Posts Tagged ‘Channel’

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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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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 – Software

November 8, 2018

In a recent Blog we featured a survey carried out by channelcentral on Buying Servers Online and promised future Blogs to deliver high level information from the results of the survey.

Here’s a link to that Blog: https://channelcentral.blog/2018/11/05/buying-servers-online-uk-ecommerce-survey/

To set the context most Servers ship with either NO Operating System or possibly a version of Linux such as ClearOS (https://www.clearos.com/). In most cases the Buyer needs to procure an Operating System or Software from Microsoft, Red Hat, SUSE and possibly VMware or Citrix to boot the server up. This can come from the Software Vendor although increasingly Reseller Option Kits (ROKs) are available from the Manufacturer of the Server.

Having established the likelihood of requiring an Operating System how easy was it to add an Operating System to a Server System Unit? Not very easily is the answer.

System Units offering Operating Systems as an attach:

We surveyed 126 SKU instances (21 Resellers x 6 SKUs) of which 102 were found. Of the 102:

  • 8 had very strong coverage.
  • 44 had some coverage.
  • 50 had no software offered.

Where/when we saw Operating Systems offered, it was generally Microsoft and then most often ROK Licenses.

Techniques to Display Operating Systems:
There was no standard way to display Operating Systems here are some examples:

  • In the Accessories listing which is where you’d expect it to be.
  • Although Accessories often means cables and small options.
  • In Bundles where the Operating System is included in the System Unit part as a ‘special’.
  • This was incredibly confusing as you’d search a site for a SKU Part Number and get c.5 results all with different Operating Systems and Prices.
  • We also saw stock anomalies where the standard SKU was in stock, the Bundles not in stock.
  • A few Resellers using ‘syndicated content’ via a Microsoft widget that appeared on sites with a small banner advert. It had two tabs: OS and CALs.
  • In theory a good thing but it broke the navigation of the site and was inconsistent with the branding.
  • Resellers placed the link in different places, so it was easy to miss.

Recommendation/Demand Shaping:

This was non-existent. As certain Operating System versions target different parts of the Market and certain Servers do likewise it would seem obvious to hold some form of ‘order of preference’ against the Servers. Alas no. There was little evidence of recommendations or better still “solution” user journeys.

Other Software:

Apart from some of the Management Software ‘utilities”: nothing.

Summary:

To move to “Frictionless” eCommerce there’s some basics that need to be addressed by applications or data to increase Buyer confidence. On the evidence we saw nobody would buy a server via most of the Resellers we surveyed using their Web Store.

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Canalys Channels Forum Review

October 17, 2018

The largest independent Channel Event in EMEA

channelcentral was an emerging vendor sponsor for the Canalys EMEA Channels Forum this year, and we had a terrific response at this year’s fantastic event in Barcelona. Greg Starks (CSO) and Dan Mason (CTO) represented channelcentral on the 9-11th of October, with Tim Moyle (CEO) also managing to attend part of the event! It was a very busy few days and a perfect opportunity to meet multiple customers and prospects in a very well organised, structured and desirable setting: the stunning Hotel Arts near the beach (see image).

If you are unfamiliar with Canalys events:

The Canalys Channels Forums are major independent events for IT channel partners across EMEA, APAC and LATAM. The events bring together major technology vendors, distributors and resellers to discuss industry trends, forge new business relationships and create sales opportunities. Our emphasis on high-quality content, top-level speakers and innovative ideas and platforms has enabled us to grow and become the world’s largest independent IT channel events.

At Canalys we can meet new, old and existing customers. This is a wonderful opportunity to expose our brand and services to Manufacturers & Channel Partners in attendance. For new customers we meet at Canalys, we can explain how our services work and how we can possibly benefit their company. It builds a strong foundation for a relationship between two businesses.

I really enjoyed meeting customers, new and old. It’s a great opportunity to get feedback on what we’re getting right and what we need to improve on. Also probing for opportunities to deliver new complementary services.
Tim Moyle, CEO, channelcentral.net Limited

In addition to some great meetings with vendors, we were able to demonstrate our boost! data service to several resellers. This allows resellers who have customer-facing web stores to dramatically improve the user experience for customers purchasing servers, storage and networking. Resellers consume the boost! service data, then use our “Attach Patterns” to create a very easy-to-use interface for attaching common/popular options to the base system, integrated seamlessly into their web store. boost! supports HPE Servers, Storage and Networking, and Dell “Stock and Sell” servers, with more brands coming soon.
Greg Starks, Chief Strategy Officer, channelcentral.net Limited

Thanks again to everyone involved in Canalys, and we hope to see you next year.