Posts Tagged ‘CPQ’

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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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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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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/