If you are looking for a new proposal or quotation software system, the worst thing is not knowing if a new system will do all you want. And, of course, whether its cost will be justified. This article will help you be clear on what you want and what is available.
As with most things, you will probably have to balance out the features and prices from different systems to get one that works for your business and budget.
The first half of the article covers what you need and the second half covers the important software functions that are commonly available. You probably won’t need all of them but it will help you to know what they are. I also describe the differences between proposals and quote software so you can quickly narrow down your search.
I’ve based this article on our experience of helping clients find the proposal or quotation software for their company. We’ve found clients have at least one of these reasons driving them, and sometimes more.
- More consistency of brand and pricing across quotes
- Better tracking of quotes
- Making sure that product or service details are always included
- Quicker quote creation
- Streamlining the quotation process
All businesses are unique and that means many of their processes are. Most of the time these unique processes give a company a competitive advantage. However, many processes should not be unique and allowing them to be so can add to cost and make improving them with software difficult.
Examples of processes that add a competitive advantage are in customer service or other processes where they affect the customer when they are choosing to buy from you.
The processes that shouldn’t be unique are often internal and have legal obligations. Examples of these would be for accounts and human resources.
How do you assess how unique your quotation process is? If you have experience in other companies this will be clear. If you or your staff don’t have this experience, you can trial Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) quotation software tools to see if they do the job you need. If they don’t, your quotes process is unique.
However, this leads to the question of whether it should be. I’ve frequently found that sales staff are convinced that their way of quoting is the best and should not be changed, even if the person next to them uses a different method and is more successful. You will need to boil this one down to make sure you are happy what the fundamental process is.
Where there is this divergence of opinion in a sales team I’ve found that those salespeople with the ‘unique approach’ are usually the most resistant to adopting a new system. However, if you address their fundamental concerns which are usually more about speed and the appearance of the quote you should win them over to the new system.
Once you know what you want you can start looking for matching quotation software. However, bear in mind that you are unlikely to get a complete match for your requirements so you should be prepared to prioritise the most important functionality.
Proposals are generally seen as documents that are very text oriented. Quotations are seen as being made of multiple priced items. This is a big split in how proposal and quotation software works. One system will struggle to do both well, especially at the two extremes:
- Large amounts of editable text -> Proposal
- Large numbers of sales Items -> Quotation
If your requirements are mid-way between these you may find both proposal and quotation software systems that will do what you need. In this case, you will have a greater selection available to you. You should trial one more from each side (quotes and proposals) to see which is the best fit.
These usually have a products or services list and a way of managing them either manually or from files or other systems. Products or services can be searched for and added quickly to quotes, usually with a default price. These quotation tools usually include some way of calculating prices for margins, discounts, mark-ups etc.
Example sectors for these systems are:
- Kitchens, Bedrooms, and Bathrooms (KBB)
- Office furniture
- IT Services
Some of these quotation software systems are:
These have functionality that is focussed on text and images and provision for small or no products or service items. They are usually set up for substantial text editing and manipulation, as well as changing the graphic appearance of the proposal. Frequently, they will lack the calculations for margins and mark-ups, etc. that you will find in quotes software.
Example sectors for these systems are:
- Web design
- Software development
Some of these proposal software systems are:
Anything with a server installation is called ‘onsite’. This might be where the system is based on web technology but only available within the organisation’s network (intranet).
There are some advantages to these, where:
- There is still a requirement to keep data within a company’s sites
- The system needs to connect to other hardware such as telephone systems
- The internet connection speed to the office is slow
- You prefer to buy the software up front and not pay any on-going charges
- There are no other suitable solutions for your requirements
The disadvantages of these systems compared to online ones are that:
- You have to install, maintain and backup your server
- You have to manage the software upgrades
- Accessing it from outside the office and on iPads is more difficult
This is where the software is installed on individual machines. Sometimes these systems will connect to a database on an internal or external server.
The disadvantages are that you have to manage
- Install the software on PC’s (if it’s not an intranet system)
- Different versions for PC’s and Mac’s
- The effects of upgrades to Windows, MS Office or Apple iOS devices
The advantages of desktop systems used to be that they were more user-friendly and powerful than internet systems. However, this is no longer the case as web and intranet systems have caught up and surpassed desktop systems for usability.
This is now the most common approach for quotation software. The database is held in the cloud or on a remote server. The functionality for the user is available in web browsers and possibly smart device apps.
After assessing whether any of the quotation software you test will do the job for you, you need to balance out whether:
- You must have your data on your site or you are comfortable with it being online. In the last few years, most companies have become comfortable with their data being online
- You prefer to pay upfront or monthly
- Your internet connection is fast enough to use an online quotation software solution.
Online systems are usually priced based on the number of users, the functionality you are subscribing to and sometimes the number of quotes or proposals you will have live. Licencing by the number of users is common across virtually all the packages. Some price per user, others bundle up into groups (i.e. 1, 2-5, 6-10), etc. If you have more than that it will be worth asking for a special price.
