Hrishikesh is based in Fremont, and in his spare time he loves listening to all kinds of music, but his favorite is Indian Classical. He also has a newborn at home, in addition to a five-year-old, so that does keep him pretty busy. Hrishikesh was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat all things CPQ with Subskribe.
In your own words, tell us about your roles and responsibilities at Okta.
I’d say that I’m wearing multiple hats that span across product management, architecture, and engineering. Most of my time is spent on painting the big picture for a given area and its requirements. It’s not like I get an enhancement request and just work on that. It’s more like connecting the dots between the past and present framework and figuring out how it’s going to scale for the future. Having that alignment is very important in our organization and I’m playing that role because I have legacy knowledge at Okta and expertise in CPQ. I know the features of the tool so connecting and leveraging all of that together is more of my responsibilities nowadays.
How did you get started in Business Systems? What has your career path been like?
I started my career at Okta as a Business Systems Analyst in the CPQ space. Here at Okta, however, when we say “CPQ” we actually refer to everything from the deal booking process all the way to cash flow, so my role really started to grow from there. At first, my work was very CPQ centric, but then it started expanding into other areas where I was building the integration requirements or use cases related to CPQ.
What do you like most about your role?
Problem solving is the core of what I like most about my role. Figuring out the optimal path for solving a problem is one of the challenges I enjoy taking on. Asking questions like, “Can we solve the problem just by writing code? Or do we solve it through people, processes, or data?” People have a tendency to forget or ignore the big picture to understand what needs to be done to close the gaps and achieve their goals. That’s when I feel that I play the most valuable role. I can go to the team and say, “Let’s take a step back to understand the intention, and then figure out how to solve the problem.” When there is a problem, I work with the team to make sure everything is sorted out.
What interests you most about this industry?
When I started writing code and building models, I started thinking about how I could make things better. If we were doing something manual, for example, I thought, “How can we automate some of the problems?” I used to work in the telecom industry, and they have a huge cycle of CPQ quote-to-cash processes. All of that really interested me and made me realize that this was a space that I wanted to grow into. Eventually, I started learning about the various CPQ tools and building my expertise in the domain, not just the standalone technology. I always strive for that domain excellence and go towards it.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in your role?
Because I wear multiple hats, it can be difficult to have a boundary defined around my role. And it makes it confusing for the peers who are working with a similar set of responsibilities because there isn’t a clear delineation between my role versus their role sometimes.
How important is CPQ software in your day-to-day work?
It’s something I live and breathe everyday. It’s very important not just for me, but for a lot of folks in our GTM organization who spend 80-90% of their time in CPQ closing the books, working through code, negotiations, pricing, among other things.
CPQ software is like an operating system, like Mac or Windows. Without Windows, for example, you can’t really run any other software or tools. We need to have that core established properly. And that’s how I treat CPQ, and I try to educate the other team members about it — that you have to treat CPQ as your core because everything revolves around it. If you don’t have the right products properly configured or the pricing models configured, everything is going to be impacted. Revenue is going to be impacted. The billing system is going to be impacted. The forecasting is going to be impacted. Your deal cycle, starting from marketing all the way to cash, is going to be impacted if you don’t have it. That’s the importance of CPQ — it’s the core of everything. If you don’t have CPQ, then all of the other processes are kind of broken.
What best practices do you follow for successfully implementing, maintaining, and using a CPQ system?
Like with any tool, there is documentation provided by the CPQ vendors that include some of the best practices for configuring and using the software. But sometimes, we need to step away from those guidelines to solve for specific use cases or requirements.
A problem I see is that organizations call everything “CPQ.” CPQ should only refer to CPQ — configure the products, price them, and then quote them. Anything apart from this should not be involved in the CPQ process itself. Ultimately, what happens is that we have a lot of related automations tagged to the same process, which eventually slows everything down. Then people start complaining about the system being too slow, so they spend millions of dollars to optimize the CPQ, which is insane.
Not everything should be automated, and not every automation should be linked to the CPQ. That’s how we should treat some of the CPQ tools we have, like not changing it too frequently. If you have established the core, try to find an opportunity to bend it in a way or have a framework-based approach there so that you just configure some inputs, send it to the tool, and then it throws you the desired output. That is how we should maintain CPQ overall. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time we have a request because it drives everything down and you delay your projects. We keep working on a shaky foundation, which is eventually going to bring your building down. That’s what we want to avoid, and we should focus on following the framework-based approach and find opportunities to decouple the automations from CPQ.
Do you feel like this is a unique one-off problem or is this a problem that many companies face and why?
I have experienced this problem firsthand and have witnessed this at multiple companies. At one of my previous companies, they made the wrong decision in selecting a CPQ. After one and a half years, they had to replace that tool for another one, and the entire effort was wasted. When your business is growing rapidly, you’re solely focused on generating revenue and many people evaluate tools from the business aspect of things. And that’s when you have to have the right set of people to evaluate the tool, implement the tool with the bare minimum requirements, and then find opportunities to leverage your existing framework to support most of the business's use cases.
In the past year, what is one tip you can share that made the biggest performance difference in your role?
Having involvement in the strategic decisions of projects coming into the pipeline really started improving the performance in my role. When I was very focused on the execution-level roles, like implementing systems and building solutions, I didn’t know what was coming down the pipeline or have visibility into what was built in the past. When I grew into my role, I started to have that visibility, which really helped me make the right decisions for the current work we are doing and plan for what’s coming. Now my approach is to build frameworks instead of hard-coded requirements to reduce the overall turnaround time. That is one tip: have a framework-based approach where you build something versus just solving for that particular problem.
What do you see as the next big thing or next big innovation in the CPQ space?
Dictating the product and pricing vision by AI. For example, say you want to know the right price for a certain account of a certain customer. You’d have an AI-based framework which uses current and historical data to design some models for your CPQ. These AI-based solutions are going to improve the CPQ performance and reduce a lot of dependencies on some of the hard coding practices in various tools.
What are your top resources for staying sharp in your role?
I try to go to all the relevant conferences like Dreamforce, and I also like to go through Gartner reports so I know what the best solutions are in the industry to solve a particular problem. It also helps us stay in the know about any business requirements or capabilities that exist in the market or that may be relevant in the near future. I also have good involvement in architecture-related communities on LinkedIn. These communities provide a lot of great inputs and smart ideas to think about.
CPQ Masters is an ongoing interview series with experts in revenue operations, business systems, and business operations who have significant experience implementing, managing, and maintaining a CPQ 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. Read more CPQ Masters interviews here.