Evolving Your Deal Desk for Modern Business

Authored by: David Warren, Principal Director, Zuora Subscribed Institute

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One of the biggest perpetual challenges facing organizations is driving change across siloed business functions. To combat this, companies are establishing interstitial teams designed to bridge process and information gaps in order to achieve better outcomes. For example, “deal desk” has emerged as an interstitial team in B2B organizations to bridge sales and finance teams, enabling companies with modern business models without sacrificing financial controls.

Having strong controls in place ensures billing accuracy, strengthens revenue, and can reduce downstream audit intensity and fees. Companies with recurring revenue models have to manage exponentially more rate plans and payment terms than businesses that sell through a traditional, one-time purchase model. Without controls in place, the higher the risk for human error and the likelihood that auditors may request a larger percentage of orders to be reviewed (which increases audit costs).
While the reporting structures for deal desks may vary from company to company, the most critical drivers of their success are the degree of authority they are given over the deal structure and finance’s ability to exert control over the process.
What this looks like in practice can vary. Some companies place their deal desk within sales while holding them accountable to processes and procedures dictated by the finance team. Other companies have stricter rules and don’t allow anyone sitting within the sales organization to enter quotes to ensure that every order is set up correctly from the start.
No matter where a deal desk sits, in order to create a model that works best, there are several dynamics that need to be considered.
First, companies that sell recurring revenue offers to enterprise customers have to manage a lot of complexity. They must monitor customer needs and experiences closely in order to inform the product team’s roadmap and new offers that help future-proof the business. But with every new add-on and enhancement that launches, new SKUs must be created, new bundles are introduced, product catalogs become bloated, issuing quotes requires more manual effort, and as a result, deal velocity slows to a crawl.
Second, go-to-market finance teams have to manage a flood of exceptions requested by sales on behalf of customers. Account reps tend to be hyper-focused on taking down quota and are therefore incentivized to protect price through the levers that are available to them. Examples of these levers include payment terms, contract lengths, ramp-up periods, and usage commitments. While finance teams share an interest in preserving price, they also have to consider when the revenue can be recognized, how it impacts their forecast, and how much risk the business is taking on by extending or shortening term lengths.
Ultimately, product teams aren’t going to willingly slow down progress on their roadmap, and sales teams are unlikely to structure deals in a certain way just to make life easier for their downstream colleagues. Therefore, it is left to finance teams, via the deal desk, to come up with ways to monetize the innovation, get the win, make the customer happy, and mitigate business risk.
How? Consider three things we’ve seen best-in-class deal desks do consistently well: they adopt an advisory mindset, establish real-time product level performance metrics, and automate processes wherever possible. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Adopting an advisory mindset

In the past, most deal desk teams within traditional business models had a fairly straightforward role. They generated order forms, pushed deals out the door, and ran reports. But as demand for more customized deals increases within more modern models such as recurring revenue, deal desks need to serve as a “check and balance” between what sales wants to push, what the customer is likely to do, and what is practical from a lifetime value perspective.
Today’s deal desk needs individuals who have a deeper understanding of process workflows and the ability to develop solutions that improve efficiency. As the volume of deals increases, these individuals need to be able to recognize recurring patterns, think strategically, and use those skills to play a more consultative role with their quota-crushing sales colleagues.
As one CAO pointed out, “Our deal desk sees way more deals than any of our salespeople. When a rep says their customer needs a deal to start in six months instead of now, my team knows to start digging into the ‘why’ behind the request and then start problem solving. Is it a cash flow issue? If so, we can probably do something around the first payment or structure a ramp and then figure it out from there.”
This illustrates a variable that traditional product companies haven’t had to contend with in the past: time. Modern business models require more attention to be paid to how long it takes to drive conversion and how long a customer is willing to renew. B2B subscription and consumption models generally aren’t able to recoup their customer acquisition cost (CAC) for a deal until customers have been on the books for at least 12 – 24 months. The longer the payback period, the more risk a business is taking on. While deal desks can’t predict how long a customer will stick around, levers such as payment terms, contract ramps, usage commitments, and discounting need to be strategically deployed by teams that understand which lever to pull and when to prevent long, disadvantageous payback periods.
And they need data, which we’ll look at next.

