Archive for the ‘Product Management’ Category

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Different Strokes – selecting CPQ solutions to work for your audiences

March 21, 2019

It’s obvious, but when creating any product or service, the target market or audience is a fundamental consideration in the design process. Designing software is no different, and for Configure Price Quote (CPQ) Software there’s an additional complication: there are at least two audiences.

Let’s consider how to develop CPQ applications to satisfy two users. It is different for each user and here’s why (by example):

If your organization has selected, designed and implemented a CPQ Platform, it’s likely to have been a huge investment, touching all parts of your IT. However, if you are relying on a 3rd party application per Manufacturer, the investment is much lower. A third party application usually requires the user experience to be simplified, maybe sacrificing some functionality or number of configurations/workflows supported.

Knowing this is critical when selecting a CPQ Vendor.

Thanks to Frank Sohn of Novus CPQ Consulting, an independent CPQ Consultant, who had shared this observation on the Novus CPQ Circle Community;

http://novuscpq.com/cpq-circle-community/

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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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Back to basics – getting product descriptions right

January 31, 2019

In trying to fix the complicated problems, it’s sometimes easy to forget to fix the simpler ones. In 1934, Percy Shaw patented the reflective road stud, more commonly known as the ‘cat’s eye’, and made a small fortune by (allegedly) earning a royalty each time one was sold. Simple technology, but hugely effective in keeping the driver ‘on track’ in the dark, and still used today.

Is there anything simpler than the description that is applied to a product?
Simple, but accurate and informative product descriptions result in fewer returns and better customer satisfaction.

If you are called Radical Cycles and you release a model called the Gravel Buster, a man’s Trail bike, available in Black or Blue in various frame sizes – don’t you just concatenate the data?

Radical Gravel Buster (55cm) Blue Men’s Trail Bike

Why might this be difficult for eCommerce or CPQ applications?
Accepting that not all products and their descriptions are this simple, particularly in the IT sector, there are other challenges:

  • Legacy IT is not your friend. When storing long strings was problematic, Product Managers used to have to work within 16 character, or similar, limits. This often resulted in holding multiple descriptions often creating more issues than it solved.
  • When faced with a very low character limit, the use of acronyms, which are understood by Product Managers, but sadly not by anyone else.

Poor descriptions creating havoc
This is a product description from one of the World’s largest Software Vendors, dated January 2019: CCSN,ALL,MLP,ERR01,EUW,001,N/A,1 YR ESD

It’s hard to know where to start, but not having the Vendor’s name is a problem. Nor the product name. Another issue is that a comma is often used as a delimiter (separator) in databases, so even just importing this is an issue.

Eliminate guesswork
If you are operating a Web Store, just getting good, consistent descriptions is a problem. channelcentral recently helped a Retailer locate a better, free data source, than the one they were paying for. The issue was that with poor product descriptions, customers had started to guess the appropriate service for a product, resulting in costly returns. The availability of improved product descriptions has removed the need for guesswork.

Always focussed on turning complexity into simplicity in the IT Channel through its CPQ applications and data services, channelcentral continually innovates to improve the customer experience, keeping the user ‘on track’.

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How CPQ Fuels PC as a Service (PCaaS) Growth

January 15, 2019

The enormous growth of PCaaS that is predicted over the next five years offers both opportunities and complexities for vendors and their Channel. Configure Price Quote (CPQ) applications designed specifically for the IT Channel can provide a competitive advantage to multi-channel sales vendors to meet their customer requirements throughout this cycle of growth.

Market Predictions: the market for selling Personal Computers (PCs) as a Service was worth over a $10bn in 2017. This is widely forecast to be worth an amazing $140bn by 2023. It’s very likely that this will be dominated by large deals for large companies who crave operational expenditure (OPEX) over capital expenditure (CAPEX) but also see value in Manufacturer Services that can lower operational costs, especially on low level tactical IT activities. However, smaller organizations also desire these expenditure preferences, so it is widely expected that growth in smaller deals will form part of that $140bn. CPQ applications for multi-channel sales will be key in facilitating this growth.

Monthly Pricing: imagine going into a store where everything is priced monthly? You don’t need to imagine – just go to a mobile phone store! By contrast, when buying a PC, with a few exceptions, everything is currently priced as an outright purchase. Financing PCs isn’t new, but applying a monthly price to a product isn’t in itself PCaaS. The Service wrapper is a key component of the user experience. However, not everyone thinks the monthly payment is always a user requirement.

Understanding Quoting Complexities: we understand PCaaS and we recognize the market opportunity and the cascade from large organizations to small. The problem is that quoting PCaaS is more complex than a traditional CAPEX sale AND what’s worse is that the user may want two quotes – one for CAPEX, one for PCaaS:

  • CAPEX: cost of PC & Services plus margin = sales price. Some additional effort if “Deal” pricing or bundles are in play.
  • OPEX: cost of PC & Services plus Monitoring/Support Services plus margin plus Finance, plus margin.

