Archive for the ‘Data Services’ Category

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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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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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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

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.

Watch summary video here:

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Application Punchout: Five Best Practices

February 28, 2019

In a recent Blog channelcentral discussed how using CPQ Data could drive a seamless user experience when configuring products within a Web Store. For those companies that don’t have the IT Development bandwidth to execute front end CPQ application, but still want to offer product configuration within their Web Store a “Punchout” is still the best solution. Punchouts are also referred to as Plug-Ins – for these purposes they are the same thing.

Here are five best practices based on channelcentral’s experience of working with Channel organizations:

Branding
If it’s possible: replicate your branding on the application you punchout to. If it’s not possible, use the branding from the provider or supplier with co-branding. Don’t do something in the middle it never works well and as Companies change brand as frequently as every 7 years, it’s likely you’ll get caught in a re-brand every 3.5 years (one for you, one for them).

Dynamic Data
Try to get dynamic data such as price and inventory in synch with your punchout application. Use Web Services to feed data in real-time. Otherwise the user can’t see valuable decision criteria in the punchout application, or worse, sees different data. There’s a reason you show stock and price in your Web Store, so there’s a reason you should show it in satellite applications.

Single Sign On (SSO)
“I need another login” said NO-ONE ever. If you are going to send a user from your Web Store to a punchout, let them know (include the legal stuff e.g. GDPR) and provide them with seamless access. No login screen.

No Hiding
If you’ve made the decision to add an application to your Web Store it’s because you believe it will help users and drive results. So when you place the link to it deep inside a complex, cascading menu system it’s going to rely on a fairly determined user to find it. Here are some other ideas:

  • Use banner adverts or site sidebars (if your site supports them).
  • Promote the tool in Blogs, Emails, Newsletters, Email Signatures etc.
  • Where relevant use “deep linking” so if the user is browsing a product in your Web Store and your punchout application adds value to that product, link from your catalogue.

Checkout
Once the user has used the punchout application, drive them back to your Web Store. Add to Cart, continue shopping, checkout. Go beyond just export or share.

With the right APIs all of the above can be achieved using relatively simple, yet secure industry standard techniques. All of channelcentral’s applications are designed to be hosted by a Web Store.

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Do Not Dilute – Innovating CPQ with Web Services

January 9, 2019

channelcentral sells subscriptions for Configure Price Quote (CPQ) applications that plug-in to Web Stores operating in the IT Channel. So, what happens when we talk to a prospect who doesn’t allow application plug-ins on their Web Store? We innovate.

When so many Web Stores use plug-ins, what’s the objection other Companies have with application plug-ins? From the feedback we’ve received over the last decade, mainly from Retailers/Resellers, there are three main reasons:

  1. Companies view their Web Stores the same way as companies would view a traditional High Street Store: with pride. They don’t want the user experience influenced by a third-party application that may look and behave differently.
  2. Many Retailers and Resellers pride themselves on a level of vendor independence. It’s a key differentiator, especially when a vendor sells direct. That impartiality also increases their portfolio (and in turn their addressable market) and credibility.
  3. Operating a Web Store is complex, so hosting numerous plug-ins increases that complexity. Making a change to, for example, a site’s security could cause plug-ins to fail.

In other words, these Companies don’t want to risk diluting their brand, their impartiality, or their eCommerce robustness.

So, how do you improve the user experience for Configure Price Quote in a Web Store that is incapable of delivering Configure Price Quote?

Use data instead.

channelcentral has invested in Web Services that deliver configuration data, so that any Company can deliver Configure Price Quote as a totally integrated experience. Here are some great examples:

HPE ProLiant Servers: https://racksimply.com/

Dell PowerEdge Servers: https://www.centralpoint.nl/

These Companies simply subscribe to a Web Service, and this service drives the user experience that they created.

Not everyone feels this way of course. Plug-ins are affordable, easy to deploy and very functional. channelcentral offers both.

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Data! Who Knew?

October 25, 2018

Well Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media did. Way back in the Noughties he came out with this ‘often-quoted’ gem:

“We’re entering a new world in which data may be more important than software.”

Tim also spoke about the Internet as an Operating System: back in 2010! He has over 2 million Twitter followers; he knows what he’s talking about.

In our experience data has different meanings depending on context: source data for driving CPQ engines, dashboard data for reporting success and ROI, APIs for exchanging data to enrich the user experience etc. That’s where we’ve been but look to the future and new things are possible.

Meanwhile, Data is getting a bad name – specifically:

  • Data Tracking: search for an item on Google and then see banner adverts appear all over the internet, like you’re being stalked.
  • Big Data: people who bought this (mobile phone) eventually bought (cat food) or here’s a perfect job for you based on snippets of macro data.

A lot of conversations we have with customers and prospects focus on ‘user experiences’ and the inevitable ‘feature fests’. More recently though new customers are talking about data services displacing application services. Some organizations don’t want to add another third party application into what can often be a complicated ERP or CRM system. However, they are very interested in the data to drive their own native applications (SAP, NetSuite, Magento, Salesforce).

That’s why we developed our boost! Services: Web Services that deliver data to improve business outcomes.

See how much of Tim O’Reilly’s “Internet Operating System” came true:
http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/03/state-of-internet-operating-system.html

Learn more about boost! Web Services:
https://channelcentral.net/boost.asp
https://racksimply.com/