+44 203 280 3665
10 Expert Tips To Improve Discount Approval Processes

10 Expert Tips To Improve Discount Approval Processes

Every price discount eats into your profit.

Probably more than you think.

“Most companies can increase profit between 2 and 4 percent by doing nothing other than getting a grip on price discounts”, says pricing expert Tony Hodgson of Pricing Solutions. “And key to this is an effective approval process”.

He’s right. Let’s imagine your ‘fully loaded’ margin on an opportunity is 10 percent. (That’s the margin including indirect costs, not just the product gross margin).

Price discounts apply to gross revenue. So a 5 percent price discount means giving away half your profit. Discount more than 10 percent and the deal is loss making.

The fully loaded margin in your business is probably a different figure. But you understand the impact.

“Too many companies are at the ‘fireman’ stage when it comes to price discounts. They rush from opportunity to opportunity dealing with discount emergencies,” says Tony.

“The first step is to agree a discount policy and make sure it is adhered to. That means having a robust approval process in place.”

So we interviewed Tony. Picked his brain about approval processes.

And guess what? He gave us 10 powerful approval process tips.

And here they are. Along with our advice on how to implement the tips in salesforce.

Tip 1. Implement an effective approval process

“Too often authorization for price discounts is handled in a haphazard and informal manner. That almost guarantees you are giving away unnecessary discounts and eating into your profits”, says Tony. “It sounds obvious but defining a discount policy and using a robust approval process for price discounts is the first step”.

Implement Approval Processes in salesforce

Use the standard approval process function in salesforce to achieve this. If you’re unfamiliar with how approval processes work then watch this short video from GSP Senior Consultant Nick Ambrose.

There’s plenty of online help that explains how to configure approval processes.

Or of course get in touch if you’d like our help.

Tip 2. Avoid rounded discount levels in approval processes

“Companies typically give discount of authority levels of 10, 15 or 20 percent in their approval process”, says Tony. “But remember, that’s a discount on the gross revenue. Every 1% of revenue you give away is having a disproportionate impact on the margin for that deal.

Sales people will often take the path of least resistance. That means if the customer asks for a discount they’ll go straight for 10 percent if that’s their authority level. So why not give them authority of 9 percent? Or 7.5?

The same with higher authority levels in the approval process. Instead of giving managers authority levels of say, 20 percent, give them 17. All our evidence shows there’s almost never any impact on win rates but you gain a major increase in opportunity margin”.

Implement non-rounded authority levels in salesforce

Any number you chose can be used for each level of authority in the approval process. For example, make the approval process entry criteria 7 percent. This means any opportunity with a discount greater than this figure needs approval.

Avoid rounded discount steps in approval processes.

Tip 3. Record what was agreed in the approval process

Tony’s third tip is to keep a record of what was approved and why.

“Let’s say you give a 2 percent discount based on a certain rationale. 12 months from now you don’t want to give away more discount for the same reason. The discount for that rationale has already been taken by your first discount.

“A big issue in many companies is that the reason for a discount is not visible later”, says Tony. “Email isn’t the ideal place for this. It’s impossible for people not directly involved in the discussion to access the information. And even if you are involved, it’s not easy to quickly find the information 12 months later”.

Record what was agreed in salesforce

Often there’s dialogue between a sales person and the manager before the approval process is formally started. Many companies that use approvals processes effectively store this dialogue on salesforce Chatter. That means the information is stored directly on the opportunity, for all to see, for all time.

Use Chatter in salesforce to record the discussion about deals the approval process.

When approving or rejecting an approval process request, the approver can also enter a justification into the comments box. That’s an excellent way of keeping a record of precisely why the approver made this specific decision.

Tip 4. Re-visit opportunities after the deal is done

Tony recommends reviewing deals 6 months after the paperwork was signed.

“Check that the customer is sticking to their side of the commitment. For example, if you gave a 5% discount in return for a guaranteed order of 1000 units per month, then check that’s what the customer is actually ordering. Sometimes it won’t be.

That doesn’t mean you have to go back to the customer in an aggressive way. Perhaps their project has been delayed. But you do at least want to shift the balance of power by making sure they’re aware of the broken commitment. And avoid falling into the same trap again”.

How to schedule re-visits in salesforce

There’s two simple ways to do this. Option one is to create a custom date field on the Opportunity. When the deal is set to Closed Won populate this field with the review date. If this is done manually (rather than by using a workflow rule) then apply a validation rule to make sure a date is entered.