There’s a further complication for Sellers: if a sale is on a CAPEX basis, the Buyer renews when the PC is retired, lost, stolen or broken. When a sale is made on the PCaaS basis, the PC is retired when the Finance and/or Service expires. These options offer opportunities but also complexity.

Simplifying with CPQ: can help reduce complexity. channelcentral services allow users to simply select the products, the suite of services required to support PCaaS and has always provided indicative finance costs on three to five year terms. Other CPQ companies specialize in asset management.

Without CPQ solutions, life could become much more complex – just as everyone is driving simplicity.

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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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Forrester Global Channels

December 7, 2018

channelcentral is thrilled to be included in Forrester’s Channel Software Tech Stack for 2019. The channel technology stack is a group of technologies that brands leverage to manage and improve their indirect sales processes and partner programs.

We’re delighted Forrester positions channelcentral in the Finance category. It is important to us that the Applications and Data Services we provide make a positive financial impact for our customers. We sit alongside some impressive names including Oracle, SAP and PROs. In addition we feel that we make a significant contribution to Channel Enablement and Data categories in the sector.

Jay McBain: Principal Analyst, Global Channels at Forrester is extremely active in promoting the Channel’s role in helping Manufacturers reach Consumers.

On Jay’s cool infographic there’s lots of information about the 106 Software Companies featured. https://go.forrester.com/blogs/channel-software-tech-stack-2019-infographic/

How does channelcentral compare?

  • We’re one of 14 companies categorized as Finance.
  • At 33 employees we’re below the average of <100 people. There are some very large organizations on the list.
  • We’re one of the 23% of companies NOT headquartered in the US. Nearly a third are in California! So Silicon Valley is alive and kicking.
  • At 11 years old we’re below the average company age of 19 years. However, that number is inflated by three companies that are >100 years old, including one from the nineteenth century.
  • With all original owners in tact we have not been part of any M&A (Mergers and Acquisition) activity.

channelcentral fully respects all of the companies that made Forrester’s list. Some we compete with, others we complement. It’s quite astounding that so many people work to support Channel Business around the Globe. We also value the work of Jay McBain and the team at Forrester.

Forrester comments:

“The channel is growing significantly, and brands need advanced (and integrated) purpose-built tools based on the latest technologies such as cloud, mobility, social, predictive analytics, and big data.”

channelcentral feels well positioned to meet and exceed this requirement – our key strength is our expertise and ability to take complex data sets and provide user friendly tools that provide fast, accurate and relevant product and service quotations for Manufacturers, Resellers and Distributors in the IT Channel. channelcentral services enable companies in the IT Channel to become more efficient, profitable and easier to do business with.

Note: for disclosure channelcentral does not subscribe to Forrester’s services (at time of writing).

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Buying Servers Online UK eCommerce Survey – Reviews

November 21, 2018

In our third Blog featuring ‘Buying Servers Online UK eCommerce Survey’, we’re looking at the coverage and quality of sites that offer Reviews. In a B2C context Reviews offer enormous value to a buyer. Buyers are very interested in Reviews and will often base their ultimate buying decision on them. Buyers are also increasingly aware of Fake Reviews and this can lead to disappointment when products fail to live up to online claims.

When channelcentral reviewed Reseller/Retailer Sites many of them didn’t show Reviews at all, and overall the number of Reviews was quite low. This reflects the B2B nature of Servers, and it was evident that some sites had Reviews as part of the store experience because the breadth of products they offered crossed over into B2C products.

Reviews in Numbers

Only four of our 21 Resellers showed Reviews at all and three out of a possible 25 products were reviewed. With a relatively low number of Reviews on the Servers one thing was very clear: empty review pages gives the user no confidence that the site is ‘fed and watered’.

Which Review Providers?

Clearly when looking at Amazon, their Reviews were native to Amazon. Other Retailers also used a Review function that appeared native to their store. We also saw specialist Review Companies such as Reevoo and Testseek. The benefit of using an independent review service is that data hasn’t necessarily been provided by users of that site, but users of an aggregated service.

Other Observations
A couple of other interesting behaviours:

  • Unusually, one Reseller has used its own staff to review products, and while in a B2C context that would be contentious, in this context it felt reassuring that the Reseller was prepared to share product pros and cons etc.
  • One Reseller showed a popularity rank within Servers which was interesting, but may lead to confusion. A user may be buying the 50th ranked Server because it’s a better fit than the 1st.

Best Practice

If the user experience is not improved by the use of Reviews the advice has to be to suppress them, unless data is present. Reviewing products that you sell is possibly a little tenuous? Server popularity may be confusing, off-putting even (yay I’m buying the 43rd most popular Server!). If one of the data aggregation Review companies has great product coverage in the B2B space: that’s worth investing in. Otherwise leave Reviews to B2C.

There is certainly a gaping opportunity for online sellers in the industry to improve their Reviews features to enhance the purchasing and decision making process for buyers. How to get more buyers to provide useful reviews on products? One suggestion might be to offer incentives for fully completed reviews, perhaps free delivery on the next order.

A well informed buyer is far more likely to be a confident, assured and satisfied buyer. And a satisfied buyer is likely to re-purchase.