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Don’t waste time on a poor CPQ User Experience

May 18, 2020

The configure element of Configure Price Quote (CPQ) consists of combining parts available to create a product that will operate.  The more complex the component combinations can be for a product, the more highly configurable it is. 

There are several approaches to configuration which affect the User Experience (UX) in a CPQ application.  Each has its benefits for different types of users; however, being performant is critical to the application’s success.

Free flow, including accordian

A user can add any option or part to a quotation or basket. Errors are permitted, e.g. overpopulation, but the system generates warnings alerting the user that the errors need to be corrected. Many of channelcentral’s CPQ applications use this approach.

Free flow is ideal for regular users that have some knowledge of the products and options, or technical information is readily available.

Always correct

The configuration system constrains options so that anything that a user adds is functional.  As a user adds more options, the remaining choices are restricted further. Some of channelcentral’s light eCommerce customers adopt this approach, using boost! and APWS.

Always correct is ideal if a user is infrequent or has limited knowledge of products, to simplify the process of selecting parts.

Pre-Qualification

The user is asked a set of questions up-front, and the configuration system limits options and therefore, complexity based on the responses.

Pre-Qualification is ideal if a user has no real knowledge of products and options available but does know clearly, the solution they require in purchasing a product.

Forrester has recently announced a top trend for 2020 will be an increase in ‘self-service for end-to-end customer journey‘, including customer-facing CPQ solutions for B2B buyers. 1  channelcentral designs all its CPQ and eCommerce applications with users in mind, so that users can self-serve. 

Is a poorly designed performant User Interface equally bad to ‘egg-timer time’?  Present the user with a form that takes one second to load but 30 minutes to complete is worse than something that takes a few seconds to load on each click but only takes 10 minutes to complete.

Our CPQ applications have not only complexity, but also a lot of dynamic data (notably price/stock), that enables them to generate complex configurations.   So, we are refactoring (altering the code architecture) to make them as performant as possible for the best possible UX. By optimizing the architecture and the UX design, the future releases of our CPQ applications will enjoy the best of both worlds.

1 Top CRM Trends for 2020, Forrester blog by Kate Leggett, Vice President, Principal Analyst, 11 February 2020

Watch the video summary here:

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Impact of Covid-19

April 30, 2020

Everybody at channelcentral recognizes the human tragedy created by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Life will never be the same; it seems. We’ve been very fortunate so far to have only one staff member testing positive for the virus, and that person is recovering, albeit with challenges.

Many of our customers and suppliers have responded to the economic conditions by furloughing staff, moving to home working and gearing their services to support the current (extraordinary) needs of people consuming IT.

Frank Sohn, a Configure Price Quote (CPQ) specialist at MGI Research LLC, has commented in a recent blog, on data that G2 has shared showing a surge of interest in sales tools over recent weeks, including CPQ tools.1 These tools offer the digital transformation of sales processes, essential for selling remotely and driving eCommerce – both critical factors for many businesses at present.

We had no real expectation of the impact of Covid-19 on the CPQ services we offer, and it’s been interesting:

1. Utilization has been lower but not ‘super low’. Even allowing for countries with strong lockdowns in place, and also being high users of our applications (UK, US, Spain, Italy, France as examples), people are still quoting tech products.
2. The disruption to the global supply chain has meant that:
a. Orders that would usually be executed directly from the factory, now, understandably, have much longer lead-times.
b. Vendors who also offer products for sale from Distributor Inventory have seen more interest.
3. Companies with robust eCommerce offerings have fared better than those without.
4. Very large companies tend to view investments over a much longer timeframe, so although the disruption seems like a long time, it’s hopefully going to be one or two quarters. Hopefully.

That’s not to say that the market is buoyant: it isn’t. We expect that once the virus infection levels start to recede, we’ll see a spike in demand for technology as businesses re-start projects. It’s highly likely that some companies may re-engineer, maybe to enhance their online customer experience (CX) or put renewed focus on local inventory.

Everyone, please stay safe.

1 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/configure-price-quote-software-support-recovery-from-covid-19-sohn/?trackingId=yChUGNFrSZOpEHUI4f%2FcvQ%3D%3D

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eCommerce versus CPQ Application?

