Title:
System and method for network-based purchasing
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Systems and methods for organizational purchasing are disclosed herein. More specifically, in certain embodiments a campaign corresponding to a product may be created and potential buyers informed of the campaign. These potential buyers may then themselves purchase the product in association with the campaign. In this manner not only are potential buyers informed that a product is being offered to one or more other buyers but the purchases of the individual buyers in association with the campaign may be aggregated to, for example, achieve a lower purchasing cost for each buyer relative to what the buyer would have paid if he had purchased only the quantity of product he desired.



Inventors:
Johansson, Henrik (Austin, TX, US)
Black, Jason (Austin, TX, US)
Application Number:
11/901043
Publication Date:
02/12/2009
Filing Date:
09/14/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
705/27.1
International Classes:
G06Q30/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
ZIMMERMAN, MATTHEW E
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Sprinkle IP Law Group (Austin, TX, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method for network based purchasing, comprising: creating a campaign, where the campaign comprises a product, an expiration date and a tiered pricing matrix including one or more ranges of product quantities and associated price; determining an initial set of potential buyers within an organization; distributing a communication regarding the campaign to the initial set of potential buyers; providing a location associated with the campaign, where any potential buyers may purchase the product in association with the campaign at the location; and determining an aggregate purchase quantity by aggregating a quantity of the product associated with each purchase made by the potential buyers before the occurrence of the expiration date, where a finalized price charged in association with each purchase is based on the aggregate purchase quantity.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the finalized price corresponds to an associated price in the tiered pricing matrix which is associated with the range of product quantities into which the aggregate purchase quantity corresponds.

3. The method of claim 2, wherein the location is a website.

4. The method of claim 3, further comprising: determining a current aggregate purchase quantity during the campaign; and updating the website based upon the current aggregate purchase quantity.

5. The method of claim 3, wherein the communication is an email.

6. The method of claim 5, wherein the email comprises a link to the website.

7. The method of claim 3, wherein the website provides the ability to forward the campaign to one or more additional potential buyers.

8. The method of claim 7, wherein forwarding the campaign comprises sending the email to the one or more additional potential buyers.

9. A system for network based purchasing, comprising: an campaign administration application operable to provide a set of interfaces to allow a campaign to be created, wherein the creation of the campaign comprises a selection of a product, the specification of an expiration date and a tiered pricing matrix including one or more ranges of product quantities and associated price and the distribution of a communication regarding the campaign to an initial set of potential buyers; a recipient filter application operable to allow a user to select an initial set of potential buyers within an organization; a buyer application operable to provide a location associated with the campaign, where any potential buyers may purchase the product in association with the campaign at the location; and an order management application operable to determine an aggregate purchase quantity by aggregating a quantity of the product associated with each purchase made by the potential buyers before the occurrence of the expiration date, where a finalized price charged in association with each purchase is based on the aggregate purchase quantity.

10. The system of claim 9, wherein the finalized price corresponds to an associated price in the tiered pricing matrix which is associated with the range of product quantities into which the aggregate purchase quantity corresponds.

11. The system of claim 10, wherein the location is a website.

12. The system of claim 11, wherein the order management application is further operable to: determine a current aggregate purchase quantity during the campaign; and update the website based upon the current aggregate purchase quantity.

13. The system of claim 11, wherein the communication is an email.

14. The system of claim 13, wherein the email comprises a link to the website.

15. The system of claim 11, wherein the website provides the ability to forward the campaign to one or more additional potential buyers.

16. The system of claim 15, wherein forwarding the campaign comprises sending the email to the one or more additional potential buyers.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims a benefit of priority to the filing date of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/844,566 by inventors Jason Black and Henrik Johansson, entitled “System and Method for Network-Based Buyer Purchasing and Communication” filed on Sep. 14, 2006, the entire contents of which are hereby expressly incorporated by reference for all purposes.

TECHNICAL FIELD

This invention relates generally to the field of purchasing of goods, and specifically to the purchasing of products by a number of buyers of such goods inside an organization and a network-based system for enabling and aggregating purchases and communications about such purchases.

BACKGROUND

In recent times the purchasing of promotional products by companies or other organizations has grown by leaps and bounds. In fact, it is now the case that divisions within an organization and certain locations of an organization may purchase their own specific promotional products. Because of the ad-hoc and dispersed nature of these purchases, the purchasing of promotional products is typically not controlled or managed inside an organization, nor is the purchasing accounted for in any consistent manner.

Typically, promotional products are purchased by individuals in specific locations or departments inside an organization rather than by any sort of centralized procurement or purchasing department. In many cases, however, many buyers inside the same organization are looking for the same or similar types of products during the same time period, completely unaware of other individuals' efforts or desires to obtain these products as well. Additionally, as the purchasing of promotional product may not be centralized there may not a uniform application of corporate or organizational guidelines regarding the purchases of promotional products such as rules regarding the use of organizational brands, trademarks or the like.

As a result there may be many individuals within an organization spending time, effort, or money trying to obtain similar types of products, without communicating with each other and without applying the appropriate organizational brand guidelines. This distributed purchasing of similar promotional products may mean that the combined purchasing power of all the buyers may not be leveraged and that organizational guidelines may not be uniformly applied with respect to the purchasing of promotional products (similar or otherwise).

