Zones, an international reseller of IT products and services, has a growth strategy rooted in dozens of customized e-commerce portals for customers in 80 countries.

Zones Inc. does about $2 billion a year selling internet routers and other information technology products and services to a worldwide market, and it’s using its expertise in technology to spur its growth through electronic commerce.

This enables our customers to order anything online or through their centralized procurement application.
Adam Gurr, e-commerce manager
Zones (UK) Ltd.

“We’re looking to expand rather quickly,” says Adam Gurr, who is the e-commerce manager for Europe and based at Zones (UK) Ltd. in London. “We work with global customers to enable them to experience the same level of service all over the world.”

Operating that way has required a flexible mix of e-commerce technology including a self-service e-commerce platform, customized portals for dozens of corporate customers, and software that lets Zones’s customers “punch out” from their online procurement management applications to a Zones customized online product catalog.

“This enables our customers to order anything online or through their centralized procurement application,” Gurr says.

Adam Gurr, e-commerce manager, Zones UK

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Many of Zones’s customers operate facilities distributed throughout multiple countries, and Zones lets them customize their portals with such features as local languages and tax rates. At the same time, its customers can also control the catalog of products made available to buyers and procurement managers. “They can have the same items available in each market,” Gurr says.

Zones operates its UK e-commerce site on Magento software, customized by Zones’s own IT staff on the free open-source version. It chose the open-source option to provide it with more flexibility in customizing each portal. “It gives us the flexibility to run product catalogs in multiple countries, and manage pricing, tax rates and artwork,” Gurr says. “We know tax rates around the world, and we can set them up for particular customers.” (Magento was acquired this week by Adobe Systems Inc.)

To develop product content on its sites deployed in Europe, Zones also works with Stock in the Channel, which specializes in helping IT resellers source and sell technology products.

That flexibility also helps Zones configure customized business processes for each customer, he adds. “Different customers have different procurement processes,” he says. “For example, customers may have different ways to route purchase orders for approvals. They may want to be able to put a purchase order on hold in a portal, then route it through internal workflow for authorization.”

But if a customer does most of its purchasing for worldwide facilities from a central procurement office, Zones can also accommodate that in a customer’s portal. “They may have to route orders to multiple people in different countries and different offices,” Gurr says.

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In 2015, Zones expanded procurement functionality with software from PunchOut2Go designed to let buyers punch out from their own procurement software—such as Coupa or Ariba—to a Zones online catalog to find and purchase products. But instead of checking out through the usual shopping cart, the buyer can click a link that sends their order back to their procurement software for final approval.

The system then forwards the order to Zones, generating and forwarding an invoice through the procurement software to the buyer’s accounts-payable software in its enterprise resource planning system. Because PunchOut2Go software is designed to integrate with most procurement and ERP systems, Gurr says, it typically can take a few weeks to set up a new customer with punchout procurement. By comparison, it can take several months to set up direct links between procurement and e-commerce portals outside of PunchOut2Go, he notes.

Zones has also worked with its global account managers and sales reps to help set up portals and encourage customers to use them. Customers must work with an account manager in order to use a self-service portal—an arrangement that helps both parties, Gurr says.

Zones account managers and sales reps get full visibility to customers’ online activity and receive credit for online sales, and they work with customers to modify their portals with different products or features to suit their needs. “It’s another tool for the sales team, and it frees up their time” to work with customers on more complex orders, Gurr says.

PunchOut2Go’s software, in addition to transferring orders and invoices between procurement applications and e-commerce sites, provides sellers with analytics data related to those transactions. For example, sellers can view such information as the number of times customers punched out from procurement software to an e-commerce site and completed a sale, and line item details in each order. They can also match invoices to purchase orders. The seller’s account managers can use such information to reconcile transaction records and advise customers on how to better manage spending, PunchOut2Go CEO Brady Behrman says. “There are all kinds of checks and balances,” he says.

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The cost to run PunchOut2Go software ranges from about $5,000 to $20,000 for an implementation fee, plus a monthly operating fee starting at about $150, Behrman says.

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