Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

A Chat About the Power of Automation and Integration with Oracle CPQ Cloud

Christiane Soto
Senior Marketing Manager - CX

During a recent conference, we had the chance to chat with Robert Kleinschmidt, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing with AirBorn out of Georgetown, TX (near Austin). AirBorn, a 60-year-old fast-growing company, engineers and manufactures specialized connectors and cable assemblies for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across the globe.

Tell us a little bit about your product line and some of the issues you faced. 

Our product line is very configurable. We literally have millions―if not billions―of part number combinations. Managing that has been a very manual process. With configure, price, and quote (CPQ) and the tools we've been implementing, we are taking the quote-to-order process from a high-touch, manual process to a low, no-touch process.

What was one of the most significant issues you faced with this high-touch, manual process?

There was a lot of tribal knowledge (as we like to say) in the company. Employees would often have to go to different individuals, depending on the product line or the specificity of services. Therefore, one email coming in from a customer ultimately led to 20+ emails internally in order to respond back with a quote or process an order.

What else did you do to manage your complex configuration issues? 

Yeah, the way we addressed this in the past was through spreadsheets―countless, numerous spreadsheets. We also tried to address it with various in-house configuration tools. We had three separate configuration tools, each developed by different departments to try and solve their piece of what all goes into creating and building quotes. But nothing was integrated. They weren't talking or working with each other. So a big piece of what we were looking for is a tool that would address these three elements as well as the critical piece of building out a bill of material (BOM).

So at what point did you realize that this situation was not supportable and that you needed to figure something else out?

Our business has been on a very strong growth trajectory over the last couple years. The big mantra within the company is “scale.” How can we drive processes for scalability? And when you're running off of spreadsheets, you're running off of manual processes. Therefore, the only way you can scale is by throwing more people in. But that is not true scalability. So we asked, “How do we actually scale for growth?”

What were your criteria for the solution? How did you figure out what characteristics you needed?

So we wanted to be able to support the same process that we were trying to support with our in-house configuration tool and spreadsheets. We wanted a tool that guides the customer to the right part family and ultimately down to the right part number. We wanted them to be able to calculate the cost of that configured part. The issue we were having with that is that many of our configurations are first-time configurations, so we don't have the details in our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Ultimately, we wanted our customers to be able to calculate a price, easily create quotes, and convert that quote into an order―with little-to-no touch from our internal staff.

Speaking of ERP, what is your approach to integration, namely between CX and ERP? 

Over the years we've done a number of acquisitions, so we actually have three different ERP systems. Our customer service teams are very much aligned around those three different ERP systems and the products that are supported by each. So we're very product-siloed (if you will). That means a customer often has to contact two or three different customer service reps depending on the product that they’re working with.

Our approach has been to create an ERP-agnostic overlay with the trifecta of Oracle Commerce Cloud, Oracle CPQ Cloud, and Oracle Service Cloud, so that we have one customer service organization handling all customer inquiries coming, no matter the ERP system that the product is flowed into.

Tell us about your journey to the cloud?

Again, we were operating off of spreadsheets and had no centralized contact database for all our customers. So we needed that as a foundation before we could even go any further down our digital-digital transformation journey. Traditional CRM tools have always been very oriented to salespeople and not so much for customer service staff. When we ran across Oracle Service Cloud, we saw it as our solution for addressing the-one-email-translated-into-20-internal-emails issue. And then we took that and built that out for our sales team to use as well.

Once we had that in place, we started looking at how to automate the configuration of parts for both our customers and our customer service staff? 

So we started with Oracle Service Cloud, and then added Oracle CPQ Cloud and Oracle Commerce Cloud. And we know we did things a little atypical in the sense that we focused on addressing our customer service activities and efficiencies first and then bolted on the salesperson's requirements on top of that. And that fit our business better; it was critical for us given the number of emails and inquiries that we have flowing into customer service.

So what kinds of benefits have you been able to see?

The benefits we've seen so far (and we certainly expect to see) are much faster turnaround time on quotes.  Historically, quotes took anywhere from three to 10 days to get out. Once we got the order that could take another three to 10 days if those parts that are ordered have not been configured or bought before. So our biggest expectation is to turn that from days into hours for both quotes and orders.

Can you talk about customer experience and what type of transformations you expect to see?

This solution is going to have a transformative effect in regards to the customer experience. Today, customers are relying heavily on us to guide them to the right parts and part numbers and help them build out those quotes and getting quick responses for that quote. With Oracle CPQ Cloud and Oracle Commerce Cloud (and all of it tying into Oracle Service Cloud), our customers will be able to do much of this on their own through self-service.

And if they still want to talk to our customer service staff, they can. Customer service will be able to do it for them in hours as opposed to days.

So far what I've seen with this initial functional model is that we have built a completely automated, end-to-end, lead-to-order process for our products. And again, that is a huge transformation from the way it has been when we did not have any visibility of the customer's journey from lead-to-order. With that data, it will just make life easier for the customer.

The Oracle CX Suite is really going to help us compete on a different level. It's going to allow us to provide a differentiated customer experience, not just a great customer experience, but a differentiated one in our industry. We don't see our competitors really guiding customers to the right product solutions with guided selling capabilities. They are handling it through your typical filtering selection process. There is nothing guided about that. And we looked outside the industry at other companies such as Pella Windows to see how are they doing it, and how can we apply that same experience in our industry?

Have you seen any other unexpected benefits internally?

Well, some of the unexpected benefits we got out of Oracle Service Cloud are the marketing automation capabilities it supports. It allows us to do newsletters, send out customer surveys, send emailers utilizing our customer database. We haven’t had that before.

So where do you go from here?

Well, the focus up until now has been lead-to-order and really getting that front-end very efficient, providing a very good customer experience across several different types of journeys. Our focus after this is to move deeper through the organization, focusing on the order through to the staging to the build, and then continue the entire transformation of processes.

So in other words, we start at lead-to-order and then continue through to cash and customer support.  

How do you feel that Oracle has been as a partner for your growing company?

Oracle has been a fantastic partner. They've provided numerous resources to help us through the process. Anytime we need any help, or if we have any new ideas, they are very easy to get a hold of.  For how big Oracle is, uh, we've been very impressed with how personal the relationship has been.

Want to learn more on how Oracle CPQ Cloud could provide the same benefits to your growing company? Chat with an Oracle CPQ Cloud expert now.

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