Some companies try to coordinate and manage their buying through “corporate web-stores” for promotional products. These online stores may allow buyers to purchase promotional products that have been approved by corporate and that meet corporate guidelines. However, the static nature of such stores does not meet the constantly changing demands of purchasers of promotional products. As a result, buyers of promotional products are loathe to utilize such corporate web-stores and may look elsewhere for their promotional products. Thus such stores typically only receive a small percentage of the total corporate purchase volume.

SUMMARY

Systems and methods for organizational purchasing are disclosed herein. More specifically, in certain embodiments a campaign corresponding to a product may be created and potential buyers informed of the campaign. These potential buyers may then themselves purchase the product in association with the campaign. In this manner not only are potential buyers informed that a product is being offered to one or more other buyers but the purchases of the individual buyers in association with the campaign may be aggregated to, for example, achieve a lower purchasing cost for each buyer relative to what the buyer would have paid if he had purchased only the quantity of product he desired.

More particularly, in one embodiment, a campaign may be created, where the campaign may have an expiration date and an associated tiered pricing matrix comprised of one or more ranges of product quantities and a corresponding price for each of the ranges. An initial set of potential buyers may then be directly informed of the campaign through a communication over a communication network while other potential buyers may be informed of the campaign indirectly over the communication network through the initial set of potential buyers. Up until the expiration date of the campaign any of these potential buyers may utilize the communication network to make a purchase of some quantity of the product in association with the campaign. After the expiration date, then, all of the purchases made in association with the campaign may be aggregated (e.g. the quantity purchased by each of the buyers) such that the price paid by each of the buyers for the product reflects the aggregate quantity purchased by all buyers.

By informing potential buyers of the campaign both directly and indirectly through a communication network and allowing potential buyers to make purchases in association with the campaign through a location on or in a communication network (e.g. through a website, etc.) a virally based communication and aggregation of product purchases may be accomplished, simultaneously obtaining volume based discounts for the buyers of such products while alleviating the need to manually coordinate, manage or regulate such processes. Additionally, by coordinating these purchases through a central location organizational rules may be better adhered to and brands, trademarks, logos, artwork, etc. associated with the company may be better controlled.

In particular, embodiments of such a network based purchasing system may allow a promotional product to be more effectively purchased by members of an organization. Buyers within an organization may more effectively communicate with each other regarding the products they are buying and other buyers may more easily “piggy-back” on existing buyer's orders, which reduces effort, and increases purchasing power, with a lower price for all buyers as a result. When a buyer places an order for a promotional product, they can make it available to other buyers and invite new buyers to access the network based purchasing system. Not only may buyers get a better price for the products they are purchasing but buyers may also spend less time searching for product and get to share best practices across the entire organization. The organization may save money as they leverage their collective purchasing power while controlling the quality and consistency of the corporate brand can be controlled as artwork and logos associated with the organization may be centrally stored or administered.

Embodiments of the invention disclosed herein can be implemented by programming one or more computer systems or devices with computer-executable instructions embodied in a computer-readable medium. When executed by a processor, these instructions operate to cause these computer systems and devices to perform one or more functions particular to embodiments of the invention disclosed herein. Programming techniques, computer languages, devices, and computer-readable media necessary to accomplish this are known in the art and thus will not be further described herein.

These, and other, aspects of the invention will be better appreciated and understood when considered in conjunction with the following description and the accompanying drawings. The following description, while indicating various embodiments of the invention and numerous specific details thereof, is given by way of illustration and not of limitation. Many substitutions, modifications, additions or rearrangements may be made within the scope of the invention, and the invention includes all such substitutions, modifications, additions or rearrangements.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a system comprising a network based purchasing system;

FIG. 2 is a block diagram of network based purchasing system;

FIG. 3 is a flow diagram for a methodology for conducting a campaign;

FIG. 4 is a flow diagram for a methodology for creating and distributing a campaign;

FIG. 5 is a flow diagram for a methodology of interacting with an interface for a campaign;

FIG. 6 is a flow diagram for a methodology of processing an order in conjunction with a campaign;

FIG. 7 is a flow diagram for a methodology for determining or placing a campaign order;

FIGS. 8A and 8B are examples of interfaces for use with embodiments of systems and method for network based purchasing;

FIG. 9 is an example of an interface for use with embodiments of systems and method for network based purchasing;

FIG. 10 is an example of an interface for use with embodiments of systems and method for network based purchasing;

FIGS. 11A and 11B are examples of interfaces for use with embodiments of systems and method for network based purchasing;

FIG. 12 is an example of an interface for use with embodiments of systems and method for network based purchasing;

FIGS. 13A and 13B are examples of interfaces for use with embodiments of systems and method for network based purchasing;

FIGS. 14A, 14B and 14C are examples of interfaces for use with embodiments of systems and method for network based purchasing; and

FIGS. 15A, 15B, 15C and 15D are examples of interfaces for use with embodiments of systems and method for network based purchasing.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Embodiments of the invention and the various features and advantageous details thereof are explained more fully with reference to the nonlimiting embodiments that are illustrated in the accompanying drawings and detailed in the following description. Descriptions of well known starting materials, processing techniques, components and equipment are omitted so as not to unnecessarily obscure the invention in detail. It should be understood, however, that the detailed description and the specific examples, while indicating preferred embodiments of the invention, are given by way of illustration only and not by way of limitation. Various substitutions, modifications, additions and/or rearrangements within the spirit and/or scope of the underlying inventive concept will become apparent to those skilled in the art from this disclosure.

