Manufacturers who sell configurable products are grappling with the challenge which the ecommerce age presents. As buyers increasingly expect the convenience of online purchasing, a problem arises: How do you handle configurable products in B2B eCommerce? That’s why we’ve seen an increasing demand for self-service CPQ (configure/price/quote) solutions over the last few years.
At Corevist, we solve this problem with a visual product configurator (courtesy of a partner like ConfigAir) which can integrate with the Corevist Platform.
So what are buyers looking for when it comes to configurable products? How can you meet their needs in the ecommerce age? Let’s unpack that.
The mindset shift: CPQ solutions aren’t just for Sales anymore
CPQ solutions for Sales are nothing new. All the CRM platforms recognize that this is key functionality for Sales reps, and they’ve covered this with integrations between the CRM platform and various CPQ solutions.
And, naturally, the CPQ solution providers have embraced CRM platforms as their key integration point.
What hasn’t gotten much play is the customer-facing CPQ solution.
Of course, that’s partly for good reason. The larger and more complex a product is, the more risk the manufacturer takes on in allowing customers to configure the product themselves. A massive industrial generator, for example, isn’t exactly a one-click purchase. It’s expensive to ship, and if the final configured product is bespoke/custom, heads may roll if the product was configured incorrectly by a customer.
Three points on this front:
- Products that are this complex are still viable candidates for self-service configuration, as long as the final destination is placing an RFQ, rather than an actual order.
- Many configurable products aren’t this complex. Not only are they great candidates for self-service, but they’re entirely suitable for instant order placement rather than RFQ placement. For example, consider a window shutter that has multiple options for trim style, louver tilt, and so on. A B2B buyer who’s used to buying shutters will know how to configure the product the way he/she needs for the project.
- A good CPQ solution will only allow “manufacturable” configurations. We’ll talk about this in more detail below.
For manufacturers with configurable products, the call is clear: Determine if there is an opportunity for you to offer self-service CPQ, whether it ends in RFQ placement or order placement.
What buyers want: Easy, intuitive, self-service product configuration
Avionos’ 2019 survey of 150 B2B buyers uncovered some fascinating trends in customer expectations. As Avionos put it, “Suppliers cannot meet buyers’ expectations without continuously and strategically innovating their eCommerce offerings.” The survey found that this was true of configurable products in particular:
- When asked to select factors which they consider when making purchases from suppliers, 31% chose “online configure/price quoting” as an important factor. This is particularly significant, as there’s no indication that respondents came exclusively from companies that buy configurable products.
- When asked where they start their purchasing process, the #1 answer was “A supplier’s website or portal” (32% of respondents).
Constraints: How to make CPQ actually work for customers
As you’re evaluating self-service CPQ solutions, there are two requirements which any potential solution must fulfill:
- The solution must accept only manufacturable configurations. I.e., it must reject invalid configurations of the product. For manufacturers on SAP ERP, this means the CPQ solution needs to integrate with SAP VC (variant configuration) so that all configurable product rules are honored in the web store. HINT: Corevist Commerce achieves this with integration to your SAP VC data.
- The solution must be easy for a non-technical person to use. If the whole idea is to put product configuration in the hands of your customers, then the self-serve CPQ interface needs to be intuitive, easy to use, and accessible within your B2B eCommerce web portal. HINT: That’s why we offer Configair’s powerful configuration engine and product visualizer—right within Corevist Commerce.
Added benefit: Demand chain visibility
Here’s where customer-facing, SAP-integrated CPQ solutions really excel. They give your manufacturing operation visibility into demand—something which no CRM-based solution can do.
When a CRM system configures a product, the manufacturing plant typically doesn’t get visibility into the pending demand—because the RFQ lives in the CRM, not the ERP. The CRM doesn’t actually send that RFQ to the ERP as an order until a Sales rep finalizes the RFQ and turns it into an order.
Since the CRM-based CPQ solution doesn’t post anything directly to SAP, you lose visibility in the demand chain. This can create delays in delivery, because you don’t see what the demand is and aren’t prepared to meet it logistically.