Craig Vodnik’s professional experience began in 1995 as the Webmaster of the Chicago Tribune, where he was instrumental in launching the newspaper onto the internet. He has worked in the financial services, advertising and e-commerce industries as well as several internet start-ups during his career. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and is a founding member of cleverbridge AG.
cleverbridge is a full-service e-commerce provider for companies that sell software and SaaS. Its flexible cloud platform and client-focused service drive the performance of B2C and B2B businesses around the world, enabling the implementation, management and optimization of clients’ global online sales and marketing initiatives. cleverbridge provides a customized, multi-channel e-business solution for more than 300 international corporations like Acronis, Avira, Dell, Malwarebytes and Parallels who count on cleverbridge to support their traditional, SaaS and subscription-based e-commerce needs.
MO: What issue does your core product help solve and how so?
Craig: As e-commerce sales continue to increase, presenting a promising market opportunity for online companies, many are unprepared to meet the demands of this growth and the complex requirements of a now global marketplace. In order to retain focus on their own product development and core competencies, more B2B and B2C companies recognize that outsourcing is an effective and economical way to manage their e-commerce channel. This trend is visible in large, global companies as well as early stage companies with more limited resources.
With our technology and strong client service orientation, cleverbridge offers a true end-to-end e-commerce solution that fully supports clients’ online sales strategies and enables them to sell across international borders. Clients are able to work with our experienced team to test new e-commerce strategies, expand globally and stay ahead of market trends. We continually evaluate various factors –such as product pricing, preferred payment methods in different markets, merchandising (e.g. cross-selling, up-selling, product promos, etc.), and overall customer experience — and analyze how each factor influences conversion rates and average order value in order to obtain a winning combination for our clients.
MO: What are some practical tips or techniques for increasing conversation rates when it comes to e-commerce sales?
Craig: In the Era of Customer Experience, a clear, well-designed checkout process is crucial to the conversion rate. The average cart abandonment rate for e-commerce sites is around 66 percent – meaning nearly two out of every three people who found a product and entered the buying process experienced a sudden change of heart during the checkout process. That’s a lot of lost revenue! Here are a couple often overlooked tips for increasing conversation rates when optimizing e-commerce sites that are targeting a global audience.
• Local languages – Today, presenting product offerings in your customers’ native languages is commonplace as compared to ten years ago. However, once you know what languages your customers speak, ask yourself the question, “Have I localized for my top visited languages and, if so, have I used local translators?” A poor translation may be just as bad as no translation at all.
• Product pricing – Pricing your products in local currencies and marketing-friendly prices helps lower barriers to purchasing. For example, if you sell a product competitively for $50 in the U.S, converting that product to Indian Rupee results in a product that costs about 2,725.45 ₹ in India. However, competitors in India might price their product at 998.99 ₹ due to the weak currency. So even though you are pricing in the local currency, you are not pricing competitively and price conscious shoppers will likely abandon your site for a competitor’s.
• Applicable currencies – Most users at least pause, if not abandon, if a product’s price is not shown in their familiar currency. To decrease e-commerce friction and cart abandonment by keeping customers comfortable, set prices in clean, round numbers in the relevant local currencies.
• Local payment methods – If your customers prefer to pay in a particular way, you should offer that payment method to reduce friction in the purchase process and increase conversation rates. In Germany, for example, wire transfers are the most important local payment method. Whereas in Japan, the Konbini payment method is a popular alternative. Most online merchants have dramatically expanded their payment options over the last few years as local payment methods like Konbini, Boleto Bancario, iDeal, WebMoney, MoneyBookers and others have grown in usage.
As with all e-commerce efforts, perform testing to determine which elements are leading to success and which elements are leading to abandonment.
MO: Can you share a bit about your company culture and unique approach for developing cleverbridge employees?
Craig: At cleverbridge, we pride ourselves on our company culture and unique approach for developing company employees. We offer a challenging and collaborative work environment of passionate, energetic, fun-loving and dedicated individuals, who are prepared to work hard and play hard. The company is a community of more than 240 people who are passionate about the work they do and our clients’ success. And whether they are based out of the Chicago, San Francisco, Cologne, or Tokyo office, the cleverbridge experience remains the same: hard work is rewarded and passion is required.