As discussed above in many cases individuals within an organization spend time, effort, or money trying to obtain similar types of products, without communicating with each other and without applying the appropriate organizational brand guidelines. This distributed purchasing of similar products may mean that the combined purchasing power of all the buyers may not be leveraged and that organizational guidelines may not be uniformly applied with respect to the purchasing of these products. What is desired then is to allow potential buyers to effectively communicate regarding products being purchased such that any of those potential buyers who desire to purchase the product may aggregate their purchases with those of other buyers.

To that end, attention is now directed to systems and methods for network based organizational purchasing. In one embodiment, a campaign corresponding to a product may be created and potential buyers informed of the campaign. These potential buyers may then themselves purchase the product in association with the campaign. In this manner not only are potential buyers informed that a product is being offered to one or more other buyers but the purchases of the individual buyers in association with the campaign may be aggregated to, for example, achieve a lower purchasing cost for each buyer relative to what the buyer would have paid if he had purchased only the quantity of product he desired.

More specifically, in one embodiment, a campaign may be created based upon a buyer's desire to purchase a particular product or a salesman's desire to offer the opportunity to buy the particular product to multiple potential buyers within an organization. This campaign may have an expiration date and an associated tiered pricing matrix comprised of one or more ranges of product quantities and a corresponding price for each of the ranges, where the corresponding price may be inversely related to the quantities associated with the product range (e.g. the higher the quantities associated with the product range the lower the corresponding price). An initial set of potential buyers may then be directly informed of the campaign through a direct communication while other potential buyers may be informed of the campaign indirectly through the initial set of potential buyers. Up until the expiration date of the campaign these potential buyers may make a purchase of some quantity of the product in association with the campaign. After the expiration date, then, all of the purchases made in association with the campaign may be aggregated (e.g. the quantity purchased by each of the buyers) such that the price paid by each of the buyers for the product reflects the aggregate quantity purchased by all buyers. In particular, in one embodiment, the price paid by any one of the buyers may be the price associated with the range of product quantity in the pricing matrix into which the aggregate quantity purchased by all buyers falls.

By informing potential buyers of the campaign both directly and indirectly and providing a centralized location, such as a website, where these potential buyers can make purchases in association with the campaign a virally based communication and aggregation of product purchases may be accomplished, simultaneously obtaining volume based discounts for the buyers of such products while alleviating the need to manually coordinate, manage or regulate such processes.

Turning now to FIG. 1, a block diagram of one embodiment of just such a purchasing system is depicted. Network based purchasing system (NBPS) 100 may be utilized to create, process, store, update, communicate or otherwise manage data associated with the forming, conducting or management of one or more campaigns in conjunction with interactions with one or more administrators, salespersons, potential buyers or other persons with access to NBPS 100.

More particularly, one or more administrators, salespersons, or potential buyers affiliated with an organization 132 (e.g. company, non-profit origination, or any other grouping or association of people or entities) may be located remotely from NBPS 100 and may communicate with NBPS 100 via one or more communication methodologies such as via an electronic communication network (e.g. the Internet, one or more intranets or extranets, etc.), telephone, a postal service, etc. In one embodiment, administrators, salesperson and potential buyers may utilize computing devices 120 coupled to NBPS 100 via one or more electronic communication networks 140, one of which may be the Internet or an intranet, etc. Additionally, NBPS 100 may communicate with one or more product suppliers 180 who provide products which may be sold by operators of NBPS 100 (e.g. may be coupled via an electronic communication network to one or more computing devices at product suppliers 180).

Salespeople and administrators may be affiliated with operators of NBPS 100 and may communicate with NBPS 100 to create a campaign for one or more potential buyers at organization 132 where the campaign relates to an offer to purchase a product which may be supplied by a product supplier 180. Data corresponding to the created campaign is stored in association with NBPS 100. A communication regarding this campaign may be formed, and an initial set of potential buyers at organization 132 determined, using NBPS 100.

The communication may then be sent (e.g. from NBPS 100) to the initial set of potential buyers at organization 132. These potential buyers may then communicate with the NBPS 100 to purchase the product in association with the campaign, forward the campaign on to another potential buyer, contact a salesperson, obtain information about the campaign, etc. NBPS 100 may collect and store orders or other data associated with the campaign and at the end of the campaign aggregate the individual purchases of each of the buyers to form a campaign order which is placed with the product supplier 180 which supplies the product associated with the campaign.

NBPS 100 may utilize one or more computers or computer systems utilizing one or more processors 112 which execute a set of computer readable instructions on a computer readable media, where the computer readable instructions are translatable for performing at least some of the functionality of NBPS 100. Functionality associated with NBPS 100 may also be accomplished by salespeople, administrators or buyers or others.

