Posts Tagged ‘IT Channel’

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Buying Servers Online UK eCommerce Survey – Reviews

November 21, 2018

In our third Blog featuring ‘Buying Servers Online UK eCommerce Survey’, we’re looking at the coverage and quality of sites that offer Reviews. In a B2C context Reviews offer enormous value to a buyer. Buyers are very interested in Reviews and will often base their ultimate buying decision on them. Buyers are also increasingly aware of Fake Reviews and this can lead to disappointment when products fail to live up to online claims.

When channelcentral reviewed Reseller/Retailer Sites many of them didn’t show Reviews at all, and overall the number of Reviews was quite low. This reflects the B2B nature of Servers, and it was evident that some sites had Reviews as part of the store experience because the breadth of products they offered crossed over into B2C products.

Reviews in Numbers

Only four of our 21 Resellers showed Reviews at all and three out of a possible 25 products were reviewed. With a relatively low number of Reviews on the Servers one thing was very clear: empty review pages gives the user no confidence that the site is ‘fed and watered’.

Which Review Providers?

Clearly when looking at Amazon, their Reviews were native to Amazon. Other Retailers also used a Review function that appeared native to their store. We also saw specialist Review Companies such as Reevoo and Testseek. The benefit of using an independent review service is that data hasn’t necessarily been provided by users of that site, but users of an aggregated service.

Other Observations
A couple of other interesting behaviours:

  • Unusually, one Reseller has used its own staff to review products, and while in a B2C context that would be contentious, in this context it felt reassuring that the Reseller was prepared to share product pros and cons etc.
  • One Reseller showed a popularity rank within Servers which was interesting, but may lead to confusion. A user may be buying the 50th ranked Server because it’s a better fit than the 1st.

Best Practice

If the user experience is not improved by the use of Reviews the advice has to be to suppress them, unless data is present. Reviewing products that you sell is possibly a little tenuous? Server popularity may be confusing, off-putting even (yay I’m buying the 43rd most popular Server!). If one of the data aggregation Review companies has great product coverage in the B2B space: that’s worth investing in. Otherwise leave Reviews to B2C.

There is certainly a gaping opportunity for online sellers in the industry to improve their Reviews features to enhance the purchasing and decision making process for buyers. How to get more buyers to provide useful reviews on products? One suggestion might be to offer incentives for fully completed reviews, perhaps free delivery on the next order.

A well informed buyer is far more likely to be a confident, assured and satisfied buyer. And a satisfied buyer is likely to re-purchase.

 

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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/

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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.

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HPE Delegates given a boost in Vegas!

June 26, 2018

Representatives from the Global IT Channel gathered in Las Vegas last week for the HPE Discover and Global Partner Summit events. As always it was an incredibly busy week as the industry’s elite networked and strategized!

channelcentral, a regular sponsor of the event and developers of the iQuote Configure, Price, Quote Software used by Distribution Worldwide, had something new to show this year. As delegates made their way through the transformation zone they were presented with an absolute game-changing service for their industry. The service is called boost! and attendees of this year’s event were fortunate to be amongst the very first to have a preview.

boost! is a Data Service that drives attach sales and shapes customer demand to improve your customers’ eCommerce experience. Imagine a typical webstore where you’re offered an additional product that has nothing to do with what you’re ordering, or even if it does, how do you know it is compatible? Then imagine a webstore with boost! offered as a Web Service and a pre-selected set of compatible options that are known to work together with the pre-installed features of the base product, across multiple categories. Enabling faster, high-confidence decision-making for technical products.

It’s more exciting than it perhaps sounds. boost! is fixing a known weakness in eCommerce that organizations have been unable to resolve. Using artificial intelligence, boost! will transform the way your customers’ can buy technical products from you, freeing up your pre-sales team to hunt down those big deals!

The feedback from delegates at HPE Discover and Global Partner Summit was unbelievable. Every delegate that was fortunate enough to have a demonstration wanted it in their webstore. Rack Simply, are a Partner based in the US, and are the first in the World to have boost! live in their webstore. Here’s what they had to say:

“boost! drastically improved the customer experience for Rack Simply. Before boost!, users were lost in endless accessory options that converted poorly. boost! and the team at channelcentral only recommend the most popular and likely attach options that transitioned Rack Simply from a website, to a seamless configure-price-quote experience.” Dan Mitchell, President, Rack Simply

channelcentral has spotted a gap in the online buying process of technical products: “It is essential that online stores do everything possible to keep customers captive on their own site during the complete buying process. Sites that use boost! can eliminate a common problem associated with selling more complex IT products; the temptation to click away to check compatibility and capacity. Instead, customers can select from options with confidence and visualize slot and bay usage.”
Greg Starks, CSO, channelcentral.net

After feedback at the events last week, channelcentral is excited to get to work on transforming the eCommerce sites of everyone it spoke to. For those that missed out and are wanting to learn more about what boost! can do for your eCommerce sales, please get in touch.