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PROS Holdings, a provider of price and revenue optimization software, has an agreement in principle to acquire Cameleon Software, which offers configure, price and quote (CPQ) applications. The combined company is likely to benefit from a broader geographic presence (PROS is based in Houston while Cameleon is in Toulouse, France) for their sales and marketing efforts. However, the longer-term strategic value of the merger lies in the combination of the related categories of price optimization and CPQ to improve sales effectiveness and financial performance.
Price and revenue optimization, which I have written about before, is a business discipline used to effect demand-based pricing; it applies market segmentation techniques to achieve strategic objectives such as increased profitability, greater market share or both. Software to manage price and revenue optimization first came into wide use in the airline and hospitality industries in the 1980s as a way of maximizing returns from less flexible travelers (such as people on business trips) while minimizing the unsold inventory by selling incremental seats on flights or hotel room nights at discounted prices to more discretionary buyers (typically vacationers). Today, it is a well-established part of any business strategy in the travel industry and is increasingly used in others including retailing (chiefly through mark-down management), financial services and many business-to-business verticals. PROS started in the travel and hospitality industry, which accounted for 44 percent of its 2012 revenues, but its recent growth and focus have been more in manufacturing, distribution and services; those customers accounted for 56 percent of 2012 sales.
For its part, CPQ software emerged to make the process of configuring complex products more efficient. This issue is of particular importance for industrial companies that sell to other businesses. A Class 8 truck, for example, has multiple options for mechanical parts such as the engine, transmission and braking system, as well as comfort features for the cab such as air conditioning and the radio/audio system. Assembling the various piece-parts of an offering manually, determining that the configuration is a valid one (for instance, whether transmission Y actually works with engine X) and calculating a basic offer price can be time-consuming and error-prone. CPQ software enables those quoting a price to quickly develop even multiple proposals for a prospective buyer. This is a well-established software category. Our benchmark research shows that about half of all companies with 1,000 or more employees use it, another one-third intend to deploy it and only 17 percent have no plans to use it.
Although valuable on its own, when CPQ software is joined to price and revenue optimization in an end-to-end, lead-to-order process, it increases the effectiveness of that process by giving sellers more ways to intelligently manage volumes and margins through altering the cost of individual components. For instance, the base price of a unit may be priced with little or no markup if the goal is to generate margin on the other parts of the sale. (This is similar to many retailers’ strategies except that the price of each piece of the transaction may be negotiated and the prices involved are often considerably greater.) Optimization software can enable sellers to achieve their revenue and margin targets by using purchase behavior patterns to better assess the buyer’s price elasticity. Indeed, the choice of certain components themselves may provide sellers with clues about the buyer’s overall price sensitivity: For instance, those wanting certain features, brands or grades may be less inclined to negotiate and therefore should be quoted a higher price. (Similarly, certain online merchants have been found to charge buyers using Apple products more than others.) Thus when price optimization is part of the business logic in using CPQ software, it makes the software more helpful to the user.
Viewed from the other side of the combination, adding a native CPQ capability to price and revenue optimization software makes the analytics far more actionable because it can support an end-to-end process. Although PROS has had CPQ capabilities in its Quote2Win application, they are not as robust as what’s available in Cameleon, which provides configuration capabilities and guided selling. PROS has published APIs to facilitate integration with CPQ systems, but integration out of the box with a full-featured application is certainly better. One of the biggest barriers to more widespread adoption of price and revenue optimization is that products don’t always enable user organizations to easily embed the analytics and data that drive optimization directly into the sales process.
Businesses that first adopted price optimization (and which have the deepest penetration) include travel, hospitality and retail mark-down management. Their common characteristic is that all are (or started out as) relatively simple products (say, a round-trip seat or a dress) for which prices are set, not negotiated. Business-to-business (B2B) transactions, however, often are more complex because the product often is a bundle of physical goods, services, warranties and ancillary provisions such as delivery. Moreover, typically these transactions involve some negotiation allow the sales representative a degree of freedom in setting prices and discounts. Having the actual price being quoted is critical for to capture and use in the sales process as our research in sales forecasting found that pricing data is one of the top components in 48 percent of organizations but so is the configuration of products to 22% percent of organizations and want it to be included in the sales forecast. Because the process is more complicated, prospective users of price optimization may find it daunting to adopt the strategy. In theory at least, adding a robust CPQ capability should make it easier for a company to implement a successful price and revenue optimization strategy in a reasonable period of time.
Decades of experience have demonstrated the value of this software category. Without the benefit of price optimization applications, it is almost impossible to assess a customer’s demand elasticity to determine an optimal offer price. Margin may be lost unnecessarily when sales people default to discounting to ensure a sale. Simple up-sell and cross-sell strategies can be beneficial, but they can fall short of what’s optimal and – increasingly – what’s possible. Having software to better gauge price sensitivity and control more elements of a negotiation with greater visibility into its profitability can help companies achieve an optimal balance of revenue and margin. The process can be even more effective when it’s coupled with sales incentive management software. All of which points to improving the sales process and our latest research in sales found that inconsistent execution is the largest impediment in 53 percent of organizations that is motivating management to invest into sales technology like CPQ and pricing optimization.