Moving now to FIG. 2, a block diagram illustrating one particular embodiment of a NBPS 100 is depicted. For the sake of clarity the computer systems 120 utilized by salespeople, administrators and potential buyers at organization 132 and product suppliers 180 are not shown, but should be assumed to be in communication with NBPS 100 as previously described. Here, NBPS 100 comprises a data store 210, where the data store includes a company/buyer database 220, product database 230, a campaign database 240 and an order database 250.

In one embodiment, company/buyer database 220 comprises data regarding organizations 132 and buyers 130 associated with organizations. This data may be organized as profiles according to, or accessible by, customer relationship management (CRM) software such as that provided by Salesforce.com™ or the like. Company profiles may include such information as brand or trademark regulations or rules to be applied with respect to a company's trademarks, logos, slogans, etc. and may also include such information as upcoming events or other information specific to the company.

Buyer profiles may, for example, provide detailed information about a particular buyer's responsibilities or position within an organization 132 such as a department affiliation (marketing, human resources, procurement, sales, etc.); the buyer's buying habits, such as previously purchased products or product categories; the buyer's needs with respect to previous purchases, events, trade shows, awards, gifts, etc.; a use or function associated with previous purchases made by the buyer (e.g. is the item a desk item, associated with golf, for use in the home, clothing, etc.); etc. This buyer profile information may include, or be stored in conjunction with, keywords to help classify buyers and enable a keyword search with respect to buyer profiles.

Product database 230 holds information about products which may be sold by operators of NBPS 100 (e.g. which may be offered for sale by salespeople or provided by product suppliers 180). Data associated with each of the products may be stored, including such data such as stock numbers, product codes, product images, sizing information, colors, etc. In fact, almost any data desired about a product may be stored in product database 230.

Certain attributes of a product may, however, be helpful in determining which product to utilize in conjunction with a particular campaign (e.g. which product best matches a particular company or buyer profile). Data associated with one or more attributes of a product may therefore be associated with (e.g. stored in conjunction with) the product, where this data may vary from product to product. This attribute data may include keywords to help classify items and enable keyword search, such as “Luxury”, “Female”, “Metal” etc.; colors options for the product like “Green”, “Black”, “Blue”, “Burgundy”, “Metallic”, “Gold”, etc.; themes to simplify theme searches, such as “Western”, “Office”, “School”, “Shopping”, “Beach”, etc.; applications or uses to help match to a particular need of a buyer or organization like “Trade Show”, “Award”, “Executive Gifts”, etc. Again it will be noted that almost any data regarding a product or which may be useful in performing any operations associated with that product may be stored and associated with a product in product database 230.

Campaign database 240 stores data related to campaigns which may include a set of attributes, an associated status for the campaign, web pages related to the campaign. In one particular embodiment, the attributes of a campaign may comprise one or more products and a set of associated information, where the associated information includes an expiration date for the campaign, a set of potential buyers and a current aggregate purchase quantity. Campaign database 240 may also store various statuses for each of the potential buyers associated with a campaign, including a status associated with one or more potential buyers for example, statuses may include: “Received” (for example when a potential buyer has received an email regarding the campaign), “Reviewed” (for example where a buyer has clicked a link in the email to view a page or website corresponding to the campaign); “Ordered” (for example a buyer has placed an order in association with the campaign). Other statuses may similarly be utilized. It will be apparent that one or more potential buyers may be associated with multiple campaigns in campaign database 240. In cases such as these a different status may be associated with the potential buyer with respect to each of the different campaigns if desired.

In the same manner, actions may be recorded in campaign databases for potential buyers associated with a campaign. These actions may include “Forwarded” (for example a potential buyer has forwarded the campaign to another potential buyer); “Invited” (for example a potential buyer has responded to a forwarded campaign; “Registered” (for example a potential buyer has newly registered).

Order database 250 comprises data regarding orders. An order is a purchase by a buyer of a specific quantity of a product made in association with a campaign. The data stored in database 250 corresponding to an order may include a reference to the campaign to which the order corresponds, along with data helpful in fulfilling the order (e.g. facilitating the ordered product being shipped to the buyer), such as a buyer name, buyer email address, a “Ship To” address (e.g. where to ship the ordered product), a “Bill To” address (e.g. where to send the invoice for the product), quantities of the product sorted by attribute (e.g. a certain amount of a certain color, a certain size, type, etc.). In general, order database 250 may comprise any information associated with an order which may be helpful in tracking, completing, approving, billing or otherwise processing an order.

After reading the above description of the various databases in data store 210 of NBPS 100 and the data stored therein it should be noted that more or fewer databases may be present in data store 210, that different, additional or lesser information may be stored and that the databases depicted are exemplary only. All of the information desired in a particular embodiment may be contained in one or multiple data bases or data stores according to the configuration of a particular embodiment.

No matter the configuration utilized, however, NBPS 100 may comprise one or more applications (e.g. computer executable instructions on a computer readable medium) which may utilize at least a portion of the data contained in data store 210 to create, manage, conduct or otherwise perform desired operations in conjunction with the data stored therein. These applications may be utilized in conjunction with, or present, a set of interfaces through which a user of the application may perform one or more operations associated with the application. These interfaces may, for example, include a graphical user interface (GUI), a command line interface, or one or more web pages which may be accessed through a web browser. These web pages may for example be in HTML or XHTML format, and may provide navigation to other web pages via hypertext links. These web pages may be retrieved by a user (e.g. using Hypertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP) from a local computer or from a remote web server where the server may restrict access only to a private network (e.g. a corporate intranet) or it may publish pages on the World Wide Web.