You can usually buy one month a time with recurring credit card payments, but some companies lock you into a year’s contract or insist that you pay the year upfront, even if they are advertising monthly prices.
Onsite systems tend to charge a large amount up-front but less on an ongoing basis.
If you need to:
- Prevent some users from editing any quotes
- Prevent one or more sales person from seeing quotes owned by another salesperson
You will want a system that provides some level or team and user management. Some don’t offer this at all, and those that do, such as Quikflw.com and Proposify.com put this in their higher price bands.
Some proposal and quotation software systems restrict the number of proposals and quotes you can create per price package. The advantage to this is that if you don’t have more than 5 active quotes or proposals in a month you can use the software at a lower price. However, if you are a high-volume user (and this can mean more than 5 active quotes or proposal) you will need to step up to the next package and price.
These restrictions are more commonly found in proposal software and are clearly shown in their price and packages. For example, Proposify limits the number of active proposals to 5 in the base package and 50 in the next one. BetterProposals active proposal limits are 10 and 50 for their first two packages.
Quotation Software tends not to have these limits, so for example, www.Quikflw.com and QuotientApp both offer an unlimited number of quotes.
Most quotation software systems have free trial offers. You can get a feel for whether the system will work for you and I recommend making use of them. Most providers will assist in getting you up and running, as well as giving you a demo.
However, some companies don’t offer a free trial. This can be because:
- The system needs to be set up for each client or prospect
- The system is not easy to use so they want to guide you through their system with a demo
- They want you to make contact with a sales person so they can sell to you directly
- They want to draw you into the sales process
In these cases, you will be much more reliant on your research, the demo, customer testimonials and how much you trust the company.
This part lists what I’ve found to be the most asked for and common quotation software functionality.
It is not an exhaustive list of functionalities. If all systems have a certain functionality, I haven’t listed it. Bear in mind that not all of them will apply to your requirements.
This is an obvious one, but some older desktop-based systems don’t do it well.
Every online system will do this, with varying degrees of ease. You should be able to see all your current quotes on one screen, filter and search through them.
Examples of these are:
We cover these in more depth in another blog. You will obviously know if you want to use these but most proposal software won’t have this functionality, whereas most quotation software will.
This is where many online quote systems and virtually all proposal software struggle. Most systems can manage prices where it is a collection of items with no interdependency. An example would be purchasing one desk and four chairs. Any system can handle this.
Where it gets complicated is where there is a simple mathematical relationship between items. If, in the above example, there is a one desk to four chairs relationship when you increase the number of desks to three you want the system to automatically increase the number of chairs to twelve. Only a system that has kit or bundle functionality will have this. Kit /bundles functionality is covered later in the article.
Here is a screenshot of how Quikflw manages kits:
Highlighted In red you can see that the sub-items’ quantity is the total bundle quantity multiplied by the number in each bundle. In this case, there are two layers.
If you need to have more layers, for example, that a chair is also a kit made up of the frame and four castors, you won’t find that functionality in most online quotation software systems. Quikflw and QuotientApp don’t have it. However, you will find it in either a sector quotation software tool or as part of an Enterprise Requirement Planning (ERP) system. It is closely related to Bill of Materials (BoM) functionality.
The final type of calculation is where there is a complex relationship between items, particularly where you are pricing based on raw material sizes. For example,
- If you sell one desk you will use and charge for one sheet of metal,
- If you sell two you will still only use and charge for one sheet
- If you sell three you will need a second sheet and therefore charge for two sheets.
If you have this type of calculation you will already have a way of making sure your prices look consistent to your clients, but it will be difficult to replicate this in an online pricing tool unless it has been designed for your industry. But, if sector specific quotation software is too expensive, you can still use MS Excel to price a job and then create and send your quote from your mainstream quotation software. You will be able to upload your Excel file into the online quotation system to keep it associated with the quote.
All the main online proposal and quotation software systems allow you to upload your own templates so your quotations and proposals have your style and branding. They also offer a library of pre-built to give you a feel of what can be done. Sometimes it is quicker to take one of these and customise rather than create from scratch.
Some of the older onsite or desktop quoting software are restricted to a standard or a small number of templates that cannot be edited. If you are looking at a desktop or onsite system make sure this is not the case unless it is not an issue for you.
You should expect your proposal or quotation software to allow you to include images. Some older quote software tools do not have this functionality and this is frequently why companies upgrade.
Proposal software generally provides very flexible templates that you can adapt to each proposal. However, quotation software (i.e. driven by multiple products and services) is more restricted as it needs to allow for the automatic generation of products-based content.
How much do you need to change the structure and content of each quote? If it’s just some introductory text and then the products or services then most online quotation software will do the job. If it needs more in-depth text editing, with many paragraphs written for a specific quote, or use of images not directly related to the product or service, then you will probably be better with a proposal software tool. Testing these with a trial will help you make that decision.
