Efficient, collaborative sales processes help to close deals faster. As global sales teams grow larger and more complex, how can enterprises like IBM ensure that nothing gets lost in translation?
Using cloud data services, IBM unified its seller support functions into a single, transparent workflow, used by more than 7,000 sellers to submit over 1,000 requests per day to help progress deals.
Hoursof administrative work eliminated, helping sellers focus on their clients’ needs
$2.7msavings achieved in year one, with a further $9.6m targeted in year two
22%cost reduction by adopting a hybrid cloud deployment model
Business challenge story
Bringing sellers together, worldwide
Like most large commercial organizations, IBM recognizes the importance of a streamlined sales process in delivering the level of service its clients demand. However, as the scale of an organization grows, the complexity of its sales processes tends to increase proportionally – and the risk of mistakes or delays can rise too.
Murali Vridhachalam, Distinguished Engineer at IBM, explains: “Fragmented sales processes and applications are a common problem in most large companies, and until recently, IBM was no exception. We realized that if we could use some of our technology to unify our global sales process, we could act as a showcase, and possibly develop a solution or a set of best practices that our clients could also benefit from.”
The core of IBM’s sales process involves managing each deal through numerous stages: the creation of a quote; solution design, pricing and financing; contract preparation, negotiation and signing; order submission and management; and revenue collection by the accounts receivable team. Many of the stages in this “Quote-to-Cash” process involve collaboration between the sellers, who may be IBM employees or IBM Business Partners, and sales support personnel.
“We had different tools and processes in different geographies, and often the sellers didn’t know where to go when they needed support, or how to monitor the status of their support requests,” says Vridhachalam. “Equally, the support staff often lacked a robust way to communicate with sellers or ask for more information, which could lead to delays in transaction processing. Finally, it was difficult to gain an overview of the sales support requests, which is vital for our leadership team.
“We knew there was a huge opportunity to re-engineer the process and build a single system that all IBM sellers and Business Partners could use to manage the sales support for their deals. The challenge was to find the best technical solution to meet these requirements – which was no small task, considering the variety of data types, legal requirements and user groups involved in the process.”
Harnessing cloud data servicesMurali Vridhachalam’s team realized that IBM® Cloud Data Services and IBM ‘on cloud’ Enterprise Content Management solutions could provide the flexibility required to support all the requirements of the new Quote-to-Cash application. In addition, the software could be deployed using a hybrid cloud model, offering an opportunity to substantially reduce operational IT costs.
“The first big requirement was a legal one: US Federal and European Union regulations both mandated that data relating to US and EU deals needed to reside in data centers within those territories,” says Vridhachalam. “We used IBM DB2® on Cloud to set up two database instances for storing this data – one based in Dallas, TX, and the other in the United Kingdom. We were able to provision each DB2 instance within 24 hours – a process that would have taken weeks with an on-premises infrastructure.”
To store configurations, user profile settings, data form elements and some less-sensitive transactional data for a number of microservices, the team chose IBM Cloudant®. Cloudant is a highly scalable NoSQL database that makes it easy to develop new functionality quickly – vital for an application that needs to be used in and customized for hundreds of countries around the world.
“Cloudant is great, because it makes development so dynamic,” explains Vridhachalam. “All the data is stored in JSON format, without any complex table schemas or relationships, so it’s very easy for developers to understand the data structure and add new features quickly. Moreover, you don’t need complex tooling to optimize performance – so it requires around 50 percent less administrative effort than a traditional relational database.”
The sales process also involves a large amount of supporting documentation (contracts, pricing documents, invoices and so on), which also needs to be stored, browsed, retrieved and accessed securely. To act as a repository for this content, the team selected IBM Content Foundation on Cloud (a solution that includes IBM FileNet® Content Manager), which is running on SoftLayer® at a data center in the Netherlands.
“Content Foundation on Cloud gives us very mature content management capabilities, especially around metadata search and file-level security, as well as a modern user experience with its Content Navigator interface,” says Vridhachalam. “It also supports CMIS standards for interoperability, so we can access documents in the FileNet Content Manager store from other web applications, which give us a lot of flexibility in terms of interface design.”
Architecturally, the solution also includes two additional cloud environments, which are used to run Quote-to-Cash application itself, handle the connections to the various databases, and provide access to separate ecosystems of IBM and third-party services.
The first is a public cloud environment provided by IBM Bluemix®, which is accessible via the internet – allowing Business Partners to log in from outside the IBM network. The second is IBM Bluemix Dedicated – a private cloud infrastructure that includes some additional functionality for internal IBM users, and is only accessible from within the IBM network.
Seamless sales processes save millions in administrative costsThe Quote-to-Cash application provides IBMers and Business Partners with a single platform that empowers them to manage and monitor each sales opportunity throughout its lifecycle. The solution has now been rolled out in almost every geography that IBM serves (the final rollout, in Japan, is scheduled for early 2017), and is now accessed by more than 7,000 users who submit over 1,000 requests per day.
“The feedback from sellers all over the world has been excellent,” says Vridhachalam. “We often hear that they are saving as much as 30 minutes per deal on stages of the sales process that used to be particularly time-consuming, such as contract registration.
“The ability to track and monitor the current status of each support request is also key, because the sellers and sales managers now have full visibility of everything that is happening with each deal. If there’s an issue, they can address it immediately, and keep the sales process moving forwards. That ultimately means we can close deals faster, and deliver solutions very quickly to meet our clients’ business needs.”
In its first year of operation, the new application delivered administrative savings of USD 2.7 million, and this figure is expected to rise to USD 9.6 million in the second year.
Vridhachalam comments: “The application is playing a vital role in coordinating and streamlining our sales processes, which translates into a very significant efficiency saving for the business. Since we built the solution with a hybrid cloud deployment model, we are making savings across the board on IT maintenance and support, too. We estimate that the hybrid cloud architecture reduces our ongoing total cost of ownership by 22 percent.”
He concludes: “A key takeaway from this project is that cloud data services are now absolutely mature enough to build this kind of large, complex application. Three years ago, we would probably have thought of building an on-premises architecture with a few cloud components. Today, the emphasis has shifted completely: we get the best results from running as much of the solution as possible in the cloud. Since the solution doesn’t rely on a costly, bespoke infrastructure, we think it could easily be adapted to help our clients streamline their sales processes too.”
As one of the world’s largest technology companies, IBM manages a global sales force including thousands of commercial and technical sales specialists and support personnel, as well as an extensive network of independent IBM Business Partners.
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IBM Cloud Data Services offers a complete portfolio of data and analytics services providing unique and seamless product integrations to build apps faster and gain new insights easier with flexible deployment and pricing options. For more information about how IBM Cloud Data Services can help businesses solve tough big data problems rapidly and cost-effectively, please visit ibm.biz/clouddataservices. IBM Content Foundation delivers full content lifecycle and document management capabilities that offer improved control of existing and new types of content with scalability, security, stability, mobility and cross-platform capabilities. Suitable for small to large companies, IBM Content Foundation is available for on-premises, in the cloud, or any hybrid deployments.