In one embodiment, these applications may include campaign administration application 260, order management application 270, recipient filter application 280 and buyer application 290. While the various functionality of each of these applications will be explained in more detail below it should be noted that the functionality described with respect to each of the applications is exemplary only and more or less functionality may be implemented in conjunction with certain embodiments of the invention. Furthermore, this functionality need not be separated into multiple applications and any desired functionality may be incorporated into a single application or multiple applications according to the embodiment desired.

In one embodiment, then, campaign administration application 260 may provide functionality and associated interfaces to allow a user to create a campaign or view data associated with ongoing campaigns. The creation of the campaign may involve, and thus interfaces and functionality may be provided for, searching for and selecting appropriate products (e.g. using products database 240) based on one or more product attributes (as described above) and to select one or more products for a campaign. Once a product has been selected, the user may use campaign administration application 260 to provide additional information specific to the campaign (as will be described in more detail below) including product pricing, an explanation of the campaign, artwork information (for example logo to be place on a product, size, location and color of the artwork, etc.), an expiration date for the campaign, etc.

Campaign administration application 260 may also allow a user to identify a set of potential buyers for a campaign (e.g. using company/buyer database 230), send a communication to potential buyers and track the status of their actions in regards to that communication. Once a campaign reaches its expiration date, the user may use campaign administration application 260 to review and close the campaign to send all the approved orders to an order processing system.

Recipient filter application 280 may provide functionality and interfaces which allow a user to identify potential buyers within an organization 132 (e.g. using profiles in company/buyer database 220) that may be interested in a product associated with a campaign and associate these potential buyers with the campaign. More particularly, in one embodiment recipient filter application 280 may allow a user to filter or sort potential buyers based on a set of criteria, where this criteria may include keywords corresponding to the product associated with the campaign (e.g. which may be provided or generated by campaign administration application 260 in response to a product selection).

Order management application 270 may provide functionality and interfaces which allow a user to manage orders both on an individual and campaign level. This functionality may include receiving orders placed by a buyer and placing the order in a pending status. Order management application 280 provides interfaces through which a user may review a pending order to approve, verify, cancel or accept such an order. Order management application 280 may also provide functionality and interfaces to aggregately manage orders associated with a campaign, for example to associate the correct information with each order of a campaign. This information may include, for example, the current price for a product associated with the campaign based upon a current aggregate quantity purchased (e.g. the quantity of products associated with all currently approved orders).

Buyer application 290 may provide interfaces and functionality which allow a buyer to register (e.g. create a user name and password) and to review campaigns. These campaigns may be campaigns for which he received a communication (e.g. is a potential buyer) or other currently open campaigns within his company. Buyer application 290 may allow a buyer to review certain attributes of the campaign including the pricing matrix associated with the campaign and the current aggregated purchase quantity and the corresponding price. Buyer application 290 may provide interfaces and functionality such that a buyer can place an order in conjunction with any of these campaigns or forward a campaign (e.g. a communication regarding any of the campaigns) to other buyers within the same company. Buyer application 290 may also provide certain analytic tools such that a buyer may determine pricing impact based upon purchase quantities when the selected volume reaches different pricing tiers.

It should be noted here that the functionality offered to a particular user with respect to any of the applications 260, 270, 280, 290 discussed above may vary with access privileges accorded to a user based upon the user's status. For example, a buyer may be able to utilize interfaces which provide him the ability to view his profile, interfaces associated with campaigns which he has been invited to join or which are currently active within his company, any orders he has placed, etc. By the same token, a salesperson affiliated with the operators of NBPS 100 may be provided with interfaces which allow a salesperson to view all the campaigns he initiated or any orders involved with all of those campaigns. Administrators may, however, be allowed to access interfaces which provide the ability to access all campaigns, all orders, all suppliers, all company and buyer profiles, a list of users of NBPS 100, etc.

As discussed above, the various databases 220, 230, 240, 250 and applications 260, 270, 280, 290 of NBPS 100 may be utilized to create, process, store, update or otherwise manage data associated with the forming, conducting or management of one or more campaigns. It may be helpful here to discuss an implementation of a campaign in more detail. Referring now to FIG. 3, a flow diagram for one embodiment of a methodology for the implementation of a campaign is depicted. At the instigation of a person (e.g. a marketing director, project team manager, etc.) within a company, initiated unilaterally by a salesperson (e.g. affiliated with an operator of NBPS) or for some other reason, a campaign may be created at step 310, where the campaign is associated with one or more products and an expiration date (e.g. a date on which the campaign will be closed or a time period for which the campaign will be open). The created campaign may be distributed at step 320 by, in one embodiment, distributing a communication (phone, fax, email, etc.) with information corresponding to the campaign.

