Acquiring Technology for the Channel: A Quick Checklist

We all know (or have heard) that technology can solve many of the challenges facing the channel. But how do we capitalize on the opportunity? A good first step is to identify where problems and opportunities lie in the first place, and uncovering problems turns out to be one thing technology can be good for. We discussed that in an earlier article: “Solving problems or finding problems, what’s more important?“.

Once we have determined the areas that need improvement, how do we implement the best technology solution for the problems? Here are a few quick suggestions to consider:

  1. Don’t try to use technology to mimic your current business process exactly. Some parts of your process may be based on ideas that have become outdated over time, and are now ready for the recycling bin. Time may be right for some process re-engineering. Be opportunistic, and don’t accept “we’ve always done it that way” as sufficient rationale.
  2. Automation is good. Controlled automation is better. Make sure the control knobs are there when you need them and choose the right ones based on your business needs.
  3. Design/choose your solution with views from both sides of the channel. Remember many of your partners do business with multiple vendors. What looks like a complete streamlining of business interaction from the vendor perspective, can often have limited or even negative impact on the partner’s lifestyle.
  4. Before you decide that you have to build something because nothing you find in the marketplace does exactly what you want, think some more about (1).

 

Solving Problems or Finding Problems, What’s More Important?

We’ve all heard about how business process automation can increase channel revenue and customer loyalty, and reduce support headaches.But will automation really work for us? If you are running a thriving business, you probably already have a process that works. Why and where does it need improvement?What parts of the business can be automated, and more importantly what parts should be automated?

The right answer usually comes from both business intuition and factual data. Take sales leads management as an example, managers usually know in their gut when marketing activities are not making a real difference in sales.  However the reason for that is often not as intuitive. Are qualified leads too few and far in-between? Are they getting to the hands of the right people too late? Were they sent to the wrong people? Were they followed-up promptly? Getting feedback from the channel on these questions can be a challenge because of the size and diversity of your channel, and the simple fact that everyone’s busy. Can automation help us find the right problems first?

The answer is yes. We are so used to thinking about automation as a problem-solving tool, sometimes we overlook its ability to identify problems that require attention at the first place. Back to managing sales leads as an example, we can:

  • automate the process of collecting sales leads so that leads from all sources are cataloged and accounted for in one place.
  • automatically track where leads are sent and systematically follow up to get status updates.
  • use automation to make it as easy as possible for our distributions to provide feedback, and automate the way inputs are tallied to produce insightful and instant metrics

Consider this when you plan your process automation projects:  First make your business process transparent. Better visibility will lead to intelligent and faster improvements.

Announcing ChannelSUITE 7

Purplewire is proud to announce channelSUITE 7, featuring an all new user interface that’s easier to use, faster, more consistent, mobile-device-friendly, and better looking.

Usability Improvements
  • Fresh look and feel – the new theme is modern and easy on the eyes
    Partner Contact list

    Partner Contact list

  • More consistent interface across the various channelSUITE modules (channelADMIN, channelLEADS, and channelFUNDS)
  • Responsive design – the interface layout adapts to use available screen space effectively for optimum user productivity across the array of modern Internet devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones)
  • Better performance, due to extensive update of client-side code
Technical Details
  • The new interface uses the popular Bootstrap toolkit and the LESS CSS language. Benefits include increased consistency and maintainability of client-side code, and more consistent behavior across different browsers and devices
  • Client-side code has been extensively refactored. The previous versions spanned many UI and javascript frameworks. Now, all client code uses Bootstrap with JQuery for javascript
  • The interface theme is easily customizable to meet specific requirements of client installations

channelLEADS Lead list

channelLEADS Lead list

We’re excited to use this new foundation to bring you more new and exciting features in the future.

Sign up for a web demo today to check it out!

screenshot of Partner list

Partner list

The Problem with Old Code

We’ve been thinking lately about the pros and cons of updating some older B2B client sites that have been chugging away successfully for years.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

Although there is obviously something to be said for that old adage, it doesn’t apply well to web software. On the surface, there may be little motivation to invest in updating old software as long as it’s still getting the job done. The current system has been battle tested, users are familiar with it, and most of the worst kinks have been found and fixed.

