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Automating the Customer Engagement Lifecycle

By: Ittai Bareket, CEO of Netformx

In today’s highly competitive IT solutions market, outstanding customer experience is an important differentiator. Gone are the days of drop-shipping a box, installing, configuring and collecting maintenance fees down the road. In today’s subscription economy, every customer touchpoint is contributing to the ongoing revenue generation process. Whether it is the initial concept solution sale, adoption, or renewal, solution providers require continuous engagement with their customers.

Whether you are a communication service provider or systems integrator creating IT solutions for the enterprise, government, or education market, you need to focus on business fundamentals. Margins are thin, which makes it critical to reduce or eliminate manual and time-consuming tasks and to consider end-to-end deal profitability. As Vijay Gurbaxani, professor of business and computer science at the School of Business, University of California, Irvine, writes: “In short, any investment that allows you to boost the capabilities of your workforce, or increase efficiency or productivity in a material process, is a no-brainer.”

This is easier said than done. IT solution sales engagements are complex and data-intensive—and rife with manual processes. Intricate vendor deal registration processes determine the cost structure and discounts. Vendor promotions and incentives impact the backend rebates and bonuses. Then, solution providers need to determine the end customer pricing as they assess overall deal profitability. And we haven’t even addressed the competitive landscape.

Eliminating the drudgery by moving from manual processes to automation, optimization, and analytics can enable customer-facing teams to focus on their customers and on winning and renewing profitable deals. Streamlined and consistent sales processes provide efficiency and scalability to ensure profitability and competitiveness, while simultaneously delighting customers.

Difficulties streamlining the customer engagement process

As solution providers respond to world events and crises, the climate and customer needs are ever-changing, which makes selling IT solutions even more complicated. IT technologies are evolving continually, as are markets, channels, and end-customer requirements. Each vendor’s products, price models, and incentive programs are prone to ongoing modifications, making it difficult to stay current when creating proposals and quotes. This means the resulting designs may not provide the best margins.

Sales can be very technical. Designs and proposals needed for larger customers are unique and require a high level of expertise, which is an expensive and limited resource. In addition, these unique or timely market demands often require quick response and may be technically different from past solutions. This is where manually created designs are risky and can lead to design errors, interoperability issues, and more costly custom implementations.

As solution providers shift to subscription selling, they learn that the proposal generation process itself is rampant with manual activities that don’t have a view into their impact on profit or margin. Which purview do subscription renewals fall within: the sales team, maintenance team, or possibly the inside sales team? Consider that refresh opportunities and new emerging products, upgrades and migrations evolve, adding complexity. This means that the customer-facing team needs to determine the optimal solution at every stage of the engagement.

Vendor incentives are another area of complexity. Cisco, for example, generously provides billions of dollars in incentive programs to their channel partners. But to receive the benefits, the partner must stay up to date on complex and changing qualification criteria. This entails spending hours or days gathering, aggregating, segmenting, and analyzing data from multiple Cisco and distributor sources. One of the most popular programs, the Cisco® Value Incentive Program (VIP), provides substantial rebates on eligible SKUs sold during a six-month period. For the current VIP period, thousands of SKUs were included in the program, and the documentation spanned hundreds of pages covering multiple architecture and annuity incentive tracks as well as compliance and transition rules. It takes a monumental effort to stay on top of the VIP incentives, let alone all the other incentive programs.



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