During the time between the creation of the campaign and the occurrence of the expiration date (as determined at step 340) the campaign may be conducted at step 330. The conduction of the campaign may include accepting, tracking or otherwise processing or communicating about orders, pricing or other information associated with the campaign and registering, authenticating or interacting with buyers to provide buyers with information about this (or other) campaigns or the ability to place orders and communicate (or obtain communications) about the campaign, etc.

After the occurrence of the expiration date at step 340, all the orders corresponding to the campaign will be aggregated at step 350. This aggregation process may include the combination of the quantities of the product ordered in each of the orders received (or verified) in association with the campaign. Using this aggregated purchase quantity then, a campaign order corresponding to the individual orders of the buyers may be placed to a supplier of the product associated with the campaign at step 360.

In order to better understand embodiments of the present invention these steps will now be illustrated in more detail. Turning first to FIG. 4, a flow diagram one embodiment of a method for the creation of a campaign is depicted. At step 410 the campaign may be initiated. A campaign may be initiated for a variety of reasons. For example, a marketing director or another person at organization 132 may wish to obtain a promotional product in conjunction with an event or a project with an organization, to offer to vendors or for a wide variety of other reasons. To this end they may contact a salesperson affiliated with NBPS 100. Alternatively, a salesperson affiliated with NBPS 100 may initiate a campaign of their own volition, for example, based upon an analysis of the organization's 132 previous purchase history, event schedule or other information associated with the organization, to offer a new product or a product on which there is currently a sale, etc.

After the campaign is initiated data relating to the campaign may be determined at step 420. This data may be obtained by a salesperson or administrator through a consultation with one or more people at organization 132, provided by one or more people at organization 132, determined from an analysis of data related to organization 132 or buyers within organization 132 (e.g. in company/buyer database 220), determined by an analysis of attributes of a product related to the initiated campaign (e.g. in product database 230), determined unilaterally by someone affiliated with organization 132 or a salesperson or administrator affiliated with NBPS 100, or by another means altogether. Once this data is determined it may be, for example, associated with the initiated campaign in campaign database 240.

This campaign data may also include an expiration date for the campaign and the product to be offered in conjunction with the campaign. As discussed, the product may be a product specifically requested by someone at organization 132 or which salesperson wishes to offer to potential buyers at organization 132 or selected for any of a variety of other reasons. The expiration date may also be chosen for a variety of reasons, such as the day an event is to occur, a project is to complete, a sale of the product from supplier 180 to operators of NBPS 100 is to end, etc.

Once the product and expiration date are determined, attributes related to the product may also be included in the campaign data. These attributes may include things such as the size, color, configuration, etc. which may be chosen with respect to the product (e.g. the same shirt may come in red or blue, Large or Small sizes, etc.). These attributes may also include images of the product or other data which may be associated with the product (e.g. in product database 230).

Other campaign data may include artwork to be included in the campaign (e.g. placed on the product associated with the campaign). This artwork may include logos, slogans, etc. and one or more related placement locations (e.g. where the artwork is to be placed on the product). As discussed above, in certain embodiments it may be desired to control the user of organization's logos, slogans, trademarks, etc. In cases such as these, any artwork may be provided by someone at organization 132 along with a set of instructions for utilizing the artwork such that it can be ensured that proper control of the artwork with respect to the desires of organization 132 may be maintained.

A pricing matrix for the product may also be included in the campaign data. A pricing matrix may be ranges of product quantities along with an associated price per product for each of the quantity ranges (e.g. for product quantities in the range of 0-10 the price may be $5.00 per product, for product quantities in the range of 11-20 the associated price may be $4.00 per product, etc.) The quantity ranges and prices may be determined based upon almost any factor desired including the price paid by operators of NBPS 100 to product supplier 180 or any volume discounts offered by product supplier 180 to operators of NBPS 100, etc. Campaign data may also include data related to product supplier 180, such as the price per product which operators of NBPS 100 pay to product supplier 180, an order minimum per buyer, etc.

Through consultation with someone affiliated with organization 132 one or more billing options may also be determined and included in the campaign data. These billing options may allow someone at organization 132 to specify that each buyer should pay for their own order using their own credit card, to give one credit card such that all orders may be billed to that credit card, may specify whether one or more invoices is to be created in conjunction with the campaign, etc.

Once all desired campaign data is determined an interface corresponding to the campaign may be created at step 430. This interface may be a web page associated with campaign which will be accessed by potential buyers and through which potential buyers may place orders. Thus, this campaign page may include a header or a blurb describing the product being offered in conjunction with the campaign, the expiration date of the campaign, the tiered pricing matrix associated with the campaign, counter indicating the current aggregate quantity of the product purchased, the current savings per unit of product based upon the current aggregate quantity, an image of the product with or without any supplied artwork, possible values for certain product attributes, buyer options and instructions, disclaimers or any other information which it is desired to include.

In one embodiment, this campaign page may be created from a standard template for campaign pages utilizing campaign administration application 260 and stored in association with the campaign in campaign database 240. One example of interfaces which may be presented by administration application 260 and utilized in the formation of a campaign page is depicted in FIGS. 8A and 8B.

Once the interface is created at step 430 an initial potential set of buyers may be determined at step 440. This initial set of potential buyers may be people within organization 132 to whom it is desired to send a communication about the initiated campaign. An initial set of potential buyers may be determined in almost any manner desired, including having someone affiliated with organization 132 provide them, determining them through an analysis of company/buyer database 220 (e.g. by comparing previous purchases with the initiated campaign, people working on a project with a project associated with the initiated campaign, etc.).