Organizational issues also have inhibited adoption of price and revenue optimization strategies in industrial companies as well as the use of this category of software. Responsibility for managing profits usually involves both the finance and sales organizations. Both have roles in handling profitability, but the process is typically simplistic (using up-sell and cross-sell strategies with little regard to the profitability of the components), imperfectly coordinated between Sales and Finance and almost never optimized. Ideally, CEOs and COOs should be initiating an optimization effort, but I find this is rarely the case. Using analytics to manage pricing and support a sophisticated strategy is an important business innovation that industrial and other business-to-business verticals should embrace. Finance organizations – specifically the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) group – should take the lead, especially if they want to demonstrate the ability of Finance to deliver more strategic value to the company. Successful price and revenue optimization strategies can provide a sustainable competitive advantage. Companies of course need a pricing strategy; understanding the benefits of price optimization software can help them see what’s possible and develop an implementation plan.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research
People who don’t spend much time analyzing the software market may have trouble understanding the differences between products in a given software category or the difference between two categories. This happens because vendors and commentators use the same words to describe different depths of functionality and degrees of comprehensiveness in one type of application. As well, there can be multiple categories of software that address the same general business issues but are designed for different specific uses. Not only is it worth the effort to sort through the labels and understand what does what best, but different categories of software that are sold and deployed separately can provide even greater value when used together.
For example, I recently had a conversation that touched on the relationship among three categories of business software: price and revenue optimization (PRO), sales and operations planning (S&OP) and performance management. The three share characteristics. All are analytical applications that have planning capabilities. Each category can – and sometimes does – stand on its own in an organization. Yet the three are complementary, and deploying them in a coordinated fashion can increase the value of each component. To envision this, imagine a pyramid-like relationship between the three: Performance management provides a foundation at the bottom, sales and operations planning fits in the middle, and price and revenue optimization is at the apex. I’ll explain this hierarchy in more detail.
The performance management software label covers a broad set of functions that provide corporate planning and budgeting, decision support and communications capabilities including reporting, dashboards and scorecards. It is a foundation element in corporate software that provides essential services to help executives and managers set goals and objectives, monitor business conditions and assess the performance of individuals or business units. Performance management software has been around for more than a decade and has been widely adopted. Our Financial Performance Management Value Index finds that most products available in this mature category are robust and offer the same core capabilities. They also have planning and budgeting functionality to set financial targets and assess progress toward them.
Sales and operations planning is a management discipline originally developed in the 1980s to improve coordination between the parts of a business that focus on market demand (including sales and marketing) and those that create the supply that meets that demand (including manufacturing, supply chain, purchasing and operations). In theory, one could use performance management software to achieve this balance, but products in that category lack the kind of process and functional capabilities that are designed specifically for S&OP. One would have make substantial modifications to a performance management application and then continually maintain it to approximate the functionality of an S&OP application. Used together, though, the underlying capabilities of a performance management application can provide the corporate and financial planning context for the sales and operations planning function; it can be the central source of dashboards for monitoring all S&OP-related activities and the system that generates reports.
Price and revenue optimization is a business discipline used to create demand-based pricing; it applies market segmentation techniques to achieve strategic objectives such as increasing profitability or market share. PRO first came into wide use in the airline and hospitality industries in the 1980s as a way of maximizing returns from less flexible travelers (such as people on business trips) while minimizing the unsold inventory by selling incremental seats on flights or hotel room nights at discounted prices to more discretionary buyers (typically vacationers). Today, it is a well-developed part of any business strategy in the travel industry and increasingly used in others. Analytical software is available that enables companies to implement and manage a PRO strategy, which I covered in an earlier perspective.
For manufacturing and distribution companies, S&OP and PRO software combined can provide valuable capabilities. The latter can devise a mix of products at given prices that will optimize profitability given other constraints (such as market share or minimum volumes), while the former enables the company’s operations, supply chain, manufacturing, sales and marketing organizations to put the plan into practice and continually adjust the balance of supply and demand to reflect changing market conditions.
S&OP does not have universal relevance. It applies mainly to product and manufacturing businesses that move physical objects from sources through distribution to buyers. Its analogue in financial services would be a portfolio management and optimization application, which would be used to set the parameters for the composition of assets on the balance sheet – typically the types of financial instruments that the organization will hold, their riskiness and maturity.
Another type of complementary middle-layer analytical software is sales compensation management, which is an essential element in businesses that use a direct sales model. I’ve noted in the past that for these types of companies, sales compensation management software increases the effectiveness of profit optimization software because it makes it easier to adjust incentives quickly to reflect changes in market-driven requirements.
Software industry analysts often focus on the issue of choosing a suite or a group of best-in-class products. But there has been little coverage of the advantages of using complementary applications to improve performance. As I mentioned, performance management, S&OP and PRO software each can stand alone and deliver value to companies. They naturally have loosely coupled relationships with each other, which reflect the organizational reality that each is managed by different parts of the business for their own purposes. Together, though, these three types of applications, as well as sales compensation management, can enable the companies that use them to do even more in achieving their strategic goals.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research