March 9, 2020

Like most organizations, channelcentral tracks what the market is doing using formal resources (Forrester, Novus etc) and informal resources (Twitter, LinkedIn etc). One of the CPQ evangelists, Michael Kiruba-Raja, posted an article on LinkedIn that pitched eCommerce and CPQ Applications as alternative solutions. 

Here’s a link: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cpq-vs-ecommerce-what-use-when-why-michael-kiruba-raja/

It’s a really good article that makes some very strong points, BUT at channelcentral we were completely thrown by this approach to CPQ and eCommerce.

With a couple of exceptions, our CPQ Applications are designed to be part of an eCommerce User Experience. We don’t really understand why you would create a great CPQ application for Sales Users without also making that application, or the data that drives that application, available to Buyers.

Independent research firm, Forrester, recognizes that modern B2B Buyers want access to digital tools themselves and instantaneous access to information.¹ We accept that modern B2B buyers like to perform their own research, discover what is possible, shortlist and then reach out to a Supplier (be that Channel Partner or Manufacturer). Exposing your solutions on your eCommerce using CPQ or CPQ data seems obvious to us. Sure, it may be necessary to offer a subset of the total solution combinations, or a simpler user interface than you might offer an internal product guru, but that’s all possible with the right architecture and data structure.

Michael’s article does recognize that there is a hybrid world where eCommerce and CPQ co-exist. We agree: for channelcentral Sales Enablement and Customer Enablement is better than either/or.

¹ The State of Digitized Selling: Stop Testing the Waters and Get Immersed, Forrester, 27 December, 2019

Watch the video summary here:

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Successful software utilization: Communication, Communication, Communication.

February 17, 2020

A successful software implementation requires a combination of People, Process and Technology.  Often underestimated in its importance, a key marketing and communications plan ensures the difference between ticking the box that software has been implemented, through to a thriving utilization and change in employee/customer behaviour.

Generate user adoption for your CPQ software with a pro-active, engaging strategy. Crucial to success is a stakeholder and project evangelist; a media savvy individual within the organisation who crusades to drive adoption and consequently utilization.

Include in your plan as many of the following as possible:

  • Keep communication channels open and regular during project implementation with staff and customers.
  • Hold a launch kickoff session, including training.
  • Create a landing page to link to the software for staff and customers.
  • Implement Deep-linking to connect your webstore to your CPQ application.
  • Incentivize staff with sales objectives, tracked in the software over a specific sales period.
  • Create and share social media announcements.
  • Make your training and marketing support resources easily accessible.
  • Feature a demo stand at your employee and customer events.

Boosting utilization rates will result in better employee and customer satisfaction, ultimately leading to a stronger bottom line for your business.

For further information on channelcentral’s CPQ application-specific best practice for successful implementation and driving utilization, please email marketing@channelcentral.net.

Watch the video summary here:

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The Hidden Savings of CPQ Systems

January 15, 2020

ROI (Return on Investment) is important for any IT expenditure. Moving from buying infrastructure, software and services to more affordable monthly subscriptions does change the business justification for it, but doesn’t remove it.

On CPQ systems some savings are obvious because they are human factors:

  • A customer happy to self-serve a quote is cheaper than a sales person doing it on behalf of that customer. Especially when the customer has many choices and can ‘experiment’ with different configurations. Imagine having to contact Sales to re-work each quote version? Pre-CPQ that was standard practice.
  • A sales person quoting may be cheaper and more effective than a sales specialist quoting (especially low value deals).
  • A configuration that works first time avoids costly, high profile returns.

They’re all obvious benefits and are easy to calculate: the number of quotes customers do, the number of quotes sales do, the value of the quotes sales specialists do, the reduction in sales error returns etc.

What about Hidden Savings? Here’s a great example based on the sector channelcentral servers: the IT Channel.

Stock Turns

This is basic economics – the faster stock turns the less expensive it is due to lower capital tied up in stock and less price erosion. In IT the pace of development is so fast that products depreciate – before they’re sold. Any Distributor that buys for stock is taking a risk. CPQ helps to lower that risk. Here’s how:

  • Any good CPQ application has a variety of tactics to promote specific products against a range of similar products:
    • Top Recommended
    • Promotional Rebates or BOGOF
    • Incentive Points
    • Auto-Add
    • Included in Bundles
    • Banners.
  • Showing real-time stock means that customers can optimize their quotes for low lead-times.
  • Reporting.
  • Reporting.
  • Reporting.

