Archive for the ‘CPQ’ Category

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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

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CPQ user authentication for eCommerce plugins for the IT Channel

November 6, 2019

Facilitating secure business interactions

Hidden connections between a CPQ application and an eCommerce platform are now commonplace in the IT Channel, facilitating a vast number of transactions daily.  channelcentral has worked hard to create a seamless, yet ultimately secure, integration process for its customers and their users using SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language). SAML is fast becoming an industry standard for for communicating identities across the internet.

How does this work?

It’s complicated, but put simply – SAML handles authentication negotiations between three separate parties:

  • An Identity Provider, in this example a CPQ Host (e.g. a Distributor).
  • A SAML Service Provider, in this example a CPQ application plugin provider (i.e. channelcentral)
  • A User – an employee or customer of the Identity Provider (Distributor or Reseller).

The authentication process is as follows:

  1. The user is presented to the CPQ plugin provider (channelcentral in this case) when they click a link.
  2. Assuming the user request was valid, the plugin provider sends a token back to the user (invisibly).
  3. The token is routed automatically to the CPQ Host (Distributor) for confirmation of validity.
  4. The CPQ Host either declines (in which case the user is prevented from accessing the CPQ application e.g. iQuote, PowerQuote, Market Pro) or successfully authenticates the user and issues a new token.
  5. The new token is received by channelcentral and user is granted access.

Distributor control

So, what are the main benefits of introducing SAML authentication into the login process?

  • The CPQ Host, i.e. the Distributor, controls who accesses what. If the Distributor withdraws a service, access can be prevented, even if links still exist in their eCommerce store (or an old email that someone has found).
  • Importantly, it also prevents people/competitors spoofing the Distributor’s users to see their pricing/stock.
  • Improved deployment speed – being a widely-accepted standard, SAML allows interoperability between the highest possible range of back-end systems within the IT Channel.

Does your CPQ provider take user authentication as seriously as channelcentral, when plugging applications in to external eCommerce?  For more information on CPQ user authentication contact us at marketing@channelcentral.net

CPQ user authentication

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Multi-Vendor PC as a Service (PCaaS) in Market Pro

October 4, 2019

Back in January 2019 channelcentral Blogged on how CPQ was an enabler for PC (or Device) as a Service (PCaaS):

https://channelcentral.blog/2019/01/15/how-cpq-fuels-pc-as-a-service-pcaas-growth/

In fact, without CPQ, it’s difficult to understand how PC as a Service can exist. PCaaS isn’t (today) a one stop shop: it’s rare that a PC Manufacturer provides Hardware, Services, Software and Airtime. PC, Services, Operating System sure. Office 365 or Google Docs? 4G (or 5G) airtime contracts? Not so easy.

To solve this, channelcentral has invested in one of its CPQ platforms (Market Pro for HP Inc) to support true multi-vendor PC as a Service. Solve is the word too. We had to architect in a few areas:

  1. In the film Ghostbusters crossing streams was a no no. In Market Pro we had to ensure that we didn’t combine Capex (think payment up front) with Opex (think Finance contract).
  2. We wanted to leverage the work we’d done with HP Services, who had created innovative suites of services to support “as a Service” procurement and lifecycle management/support.
  3. We also wanted to leverage the support for Indicative Finance.
  4. The solution had to be flexible, so that a Market Pro Host could choose, and ultimately self-manage the portfolio of subscription products.

The outcome?  When a user applies Finance to a quotation, we flip into “as a Service” mode. Users can apply the HP Services in either mode. The hardware and services become a monthly subscription and the user is presented with complementary subscriptions. The first host to offer Multi-Vendor PCaaS chose to include Office 365, OneDrive for Business, Exchange Plans (for Shared Mailboxes) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Business Endpoint Protection.

Want to find out more on how CPQ can facilitate PCaaS?  Email marketing@channelcentral.net

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Optimizing CPQ Applications

September 9, 2019

User experience covers a variety of topics. A poorly designed user flow or a badly designed screen layout is irritating, but nothing gets users more frustrated than application latency. On initial launch, a CPQ application can have really good performance, but over time it degrades: application optimization is not a single task, it’s more like a maintenance contract! CPQ applications spawn data, valuable data and simply archiving that overhead is not ideal.

