Episode 66 Nov 10, 2022

An Argument for Investing in Pricing Before CPQ with Accenture

“I'm a strong believer that pricing should be first before CPQ,” says Accenture Managing Director Mo Beshir. “Everyone knows if I am doing a CPQ solution, I am looking at selling faster, selling better and selling more. What if I'm selling faster, better and more with the wrong price?”

Mo joined Zilliant General Manager of Commercial Excellence Barrett Thompson for a deep dive into the maturation of price optimization software and how it adds value to any CPQ investment. They explore the downsides of using CPQ without an integrated pricing solution, how Excel-based pricing puts companies behind the volatile economic times, and much more.

Mo Beshir

Mo Beshir

I've seen a lot of clients still taking a snapshot from different sources and trying to run their simulation in Excel. By the time they load their recommendation back into the system, all the baseline assumptions have changed. Getting a pricing capability that will crunch all of these and give the price point for this customer within each segment will add a lot of value.
- Mo Beshir, Accenture

Episode Transcript

Mo Beshir: I'm a strong believer that pricing should be first before CPQ, and I'll tell you why. First of all, everyone knows if I am doing a CPQ solution, I am looking at selling faster, selling better, and selling more. What if I'm selling faster, better, and more with the wrong price? So I personally believe companies should start with pricing optimization and then shift into CPQ.

Barrett Thompson: Hello everyone. My name is Barrett Thompson. I'm the General Manager of Commercial Excellence at Zilliant, and I'll be your host for our podcast. I'm joined today by Mo Beshir, managing director at Accenture. Mo, welcome to B2B Reimagined.

Mo Beshir: Barrett, thank you for having me.

Barrett Thompson: Mo, by way of introducing you to our audience. Would you describe your background and your current role at Accenture?.

Mo Beshir: So I am a pharmacist. I [00:01:00] started my career spending years in the pharmaceutical world in sales and marketing. I did my MBA, and after that, spent six years with different consultancies around pricing. I then moved away, met a company to set up their pricing function and grew up from a pricing manager to become their global director of pricing and commercial operations.

But then the company got acquired and I decided to get out and joined Accenture to set up the quote to cash capability and the pricing function within Accenture.

Barrett Thompson: That's quite a journey. In fact I've seen few people sort of start in pricing. They end there, but they come from so many rich areas. I think you're the first pharmacist we've had on the podcast, so, it's a pleasure to have you here.

Just before we jump into our topic for the day, is there any surprising or interesting fact about yourself that someone would not learn by looking at your LinkedIn profile that you'd be willing to share with us? [00:02:00]

Mo Beshir: One thing I'm really keen on is teaching and sharing knowledge. Sharing knowledge for me is an important topic and I like to teach what I feel I'm good at, so I teach stand up paddleboarding. I teach dancing, Latin dancing. I teach soccer for me because I have twins, a boy and a girl who are seven years old, and I teach them in the local club soccer for the seven years old here in Germany.

Barrett Thompson: You really are the Renaissance man. I can't wait to see your dance video. Maybe there'll be a series we could follow. Mo thank you for sharing.

Well, we're very pleased to have you today and to explore this really important topic of how pricing solutions can enhance the quote to cash process and the value of CPQ tools. And this is an area of great expertise for you Mo, and let me open the topic by saying that in my role, I often see RFPs [00:03:00] coming across my desk from companies that are in the market looking for what they call a CPQ project.

That will be the label that they have on the RFP. But as I look into the requirements, I see there's often much more there - requirements that I would characterize as price management requirements, price optimization requirements that are really playing a prominent role in their project. And I wonder if you've seen the same, and if so, what do you think leads to this disconnect of putting a CPQ label on what may really be a price management and price optimization need?

Mo Beshir: So great question Barrett, and as you and I know in the pricing society, companies are in their different stage of maturity, and we know some companies have started this journey and have an established pricing function that already can write RFPs with very detailed pricing requirements. Some of the companies are still in their early days, they [00:04:00] don't even have a pricing function.

They have a business process organization driving commercial operations. And looking at it from a process side and trying to write RFP from that side. And then there is a third group where there is a good IT function in the company that want to establish a CPQ solution because they've heard about it. So it depends on where the company is in their maturity and who's writing those RFPs.

We end up getting exactly as you said, a mix. Pricing optimization into CPQ requirements. The two are intertwined anyway.

Barrett Thompson: That's a great explanation. I hadn't considered sort of where they might be on that journey, how that may drive the point of view that they take on how they characterize their project.

