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The Rise of the PIM Vendor

November 16, 2020

PIM pivotal 

Hot Air Balloon

Forrester’s recent Market Snapshot announced that it is time to consider PIM as pivotal to a successful digital experience strategy and that the PIM vendor landscape is in transition to meet CX needs. Solutions to manage product data are undergoing a transformation, driven by the impact of PIM on CX, scale of products and proliferation of touchpoints.

channelcentral met with Pimberly, a UK-based Product Information Management (PIM) Vendor last year. Multi-vendor sellers have to manage huge volumes of product data in a variety of different formats, connecting to multiple, non-standard systems. PIM Vendors not only normalize the data but also offer merchandizing and demand shaping functions to help improve the Customer Experience (CX).

Product data fuels CX

Many poor B2B Customer Experiences are due to insufficient or low-quality data integrated into the buying process. The product data exists but may be spread across multiple systems or stored in non-user-friendly format. Forrester emphasizes that product data fuels CX.1 channelcentral considers a project to consolidate and automate data sources as fundamental in ensuring that capabilities can be added, and error removed. An example leading to poor CX could be displaying a different inventory level in eCommerce to the one shown in CPQ. Businesses should identify the best (Golden) data sources and real-time delivery mechanisms.

Vendors aim to offer a consistent CX, regardless of where the product or service purchase is made in the omnichannel.  For a relevant product category, well applied PIM can significantly enhance the buying journey when coupled with Digital Asset Management (DAM).  Forrester stresses the importance of DAM and PIM collaborating to form compelling content for B2B buyers, recommending the integration to improve the omnichannel experience.

Adding value

Web Services play a huge role now, turning data from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems into the dynamic data required by eCommerce and CPQ Systems. Expecting Product Managers to run reports or upload spreadsheets manually is not scalable. PIM vendors recognize this opportunity and in multi-vendor situations, where there is often more than one available data source (e.g. Vendor or Icecat), allowing eCommerce Store or CPQ stakeholders to set Golden sources per vendor or product line.

Watch the summary video here:

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Helping the B2B Complex Buying Journey with Credible Empathetic Content

October 29, 2020

A recent Forrester report has identified that B2B marketers’ content ‘shows a deeper understanding of the concerns and challenges buyers face.’ To engage B2B buyers, Forrester says content should be empathetic and easy to consume.1

B2B customers want more than customized content; it needs to be genuinely helpful and embrace the outcomes that they desire.  Also, customers want reassurance that information they receive is from a trusted source. 

business and IT decisionmakers say vendors give them too much material and most of it is useless. 

Understand what is important to buyers in their job 

Focus on what helps your customers – engaging them in sustainable business conversations.  82% of buyers say it’s important to have a credible, authentic story showing how you help customers succeed. 1 

Make content accessible – shorter format, consumable content.  Forrester reports that 61% of B2B buyers prefer gathering information on their own. Preferred formats include ROI analyses/business cases, brief brochures, reports, case studies and guides, infographics, short articles and blogs, webinars and short videos. 1 

Make content credible and empathetic – 46% of global technology decision-makers find a business case format with ROI Analysis most useful marketing content format when making a technology purchase decision. 1   

What are we doing to instil confidence in our subscribers and their customers? 

We demonstrate with every communication that we have a full understanding of their industry – we know the IT Channel, IT Products, Configure Price Quote and the commercial realities and challenges our customers face. From customer case studies, through to demonstrating ROI with monthly BI Reporting for all customers. 

Giving your customers access to a self-service sales enablement tool allows them to quickly and correctly Configure Price Quote and then buy the products and services they need, exactly when they need. 

1  Credible Empathetic Content Wins Over Elusive B2B Buyers: Four Practices Deliver Value And Engage Your Buyers’ Attention, Forrester Research, Inc., April 30, 2020, Laura Ramos with Caroline Robertson, April Henderson, Miriam ElKorchi, Kara Hartig 

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Channel Partner Experience – The New Trifurcation Channel Model

October 19, 2020

Earlier this year, Forrester’s Jay McBain included in his channel trends analysis, a newly evolved channel model – Trifurcation.  This model identifies three key streams to the channel, influencing different buyers at different stages in their buying journey

Influencer channel: affinity partners, referral agents, affiliates, advocates and ambassadors with potential to influence a buyer during their pre-purchase research. With more B2B buyers expecting a customer experience (CX) similar to that of a B2C buyer, Forrester found that 68% buyers are spending their buying journey digitally before speaking to a salesperson and 71% reaching vendor selection after a digital-only journey.1 Influencers have just that effect; the potential to recommend a product or service through social media, even if they’d never be directly linked to a sale. 