Option two is to create a Task. Set the date 6 months hence and give it a Type of Deal Review.

Add Bundles Of Products To Quotes Or Opportunities

Download the FREE App from our website today

Get it now!

Tip 5. Make the profit impact visible during the approval process

Tony insists discount requests are approved or rejected with full knowledge of the impact of the profit of each deal.

“Each 1% of discount has a greatly magnified impact on the net margin of each opportunity. Approvers need knowledge of this impact when they are considering deals in the approval process. Otherwise you run the risk that many deals have borderline profitability.”

How to calculate the net margin on each opportunity in salesforce

To do this accurately your business needs to be using Products on Opportunities. (In addition to calculating net margin there are many other reasons why you should be using Products).

Then there are two options depending on the level of sophistication that’s necessary to give approvers the information they need.

The first option works well if the fully loaded unit cost does not vary by territory or customer type. In other words, the same cost can be applied irrespective of where the product is being sold.

To do this create a custom field on the Product to store the fully loaded unit cost of the Product. Then use a formula field on the Opportunity Product Line Item to calculate the Quantity multiplied by the Product unit cost. This tells you the total cost of the Product on that particular Opportunity. Sum this value for all Products on the Opportunity using a workflow rule.

The second option is appropriate if the cost of fulfilment varies from one region or segment to another. For example, in the ILX Group, the cost of delivering training courses varies significantly by geography. This is reflected in the price at which training courses are sold around the world.

The price variation is managed through the use of Price Books aligned to each geographical territory. ILX then created the Unit Cost field on the Price Book Entry. This allows the variable cost to be reflected on the opportunity line items. Again the total cost is summarized on the opportunity.

Either approach means the total net margin can be calculated. It’s the Amount minus the total net cost of the Products. It means managers can take the margin figure into account when deciding whether to accept discount requests in the approval process.

Enter a reason for approval or rejection in the approval process. Record the reason why a discount is given during the approval process.

Tip 6. Streamline the approval process

It’s natural to think that the more steps in the approval process the more unlikely it is that unnecessary discounts will be given away.

“But that’s not always the case”, says Tony. “Stripping out levels of authority has a remarkable impact.

For example one of our manufacturing clients had six levels of authority in their approval process. Yet we still found lots of evidence of unnecessary discounts. So they stripped four levels out of the approval process.

Now managers have authority up to 9 percent. If the sales person wants a higher discount, the approval request goes direct to the CEO. And guess what? They usually don’t ask for discounts of more than 9 percent. Win rates have remained stable. But profitability has improved”.

How to streamline approval processes in salesforce

Think carefully about the approval process steps needed in your business. Then configure the Entry Criteria and Steps in the Approval Process function that will support your streamlined process.

Tip 7. Measure win rates

Many companies have differential pricing between geographical territories or market segments. That means there needs to be flexibility in the discount policy.

“It’s important to test and validate changes to the discount levels” says Tony. “The best way to do this is by measuring win rates over time and across territories or segments. That gives quantitative data that can be used to evaluate and adapt pricing and discount approval processes.”

How to measure win rates in salesforce

There are various approaches to measuring opportunity win rates. We believe the only robust way is to compare the number and value of opportunities Closed Won and Lost in a given period. It’s an important topic and we’ve written an entire blog post on measuring win rates.

Tip 8. Make sweeteners explicit in the approval process

“It’s a fact of life that sometimes you need to offer inducements to win a deal”, says Tony. “Free delivery. Non-chargeable training. Upgraded support contracts. Add-ons at no charge. They’re all legitimate ways to get a deal across the line. But there’s a cost to fulfilling them. Or an opportunity cost in lost revenue. So they’re all forms of price discount.

The key is to make sweeteners explicit in the deal. If you’re giving away free delivery, fine. But make an above-the-board conscious decision to give free delivery and include the value as discount in the approval process”.

How to make sweeteners explicit in salesforce approval processes

The key to this is making sure that all elements of the customer solution are captured on the opportunity in salesforce.

Using Products is one way to do this. Items such as delivery, service contracts and optional components can all easily be created as Products. Consider using the product selection wizard to make it easy for sales people to add products to opportunities in salesforce. Let sales people set the sales price to zero for freebies included in the deal.