At channelcentral we used to speak about a four second rule. It’s an arbitrary number, but we believed that if a user didn’t see a result on click within four seconds they’d click again as the assumption is they didn’t click correctly OR the application needs a reminder. Today: four seconds needs to be nearer one second – user expectations are higher due in part to the Smartphone experience.

channelcentral recently undertook an architectural review of the applications that run in its “CMS” framework. One finding was that a lot of latency was caused by “Web Services” where applications pull in data to enrich the content with time sensitive data (notably price and inventory). Users were experiencing wait times of between four and 10 seconds and that was clearly unacceptable.

The Development Team looked at Microservices (MSA: Micro Service Architecture) as a potential solution to latency caused by data requests. Once deployed, application performance improved by up to 10X.

Moving from monolithic to modular has other benefits in terms of deployment, fault detection and code maintenance. There are some ‘cons’ with Microservices, but improving performance to that extent makes it an architecture we’re investing in.

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CPQ Application B2B Banner Advertising – The Right Tool For The Right Job

August 16, 2019

The key to successful marketing is targeting the most relevant target audience in the right place at the right time with the right message.  Sales conversion, from awareness to purchase, is having the right communication and requiring minimal effort from the buyer.  Configure Price Quote (CPQ) application banner advertising can make a significant contribution to a holistic campaign or tactical promotion.

Marketing mix

Once marketing planners have devised their strategy and plan, existing and potential customers are segmented into groups, generally characterised by their needs.  Targeting the chosen group or audience with a communications message is usually achieved by a ‘marketing mix’; a carefully planned mixture of media, such as advertising, public relations, digital marketing and exhibitions.

Decision making process

A mixture of marketing communications media is typically used supporting a buyer through the buying decision making process, commonly known as AIDA, (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action).

Using social media will raise awareness of a product or brand, as will display advertising.  Newsletters, paid searches and search engine optimization (SEO) will support interest and desire in a product or services.  Email marketing has been used heavily over the last decade to drive decisions, often combined with promotions.

Promote action where action is required

A banner ad in a CPQ application is in a totally focussed environment:  a user or viewer of the banner ad already has awareness, interest and desire for such products.  A CPQ application tool which integrate to an ecommerce platform is the perfect medium to convert desire to action, allowing a user to seamlessly update their shopping cart with a pre-configured discount bundle by simply clicking on a banner ad.

If the banner ad in the application is part of a larger integrated marketing campaign with the same consistent branding, there will be a higher level of recognition and trust for the target audience.  Furthermore, a focused campaign is likely to bring down cost and increase revenue for the advertiser.

To find out more about CPQ application banner advertising email marketing@channelcentral.net

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IT Auditing…for Targeted Marketing

May 23, 2019

Has this call or email conversation happened to you?

IT Partner: “Would you be interested in this amazing new product?”

Customer: “Sure, what is it?”

IT Partner: “Gimmix X120. It’s the best.”

Customer: “Yes, I know they’re fantastic; we’ve got five in the office already. It’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s just that we have no need for any more right now, I thought you’d know that.”

It’s common. Shotgun blast marketing from a CRM tool that has almost the right amount of information to be effective. Presenting solutions to a customer works better if you know what they already have, so what might be relevant to them. You can either identify the opportunity or look at technology that’s in situ to see if there’s something complementary or revolutionary to move a customer’s IT forwards.  Promoting an Add-on for Office 365? Then target customers WITH or migrating TO Office 365.

If you’re an IT Vendor that sells through the Channel, wouldn’t you have more confidence if the IT Partner said: “We have 300 customers, and we have identified 50 of them as best to target for this campaign.” Sending marketing communications to an irrelevant target audience is not recommended.  An additional 250 pointless or even frustrating marketing messages isn’t in anyone’s interest.

The rub is: CRM tools aren’t built as audit tools. That’s why one IT Partner engaged with us to build one, optimized for IT, to plug-in to their CRM tool:

https://channelcentral.net/pdfs/Highlander%20Case%20Study%20links%20reduced%20file.pdf

Another benefit of using a CRM plug-in – if your organization knows what IT is deployed in a customer, when your sales person sails off into the sunset, your pipeline doesn’t sail off too.

If the potential of an IT Audit plug-in is of interest, and you would like to find out more, please email: marketing@channelcentral.net