You have two choices:
- Create and send from your accounts software
- Create and send from your proposal or quoting software
Some systems allow you to push the quote details to your accounts system. You can then log in to the accounts system, convert the quote to an invoice, and send.
Some quotation software such as Quotientapp.com and Proposify.com (which is more of a proposal tool) allow you to create invoices directly in apps such as QuickBooks and Xero. Betterproposal.io currently doesn’t have that integration.
There are two disadvantages to this:
- Those creating the invoice will need to have access to the accounts system. You might not want to allow sales staff to see this. This is less of an issue if you have a small team where everyone does all the quotes and invoices
- The styling of the invoices is unlikely to be the same as for your quotes
Other systems, such as Quikflw.com, allow you to create and send your invoices directly with matching branding from the salesperson without granting them access to the accounts system. Invoices are then queued and can quickly be imported into your accounts system at the click of a button by a member of the accounts team.
If you are looking to do this you will need to either:
- Connect to an Enterprise Requirements Planning (ERP) system, such as NetSuite
- Connect an accounts system (e.g. QuickBooks or Xero)
- Use a system that provides all this (i.e. it is an ERP)
Let’s look at these in turn:
This will depend on the integrations available from the Quotes system and the ERP. If both have an API and can talk to each other this is the best solution. If that is not possible some quote tools allow the export of raw quote data into a file (such as Quikflw’s quote export to Excel). You can then import this file into your ERP without having to type everything in again.
Accounts systems do provide some functionality for this. However, they are primarily account systems, not ERP’s so they can be underpowered when it comes to this peripheral functionality.
But, this option will work if your requirements are light or involve only occasional purchase orders.
Your quotes tool might be able to connect directly to the accounts system to post relevant information or at least export data to file ready to be imported.
An ERP with a quotation tool that does what you need is the best theoretical solution. This assumes that the quotes it produces and the purchase orders, delivery notes etc. are all sufficient for your needs.
However, as ERP systems are often large and complex systems the quotation tool is often not as good as stand-alone quotes software systems. They are also a large financial investment.
If you quote for bundles of products or services then the ability to put them all together and drop into a quote is a big time-saver. If you do this frequently, it will be vital. This functionality exists in quote software that can handle more complex product management, for example, Quikflw.com or QuoteWerks.
However, there is another option if your preferred software doesn’t have kits or bundles. If you frequently quote for a common set of items and just remove a few of them between each quote you could make a ‘template’ quote. This is not sent to anyone. When you have a new quote to do, you copy this ‘template’ as the basis for the new one. You can then delete the items you don’t need for that specific quote. This won’t help if you need more than one bundle on a quote, in which case bundle or kit functionality would be the only answer.
Do you want support that is available on the phone during your office hours – i.e. in your time-zone? If you do, then you can either look for a large company with support in your country or a smaller one based in your country. A bigger company is unlikely to be as flexible on feature requests as a smaller one and you will be less important to them, but a large company might have dedicated support resources and respond faster.
If you don’t think you will need much support then the location of the quotation software provider is obviously not important. Once you have trialed each system you will get a feel for how much you will need.
You don’t want to be typing customer details into your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and then typing them in again to your quote tool. Most quotation software will allow you to connect to your CRM, import and update your customers and contacts so both systems are in sync.
If your CRM is on your site, whether on a server or local PC, this is more difficult and be very dependent on the software.
Some systems allow you to send your client a link to a page where they can make changes before accepting the quote. They might change product quantities or select different options you have offered them. The benefits to the client are that they:
- Feel that they have more control
- Can experiment with the price options
The advantages to you are that you can:
- Give more than one option to the client
- Allow them to make their choice and accept the quote without the delay of having to contact you to change and re-send the quote
This functionality is usually found in quotation software but not in proposal software.
It has become more common for online signatures to be acceptable and as a result, most quotation software provides this option. This won’t be available on desktop systems as a system needs an online presence for this to work.
To smooth the path from client acceptance to payment, some systems link to third-party payment systems so credit or debit card cards payments to be taken.
At a minimum, you should expect your new system to allow the import of your products from Excel, CSV or another file format. You should not have to type them all in.
If you plan to link to your accounts system you might be able to pull in your products or services list from there.
Some more sector-specific quote software will be pre-loaded and kept updated with product lists from the main suppliers. This can save you some effort in collating and updating the lists.
I’ve already covered Team Management early in the article, but there are other types of access control you might want. These are:
- Read-only access
- Preventing some users changing products and prices
- Preventing users downloading data from the system
However, this kind of access is generally restricted to the more sophisticated quote software that can handle larger teams, such as Quikflw.com and Proposify.
To help you find out when evaluating a quote system, look for references to ‘roles’, ’permissions’ and ‘team management’.
Ultimately, only you can make the decision on what is the best quotation software system for you. To help you make the right decision, I strongly recommend signing up for trials and making use of each quote software’s support team to help you get the most from your testing.
All information about the functionality of the systems mentioned is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing. We try to keep our blogs up to date but some systems change quite quickly.
©Quikflw Ltd 2018