Mo I'm interested to know what your point of view is on the ideal order or sequence in which the pricing solution [00:05:00] and the CPQ solution might come into the business. Is it one before the other? Do they happen together? Are there some combinations that work well under one circumstance, but a different combination is preferred under another?

Mo Beshir: For me, I'm a strong believer that pricing should be first before CPQ. I'll tell you why. First of all, everyone knows if I am doing a CPQ solution, I am looking at selling faster, selling better, and selling more. What if I'm selling faster, better, and more with the wrong price? I am selling faster, better, and more but at the wrong price point. So I personally believe companies should start with pricing optimization at the start. And then shift into CPQ in other ways. Yes, there could be alongside each other in certain areas, depending again, where the company maturity is and where they [00:06:00] are with their data structure.

Barrett Thompson: Mo, you mentioned one consequence of going out of order, selling more at the wrong price. Are there any other roadblocks or consequences that a company might experience if they pursue CPQ without pricing software alongside or without pricing software or any other downside they should be aware of?

Mo Beshir: There could be a few downsides. There could be areas where now I'm selling faster, more, and better. But I might create in bottlenecks in the process because I then said every price points need to be approved by one person, so I moved from no price approval to a senior manager or the regional manager having to see every opportunity going into play and having to approve all of them, and he can, he or she cannot do it.

And then they end up stopping the [00:07:00] process or slowing down the process, than selling faster, better, and more.

Barrett Thompson: Yeah, there can be some unintended consequences, right? Some side effects of failing to have pricing strategy and pricing guidance in place before the CPQ. I'm somewhat empathetic, however, to maybe the executive team at these companies or executive buyers who say, Well, I was looking for CPQ and the P stands for pricing.

So I have an expectation that I'm getting the pricing I need inside of the CPQ solution. And I wonder, when you advise clients, how do you explain to them, Mo, where the CPQ pricing capability really stops and true price optimization begins?

Mo Beshir: Right. It's a difficult one to say where one stops and when one begins, because for me, they're both intertwined.

In the B2B space, and you and I have spent a lot of [00:08:00] our age in this selling B2B space, and I see companies and sales are becoming more sophisticated. Sales people are expecting optimization in everything they do. They want the system to tell them which customer they should see first, and if they know which customer they should see first, they want the system to tell them which route is the best route to drive to get to see their customer. And then when they go to see the customer, they want the system to tell them which product they should see. So I get surprised with some clients when they say, Well, pricing is not important. So why don't we say to the salesperson, What is the optimal price for you when you present to the right customer the right.

And the right price. There are a lot of opportunity lists and a lot of money left on the table because sales are [00:09:00] not getting that piece of what is the right price for that customer and where I can improve my overall sales capability for that customer without having the insight and the analytics, the guidance of it.

Barrett Thompson: I've also seen examples where the requirements that have come for CPQ, they actually have embedded within them something that the executive buyers haven't really connected the dots on yet. They may have a great aspiration to tailor the price according to the selling circumstance, to respond dynamically according to supply, demand changes, competitor price point, inventory on hand, these kinds of things.

But, may not know enough about the CPQ space yet to recognize that the P, the pricing in CPQ is generally not able to integrate the sort of data that would be needed to dynamically adjust the price, nor are the calculation capabilities really there. So I [00:10:00] feel for them, because they have a right vision in some cases around the price they want to deliver.

They may be thinking, yes I do. They might have a vision for giving that optimized price, but they don't yet understand that CPQ may have some severe limits on the sort of price calculation or the data that it can be aware of. So I hope we can help them see that there's a missing link there and we can provide that missing link.

Mo Beshir: And a lot of companies think that by doing manually crunching, I've seen a lot of clients still doing it in Excel, doing their formulas in very good complex formulas, but because they're in Excel and your point, they're taking a snapshot from different sources, trying to put them in an Excel file.

And trying to run their simulation in Excel. By the time they load their recommendation back into the system, all the baseline assumption have changed. And there are more data points that did not integrate. [00:11:00] So for me, getting a pricing capability that will crunch all of these data and give the segmentation of the customer and the right price point for this customer within this segment will add a lot of value to customers.

Barrett Thompson: That's a very interesting sort of indicator point that people in the audience might listen for. If the process that they envision or the tools they're using today require them to routinely and repeatedly export data out of the tool into Excel.

So they can do some math calculation or modeling or scenario work and then load it back in again. Whether they're doing that deal by deal, quote by quote, or whether they're doing it once a day, once a week, et cetera, that's an indication that you're, that other system, the CPQ, et cetera. Cannot do the pricing calculation you really need because you're resolving that tension by pulling data out of that system, doing the missing math in Excel, and then trying to push it back in.