Transaction channel: in which the buyer operates, and sales take place.  Configure Price Quote (CPQ) supports eCommerce and facilitates ‘as-a-Service‘ in this stream. There are additional opportunities in this traditional part of the channel.  McBain believes that tweaking channel data management, automation, insights, onboarding, incentives, co-selling, and co-marketing will determine winners and losers here.’1 

Retention channel: consultants, integrators, adjacent ISVs, accountants and digital agencies. This stream has increasing relevance, as vendors move towards ‘as-a-Service’ models, working with customers to ensure adoption, integration with existing tech and processes.  The customer needs to experience integrated communications from the vendor and partners with the same mutually beneficial consistent messages. More than 80% of these (potential) partners will show up before or after the sale, and channel leaders need to break the transactional channel model.1 

There is an opportunity for vendors to support influencer and retention channels.  As part of that ecosystem, we recognise the value that CPQ offers in enhancing the CX, whilst facilitating as-a-Service in the IT channel for Manufacturers, Distributors and Resellers, and influencing their new complementary channels.

1 What I See Coming For The Channel In 2020 blog post by Jay McBain, Principal Analyst, Channel Partnerships & Alliances, Forrester, JAN 7 2020 

Watch the summary video here:

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Product Lifecycle Management – The Hidden Gem in CPQ

October 8, 2020

Few Configure Price Quote (CPQ) vendors offer Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Our customers love that we do. So, what is it, and why is it a service that many CPQ vendors choose not to offer? 

A recent ForresterNow article cites the importance of Manufacturers investing in Product content for more lift in all Channels – strengthening relationships with Distributors and increasing product sell-though.1 

CPQ Systems don’t work without data; in this context, product data. New products are launched, old products are retired and superseded. That’s the Product Lifecycle. Feeding a CPQ System with data from large Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) Systems can be problematic.  

channelcentral has solved this by working with Manufacturers to receive complex product data and embellish it to support the customer CPQ experience.   

Here are some of the key aspects of this service: 

  1. When products are launched at New Product Introduction (NPI), the PLM Team ensures that products are released on the date to a Service Level Agreement (SLA). 
  2. Before NPI is a confidentiality breach. 
  3. After NPI is potentially damaging to the new product’s adoption. 
  4. The product’s attributes and compatibility/configuration rules are interpreted and modelled. 
  5. When products ‘sunset’ they are only switched OFF for businesses that have exhausted their supply. They remain visible for those with stock. 

Dealing with Product Managers at Manufacturers, it was evident that NPI was important, but sunset was critical. Why? Legacy stock is VERY costly to clear, and you could justify an entire CPQ System on this point alone. Keeping obsolete products on sale where they are available is profitable – sometimes obsolete products are in greater demand than new ones. 

Including PLM solves major headaches for Manufacturers who want to drive CPQ into Channel eCommerce. It’s a hidden gem. 

Forrester Research, Inc., FORRESTERNOW, ‘Distributors Bear the Burden When Manufacturers Skimp on Product Content’, July 12th 2020, Joe Cicman, Nick Barber, Allen Bonde 

Watch the summary video here:

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How can CPQ applications best drive eCommerce and sales enablement for the IT Channel?

June 25, 2020

A Configure Price Quote (CPQ) vendor with a vertical market focus, can understand quickly and precisely what you need. channelcentral operates exclusively in the heart of the IT Channel.

Good CPQ should improve the customer experience (CX) while lowering the cost of sales. Your sales staff and customers need to quote quickly, accurately, with compatible options and your latest prices. Forrester reveals that the reduced sales rep time on admin and lower-value tasks accounts for 65% of the total revenue benefit resulting from sales enablement modernization.1 Free up your staff to build more meaningful customer relationships and work on higher-value deals.

CPQ can improve customer engagement and the experience sellers create with buyers. Linking your webstore to your CPQ application gives your customers a seamless and more meaningful buying experience.

CPQ applications can leverage inventory and influence demand shaping. Optimizing configurations for in-stock products, using top-recommended options, auto-add, finders and product associations.

CPQ can create measurability – where there is an expectation of meeting or exceeding sales targets. Our CPQ applications easily accommodate sales promotions and SPIFs to incentivize sales.

Enable customers to self-serve and access anywhere.  More than ever B2B buyers are expecting to self-serve.  Infact, 67% of buyers prefer to avoid interacting with sales as a primary source of information.Our CPQ applications can be used from wherever a user is working from.

When a customer needs to have contact with sales, provide your sellers with technology, content, and insights that make them relevant and effective in front of buyers. 84% of buyers want sales staff to understand their industries, business and products.3

Technology should be designed around sales processes. Let our IT Channel CPQ drive your sales and eCommerce.

1 Forrester’s Q2 2019 Global Sales Enablement ROI Survey. See the Forrester report “Building The Business Case For A Modern Sales Enablement Toolset”, November 6, 2019

2 “Now Tech: Sales Enablement Automation, Q2 2020, Forrester Research, Inc.

3 Forrester Consulting’s Q3 2019 Global Marketing Content Credibility Study. See the Forrester report “Credible Empathetic Content Wins Over Elusive B2B Buyers”, April 30, 2020

Watch the video summary here:

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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

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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

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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.

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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: