Creating predictable revenue in uncertain economic times
In today’s uncertain economy, many companies are struggling to maintain the predictable revenue streams necessary to support day-to-day operations, as well as support future growth. At the same time, leaders are looking to solve a wide range of business problems that directly affect the bottom line, ranging from increasing productivity to improving customer satisfaction to raising retention rates. The right technology, and strategic use of automation, can help leaders meet the challenge of each of these seemingly overwhelming obstacles.
Protocol sat down with Randy Littleson, chief marketing officer at Conga, to talk about how revenue lifecycle management can help organizations create predictability, even in an unstable economic environment.
Many organizations have large volumes of manual paperwork and cumbersome processes that can impact productivity and the customer experience. How does this also impact revenue growth?
Organizations have two major customers: the employees of the company internally and the customers of the company that are impacted by this work externally. If your processes are manual, they are likely disconnected, manual, slow, and cumbersome, which means a high risk for human error and a negative impact on your brand. Often, how quickly you can turn around a proposal or a quote and actually engage a business can be key to landing the business, which means speed has huge implications on revenue.
Your processes also have a big internal impact, such as not being able to tell where things are stuck in the process and employees wasting time — and getting frustrated — with unclear processes. Also, salespeople may be discounting products without proper approvals and negatively impacting profits and margins. Without clear processes, you may also be selling or configuring products that your supply chain can’t deliver or even a configuration that won’t work. Not to mention, every minute your employees spend shepherding the process or triaging issues means time not spent earning business with more customers.
The implications of manual paperwork and cumbersome processes are pretty huge, both internally and externally. Ultimately, it comes back to revenue, which is fundamentally what Conga is all about. We help unify disconnected processes through automation. Conga reduces the complexity so that you can, in turn, increase the predictability around your revenue.
You mentioned the impact on employees. Do cumbersome processes also decrease employee engagement and retention as well?
Absolutely. I’ve worked in companies where there was so much grumbling about the time wasted and painful processes that it just zapped the productivity from everyone, especially salespeople. Because salespeople are compensated based on bringing in business, it’s excessively frustrating for a salesperson to feel that they’re wasting time fighting internal manual processes — time that could be better spent producing revenue for the company and compensation for themselves. Why wouldn’t they go to another company where they have less friction, can be more productive, and can earn more money?
When people leave a company, especially salespeople, it gives you much less revenue certainty and predictability, which is the holy grail when you are accountable for revenue. You build an expense plan and investments that hinge on your ability to bring in the expected revenue. When you have turnover, you not only lose the producing salespeople, but also have an unpredictable decrease in revenue due to the churn in relationship and handoff issues.
From your experience working with companies of all sizes across industries, what is the key to improving the revenue lifecycle journey?
The first thing is unification. The revenue lifecycle starts with the salesperson proposing a quote, negotiating, and signing an agreement. Once the contract is in place, you need to deliver on the agreement, such as delivering a product or providing access to software. Many businesses are moving to a subscription model given the inherent benefits in revenue predictability. With this comes an added emphasis on renewing and expanding relationships with customers, which completes the lifecycle as this leads directly back to proposing and quoting new business. Unfortunately, for most businesses today, the various phases are typically disjointed and disparate, so you need to unify the steps so there is a more efficient process and all key people are kept in the loop.
Next, you need to automate, which reduces the potential for human errors and speeds up the processes. Third, you need to gain intelligence about what is happening in the process so you know where there is risk, opportunity, compliance issues, and obligations. With all three — unification, automation, and intelligence — you increase predictability and, ultimately, customer lifetime value, which is the amount of business from a single customer over the lifetime of the relationship.
How does automating processes improve business outcomes for companies?
When you automate, you remove delays; you are no longer waiting on someone to do the previous step, because automation moves the process from one step to the next. You also reduce the risk of manual error. For example, when you create a proposal, you have to pull in certain data elements such as account name and address, key contact, etc., maybe out of your CRM system. When you automate the creation of the proposal, you guarantee the right data is the right spot.
Automation also ensures consistency and standardization. The more automated the process is, the more you ensure that it’s going to be consistent every single time, whereas with a manual process, three different people may do it three different ways.
A lot of times in business, the first mover is the key to winning. If you can be quicker and timelier, you have a better chance of winning the business. Automation ultimately makes it possible to improve the customer experience through speed, combined with consistency, predictability, and accuracy.