If you are not using products then create custom fields on the opportunity to capture information about what is included in the deal given to the customer.

Either way, managers it means that are asked to review a deal in the approval process now have a holistic view of the cost and revenue associated with the opportunity.

We have a fantastic video case study that shows how ILX uses products to generate a wide range of benefits including full control of discounts within approval processes.

Tip 9. Track discounts by teams and individuals

“Some people are just naturally better at resisting customer demands for discounts”, says Tony. “New or inexperienced sales people often find it more difficult, for example. But teams or individuals that are under pressure to hit quota are also prone to giving unnecessary discounts.

There are a number of ways to address this. The most obvious is to give sales people the training and coaching needed to negotiate effectively. But it’s not always one size fits all. You need management information to determine which sales people will benefit from different types of training”.

How to measure discounts given using salesforce

To do this create several fields on the Opportunity that calculate the total discount in percentage and value. Nick demonstrates this in the video in Tip 1. Then use reports and dashboard charts in salesforce to track discounts by team and user. Also think about using volume based pricing within salesforce to manage and control discounts offered to customers.

Tip 10. Conduct qualitative research

It’s common to find a ‘Reasons Lost’ field on the Opportunity in salesforce. There’s typically a validation rule that ensures sales people complete the field when the Opportunity Stage is set to Lost.

“How often do you see anything other than ‘Price’ set as the reason that a deal is lost?” asks Tony. “Hardly ever. Yet is this always the real reason? I very much doubt it.

Of course price can be a factor in losing deals. But it’s important to get to the bottom of the other reasons as well. Win-rate measurement gives you the quantitative metrics on how well you are doing. But undertake qualitative research to get to the underlying reasons for success or failure”.

How to capture qualitative research in salesforce

Many of our customers use a custom object called ‘Lessons Learned’ and associate this with the opportunity.

An internal review is conducted whenever a large deal is won or lost and the key findings captured in the Lessons Learned object.

This is sometimes supplemented with customer interviews carried out by an independent third party. As Tony explains, that’s a way to get powerful insights that would not be available through internal discussions alone.

Tony Hodgson, 10 tips on effective approval process.

About Tony Hodgson

Tony is the Managing Director for Pricing Solutions Ltd UK. PSL is an international pricing strategy consultancy dedicated to helping clients achieve World Class Pricing competency. Their international team of senior pricing consultants is committed to providing clients with the tools and support they need to make pricing decisions that improve the bottom line.

As Managing Director he has worked with leading organisations across a wide array of sectors, including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food services, digital publishers, tourist attractions and many more. No matter what the sector, the common currency is an understanding of all aspects of pricing.

If you are interesting in exploring pricing improvements at your company please connect with Tony or contact him directly to initiate a discussion. More details can be found at www.pricingsolutions.com

Related Blog Posts

Why You Need To Compare Average Closed Won Opportunity Size

How to use opportunity conversion reports for superior results

How To Stop ‘Closed Lost’ Screwing Up Salesforce Dashboards

5 Easy Tips That Will Make Opportunity Probability Your Trusted Friend

5 Killer Ways To Increase Your Salesforce Benefits

5 Killer Ways To Increase Your Salesforce Benefits

Last month we gave you 5 Compelling Ways to increase your salesforce.com benefits.

As promised, here’s another five ways our customers have increased the benefits they deliver from salesforce.com. See which ones apply to you.

1. Improve sales funnel management

Nearly every sales funnel contains padding. Deals that rumble along month after month. Opportunities that with the best will in the world, are unlikely to ever close successfully.

It’s these Opportunities that are artificially inflating your sales funnel and giving everyone a false sense of future revenue.

So improve sales funnel management in your company by identifying these lame duck deals and weeding them out. Here’s three metrics that help you do just that:

– Number of Close Date changes.
– Number of days since the last update in the Opportunity Stage.
– Number of days the Opportunity has been open.

These are key metrics that measure the quality of opportunities in the sales funnel. Tracking these metrics will improve the effectiveness of your sales funnel management.

These metrics increase salesforce.com benefits by measuring the quality of opportunities in the sales pipeline.

Let’s say your typical sales cycle is 90 days. The Opportunity in the screenshot above has been open for 143 days. The Close Date has moved 12 times. And the Opportunity Stage was last updated 60 days ago. Can you rely on this deal to successfully close? Probably not.

