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Recent Developments in One Price Management Provider's Business

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: June 13 2007

Zilliant, a data-driven price management software provider that focuses on business-to-business (B2B) enterprises, continues to take its science-based enterprise pricing solutions to higher levels. To learn more about Zilliant and its offerings, please see What if Companies Could Use Science to Align Prices to Market and Maximize Margins?, How One Vendor Parlays Price Variation into Profit Improvement Opportunities, and How One Provider's Solution Covers the Bases of Price Optimization and Management.

A New and Improved Zilliant Precision Pricing Suite

In October 2006 and in April 2007, Zilliant announced general releases of its pricing software ZPPS 6.0 and ZPPS 6.1. This application suite provides significant enhancements across all four of the vendor's earlier pricing applications, to which Zilliant added a fifth. In addition to increased product functionality and platform support, this latest suite improves usability, making it easier for pricing stakeholders to make smarter, data-driven pricing decisions. ZPPS 6.0 and 6.1 include enhancements for the following:

  • ZPPS Optimization, with improved graphical user interface (GUI) to enhance visibility into the market dynamics and the business rules that drive price recommendations

  • ZPPS Price Manager, with new decision support capabilities to allow companies to assess the impact of cost, price, and discount changes on future financial performance

  • ZPPS Deal Manager, with enhanced capabilities to manage and analyze complex price agreements, as well as usability improvements, including comparative impact summaries and scenario development

  • ZPPS Deal Manager for Agreements, a similar set of capabilities as Deal Manager, but tailored for negotiating profitable agreements and contracts. Zilliant packaged these capabilities separately as of release 6.1, at which time it introduced a robust set of enhancements in this area.

  • ZPPS Analytics, with new subscription-based capabilities to provide users with easy access to relevant pricing information and insights

In early 2006, Zilliant announced the general availability of ZPPS 5.4, which delivered numerous enhancements to the pricing applications of ZPPS Deal Manager and ZPPS Analytics. ZPPS 5.4 further extended the ability of these two products to improve sales effectiveness and deal execution. Highlights of ZPPS 5.4 included the following:

  • Enhanced scenario comparison and analysis views, allowing users to more efficiently create and evaluate an unlimited number of alternate deal pricing and term alternatives in real time. These capabilities helped with determining the optimal product mix and pricing terms for each deal.

  • Usability and scalability improvements, permitting users to more efficiently review and refine complex sales deals containing thousands of component line items. The enhancements were meant to increase the productivity of a company's deal price approval process, which is a frequent sales bottleneck in large, global companies that have significant field sales organizations.

  • Additional industry-specific features, addressing the complex requirements of manufacturers and distributors, whose businesses span multiple industry sectors, channel models, and geographies.

At about the same time, Zilliant announced the general availability of its Price Integration Framework 5.4 to enable ZPPS to accept and publish pricing rules from leading enterprise order management applications. A component of ZPPS 5.4, Price Integration Framework provides easy, upgradable integration support between Zilliant's price setting and execution applications, and transaction-oriented order management systems from leading enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) vendors. The component extracts transaction, product, and customer data from the order management application; uses the data to produce optimized price recommendations; and then feeds pricing rules and conditions back into the application in the native format of its pricing engine.

Price Integration Framework supports SAP's Java Connector (SAP JCo) to connect directly to pricing-related remote functional call (RFC) and business application programming interface (BAPI) interfaces. This "price engine ready" feature (one that can be used by simpler formulas in ERP systems) enables Zilliant's many customers that run SAP to integrate Zilliant's price recommendations directly into SAP's pricing module. This integration approach is aimed at accelerating deployment, increasing adoption, and maximizing business benefits for these customers without introducing risk or complexity to their order management processes.

Given that more than 30 percent of Zilliant customers are also SAP users, in mid-2006, Zilliant announced that ZPPS 5.4 had successfully completed formal integration certification testing with the SAP NetWeaver platform (see Multipurpose SAP NetWeaver). Closely following the release of Zilliant's Price Integration Framework, the Powered by SAP NetWeaver qualification further underscores Zilliant's commitment to tightly integrating its pricing applications with mySAP ERP and mySAP CRM applications.

