, and then come up with workarounds to close that gap. It’s a very important role that most companies are missing, and even when I worked in the IT organization I’ve had to extend my responsibilities to play that role.
What’s a mistake you see get made all the time with CPQ, even by smart people and smart companies?
One of the mistakes that gets made all the time is that CPQ experts are focused on the individual product and not considering the end-to-end implications.
Factors like usability of the tool for users and key reporting and metrics are often missed out or not paid attention to while solutioning. Typically, that reflects in poor operational efficiency. Poor usability means a longer learning curve. Missed metrics means you cannot track performance vital to different business teams and have poor insights into business effectiveness.
One more common mistake is there is little attention to scalability. Considering the long term evolution of quote-to-cash solutions for organizations, every company needs to build certain capabilities after a certain period of time. If the solution is not scalable, then every new enhancement or project takes you to the design board, and a lot of redesigning of the solution is needed.
That’s why it’s important to take a holistic approach when implementing a CPQ system and where a business counterpart comes into play.
What do you see as the next big thing in the CPQ space?
First and foremost, having a CPQ with built-in, sophisticated guided selling. Sales users have a very dynamic job. They have a lot to learn about the business, product, and competitors. They don’t have the time or appetite to learn how to use the tools or about ongoing changes in the tools. You want to ensure that your team doesn’t have to spend so much time learning how to use a CPQ. That’s really one thing that should be considered for the next generation of CPQs because it would make the learning curve easier.
Another thing that I have experienced is that several quote-to-cash scenarios, common to most of the companies today, still need to be solutioned in the CPQ product and are not built in. This adds to the implementation cycle and eventually affects route-to-market for any offering. Hence any new product has to be built for these common scenarios. That will be a big boon for the industry, I feel.
Another big thing I see in the CPQ space is having an API-based system to expand your sales channels. An API-based system allows you to easily integrate your CPQ software with other sales channels, such as e-commerce sites, marketplaces, and partner resellers, so they can offer your products and services to their customers. It also enables you to provide your partners with real-time access to your inventory, making it easier for them to quickly create quotes and close deals.
Finally, having a CPQ that talks seamlessly with your back-end systems. If I’m upgrading, canceling, or adding a product, there is a lot of hassle to build that kind of CPQ solution. I’ve been working on CPQ systems since 2016, and every company ends up building their own custom processes and solutions, but they aren’t smooth enough.
What are your top 3 go-to resources for staying sharp in your role?
To stay sharp in my role, I watch videos on Youtube, take courses on Udemy, and talk to people in my network. I have a good network of CPQ experts and talk to them about how they use CPQ at their company.
If you liked this interview, make sure to check out our other CPQ Masters interviews here.