Reporting

Strong emphasis on this one. The reason is that it’s often an afterthought with CPQ. A customer will provide an amazing brief yet reporting won’t even be mentioned.

CPQ is the future. This is not a slogan it’s genuinely the future: it quotes for things you haven’t sold yet. Most businesses track the weeks of stock they have against sales out (i.e. THE PAST). Sure, do that but why not fold in data from your CPQ Application – it’s free from channelcentral!

Factoring in your run-rate pipeline will invariably show two extremes:

  1. You have inventory that nobody is quoting. That’s mostly bad: but always bad if it’s aged inventory. That’s really bad if you haven’t negotiated price protection with your vendor.
  2. Your customers and sales people are quoting inventory you don’t have or have low inventory on. That’s also bad. Frustrated customers and sales people plus lost business.

The costs of lost sales and writing down aged inventory would outweigh the costs of channelcentral’s CPQ subscriptions. We may be under calling our ROI…

Watch the video summary here:

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Using data to facilitate B2B Marketplaces.

December 6, 2019

With the availability of the internet and explosion of eCommerce, consumer marketplaces have grown significantly over the last two decades.

B2B marketplaces are now predicted to grow significantly as the purchasing area of choice for the business purchaser.

channelcentral was interviewed in the November 12, 2019 Forrester research report, ‘Think SKUs, Not SOWs: How Marketplaces Will Shake Up Tech Selling’, which has identified B2B sales are struggling to accommodate more complex purchases in marketplaces.

Tim Moyle, channelcentral CEO is quoted, “Marketplaces, even Amazon Business, face issues selling complex, configurable tech products.”

channelcentral predicts that a key requirement from B2B buyers purchasing in a B2B marketplace will be the ability to see relevant add-ons, as well as product comparisons, visible pricing and reviews.

channelcentral has existing solutions to improve the B2B buying of complex product configurations in a Web Store environment. Currently the boost! Suite of flexible Web Data Services aimed at improving customers’ eCommerce experiences using Compatible Options, Recommends and Attach Patterns.

This same concept can be applied to B2B marketplaces. Just one area of improvement in the B2B marketplace evolution, nevertheless, an important one, to make the purchasing experience relevant.

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Marketplaces are not all the same

November 22, 2019

One aspect of eCommerce being tipped as a huge growth area is Marketplaces.  Leading Technology Analyst Firm, Forrester¹, is predicting that small businesses and motivated enterprise buyers (especially those buying indirect goods) will flock to a place that offers choice, makes comparisons easy and pricing visible, features reviews, and has add-ons just a click away.

If you’re thinking, “This is something that I need to get into,” then one thing to consider is that the term Marketplace covers a diverse set of organizations; in the same way that “High Street” no longer means grocers and newsagents.

There is a high-level differentiation between a Marketplace and a Web Store.  A Marketplace attribute is one or more of the following:

  1. Must be multi-vendor (so the Fitbit Store is not a Marketplace).
  2. Must be multi-seller (so a traditional Reseller like eBuyer or Insight doesn’t qualify).
  3. Can allow the same product to be sold by more than one seller at a different price.
  4. Can be single platform (Apple, Google, Salesforce).
  5. Can be single product/service (Air BnB).

 

Marketplace operators face different challenges, largely depending on which of the “can” attributes they address. Air BnB solved the complexity of booking dates, property attributes, owner preferences once. Apple, and to a slightly lesser extent Google, introduced review procedures to ensure that apps available for their platforms conformed to a certain standard. Salesforce likewise.

Marketplaces that are true multi-vendor, face different challenges, as any complexity associated with the product or service, they are offering has to be solved for each product type and potentially each vendor. In our next Blog, Using Data to facilitate B2B Marketplaces, we look at how channelcentral seeks to solve some of those complexities.

¹”Think SKUs, Not SOWs: How Marketplaces Will Shake Up Tech Selling”, Forrester Research, Inc., November 12, 2019