Can an Excel Spreadsheet Be Made Into Actual Quoting Software?

January 17, 2020

I’ve been developing software since I was eight years old. One of the most frequently asked questions that I have received since I started is, “Can you develop software from an Excel spreadsheet?” Have you ever tried searching for software that can do this? I’m sorry to tell you, it doesn’t exist, or if it does exist, it doesn’t do what you’re expecting it to do. Why?

What’s In a Name?

In Italian, we call Excel a “sheet for calculation.” This name is far better than calling it a “spreadsheet” because “sheet for calculation” suggests that you should do something with the sheet. Most spreadsheets will have some dynamic element; formulas and maybe even macros.

Everybody’s Doing It

The Excel learning curve is not steep. This creates a fascination to ‘aspiring developers’, and in every company there is at least one who starts to create complex sheets with Pivot Tables and VBScripts. There is nothing wrong with the desire to write software, but using Excel as the tool is the problem. No serious organization or team can build effective, complex, and scalable software in this way.

A Necessary Evil, but Still Evil

Typically, that “sheet of calculation” starts to look more like an application as it is applied to solve a business problem. A common use case for Sales organizations might be to construct a very complex quoting model using Excel. It works ok in isolation, usually operated by the person who created it.

After several years though, a monster of a spreadsheet has been unleashed on the team that has been cloned hundreds or even thousands of times. Nobody can tell what it does anymore, how to update or maintain it, or determine how many copies might be around. These shadow clones travel via email. We’ve all heard people say, “Here is my dataset, but after you’re done, can you please send me the updated one back?” This results in yet another clone.

How to manufacturers deal with this?

Manufacturers are gaining a competitive advantage by introducing CPQ to complex product ordering and manufacturing.

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“We Need Real Quoting Software”

At some point, someone inside the company understands that there is something wrong and starts to ask, “is there any way to convert this Excel spreadsheet into actual quoting software, so we can keep the data in one place?” The identified need is real, and it means that Excel is masking a hidden software category. If Excel is necessary to calculate a price, a quote, or to find a better product for a potential customer, the category which you are seeking is actually Configure, Price, and Quote (CPQ) technology.

Why is CPQ Software a Logical Conclusion?

Spreadsheets are meant for calculation, but there is more going on in a quote other than just generating a price. There is a general lack of workflow, poor organization of data, and the absence of use and role management when using an Excel-based solution. When you work in a complex organization selling complex products, this pseudo quoting software approach won’t cut it as you try to generate more and more quotes for customers

How to Get from Spreadsheets to CPQ

These are the steps that you have to take as you start your ‘conversion’ from this so-called quoting software into a rules-based and workflow-enriched environment. The real challenge of moving from Excel to a CPQ solution like KBMax is not converting the data from within the file, but to convert the unwritten rules surrounding the spreadsheet.

 

Identify the Input Data

Determining the location of the cells used to input your business data into your workbook could be tricky. They could spread across multiple sheets or even hidden in some cases. So you need to work with the users who insert the data to gather a clear understanding of what you are replacing.

Identify the Users

Who interacts with the spreadsheet and/or is involved in the overall estimating process? This is what we ask ourselves to identify the different steps of a future workflow. This phase is the most important, because generally the data is input during one or more steps as part of a longer process.  This may mean many changes and iterations as the quote is finalized. Here is where Excel will fail and the process becomes messy. It’s also the biggest opportunity for optimization by a CPQ solution.

Identify the Data Output

You may be tempted to say, “I have only one output, the price”. But if you think about it, that isn’t true at all. When manually pricing a complex product there might be a number of documents, artifacts, and electronic records that need created: a proposal in multiple languages, bill of materials, layout, 2D/3D CAD drawing…oh, and then manually inserting everything as a record in CRM/PLM/ERP. Here Excel can not help you at all, but KBMax can help you a lot!

Can KBMax CPQ Do This?

Have you ever tried to open an Excel file on a mobile device? If yes, you probably don’t want to endure this user experience ever again. With a little work, an Excel spreadsheet’s functionality can be made work beautifully within a KBMax configurator. We have created a user-friendly experience for complex product configuration based on years of collective CPQ experience. KBMax can knock down all the pain points experienced by teams using an Excel-based quoting solution.

CPQ Rules, Not Excel Formulas

KBMax operated on logic and rules powered by an awesome and intuitive no-code visual builder called Snap. It’s easier to learn then Excel and is way more powerful. The advanced CPQ rules built in Snap control not only pricing, but how your product configuration works, and how the rest the product lifecycle will be architected and experienced.

2D/3D Visual Configuration with Dynamic Pricing

Get dynamic calculations like in Excel, but using an immersive interface choosing options and seeing the price and rendering change immediately. KBMax visualization is the leader in G2 Crowd’s Grid for the new visual configuration category.

Quoting & Ordering with Simple Change Management

Need to dust off a quote from 93 days ago? No problem, open it, relaunch it in the visual configurator, and quickly make the change.  Save it and send it to the customer with one click – updated pricing, rendering, and all. Using Excel for your quoting software cannot do that.

Rich Workflows and Data Sharing

Excel doesn’t notify the head of sales, accounting, engineering, or the production team when a deal is closed. KBMax CPQ can automatically flow data to CRM, ERP, PLM, and other critical teams and business systems with our easy-to-integrate platform.

CAD/Design and Document Automation

Unless you are an amazing developer, I’m pretty sure your Excel doesn’t generate 3D CAD models and drawings. Your engineering and manufacturing teams will love that accurate and clear CAD models and documentation are generated automatically once an order is submitted. All of the choices made during the configuration phase can drive bill of materials, cut sheets, assembly instructions, shipping info, and more that results in quick order fulfillment and fewer errors.

 

See a demonstration of how CPQ can replace your Excel solution.

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The Author

Luigi Ottoboni

Luigi Ottoboni
VP, Research & Development at KBMax

Luigi wrote his first software when he was eight years old. He started his first company, the first Internet Service Provider in the area, while he was still in university. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and proceeded to found six other tech companies. As a KBMax Co-Founder, Luigi leads our Research and Development because he loves finding new technologies to keep KBMax 'on the cutting edge'. He's proud to say that he has seen more of the USA and Greece than an average American or Greek resident.

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