The initial set of potential buyers may be determined using recipient filter application 280 and may also be associated with the campaign in campaign database 240. One example of an interface which may be presented by recipient filter application 280 and used in determining the initial set of potential buyers is depicted in FIG. 9.

A notification regarding the campaign may be sent to each of the initial set of potential buyers at step 450. This notification may indicate a way for a potential buyer to access an interface for interacting with campaigns provided by buyer application 270 and in particular may inform a user how to access an interface corresponding to the campaign itself. This notification may, for example, be an email which contains a link to the campaign page, as discussed above. Thus, to access the campaign page a potential buyer may only have to open an email and click on the included link. Of course, in other embodiments, other communication methodologies or providing the initial set of buyers with a means to access buyer application 290 or the campaign page may also be provided.

Moving on to FIG. 5, at some point a potential buyer may access an interface corresponding to the campaign at step 510. In one embodiment, this may occur by clicking on the link provided in the email sent to the potential buyer. This access may be recorded and associated with the potential buyer or campaign in campaign database 270 (e.g. as “Received” or “Reviewed”) by buyer application 280 or campaign administrator application 260. At this point the interface corresponding to the campaign may be presented to the potential buyer at step 520. The interface may be, for example, the web page corresponding to the campaign and presented by buyer application 290. One example of such a campaign page is depicted in FIG. 10.

In one embodiment, the web page corresponding to the campaign may present the potential buyer with a set of information regarding the campaign, including, an image of a product being offered for sale in the campaign, a pricing matrix comprising quantity ranges and an associated price per unit for each quantity range, an expiration date or time, and a current campaign status, where the current status may denote the current aggregate quantity of products purchased (e.g. a quantity corresponding to each of the orders already placed or confirmed in conjunction with the campaign), the price per product associated with the current aggregate quantity or the savings per product purchased. The web page may also comprise other information such as the minimum quantity that may be ordered by the buyer or an increment quantity by which the potential buyer should order (e.g. a potential buyer may only purchase in groups of 24). The web page may be designed to only accept orders which conform to these minimum or increment quantities, for example the web page may automatically increment the quantity ordered by the increment quantity.

The presented interface may also offer the potential buyer a number of options. A potential buyer may choose to contact a salesperson associated with the campaign at step 512, which may result in a contact method, such as an email box or a phone number, being provided to the potential buyer at step 514. An example of interfaces which may be presented (e.g. by buyer application 290) to a user when he chooses to contact a salesperson is depicted in FIGS. 11A and 11B.

Alternatively a potential buyer may choose to be kept informed of developments which occur with respect to the campaign at step 516. This information may be recorded in campaign database 230 such that buyer application 270 may notify the potential buyer of the occurrence of certain events (e.g. may send an email or the like to the potential buyer upon the occurrence of an event) that occur in conjunction with the campaign. After selecting to be kept informed the potential buyer may then be presented with an interface at step 518 confirming his desire to be kept informed of events occurring in conjunction with the campaign. An example of interfaces which may be presented to a user when he chooses to be kept informed is depicted in FIG. 12.

A potential buyer may also choose to forward the campaign to another potential buyer at step 520. In this case, the potential buyer may be presented with an interface which allows the potential buyer to notify another potential buyer of the campaign, for example, by sending an email to the other potential buyer comprising a link to the web page corresponding to the campaign. In one embodiment, a potential buyer may forward the campaign only to others who are in the same company thus, any potential recipients of a forwarded campaign may be examined to ensure that they belong to the same company as the potential buyer who is forwarding the campaign. Once the potential buyer has forwarded the campaign to another potential buyer an interface may be presented at step 522 acknowledging or confirming that the campaign has been forwarded. An example of interfaces which may be presented to a user when he forwards the campaign is depicted in FIGS. 13A and 13B.

At some point the potential buyer may choose to place an order at step 530. Referring now to FIG. 6, a flow diagram for one such method of placing an order is depicted. When a user chooses to place an order at step 530 it can be determined at step 610 if the potential buyer is a registered user (e.g. has a user account or has signed in to buyer application 270). If the potential buyer is not a registered user or has not signed in the user may sign in at step 620. A sign in page may be presented to the potential buyer or, if the user is not registered, the potential buyer may go through a registration process before signing in.

Once the user is signed in the user may enter an order in association with the campaign at step 630. More specifically, in one embodiment the potential buyer may be presented with a checkout interface which may allow a potential buyer to enter billing information (e.g. a “Bill To” address), shipping information (e.g. a “Ship To” address) or other information pertinent to the order or campaign. In particular, the order page may present the potential buyer with payment options based upon the billing options specified during creation of the campaign. For example, if the creator of the campaign specified that there will be only a single invoice for the campaign, the user may not be presented with any payment options while if one invoice per buyer has been specified for the campaign the potential buyer may be provided with places to enter his credit card information. Other payment options are contemplated and will work with equal efficacy. An example of interfaces which may be used to place an order is depicted in FIGS. 14A, 14B and 14C.

