Dealmaking Is Disappearing: Where Will Sales Enablement Tools Take Us?

Sales enablement tools are automating much of the work that goes into B2B sales quoting and proposals, as well as the contract management lifecycle. But how far can this technology take us? Is dealmaking almost gone for good?

Mike Kephart

Dealmaking is disappearing. From NYSE to eBay, from Apple Pay to the partner network, the exchange of goods and services across digital platforms has simplified so dramatically in the last 10 years, that even traditional B2Bs are beginning to shrink their dealmaking, streamlining the sales process from quote to contract. But as has been the case in nearly every discipline that has been automated, this shift has only increased the importance of those tasks that a computer is incapable of achieving. While more and more processes and communications are picked up by advanced sales enablement platforms, the deal itself — those words and gestures leading up to the final signature, even if it is an eSignature — have become more critical than ever.

At this critical pivot point in B2B, it seems fitting to take a moment and smell the proverbial flowers in a world that is simplifying sales operations execution, where repetitive sales work is being reduced by automation, leaving more time and attention for richer, smarter relationships between buyer, seller, and partner. It is time to take a closer look at how technology is changing the way we do business.

Quote-to-Order (Q2O) and Quote-to-Cash (Q2C) Support Complex Dealmaking

Products like Quote-to-Order (Q2O), Quote-To-Cash (Q2C), Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ), and Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) support/automate much of the sales process. The goal of implementing any of these solutions is often to increase “the ease of doing business,” both parties working more effectively together by working less on the sale.

The push for efficiency has led to stunningly simple, end-to-end offerings like Quote-To-Order (Q2O) and Quote-To-Cash (Q2C), which support the sales process from initial configuration through finalized order, or cash-in-hand. But some visionaries, including the authors of B4B, believe that these efforts have not yet reached their true potential, the ultimate goal being a sales organization that is: “....frictionless and scalable.”

In the three years since B4B was published, we have seen the market for Sales software develop around reduction of friction and indeed, scalability; cloud offerings have become standard practice, even for middle-market firms. We have also seen offerings orientate around a recurring revenue model rather than a single upfront cost, enabling richer partnerships than were typical in the 20th century. If B4B were a prophecy, many signs are pointing to its fulfillment.

Sales Enablement tools make buyer and seller happier by reducing the human resource requirements of dealmaking, so it seems no one will be happy until the deal disappears completely. Or is that impossible?

The Challenges of Q2O and Q2C: What about the Dealmaking?

The deal is the center of the corporate universe. Every business function, when they approach the deal, sees something altogether different. A Sales Rep looks at the deal as a sales process, everything from cultivating a lead to negotiating the final price. Operations looks at the deal as an order to be fulfilled. Accounting looks at the deal as revenue, profitability, and promises to pay. There is technology out there to augment each of these functions separately, reducing the amount of human resources spent while at the same time enhancing the impact of the sale.

We can look at sales enablement technology as a couple of meaningful cases-in-point. Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) is a sales enablement tool, supporting the quoting process. CPQ vendors have expanded the role of CPQ to include deal negotiation as a supplementary feature, adding proposal generation to the CPQ function. As a sales enablement tool, CPQ supports the Sales Rep by reducing the hours required to produce a quote. CPQ also delivers profitability data in order to help the Rep make better deals. Time is reduced; success is increased. I have not seen a deal negotiation feature that was capable of dealmaking, itself.

On the far side of the deal, Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) focuses on service agreements and order fulfillment. CLM helps to manage and streamline service revenues. It offers seamless contract creation from the signed deal, and it would offer advice on deal mechanics based on long-term profitability service metrics. CLM allows the Sales Rep to spend less time on cross-selling by automating service notices and generating new cross-selling opportunities.

Both technologies reduce employee work-hours per deal while maximizing revenues. These two technologies are the closest in proximity to dealmaking, so it is important to note that neither comes close to replacing the dealmaking basics.

If a sales rep is concerned about job security, then the takeaway here is not to worry. Dealmaking is disappearing, but this is only magnifying the value of the work a rep does. By reducing repetitive, support actions and eliminating unnecessary work, sales enablement tools increase effectiveness, also increasing the value of real talent. Critical time spent in front of the customer is still more important than ever.

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