That's [00:12:00] such a bandaid solution from my point of view. The commercial tools, the enterprise grade tools are available to do that sort of math pricing, math and pricing analysis and pricing optimization that you. And it would be so much better to have that solution and integrate those than to keep moving in and out of Excel three times in the process and the hundreds of times every week.

One other area I've seen around CPQ, and maybe I'll even think of it as a misapplication of CPQ, is in the area of agreement management. I'm thinking here about these customer price agreements, special pricing for a customer, maybe. Put in effect January 1st, and I keep those prices for a year and I come back and renew them over time.

For my large customers, my high value customers, these typically represent a large portion of revenue for a B2B company, and I see that they're routinely undermanaged. They might be on a set and forget kind of philosophy. We put the prices in once and I don't [00:13:00] have a good way to manage them over time.

Or maybe they're trying to address them with Excel. Occasionally exporting data into Excel, trying to update prices, maybe to reflect cost change and put them back into the ERP system. In a few cases, I've seen companies try to go after their long term agreements with a CPQ. But it looks to me like the CPQ is really oriented around quoting an order and then fulfilling it right away, and that's perhaps different than setting up and maintaining an agreement and modeling out the financial implications of a year long commitment in price.

I wonder if you've seen the same, What are companies doing to handle their agreement pricing? Are they successfully using or misusing CPQ as one of their ways to address that price type?

Mo Beshir: It’s a very good point. What I see when I speak about pricing to my client, I usually speak about it from two sides.

One is the price strategy, the price setting, and then the second part is the [00:14:00] price execution. So now if we set the price to your appointed agreement price on the contract price, need to sit somewhere in an ERP. And a lot of companies usually manage that pricing piece in the SAP system and say, This product for this customer will remain valid into 19, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9 year, and it'll not end.

And I've seen it so many times with clients that the price gets set in SAP. And forgotten. And those companies are going into negative margin selling those products because the system is just delivering the price as the agreement price. It's a contracting price that was set and forgotten and the customer keeps sending the owner and it's getting the same price for it now, SAP is a great system for ERP for a lot of things when it comes to order management.

[00:15:00] The price point is today where I see a lot of customers moving away from the historical SAP pricing and think, where can I manage my price that will allow me more of the flexibility to dynamically change those prices and still at the end of the day, push one price point to SAP that will pick the execution of the contract or the order and win the order.

So by taking on the historical data that used to sit in the different price list in SAP, moving it outside into a pricing system or within the CPQ and getting the CPQ to figure out and send the final price to SAP for all execution, we're saving a lot of money. We're driving a lot of optimization for our company.

And we're reducing number of disputes because a lot of clients are reaching [00:16:00] a point of, I'm getting the wrong price to the wrong customer. The customer comes back and disputes that price.

Barrett Thompson: Mo. I think this is a powerful example, and in fact, in today's omnichannel B2B world, one of the complaints I hear is that the price I have in ERP customer product specific price, I'm not able to show it in my e-commerce portal.

For example, I want my customer to order on e-commerce, but they cannot complete the order because I'm showing them the list price, which they never use. And I should show their standard price. So the description you gave of having an external, real time pricing engine that knows the right price and can send that to ERP, can send it to e-commerce, can send it to CPQ all at the same time, would certainly allow for a consistency of price across the channels as well.

And I think that's an important thing. We want it to be an optimized price, as you said, and we want it to be a consistent price.

Mo Beshir: [00:17:00] In the new world of new selling, like we're going into omnichannel optimization, we want the customer who will see his price if a sales person goes to him or if he goes onto his own portal to see his price points or if he is ordering on an e-commerce.

All of these price points need to be harmonized and not seeing different price points.

Barrett Thompson: Yeah, it's a big opportunity. Well, let me ask if there might be, an industry point of view or an industry angle to this Mo. Do you think that CPQ and pricing solutions together make more sense for certain segments or certain vertical industries over others?

Maybe they're at a different point of readiness or maybe the nature of how they sell would say. And suggest that they're a better candidate for this combination. I wonder what your experience has been and what you see happening, particularly in any growing verticals or heavily challenged verticals.

Mo Beshir: [00:18:00] When I started my career, I was mainly focusing on the life science and the healthcare, because healthcare and life science, although shoot tremendous price threshold, and that's where CPQ and price optimization have been essential to the survivor of the healthcare and life. And I think this same trend in the manufacturing business.