Combine these metrics with sales target solutions to determine whether you’ve sufficient opportunities in your sales funnel to meet your revenue goals.

Remove The Poor Quality Sales Deals That Inflate Your Sales Funnel explains how to increase your salesforce.com benefits by creating these metrics.

2. Use Product Schedules to track future revenue

Many businesses do not receive the total value of an Opportunity in a single invoice.

The traditional sales funnel view gives good insight into the total value of potential deals. But it does little to inform management on how the income or cash will be received. Here are five examples of situations where Product Schedules can bridge that gap:

  • Recurring revenue models, such as maintenance or support contracts.
  • Manufacturing businesses, in which the goods are shipped and invoiced over several months.
  • Framework agreements, in which a customer draws-down orders against an overall contract.
  • Project-based sales, in which revenue is invoiced based on work completed.
  • Transactional sales, in which customers make multiple repeat orders over the course of the year.

In other words, Product Schedules are highly useful when the Opportunity Amount is invoiced and received through a number of instalments. They enable revenue recognition to be managed in salesforce. And they significantly increase sales funnel visibility by projecting how the gross sales value on potential deals will be invoiced over time.

Creating custom Product Schedules enables even more advanced functionality. Here’s an example of an s-curve revenue schedule in salesforce.com used by a customer in the construction industry.

S-curve in salesforce used in the construction industry.

Reports and dashboards show the accumulated Product Schedules across all Opportunities to generate a revenue profile for the months and years ahead.

Use Product Schedules For Revenue Recognition And Funnel Visibility explains how the standard salesforce Product Schedule feature works. It also demonstrates how custom Product Schedule solutions can easily be created to significantly extend your salesforce.com benefits and forecast recurring revenue. If you want to know more in general about using Products in salesforce then Learn The Basics; and even try The Ultimate Guide to Product Price Books.

3. Load Invoices or Orders into salesforce

Many businesses rely upon regular repeat orders from existing customers. For these companies, an Opportunity represents the process of acquiring a new customer that will subsequently make many repeat purchases. These repeat orders will often be processed through an ERP or Finance system rather than directly through salesforce.

Importing the actual Order or Invoice data into salesforce on a regular basis provides powerful insight that drives business development and account management. It reveals customers whose orders are increasing or decreasing. And allows managers to track the relationship between business development activity and invoiced revenue.

Orders imported against the Account record and inline charts used to display the trend in Order value and increase salesforce.com benefits.

The screenshot shows Orders imported against the Account record and in-line charts used to display the trend in Order value. In this particular customer, the Orders are also automatically linked to a Target record to track performance against target in salesforce.

Getting the data into salesforce doesn’t necessarily require full blown integration. Quite the contrary. We have many customers that load Invoices or Orders into salesforce using the Data Loader on a weekly or monthly basis.

4. Use web to lead to capture new sales enquiries

It’s amazing how many companies don’t implement web to lead.

Most business people will acknowledge that the quicker you get in touch with a new Lead, then the greater the chance of a sale. This is particularly the case when the prospect contacts several companies. Being the first to respond dramatically increases your probability of success.

Yet very often companies using salesforce.com fail to implement web to lead. This is a shame, because it gives an easy way to capture new leads from your web site and immediately direct them to a person that can respond quickly.

Here’s what you can do with web to lead:

  • Automatically insert new Leads into salesforce from a Contact Us page on your web site.
  • Immediately send an acknowledgement email to let the prospect know you’ve got his enquiry.
  • Automatically send prospects content (white papers, case studies, product specifications) that they request from a form on your web site.
  • Automatically assign the Lead to the person or team that can respond quickly.
  • Use multiple web to lead forms on a single web site, each tailored to a particular product area or geographic region.

And of course reports and dashboards provide management information on how well each Lead Source is performing and how quickly sales teams are responding.

The web to lead wizard makes it easy to integrate salesforce with your web site.

The web to lead wizard in salesforce makes it easy to integrate salesforce with your web site.

There’s plenty of advice available on using web to lead to increase your salesforce.com benefits.

5. Use Quotes with Opportunities and Products

So you’re already using Opportunities and Products. And now maybe you’re considering Product Schedules. Why would you want to muddy the water with Quotes?

Let’s say a customer asks you for two different versions of the same proposal. You want to keep both because you don’t know which one he’s going to choose.

Of course the value of the Opportunity is NOT the sum of the two Quotes added together. The Quotes are mutually exclusive. The customer is going to accept one or the other. So how do you calculate the value of the Opportunity?