The extensive customer, order, and product data at the heart of SAP's applications allows Zilliant Precision Pricing Suite (ZPPS) to engineer precise price recommendations for every sales transaction across all channels. ZPPS's comprehensive workflow and process integration with SAP's transactional applications then ensures that SAP customers are able to fully execute upon this pricing guidance. With the formal integration certification of ZPPS, Zilliant customers that currently integrate ZPPS with SAP applications using SAP JCo, IDocs, and BAPIs can now leverage ZPPS's integration certification with the SAP NetWeaver Application Server and SAP Enterprise Portal to achieve more seamless integration with SAP applications on every level.

Being Partner-friendly

This brings us to Zilliant's culture of striking partnerships with leading strategy and implementation firms (such as Deloitte Consulting and Hitachi Consulting) and enterprise application vendors, even though some of these might occasionally be competitors. To that end, in mid-2005, Zilliant announced a partnership with Acorn Systems, a costing and enterprise performance measurement (EPM) solution provider (albeit with some price optimization capabilities as well), to integrate each vendors' best-of-breed applications and further improve customer margins. The integration of products and services was aimed at providing corporate decision makers, possibly for the first time, full and accurate ability to determine and maximize true customer profitability.

Acorn's value proposition is a solution centered on cost-control, and it is verifiably accurate, auditable, and actionable, especially for a user company with complex costing issues that obscure margin leakage. Cost to serve is a financial measurement that typically reflects a roll up of all costs associated with selling and servicing a specific customer, including overhead, other indirect costs, and sometimes non-allocated costs. For instance, the solution has enabled a large, US grocery retailer to analyze detailed route and warehouse costs that can be quickly and easily aggregated by store, distribution center, or customer segment for executive level decision making.

Thus, the integration of Acorn's and Zilliant's technologies should give companies a 360-degree view of profitability, combining costs to serve, cost allocation, market price response, and profit analysis at the internal business process level with an external analysis of customer segments and their elasticity to price, discount, and promotional changes.

Most Zilliant customers have either already figured out a way to allocate costs, or they use the basic cost allocation engine to manage this aspect of profitability. Thus, although some customers would benefit from integrating both Zilliant and Acorn offerings for a combination of demand-side price optimization and supply-side price analysis with full visibility for their pricing decisions, and ultimately for a more profitable business, the alliance is yet to bear fruit in earnest.

Challenges

This brings us to some of the challenges Zilliant faces, as well as the inevitable question: where is Zilliant and its market headed? Price management is an expanding and strategic market, in large part because it has delivered significant, measurable return on investment (ROI) for early-adopter customers (whereas counterpart cost containment initiatives are reaching a point of diminishing returns). However, it remains to be seen whether advanced pricing applications will become established as a stand-alone application space in the long term. Time will only tell whether rapidly increasing market awareness and references will be enough to propel the price management and optimization marketplace into mainstream adoption and engender the accelerated growth of the best vendors into strong, sizable market-leaders. The current market still has some clutter and noise from (too many) vendors preaching different value propositions and pricing approaches that are perhaps confusing prospective customers more than educating them.

Fragmentation in the price management space has occurred mostly along vertical industry boundaries, which both helps and hurts market evolution. This fragmentation makes it easy for prospects to narrow their vendor selections to a few vendors with track records in their markets, but it may also limit the size and scale that these vendors can ultimately achieve. Furthermore, cumbersome (yet widespread) administrative price list and discount management functionality from ERP and CRM players, along with their copycat claims about price optimization, have clouded the space. The ultimate question is whether the pure-play pricing management vendors that focus on different niche areas or industries will survive, thrive, or be consolidated into a single vendor delivering an integrated, business-process-oriented pricing solution (that is, one that covers all the price life cycle bases of optimization, execution, and enforcement of prices); or will these vendors be acquired by one of the ERP or CRM behemoths like SAP or Oracle.

Despite the need for and benefits of pricing solutions that can become value multipliers for both front- and back-office applications, there has not been a real boom in the pricing optimization and management market yet. That said, Zilliant and several other pricing vendors are growing rapidly, and they claim to see even sales ahead based on their pipeline. But the estimated number of total customers in B2B is probably only around 100 companies.

There are several reasons why pricing remains a nascent market. For one, even the companies that have implemented pricing solutions successfully, and that have reaped tangible benefits, have been somewhat secretive about leveraging these, both for competitive reasons (not wanting to give their "best kept secret" away) and for fear of alienating (or even angering) customers. Customers might feel they have been taken advantage of.