So all the manufacturing companies going into the B2B. However, over the last five years within Accenture, I've been involved with different industries from consumer goods, having the competition from product coming from China, and to differentiate and wanting to create a value proposition to their distributor market that will differentiate their product and will differentiate the product in a kind of a B2B2C at the end of the day.

So consumer goods is growing a lot in the CPQ and pricing. I've seen retail and [00:19:00] today the competition with the price, with the inflation happening, a lot of the retail clients are looking at how could we improve our price point and how we can make price point decision per minute or per hour. That depends on the product freshness and the product readiness before it perishes.

So I see this growing trend of CPQ and pricing across almost all the verticals.

Barrett Thompson: I really appreciate that those are two, that I'm not very close to the CPG and the retail. So it's interesting to me to hear that they have very similar challenges to some of the traditional B2Bs. How do I respond in real time to cost changes?

How do I keep up with competitive pressure? Right. It's a very common need that I'm seeing across the verticals. Mo, in addition to the synergy of the solutions themselves, which we've been talking about so far, share a little bit about how Zilliant and Accenture [00:20:00] work well together on behalf of our clients, whether it's our industry, vertical depth, the combination of technology and consultancy.

What really makes that partnership beneficial for the listeners in our.

Mo Beshir: Sure Barrett, one thing I'm really proud about within Accenture is that we are not just an implementation partner and also we're not just a pricing consultancy. We are a consultancy company that can bring pricing capability with the implementation team.

So when I put, we have Accenture Strategy and Consulting and Accenture Technology. So when I put a team for our client in the CPQ and pricing, I put people from pricing from the strategy and consulting to focus on the pricing optimization and the recommendation on pricing. And then I put with them a team of technology people who understand the technology, who understand Zilliant and help them mirror [00:21:00] the two.

So that the pricing recommendation, it's not blue sky wishlist that will never be implemented. And at the same time, it is not just what the customer thinks they need. We can challenge them a bit, figure out the right price for them, and then give them a solution that works and we know that it will deliver. That combination gives us, with Zilliant having a great solution.

I've seen the capability that Zilliant can deliver. It's amazing compared to all the other vendor in the market, and that's why I publicly say I support going to a lot of clients, with Zilliant and Accenture together, makes us unique to deliver real value at the end of every implementation.

Barrett Thompson: I really admire that answer, and I think you're onto something here that the success of a pricing initiative cannot rest solely and only in which [00:22:00] technology vendor you're working with.

You need the price strategy. You need the effective implementation. You may need process change and organizational structure recommendations, and so many other pieces to make your entire pricing initiative successful. And we're so excited to have a highly qualified and unique partner like Accenture to bring that together into our client engagements. Mo, before we leave, what are your parting thoughts on the sense of urgency that companies should have around transforming their quote to cash and pricing capabilities in the current environment?

Mo Beshir: But before we leave, I think we know with all the work we are doing together and everybody is aware of what pressure and the importance of pricing.

It's no longer a luxury. It's not a nice to have. It is becoming more and more essential for the survival of companies, for being competitive with be high inflation [00:23:00] rates that we're going through. The potential of recession that we could be hitting soon, pricing is a must-have.

And the other part that I want to share with your audience is that I, as partners with Zilliant, we now are reaching certain level of maturity that we're going to clients and not only telling them to do a pricing initiative, it'll cost you X. We're actually now going into market and a lot of clients are asking us to put some risk into play, and we're putting value-based deals together to our clients to say we're going to actually reach this level of optimization for you, and we're gonna reach that because we believe we know what we're gonna achieve. We know the success we can deliver for you, and we are ready to put some of our own money at risk to achieve that. And that [00:24:00] will help you reach those results. That it's not just a team that will come in and implement a solution.

Barrett Thompson: It shows a high confidence in our belief in the outcomes and the benefits for B2B, doesn't it? Mo, this has been a great conversation today. I want to thank you for taking the time to join us on the podcast and I really appreciate you sharing your perspective with us.

Mo Beshir: Thank you for having me. It was great to be part of your podcast and I look forward to more podcasts to come.

Barrett Thompson: Yeah. We'll do it again soon. Also, let me thank each of you, our podcast listeners for being with us today. In the show notes, you'll find a link to a very informative article about how price optimization and management solutions bolster the value of CPQ in your business. Please check it out.

We're committed to your success, and if you need any assistance, please reach out to us here at Zilliant. Would you do me a favor? Please rate and review this show in your podcast app [00:25:00] as it helps us to continue to put out great free content. Until next time, have a great day.

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