When you talk about improving the customer experience through automation, are you referring to the external customer or employees?
Both. When you automate processes, the employee experience is more seamless with less friction, which improves retention. If I’m working on a proposal or quote for an external customer, I can improve their experience, in terms of fewer delays and improved accuracy, with automation. With manual processes, there is a risk that customers discover an error that both lowers their trust in our company and negatively impacts the revenue, but automation helps to address these challenges.
Can you share how a customer’s lifetime value mindset helps improve revenue growth? How can an organization move to this approach?
Customer lifetime value mindset and revenue growth management are inextricably tied together. When you unify disparate processes by automating and adding intelligence, you maximize your customer lifetime value. This is mainly accomplished by sharing data and intelligence across the various processes — helping to smooth renewal execution, identify cross-sell opportunities, ensure consistency in terms across expansion opportunities, and more.
Many organizations adopt a subscription model which necessitates a customer lifetime value approach, which aligns your people, processes, pricing, and metrics. Your compensation models are then focused around that notion of a subscription and that continuous delivery of value and revenue. Consumers benefit as well because the subscription provider must keep earning their business.
Is the subscription model the only way to move to the customer’s lifetime value mindset?
No. However, it is a big catalyst. As more and more companies adopt a subscription model, the experience becomes more customer-value focused to earn the business — customer service itself changes from being seen as a cost center to a driver of the relationship necessary to ensure renewals and expansions — which is a win-win for both sides. Aligning your people, your organization, and where you compensate people around this whole overall notion is key to creating the customer lifetime value mindset.
Organizations in compliance-driven industries often face extra challenges and steps. How can a revenue lifecycle approach help these organizations ensure compliance while improving outcomes?
Companies with compliance requirements must have controls and governance over all of their processes. Everything we have talked about — unifying, automating, and adding intelligence — bakes controls into the process, reduces manual errors, and removes disparate one-off processes, which are the enemy of compliance. Automation is an easy way to standardize your processes throughout your day-to-day execution, which ensures compliance.
What is the benefit of using an API-based platform for revenue lifecycle management?
From a business perspective, the fact that Conga offers APIs throughout our products doesn't fundamentally change the value we can deliver. We have some customers that don’t use the APIs. However, APIs offer the ability to go an extra level by embedding the functionality into your workflows and your processes. It offers new ways to leverage the functionality.
For example, if you need to use the rich capabilities in Conga for pricing, configuring, and electronic signatures, APIs allow you to access the functionality directly inside your application instead of going into our applications. APIs give our customers dramatic flexibility to integrate other applications and data to use technology to solve their biggest business problems.
What specialized technical skills are required to customize the API?
We use RESTful APIs, which are widely accepted industry standards, making it easy for organizations that use APIs for other products to use the same processes while businesses that are new to APIs can relatively easily figure it out.
What role does collaboration play in revenue lifecycle management? How important are real-time tools?
Once a customer wants to buy your product, many different roles must collaborate on the process through the negotiation phase, especially sales and legal. Finance also makes sure that the discount is approved and not going to affect the company’s revenue margins negatively. All internal parties must be able to easily collaborate back and forth with the agreement negotiation, such as seeing the customer’s proposed changes and understanding the legal department’s position.
By using automation and real-time tools, you can standardize the process and reduce delays as well as let salespeople know which clauses in the agreement are non-negotiable and which are flexible. When the redlining is visible to everyone in real time and the approvals are automated, the processes become much quicker and smoother.
Why is it important for businesses to adopt revenue lifecycle management solutions in the near future? What benefits can they expect to experience by doing so?
With clouds on the horizon in the economy, revenue predictability and certainty are critical. While those clouds are closer and more ominous in some industries, we all see them right now. It’s important to increase your revenue certainty and predictability so you can plan out expenses and margins to make the best possible business decisions. With all the supply chain issues in recent years, you also must be sure that you can actually deliver what you are proposing to a customer. If you can’t, then you risk hurting the relationship.
Amid current economic uncertainty, every business is moving to a stage where we need to do more with less through improved efficiency and automations. When you move to a lifecycle management solution, your organization gains the predictability that it needs all the time, and especially right now.
Learn more about Conga and how strategic automation can support predictable revenue in uncertain times at https://conga.com/.