There are also questions and concerns about product maturity, data availability, the risk involved, cultural and change management conflicts, etc., but these seem to be fading as vendors have improved their capabilities through successful deployments at very large user companies. Another issue is the possible skepticism of sales forces (if not outright sabotage by them) if they fear "big brother" is controlling them and taking away their autonomy in pricing. Again, results from initial deployments indicate this is manageable. After all, how can salespeople argue with pricing that is based on actual data of what has been achieved in the market? Despite these signs that indicate the market is heating up, the status quo (that is, doing nothing) remains a bigger challenge than direct competition for companies like Zilliant.

Because the upper-range pricing management solutions are designed to support large, complex businesses (those with 10,000 to 100,000 stock-keeping units [SKUs], 1,000 to 100,000 customers, hundreds of sales people, etc.), these enterprise-class pricing solutions require considerable investments in software, integration, and change management. Implementing pricing management solutions can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than one million dollars in license fees. A company also needs to consider the supporting technology, since most large pricing deployments require the customer to purchase a scalable, back-end database server, hardware, and a reporting tool to support it. Then, there is the customary software maintenance and support agreement, which typically adds an additional 15–25 percent to the software and hardware expenses, depending on the vendor.

Some pundits suggest that companies should, in principle, consider upper-end solutions only when they have the financial assets and requirements for a solution capable of handling the multitude of sales complexities needed to go to market. And of course, there are hard and soft costs associated with business process improvement and change management education about the space, critical success factors to deploying pricing technologies. The combination of all these factors is, for the time being, deterring the most risk-averse purse string holders, leaving them working off of hunch, manual spreadsheets, and multiple silos of data indefinitely. But for the rest of the potential market (early adopters and mainstream), the cost of status quo (leaving millions of dollars on the table) and the compelling ROI of the first movers seem to be breaking the inertia.

Zilliant offers a full range of services to its customers, including professional services, maintenance and technical support services, and educational services to deal with these technical and cultural obstacles. With regards to professional services specifically, the vendor provides its Zilliant Solutions Group (ZSG), a professional services team that plays a direct role in project implementations. By focusing on both short- and long-term value drivers, these experts aim at helping companies achieve their strategic pricing goals. These drivers are capable of (a) customizing the solution to solve customers' unique business challenges; (b) ensuring user adoption through change management; (c) incorporating long-term pricing improvement strategy; and (d) reducing costs and risk by planning out the entire solution road map.

The ZSG team is a direct extension of the user company's project team. Price (profit) optimization is the "holy grail" (ultimate goal) of pricing, and the team's job is to take the user company's ever-evolving data and, using algorithms and models, turn it into actionable price recommendations, rules, and policies that deliver margin lift. Changing the mentality and practice of pricing is an evolution that impacts the entire organization, especially when the "cost plus" mentality is deeply ingrained. Zilliant's change management experts work with key stakeholders to build internal, strategic pricing best practices that lead to long-term, repeatable, thought-out pricing decisions.

Zilliant's own financial performance has dramatically improved over the last twelve months, though it is yet to become profitable on a generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) revenue accounting basis. However, the vendor has had two consecutive blow-out years and has been cash flow positive the last two quarters. Given that Zilliant has been reinvesting to continue this rapid growth in 2007, it remains to be seen what their longer-term profitability trend will be.

Continued growth is imperative, and one way for expansion would be to attract small and midsize enterprises. But in order to do that, every pricing vendor has to make its offering and underlying principles understandable and affordable to smaller businesses having limited internal pricing expertise. To that end, Zilliant has been investing heavily in out-of-the-box configurations that are vertical and industry-specific. In this way, the vendor hopes to further reduce the cost of deploying the software to make it more palatable to smaller companies. The vendor should also explore the possibility of offering a subscription model, which is already well established in some segments, and is often suitable for smaller companies with variability in demand and limited information technology (IT) bandwidth (see Software as a Service Is Gaining Ground).

While the vendor touts some traction with Deloitte on deployments and marketing (with the most recent press announcement of a truly strategic relationship in February 2007), Zilliant should try to nurture similar relationships with the likes of Accenture and McKinsey. However, this might be difficult due to both parties competing for the same opportunities in pricing strategy and impact analysis engagements (before the pricing software is even deployed). Official partnership and integration programs beyond those with SAP (for example, with vendors such as Oracle, Infor, Lawson, Epicor, or Microsoft Dynamics) would also seem prudent.