But there are real costs and risks associated with failing to update old software. Some are visible, some are hidden.

Visible Costs and Risks:

  • usability: older web software typically doesn’t adequately leverage client-side technologies that increase usability and user efficiency. Most older interface designs would benefit from various techniques and technologies, including:
    • increased use of client side interaction via javascript and AJAX to allow for relevant dynamic information to be displayed in the context of the user’s workflow, with fewer clicks between related pages and fewer complete page redraws.
    • consistent approaches to layout and interface features, aided by tools such as standard javascript UI libraries and Bootstrap, reduce user learning curve and increase cross-browser compatibility.
    • better adherence to REST principles to allow for better addressability of specific resources, easier collaboration between co-workers (for example, emailing links to specific warranty claim details), more reliable use of browser history, bookmarks, and the “back” button.
    • layout optimized for higher resolution displays, preferably utilizing a “responsive” design that is optimized for today’s typical sized monitors while adjusting gracefully to smaller devices such as netbooks, mobile phones, and tablets.
  • brand image: it’s usually obvious to users when a website or application interface looks “old”. Depending on the nature of your relationship to your users, this may send a bad message that you don’t care about the users’ needs, don’t care about the process the software supports, aren’t up on technology, etc.
  • performance: old web software often has relatively poor response time. Users today usually have fast Internet connections, and have higher expectations on web response time than in the past. A latency of 2 seconds at the server wasn’t much when it took 7 seconds to transfer the content, but as the content transfer becomes closer to instantaneous, the server response time becomes more of a noticeable bottleneck. For this reason, new development projects use modern web frameworks with performance features like memory-resident application code, template caching, and shared persistant database connection pools to greatly improve the time needed to service requests on the server side.

Hidden Costs and Risks:

  • testability: the industry has made great improvements in the software development process since the early days of web apps. New web apps are typically developed using an MVC (or similar) design pattern, with object oriented design and a solid suite of automated “unit tests” for the data model. Older software which was developed with a more procedural approach and mixed control logic and data access is inherently more difficult to test, and as a result old code is dramatically more prone to develop hidden “regression” bugs resulting from minor changes to application code or operating environment.
  • support skill set: as developers move on to newer (and better) development methodologies, patterns, and habits, the tech team’s facility with the older style code tends to fade over time. Add to this a certain amount of turnover in a software organization, and it’s not too surprising that older code starts to look very unfamiliar to the current support team.
  • platform dependencies: most software has numerous obvious or hidden dependencies on third-party application libraries, operating systems, and server software (e.g. database or http servers). Over time the versions of these dependencies originally used during development and deployment inevitably become obsolete and unsupported. This problem eventually becomes evident when trying to move the older code to a newer production platform, and the application code doesn’t work correctly with the new version of the dependencies (and the old versions are either no longer available or have serious security flaws).

It’s often tempting to downplay the hidden risks. However, investments in testability and maintainability can reduce the risk of major problems down the road.

A Word About Browser Support

It should be noted that updating client-side code to better service users with relatively current browsers will cause new compatibility problems for any users with very old browsers. Therefore, prior to any modernization project a baseline for browser support should be established on 2 levels:

  • the minimum browser versions required to be able to use all site features
  • the level of support offered to users with browsers older than that

Browser support isn’t as big an issue as it used to be, for several reasons:

  • the big web players (google, facebook, etc.) require relatively recent browsers and this motivates users to upgrade
  • Microsoft has been aggressively upgrading IE versions via the windows update mechanism, because they don’t like supporting older browsers (for security and other reasons)
  • popular client side libraries (Bootstrap, jQuery, etc.) do a pretty good job of “papering over” browser incompatibilities so the developer doesn’t need to worry about them

A reasonable strategy is to officially support only those browsers supported in the current stable release of Boostrap (currently IE7+, Firefox 5+, Safari 5+, Chrome 14+). IE7 has been out for 7 years now, and older versions of IE are very problematic from both capability and security perspectives. As a point of reference, Facebook requires IE8+ and Google supports only IE9+ (and equivalent generations of Firefox, etc.)

