Have you ever received a bill full of errors? In a restaurant, that error might be fixed in a few minutes. In complex business sales, fixing those errors could take weeks. Errors in quotes and invoices is one reason why so many companies have created vendor management offices.\nCPQ (configure price quote) software promises to ease the selling and buying process for complex sales. Making life easier for sales representatives is part of the story. Sales managers and executives also have the potential to benefit. In fact, the drive to increase management control was a key driver for customer relationship management (CRM) software. However, the traditional approach to CRM and related software has a critical problem: Sales staff are often unwilling to participate.\nRecent research has found that sales reps are less-than-enthusiastic CRM users. Hubspot reports that sales reps spend over five hours per week manually entering data into CRM systems. Furthermore, many customer records have incomplete contact information in CRM systems. Incomplete contact details mean that managers cannot save deals if the sales representative leaves the firm. Jeb Blunt, author of \u201cFanatical Prospecting,\u201d points out some struggling sales reps avoid picking up the phone because they are overly concerned with CRM activities.\n[Related: -->How CPQ Systems Boost Sales Automation and CRM]\nThe two products described below illustrate the capabilities of CPQ software. Each takes a different approach:\nApttus -- AI enabled sales technology: Founded in 2006, Apttus has rapidly become a popular choice for complex sales solutions. Known for its partnerships with Salesforce and Microsoft, Apttus\u2019s products integrate successfully with common business products. If your company sells complex products such as subscription software, industrial goods or hardware, Apttus may be an excellent choice. The company\u2019s long partnership with Salesforce may come under strain in the future because Salesforce has acquired SteelBrick, a competitor to Apttus.\nHelping sales professionals accurately sell complex products is not the only benefit for CPQ technology. Capstone Capital, a specialized investment firm focused on high-value life insurance policies, started to use Apttus in early 2016. The organization has nearly $100 million worth of insurance policies to oversee, each with different premium payments. Also, Capstone faces the challenge of managing loans taken against approximately 30 percent of the insurance policies in their portfolio.\nBefore pursuing a CPQ solution, the company used a manual process to manage insurance policies. This process involved manually reviewing files and later improving the process with Salesforce. \u201cAccurate on-time payment for all insurance policies is critical for our business. If we are late or pay the wrong amount by even 10 cents, the insurance company has the right to cancel the policy. Using Apttus helps us to manage payment obligations across a growing portfolio of insurance policies,\u201d says Vasu Vijay, chief technology officer at Capstone Capital. By using Apttus, the company has reduced monthly data processing time from four hours to about 15 minutes.\nFPX -- business transformation beyond the sales team: Other companies take a different approach to improving the sales productivity game. Based in Texas, FPX has worked in the CPQ area since the 1980s. \u201cHelping farmers purchase complex machinery and managing requirements from lenders and government was the origin of our company,\u201d explains Dave Batt, CEO of FPX. \u201cReducing errors and friction in the sales process is part of the story. I am also hearing cases of the CFO leading CPQ implementations because they want more accurate data for forecasts,\u201d he adds.\n[Related: -->5 Dreamforce takeaways to guide your CRM strategy]\nAchieving productivity gains with CPQ often requires a business transformation project. \u201cWe have large companies with more than two-dozen estimation tools dramatically simplify their process,\u201d Batt explains. \u201cThe sales group is only part of the story. It is also important to optimize the groups that run pricing and supply chain matters. If your pricing information does not reflect your supply chain costs, you are more likely to make bad decisions,\u201d says Batt.\nThe challenges and rewards of a successful CPQ implementation \nCPQ solutions occupy a middle position in enterprise software with connections to CRM and ERP. The complexity and sensitive nature of these systems mean that \u201cout of the box\u201d configuration is rarely sufficient. As with other systems, data governance and quality remains an important challenge. The process flow at Aspect Software, a maker of customer contact and service software, formerly combined automated and manual processes. \u201cOnce the proposal was printed and signed, the spreadsheet was sent to order management for manual entry in Oracle EBS quoting to initiate the billing and fulfillment transactions,\u201d explains Stefanie Causey, senior director, IS Solution Delivery, at Aspect Software.\n\u201cWhen we brought everything together, it became very apparent that we had issues with our account and asset data.\u00a0 We also had issues where sales and finance had a different understanding of assets and sales. As a result, the organization faced significant to delays in our ability to create and manage our annual renewal cycles and forced a year-long effort to cleanse data,\u201d says Causey. Managing software subscriptions is an important part of Aspect\u2019s business.\n[Related: -->10 acquisitions driving Oracle's cloud strategy]\nObtaining productivity and quality gains also depend on excellent processes. If your organization develops pricing and quotes through Excel spreadsheets and has no written rules, automation will be difficult. Implementing CPQ software with a project team and an external consulting team will likely continue to be necessary. However, those projects do not have to break the bank. \u201cThe early first few phases of the product cost under $500,000,\u201d adds Causey.\nThe way forward for CPQ and improving complex sales\nSales enablement technology is continuing to grow in prominence. If CPQ applications and services continue to evolve, the phrase \u201ccomplex sales\u201d may become obsolete. Apttus\u2019s demonstration of a natural language capable AI assistant suggests one possibility. With properly configured business, AI assistants have the capability to assess deal profitability. Such assistants can also guide reps through the process of selling new and unfamiliar products.\nThe implications for sales professionals and managers are clear. Technology is gradually taking on more and more of the administrative and operational work of sales. Sales professionals are likely to fight for the authority to control, or at least influence, pricing. The ability to connect with customers, aside from technological intervention, will continue to become important.