Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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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 

Watch the summary video here:

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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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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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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

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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

Watch the video summary here: