Posts Tagged ‘CPQ Software’

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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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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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The (changing) CPQ Landscape

October 30, 2018

Theoretically every company that offers CPQ Applications is in competition with each-other right? Well not necessarily. It’s an emerging market and as such there are lots of niche players: channelcentral is one of them. Our niche is around being expert in Technology products, offering a fully managed service (including portfolio maintenance) and presenting our CPQ Applications and Data in eCommerce environments (less so ERP or CRM platforms) as multi-tenant (for Channel of Franchise deployments). Sales pitch over!

Other niche players may be doing specific vertical markets or graphical configuration experiences or be aligned to specific platforms. Some may be doing commission or reward schemes which have sufficient levels of complexity to warrant a CPQ experience. Still CPQ but very distant from what we currently do.

CPQ has been getting a lot of coverage recently with Forrester and Gartner particularly active. Another reason for the coverage has been the number of large (massive) dollar acquisitions. The larger players have either been acquired by, or have aligned with, large ERP/CRM companies:

  • Steelbrick, now part of Salesforce.
  • Callidus Cloud, now part of SAP.
  • Big Machines, now part of Oracle.
  • Chameleon, part of Pros but aligned with Microsoft (see note below).

Pros CPQ showcased in Microsoft Dynamics Vertical Market Website:
https://enterprise.microsoft.com/en-us/solution/industries/discrete-manufacturing/pros-smart-cpq-solution/

Each of those huge software organizations is striving to improve it’s CPQ capability to compete with the others and differentiate their own products/services. There was plenty of speculation with Apttus and Microsoft but that deal did not come to fruition. Adobe has just acquired Magento that doesn’t own a CPQ vendor, but instead relies on 3rd party extensions (as Salesforce (sort of) used to).

That’s not to say that if you are looking for a solution for, say, Salesforce, you’d only look at Steelbrick but I’m sure over time these applications will become increasingly embedded. Equally some of the CPQ Vendors who are part of large software ERP/CRM vendors may want to retain their platform independence.

Expect more change in this exciting space.

 

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CPQ: exploded

October 23, 2018

channelcentral offers CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) solutions, most of which integrate into eCommerce Sites (Web Stores). CPQ software can be viewed as a tool to Configure, Price and Quote complex products, helping companies rapidly and cheaply produce accurate quotes on configurable products and services. There are many definitions online of what CPQ means, here’s one:

http://salesconfiguration.org/key-functionality/what-is-cpq/

When CPQ is deployed into eCommerce environments it allows additional functionality and that extends the ‘acronym’. When engaging with people who are not familiar with CPQ they often query the acronym. We’ve had customers say: “your solution has Buy Now, why does the acronym stop short of that?”. It’s a good point as most CPQ systems assist search by filtering portfolios, shape demand, incentivize users, link to CRM systems, show stock and Buy Now (Add to Host Cart).

Our version of CPQ…

  • Single Sign On
  • Product Location
  • BOM Import/Paste
  • Demand Shaping
  • Configuration
  • Solution Journeys
  • Competitive (selling against)
  • Pricing
  • Bundles
  • Incentive (rewards)
  • Quotation
  • Send to CRM
  • Buy Now

Not exactly snappy but don’t discount CPQ because you think it’s just slots, bays and quotes.

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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.