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