The answer to this is Quotes. You can create multiple Quotes on an Opportunity. Each Quote can have its own combination of Products. You decide on the ‘most likely’ Quote. It’s this Quote that is synchronised to the Opportunity and is populated into the Opportunity Amount.

If the customer changes his mind and chooses one of the other Quotes, no problem. Just synchronise that Quote to the Opportunity.

Single Opportunity with multiple Quotes

The screenshot shows a single Opportunity in salesforce with multiple Quotes. Quote 1 is synchronised to the Opportunity. It’s the value of this Quote that is counted for funnel purposes.

Using Quotes means you can increase your salesforce.com benefits by:

  • Getting an accurate view of the number of Quotes you’ve sent.
  • Differentiating between Quotes and Opportunities.
  • Retaining each Quote on the Opportunity so you’ve got a record of what’s been sent to the customer.
  • Integrating Quotes with third party applications such as Conga ComposerEchosign or DocuSign to automate the physical production, delivery and acceptance of the Quote.
  • Integrating Quotes with Approvals to streamline Pricing Approvals and Quality Assurance processes.

Learn more about How And When to Use Salesforce Quotes on it’s dedicated blog post.

Increase your salesforce.com benefits

It’s always possible to drive more benefits from your salesforce licenses. We’ve given you ten examples of how that can be achieved in these two blog posts. And of course don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to discuss implementing these ideas into salesforce.com in your own business.

Related Blog Posts

Why You Need To Compare Average Closed Won Opportunity Size

How to use opportunity conversion reports for superior results

How To Stop ‘Closed Lost’ Screwing Up Salesforce Dashboards

5 Easy Tips That Will Make Opportunity Probability Your Trusted Friend

Managing Proposal Approvals – the Kentech way

Managing Proposal Approvals – the Kentech way

Creating an RFP response is a big deal for Kentech. Even if it’s a small deal – two weeks of solid work is a minimum. So having a controlled processes to decide which projects to bid for is a critical driver of profitable business acquisition. And as an existing salesforce.com client the logical place to start was with a salesforce Approval Process.

With an annual turnover of $140 million, Kentech ranks as one of the world’s largest privately owned specialised engineering contractors in the world. Operating primarily in the upstream Oil & Gas industry, Kentech employees work in some of the harshest and most locations on the planet.

Like many organisations involved in multi-million dollar contracts, Kentech has a specialised team that prices projects and creates the technical response to RFP’s. As with many teams that perform this role, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to produce a response to every opportunity that the sales team would like to go after. And of course not every deal has the same level of profitability.

So there has to be control over which RFPs get passed to the team to work on.

Kentech previously managed this process by email. With multiple stakeholders, often in different continents and time zones, it doesn’t take much to image how poorly this worked. Or how inventive the sales team can be in circumnavigating the documented process to try to get their own opportunities onto the approved list!

As advocates of salesforce.com, Kentech were keen to migrate this process to salesforce. But there were two key restrictions in salesforce they wanted to overcome:

Error messages come up one at a time

Kentech work on complex deals. This means there are lots of fields on the Opportunity and related objects that the sales person needs to complete before he can submit the deal for approval. This is handled by validation rules (“entry criteria”) on the approval process.

However let’s say some of these fields haven’t been filled in by the sales person. When he clicks ‘Submit for Approval’ he gets an error message – but only one at a time. Frustrating if there’s half a dozen fields that need to be completed.

To overcome this we produced a small piece of code that evaluates all the approval Entry Criteria and generates a single error message with all the errors listed. Simple but effective.

There’s only one submit for approval button

Complex deals such as this often means that management approval is required at different stages in the opportunity life cycle. Each of which has different entry criteria and approval steps.

However there’s only on Submit for Approval button on each object. So how do you implement different approval processes?

The answer is to create new custom buttons and link them to different approval processes.

It’s the small things that really make a difference to user adoption,” says Kentech’s IT Manager, Joanne O’Reilly. “Getting the process onto salesforce.com was a big win for the management team. But finding ways to automate the process, reduce re-keying and enhance the user experience pays major dividends in getting the sales team to buy-in to salesforce.”

Approval processes don’t just apply to pricing discounts. GSP has customers using salesforce.com approvals to manger quality assurance, project handover, technical health checks and complex Case completion.