A blessing and a curse always comes from a cooperative relationship with SAP. On the one hand, recent moves by SAP might jumpstart a more comprehensive and pervasive adoption of price management solutions, providing a marketing awareness boost and investments for all vendors. On the other hand, what's unclear is how Zilliant will fare in SAP's installed base given SAP's ongoing, close relationship with fierce competitor Vendavo (under the name of SAP's Industry Value Network [IVN]), a vendor that offers a more comprehensive solution for price and margin management. SAP is reselling Vendavo's price management software suite to its customers within the manufacturing industries, such as chemicals, high-tech, and oil and gas.

The SAP-Vendavo joint solution, which is also certified as Powered by SAP NetWeaver, has been complementing and enhancing the price execution capabilities of mySAP ERP and mySAP CRM with real-time, sophisticated pricing analytics, which is a framework for price setting and policy management. Sold under the name SAP Price and Margin Management (SAP PMM) by Vendavo, the solution has been available for over a year. SAP is initially targeting it at the above mentioned three industries, but it anticipates it will address a much broader set of industries in future release cycles. For more information, see Applications Giants Bolster Their Pricing Management Capabilities.

Zilliant still has some opportunity within the huge SAP install base, since its science-based pricing approach can supposedly deliver up to three times the margin lift of a non-science-based approach that relies solely on process control and analysis to eliminate obvious pricing mistakes (the current approach of Vendavo). This is the basis for Zilliant's promise to customers—to help them "achieve the best (most profitable) pricing possible on every deal." Zilliant's competitive wins at such SAP accounts as Insight Enterprises, Schneider Electric, and Smith & Nephew validate that this difference matters to some customers. However, immediate short-term gain is almost always achievable when preventing counterproductive sales processes (granting a huge discount for an unprofitable customer, for example). To this end, Vendavo offers some degree of profit lift too, and combined with its SAP relationship, Vendavo's offerings may be sufficient for some SAP "house" accounts.

Vendavo often claims that segmentation and optimization are not necessary, and that the basic analytic approach reveals all actionable price improvement opportunities. Given that long-term benefits come from the incremental gains of pricing segmentation and optimization to drive margin impact, SAP and Vendavo have recently announced that they will offer these capabilities at some point in the future. But the competition is not going to sit still and wait for Vendavo and SAP to deliver algorithmic price optimization capabilities, especially in manufacturing and distribution verticals, where Zilliant is currently strong.

Lastly, Zilliant and the SAP-Vendavo combination still have competitors. These competitors claim to have credible customers in the B2B industries and offer price management solutions that cover many of the same areas as Zilliant and Vendavo. Such providers include PROS Pricing Solutions, pVelocity, Maxager, Metreo, and Rapt. Acorn is also an alternative in some parts of the market, owing to its appetizing price tag. It is always tricky for the customer to discern which of the above players offers a not-too-simplified or one-dimensional approach.

Some of these players do have the ability to make optimization work and deliver margin uplift. But these capabilities should not be delivered in the form of ad hoc consulting and subsequent customization of software endeavors. Rather, they should be delivered with an instantiated, repeatable approach to the problem in terms of configurable, out-of-the-box products.

User Recommendations

In short, Zilliant does not view price optimization and management as a generic market. The vendor is focused on and serves a range of vertical industries that have specific needs and drivers for success. Therefore, prospective user companies within industrial manufacturing, high-tech, medical device, distribution, advertising and media, transportation, and B2B e-commerce businesses should evaluate Zilliant's offerings. However, consumer retailers and the travel and hospitality segments, all of which are not characterized by major negotiation processes with consumers, are not good prospects for Zilliant, except perhaps in terms of the Test and Monitor application. Zilliant's solutions seem to fit especially well with companies that have a range of price-sensitive and value-driven products and customers that result in meaningful variations in price response—a fertile environment for price segmentation and price optimization to produce the most profitable pricing on every transaction.

For more in-depth information on the specifics of pricing and its strategies, please see Know Thy Market Segment's Price Response, Advancing the Art of Pricing with Science, Business-to-business Price Segmentation—Outlined and Explained, and So What's the Bottom Line on Price Segmentation?

This is the last part of the series What if Companies Could Use Science to Align Prices to Market and Maximize Margins?

 
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