Within the organization, you can feel a top-down commitment to retaining a culture of excellence in our technology and how we serve our clients along with a strong sense of fun. The annual “Amazing Race” style competitions around the city of Chicago; the company Wii game room; monthly “Taste of cleverbridge” lunches where employee teams cook for the office; the company Fitness Challenge and regular game nights are just a few of the examples of the unique employee activities and company culture.
Unlike traditional company training programs, cleverbridge executives have on numerous occasions hand-selected employees who may have started in a customer service role, but showed ambition and intellect, and personally invested their time to teach them a new skill or new job – even developing a formalized company training program. We have also established different training programs in several areas to ensure that employees can learn skills beyond what they’re currently working on, to develop themselves and grow within the company. For example, we have entry level coding positions within our client services department and currently offer free training on different coding programs to anyone interested, so when positions become available, they may apply. cleverbridge’s efforts are evidenced by a growing workforce, which has grown 25 percent over the last two years consecutively.
MO: How has cleverbridge evolved since launching eight years ago?
Craig: Eight years ago, four industry veterans (including myself) set out to develop the best e-commerce solution to meet the needs of software and SaaS companies around the world. Our U.S. headquarters has gone from a small office to some of the most premier office space in the heart of downtown Chicago, with some of the best views in the city. We went from seeing one product order per hour to now being disappointed if it’s not thousands of orders per hour. From having zero clients, with a target market that often sought more established vendors when we started the company, to having more than 300 of the world’s largest corporations as clients today, cleverbridge has evolved quite a bit in the last eight years!
However, one of the biggest changes within the company is the role of the founders. When we started with the four founders and a handful of others on the team, I was extremely hands on when it came to the day-to-day activities such as order fraud analysis, sales and office management. Now, with more than 240 employees worldwide, my role has shifted to management where I focus on empowering employees and removing roadblocks for them. As we’ve grown, and become a bigger global company, we’ve moved from a few people wearing a lot of hats to hiring more specialists who are highly skilled in their area. Although it’s different than the early days as the company continues to scale, it’s been great to see the “small company” feel, work ethic and client commitment continue to flourish within the company.
MO: What are some tech trends that you’re excited about or think that our readers should be paying attention to?
Craig: The emergence of mobile devices, including tablets, has increased the market opportunity for software and services by changing the usage patterns and habits of consumers. Apple’s recent announcement of heavy integration between iOS and cars during its WWDC 2013 keynote is a great example of it. This is leading to the “device everywhere” concept that means even more digital products are likely to be sold as devices are worn, embedded and internet connected – all of which mean more people using cloud services.
I am also excited about the coming wave of voice activated, controlled and interactive uses. With these devices everywhere, it’s more and more likely that we will see voice recognition and control as an alternative to swiping and typing. Apple’s Siri voice assistant is extremely primitive to where this space will be four to five years from now.
MO: Can you elaborate how as the B2C and B2B software business continues to transition from a single, one-time transaction with a customer to subscription-based services and revenue models, cleverbridge is well-positioned for future growth?
Craig: The good news – the subscription commerce economy is abuzz with activity and excitement as companies realize simple one-time transactions and fixed monthly subscriptions are no longer enough to assure profitable growth from the digital channel. With subscriptions, companies have an opportunity to build strong, long-term relationships with their customers as well as increase the predictability and profitability of their revenue. Today, subscriptions are everywhere.
The bad news – while certainly a profitable business model, the management of subscriptions can be quite complex. Subscriptions models used by companies like Salesforce offer customers different levels of functionality for a variety of prices per seat, per month. That, in and of itself, might not be too complicated to calculate as your e-commerce system serves primarily as a point solution for subscription products, managing which customer is due to be billed, at what time and for how much. But what happens when a customer adds or cancels seats in the middle of the billing period and prices need to be prorated for partial months? Or if you’re wanting usage-based billing subscription, where a customer pays only for the amount of phone calls they actually make, the complexity of managing subscription information for thousands or millions of customers increases exponentially. Considering such cases, a platform customized for recurring billing can be a very effective management tool.
Any way you slice it, a subscription business model turns a single payment into many payments. However, as you can probably imagine, the complexity of managing subscription information for thousands — or even millions — of customers increases exponentially, so you need to make sure your e-commerce can easily accommodate and service a rapidly growing client list. This is where cleverbridge comes in as subscriptions are a core competency of our platform, not an afterthought. We are already helping companies optimize their subscription models, strengthen their customer relationships and retain subscribers, and scale worldwide.
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