As of this writing, conventional wisdom is that users should be expected to have javascript and cookies enabled, but should not be expected to have extra client-side technologies such as ActiveX, Java, Flash or Silverlight.

Purplewire Consolidates its Lead-distribution Product Lineup

The recent release of channelLEADS 6 is the first milestone of a strategic initiative to better serve our markets with a sharper focus. Many of the innovative features developed under the LEADpiper project were incorporated into the new channelLEADS release to offer customers the best of two worlds: sophisticated collaborative features and privilege controls, in conjunction with simple, intuitive system administration.

We have ambitious plans going forward to bring more value to our customers with a single focus and at a faster pace. Consequently, we are retiring LEADpiper as of today, Dec 18, 2012. This means we will no longer be offering new LEADpiper accounts, but will continue to service active users indefinitely. We encourage users to consider migrating to channelLEADS in order to realize the benefit of our ongoing development efforts on that product, and we will provide any help necessary for a smooth transition. Please contact our support team at (315) 234-0079 x345 or support@purplewire.com with any questions.

Purplewire Has Moved

Purplewire has moved our offices downstairs in the same building (the Loew’s Building) to Suite 305. Our new address is

Purplewire
108 W. Jefferson St., Suite 305
Syracuse, NY 13202
 

The new space looks great. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and check it out!

Also, please note that our fax number has recently changed to (888) 501-4949. Our phone numbers have not changed.

 

Announcing channelLEADS 6

The latest version of Purplewire’s popular lead distribution and tracking system — channelLEADS, the flagship component of the channelSUITE ™ product line — comes with a host of new and powerful features and a brand new interface to make the user experience simpler and more intuitive. The new version lets the user devise and tailor their own lead distribution rules and more easily manage footprints in Europe and Asia. Highlights of the new features are:

  • Use postal codes anywhere in the world to manage geographical territories
  • Ability to design and store lead-processing “schemes” and tailor them for each individual lead source
  • New “Market Match” feature systematically and continuously finds the right channel for each lead by geography, product, or both.

For more info, visit the channelSUITE website or talk to one of our sales engineers today, at (315) 234-0079 extension 346.

Purplewire Develops New System for On Point for College

Purplewire and On Point for College are pleased to announce the launch of On Point’s new Transportation Database system.

On Point for College (OPFC) is a Syracuse-based nonprofit organization that provides first-generation college students with a support structure to help them succeed in school, from the application process through post-graduation job search. One of the services provided by On Point is transportation to and from campus for students. The rides are often provided by volunteers. The process of managing the information about requested rides that need a driver, and getting the up-to-date information to the volunteer pool, is a labor intensive process. Previously this was done using a combination of spreadsheets and manually prepared emails. Purplewire saw an opportunity to streamline the process, and volunteered to help. The development and ongoing maintenance of this system have been donated to On Point by Purplewire free of charge.

“We’re very happy that Purplewire stepped forward to help us organize our transportation process”, says OPFC Deputy Executive Director Sam Rowser. “The new database system saves our staff a lot of time, makes collaboration with the volunteers easier, and gives us new ways to view current and historical information.”

The new system is based on Purplewire’s OppTuna™ web-based customer relationship management (CRM) system. Purplewire realized that the process of managing the information about volunteers and clients (students), and the activities (rides) assigned to volunteers on behalf of the students, are very similar to existing functions of the OppTuna CRM system. From that starting point, several features were added and modified to meet the unique needs of the nonprofit organization. The resulting system includes a facility for automatically generating email updates for the volunteers, and includes a “volunteer portal” interface that allows the volunteers to access data about the current list of rides requested, sign up to provide a ride, update their contact data, and review their history of previous rides provided.

Purplewire CEO Chung-Chi Cha says “We’ve been familiar with the good work On Point does for some time now, so we’re glad to have the opportunity to apply our technical expertise to helping them fulfill their extremely worthwhile mission.”

