Attribute-based configuration made as easy as ABC

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Attribute-based configuration

What is attribute-based configuration?

Attribute-based configuration provides a massive benefit to your business because it facilitates flexibility within your sales teams; quick, accurate quoting and greater conversion.

Imagine you’ve just bought a cottage in the country. The place is a wreck, but it’s going to become your dream home with a beautiful kitchen which will be at the very heart of the building. You want to choose a new kitchen, but will it be a farmhouse kitchen which is in keeping with the style of the house, or are you going to think outside of the box and have a modern and minimalist design? Will it have to fit into a small space or will you extend to accommodate it so that you can fit in a dining area and that kitchen island you’ve always wanted too?

Whatever choices you make will take you down different journeys of specification which will be based on attributes of the different styles and potential sizes of kitchen. For example, the different styles will lead to limitations or recommendations on the choice of flooring and if you’re working in a restricted space it will constrain which appliances may be selected.

By using an attribute-based configurator, you will configure hundreds of attributes during the design of your kitchen and rules will be applied which will steer you through the journey to the appropriate selections and stop you choosing invalid combinations. In the end you’ll have the perfect kitchen, but of course there is no accounting for taste!

Having looked at a real-world example, let’s get into the realm of business systems. Companies such as Oracle and have built attribute-based configurators which can fulfil these needs. has recently produced an excellent dedicated eBook entitled ‘Attribute-Based Configurators vs. Product-Based Configurators: Choosing the Best Solution for Your Business’ which is worth reading.

Attribute-based configuration is a way in which complex products and services can be specified based on a variety of factors which could include the desired style, the target location, size of site or site characteristics. It enables a selling experience that is based around what is required rather than through a process of selection from a list of products. This in turn facilitates rapid quote creation.

It focuses on the requirements of the buyer and removes the element of ‘tribal knowledge’ from your sales teams. It means that it is no longer essential for your salespeople to have a deep knowledge of all your products and their many possible configurations in order to make a sale. As a result, it enables greater flexibility within sales teams.

In support of this, attribute-based configurators can leverage rules and calculations which help to identify appropriate or recommended products; this is known as guided selling. Further to this, rules can be defined to narrow down options based on previous selections.

Rules can be used to:

·       Set attribute values based on a condition

·       Suggest optional parts to buyers

·       Prevent users from selecting opposing values of configurable attributes

·       Display or hide additional attribute fields

Rules can be broadly categorised as follows:

·       Constraint – specifies items that you cannot select in a configuration when one or multiple conditions are met

·       Recommendation – makes selections on an attribute based on prior attribute selections made by the user

·       Hiding – hides attributes when one or multiple predefined conditions are met

·       Recommended item – adds parts or additional items to the quote based on user attribute selections in configuration – these may be either mandatory or optional

Attribute based configuration supports greater accuracy in quoting via rules and calculation allowing a much quicker turnaround from enquiry to quote, a key metric when it comes to winning bids.

What is the alternative to attribute-based configuration?

The main alternative to attribute-based configuration is product or selection-based configuration. These configurators use a comprehensive product catalogue which covers the full range of all available products, components, services, etc. It supports only simple use cases such as: 

·       STO or select-to-order – customers select all independent components of a product; no components are interdependent and the selection of one component does not affect the availability of the other components.

·       PTO or pick-to-order – users select all components, but they have to consider dependencies of those without the help of a configurator. It is a very simple form and is used in many online stores.

·       CTO or configure-to-order – supports customers in selecting the matching components according to a modular system. A good example of this is ordering a laptop. During the ordering process, the customer selects the hard disk, the required software, etc.

What does attribute-based configuration add?

An attribute-based configurator will support the above use cases, plus those below which require more complex configurability, these are usually seen in manufacturing settings:

·       ATO or assemble-to-order – is a mixture of make-to-stock and contract manufacturing. Individual components are held in stock and final production takes place after receipt of order according to individual customer requirements and taking into account component dependencies.

·       MTO or make-to-order – used where standard parts plus raw and partially processed materials are held in stock and further processing and production takes place after receipt of the order. These configurators are often used to support fully or partially automated production processes.

·       ETO or engineer-to-order – will be seen when a very high level of configuration flexibility is required, where the individual parts of each order have to be manufactured specifically. ETO brings benefits to both customers who can specify highly customised products and to engineers who can set parameters against which components and products can be specified and therefore built.

Guided selling – does it add anything and do we need it?

An element of guided selling is often part of an attribute-based configurator. It is the process of leading and supporting customers through the purchasing journey (as you can see in our B2C kitchen example above). Traditionally, the guided selling concept has been used in an e-commerce context, but in recent times, it has expanded into B2B sales practices. It has been suggested that as Generation Z enters the labour market, that there has been an increase in demand for guided selling principles to be introduced in B2B sales. As ‘digital natives’, the concept of ‘self-service’ is central to their understanding of the buying journey. Market changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have also served to reinforce this trend.

Having a richer attribute configurator and rules set supports more productive guided selling engagements where customers perceive the value of those interactions. If this is combined with faster quote production, it leads to increased conversion of opportunities into sales.

Guided selling is a natural progression of the attribute-based configuration principle, it is not seen in all contexts but it will become an integral part of more configurators as time goes on.

Summary of attribute-based configuration?

In summary attribute-based configuration gives you:

·       Empowered salespeople who create more accurate quotes

·       Demystification of the sales process, codifying product information, getting rid of tribal knowledge, enabling flexibility within your sales teams

·       Increased conversion due to faster quote generation which enable you to get in ahead of the competition!

What value does Walpole Partnership add?

Walpole Partnership is a dedicated CPQ consultancy with several decades of combined experience in the specifying and building of attribute-based configurators. Largely this has been in the realm of Big Machines (now Oracle CPQ). We have great depth of knowledge and capability in our pre-sales and sales team to identify the right solution for your business. Our industry leading delivery function employs tried and tested processes to understand the detail of your requirements and our development team is among the most proficient in the CPQ industry. We have delivered and implemented attribute-based configurators in industries as diverse as healthcare technology, financial services and supply chain.

Gain valuable insights by taking a few minutes to complete our revenue transformation scorecard.

‘Attribute based configuration made as easy as ABC’ was written by Walpole Partnership’s Business Analyst Consultant, Dan Cunningham.

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