Establishing real-time product performance metrics

Metrics that deal desks report on tend to be fairly straightforward. Profitability, conversion rates, average selling price, and discounting rates are the norm. Typically, metrics are reviewed on a quarterly basis to inform changes that company leaders might want to make to the product catalog. While informative, a quarterly review doesn’t deliver insights quickly enough to inform actions that can improve the likelihood of hitting in-quarter goals.
Leading deal desk teams are set up to sense and respond to the real time delivery of deal-level data and product level data as well. Understanding how individual products perform when they are sold as a standalone vs. part of a bundle (and to whom) can help companies respond faster with new pricing strategies or determine whether a new SKU needs to be created. For example, a company might see a sudden rise in extended payment terms, which could indicate an emerging trend within a certain market or customer segment. An increase in standalone selling price (SSP) violations left unchecked could create big headaches down the road for the revenue team. Too high a win rate for offers sold at list price might indicate that pricing is too low and the company is leaving money on the table. Setting up a reporting system that shows the impact on sales velocity that discounting by product or by customer has can improve targeting and forecasting.
Getting timely, actionable metrics requires getting quotes generated as early as possible and in a place where the deal desk can see and analyze them. There is often a bit of friction around this point. Salespeople tend to prefer generating quotes in a CRM system because it’s familiar to them and easy to use. Deal desk teams prefer CPQ tools because once the quote is entered, the order form automation process can begin. Most companies resolve this friction by using both tools while making sure that there is data and process integration between quote, order, and revenue recognition management.

Driving Automation

In order to reap the benefits of automation, there are two components that must be in place. The first is a closed loop system of principles and procedures that are designed to ensure consistency and accuracy of the automation process. Establishing such a system requires a deep understanding of how the current quote to revenue process works, including all the inputs, outputs, and steps taken by each stakeholder. Once the process has been defined, procedures and principles need to be put in place to determine what will be “allowed” to be automated vs. what conditions will dictate human intervention. The system should also include elements that will ensure it stays current with the needs of the business, such as quality control measures, error detection and correction mechanisms, and ongoing monitoring and analysis.
The second automation component is, of course, technology and the resources to manage it. While this obviously includes automation software, it also includes considerations around the broader digital architecture and how new tools and platforms will integrate with current backend systems. With a well-defined closed loop system in place, technology options are easier to evaluate through criteria such as deployment speed, integration capabilities, ease of use, and scalability. In addition to supporting automation, the technology should also support monitoring and analysis activities to help govern and iterate the system as the business continues to grow and change.


Every B2B go-to-market finance team, even the most advanced early adopters, will continue to face new challenges balancing risk management and agility as companies continue to explore new ways to monetize their offerings. In order to navigate these challenges, finance leaders can kickstart their deal desk’s evolution by doing the following:
First, put Finance in the driver’s seat of the process and give them more upstream visibility by having the deal desk team report to the office of the CFO. 
Help drive a more consultative Mindset through training on things like appreciative inquiry, pattern recognition, problem-solving, critical thinking, and solution selling. Apply role-playing techniques to help teams practice these skills before they have to put them into practice with their sales colleagues.
Introduce product performance Metrics to your reporting to help teams get more familiar with what products or offering elements drive higher premium, discounting, cross-sell, and lifetime value. Don’t wait for the end of quarter to review performance metrics. For starters, shift to a monthly cadence. Go into each review with the objective of walking out with 1-2 actions you can apply to the product catalog before the next review. 
Begin the Automation journey with an audit of the current process inputs, outputs, and steps. While exhaustive, this effort by itself can yield some low hanging fruit opportunities to streamline current efforts even before you roll out a complete set of principles and procedures with supporting technology.
Taking these first few steps can help propel the evolution of your go-to-market finance team and equip them with the enablers they need to bring financial operations closer to the customer-facing front of the business. 
Headshot of David Warren
David Warren
Principal Director, Zuora Subscribed Institute

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