Jay Mortensen, the Purplewire CTO, adds “It was a pleasure to work with the crew at On Point, and we’re happy with way the system turned out. This project has really opened our eyes to some of the similarities and differences between commercial and nonprofit operations. We’re now exploring the market potential for a new version of OppTuna targeted towards volunteer-centered nonprofits. There are a number of companies that produce CRM systems for nonprofits (often called Consitituent rather than Customer Relationship Management in this space), but most are geared primarily towards the fund-raising aspect of nonprofit operations. That’s an important component to be sure, but we feel we can bring something new to the table in terms of helping streamline the nonprofit organization’s processes and collaboration with volunteers, thus freeing the operational staff to direct more of its energy towards the core mission.”

Nonprofits with any ideas, suggestions, or feature requests for such a system are encouraged to contact Purplewire through the website at http://www.purplewire.com. Purplewire will soon be accepting applications for beta testers who may be eligible to receive free implementations of the new system.

For more information:

 

channelFUNDS Integrates with ERP to Provide Credit Confirmation

In a recent implementation of channelFUNDS at a Fortune 100 site, successful integration with the client’s ERP enables confirmation of distributor reimbursement of a co-op marketing funds claim. This allows users to access the credit memo ID issued by the ERP, and its time stamp, through the claim record in the channelFUNDS interface.

The new credit confirmation function will soon be appearing on channelSUITE’s standard feature list, offering our clients several ways of providing the valuable data to channel partners.

In this same implementation, channelSUITE was used as the master user access/privilege control center and single sign-on provider for several other legacy applications. This integration, which required minimal modifications to the legacy programs, allows the client to maintain control of all channel-facing programs and partner data from one centralized facility, and provides the internal and partner users with a portal interface to the various applications.

Comparing Purplewire Lead Distribution Solutions

Purplewire offers two different solutions for sales lead distribution: channelLEADS (the leads management module of channelSUITE), and LEADpiper.

Why are there two products, and how do I know which one is best for me?

Good questions!

channelSUITE is geared towards a vendor with a relatively diverse indirect sales channel. Common operational processes like lead distribution (and also co-op marketing funds management, partner recruiting and credentialing, etc.) become much more complicated when partners are assigned to different theaters and regions, handle different product lines, or when responsibility for the “care and feeding” of those partners is split between multiple internal channel administration staff members.

In such a scenario, you probably feel the need for a tool like channelSUITE to catalog all the attributes and theater/region associations of the partners, and also to keep track of which of your internal channel staff (we call them “administrators”) has responsibility for which partners. We can build a solid foundation for this data in channelADMIN (the central channel management module of channelSUITE) and then use it as a platform to drive the operational channel processes like lead distribution (via the channelLEADS module) and co-op funds management (through channelFUNDS) in a consistent and cohesive way.

Another defining characteristic of channelSUITE is that each channelSUITE customer gets their own private software installation (hosted and managed by Purplewire) with its own database, branding, and URL. This “single tenant” approach allows us great flexibility to customize your installation both in terms of functionality and “look and feel”.

But what if you don’t care about all that stuff?

If you don’t need custom functionality or private label branding, you have a single lead administrator, your sales organization has a simple hierarchy, or you’re only looking for a “point solution” for lead distribution, LEADpiper may be a better fit for you.

LEADpiper is a “multi-tenant” web application; you can register for an account on the site and start using it right away. There are no setup fees, and we give you some free credits so you can use it for a while for free. Setup is very easy, and you can get started sending leads to your recipients immediately.

Although LEADpiper is in some ways simpler than channelLEADS, it’s not lacking in features. It provides the same flexibility in accepting leads from multiple sources in multiple formats, and provides a robust but easily usable set of features for defining lead routing rules based on lead content (including geographic data).

We’ve put together a new “feature matrix” that demonstrates some of the similarities and differences between LEADpiper and channelLEADS. Please give it a look. Hope you find it useful, and as always comments and suggestions are welcome.