Posts Tagged ‘IT Channel’

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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

 

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Successful software utilization: Communication, Communication, Communication.

February 17, 2020

A successful software implementation requires a combination of People, Process and Technology.  Often underestimated in its importance, a key marketing and communications plan ensures the difference between ticking the box that software has been implemented, through to a thriving utilization and change in employee/customer behaviour.

Generate user adoption for your CPQ software with a pro-active, engaging strategy. Crucial to success is a stakeholder and project evangelist; a media savvy individual within the organisation who crusades to drive adoption and consequently utilization.

Include in your plan as many of the following as possible:

  • Keep communication channels open and regular during project implementation with staff and customers.
  • Hold a launch kickoff session, including training.
  • Create a landing page to link to the software for staff and customers.
  • Implement Deep-linking to connect your webstore to your CPQ application.
  • Incentivize staff with sales objectives, tracked in the software over a specific sales period.
  • Create and share social media announcements.
  • Make your training and marketing support resources easily accessible.
  • Feature a demo stand at your employee and customer events.

Boosting utilization rates will result in better employee and customer satisfaction, ultimately leading to a stronger bottom line for your business.

For further information on channelcentral’s CPQ application-specific best practice for successful implementation and driving utilization, please email marketing@channelcentral.net

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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’s 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…

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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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CPQ user authentication for eCommerce plugins for the IT Channel

November 6, 2019

Facilitating secure business interactions

Hidden connections between a CPQ application and an eCommerce platform are now commonplace in the IT Channel, facilitating a vast number of transactions daily.  channelcentral has worked hard to create a seamless, yet ultimately secure, integration process for its customers and their users using SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language). SAML is fast becoming an industry standard for for communicating identities across the internet.

How does this work?

It’s complicated, but put simply – SAML handles authentication negotiations between three separate parties:

  • An Identity Provider, in this example a CPQ Host (e.g. a Distributor).
  • A SAML Service Provider, in this example a CPQ application plugin provider (i.e. channelcentral)
  • A User – an employee or customer of the Identity Provider (Distributor or Reseller).

The authentication process is as follows:

  1. The user is presented to the CPQ plugin provider (channelcentral in this case) when they click a link.
  2. Assuming the user request was valid, the plugin provider sends a token back to the user (invisibly).
  3. The token is routed automatically to the CPQ Host (Distributor) for confirmation of validity.
  4. The CPQ Host either declines (in which case the user is prevented from accessing the CPQ application e.g. iQuote, PowerQuote, Market Pro) or successfully authenticates the user and issues a new token.
  5. The new token is received by channelcentral and user is granted access.

Distributor control

So, what are the main benefits of introducing SAML authentication into the login process?

  • The CPQ Host, i.e. the Distributor, controls who accesses what. If the Distributor withdraws a service, access can be prevented, even if links still exist in their eCommerce store (or an old email that someone has found).
  • Importantly, it also prevents people/competitors spoofing the Distributor’s users to see their pricing/stock.
  • Improved deployment speed – being a widely-accepted standard, SAML allows interoperability between the highest possible range of back-end systems within the IT Channel.

Does your CPQ provider take user authentication as seriously as channelcentral, when plugging applications in to external eCommerce?  For more information on CPQ user authentication contact us at marketing@channelcentral.net

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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