Once the potential buyer has entered and submitted his order, this order may be recorded at step 640. When an order is recorded it may be stored (e.g. in order database 250) and associated both with the campaign and the potential buyer who placed the order. The order may also be assigned a status of pending. After the order is recorded at step 640 it may be submitted for approval at step 650. The approval process may allow the order to be manually confirmed by someone involved in the campaign to ensure that the order should be fulfilled. Thus, an order may be reviewed for a variety of reasons, for example, to verify that the potential buyer who placed the order should be allowed to place the order (e.g. is the potential buyer within the company), that the pricing or quantity ordered can be fulfilled or for almost any other reason desired. To obtain approval for the order the order may be presented to a salesperson or administrator when the administrator or salesperson accesses an interface which presents them with their customer's orders or views orders associated with the campaign. When the salesperson or administrator views the order an indicator may be presented along with the order information where this indicator denotes that the order is pending. Example of interfaces which may be presented (e.g. by buyer application 290, campaign administration application 260, etc.) to a buyer, salesperson or administrator which may be used to view associated campaigns or orders are depicted in FIGS. 15A-15D.

If the order is not approved at step 660 the order may be assigned a cancelled status and a communication (e.g. email) sent to the potential buyer informing him of this cancellation at step 670. If, however, the order is verified and accepted, at step 680 the order may be assigned an approved status and committed at step 690. When an order is committed the quantity of product purchased with respect to that order is added to the aggregate quantity purchased associated with that campaign at step 692. The campaign web page may then be updated based upon this updated aggregate quantity purchased at step 694.

Updating the campaign page may, for example, entail the update of the aggregate purchase quantity displayed on the page, the current price per product displayed to a potential buyer, the savings per product displayed to a potential buyer or any other information associated with the page which may be affected by committed order. Thus, as can be seen, whenever a potential buyer subsequently accesses the web page for the campaign the update campaign page will be displayed to that potential buyer. Consequently, as potential buyers place orders in association with that campaign and those orders are accepted and committed, the campaign page is updated during the course of the campaign such that the current status of the campaign is reflected to potential buyers who subsequently access the campaign web page.

Moving on to FIG. 7, eventually the expiration date or time for the campaign is reached. Before the expiration date occurs, however, in one embodiment a communication (e.g. email) may be sent to all potential buyers who have viewed the campaign (e.g. the web page associated with the campaign) to remind them that the campaign is coming to an end. When the expiration date actually occurs, confirmation of buyers may take place at step 710 to make certain that the buyers who placed orders (or whose orders were committed) actually want to make the purchase commensurate with their order. Thus, a communication such as an email or phone call may be made to all buyers whose orders were committed in association with the campaign to allow the buyer to confirm, adjust or cancel his order. After these confirmation communications are made at step 710 the results may be taken into account to determine a finalized aggregate purchase quantity and associated finalized price for the campaign at step 720. In other words, the current aggregate purchase quantity determined through accumulation of the quantities from each of the committed orders may be adjusted upward or downward if any of the buyers adjusted the quantity which they desire to purchase (and which they submitted in their original order). This finalized aggregate purchase quantity may then be used to determine the associated finalized price for the campaign using the pricing matrix associated with the campaign (e.g. the price corresponding to the quantity range into which the finalized aggregate purchase quantity falls may be the finalized price for the campaign).

After any adjustments are made at step 720 and the finalized aggregate purchase quantity and price are determined a notification may be sent to all buyers whose orders were committed and confirmed at step 730. This notification may comprise an email or phone call which relates the specifics of the buyer's order along with information related to the campaign, such as the finalized aggregate purchase quantity, the finalized price, the savings realized, estimated arrival time of the product, etc.

Additionally, after any adjustments are made at step 720 and the finalized aggregate purchase quantity and price are determined an order for the campaign may be created at step 740. This campaign order may comprise one or more orders to be placed with product supplier 180 by operators of NBPS 100 in accordance with the campaign where the campaign order is determined using the confirmed and adjusted orders placed by the buyers.

In one embodiment it may be desired to track orders based upon a “Ship To” address provided by a buyer or otherwise associated with an order or the campaign. To accomplish this attributes of a campaign may be analyzed at step 750 to determine a list of attributes germane to the campaign order. For example, attributes of the product which may vary based upon an order for example, color, size, location of logo placement, etc. Using these attributes a standard order template may be created at step 760. This standard order template may be for example, in a spreadsheet format comprising a column for quantity and for each of the various attributes. At step 770 then, each of the orders with the same “Ship To”, address may be consolidated. This consolidation process may comprise creating a single campaign order using each of the buyer orders with the same “Ship To” address. Specifically, in one embodiment, the standard order template may be cloned and the correct information placed in each column of the spreadsheet (e.g. one row might be quantity 2, color red and size XL while a second row might be quantity 6, color blue and size M).

This set of campaign orders may then be submitted to product supplier 180 at step 780 such that the campaign order may be fulfilled and the products delivered to the buyers (e.g. at the “Ship To” address specified in the campaign order). In one embodiment, to facilitate processing, collection or tracking of these orders portions of the creation of campaign orders or the recording and submission of these campaign orders may be handled by an order processing system which may be a distinct application or system from NBPS 100.

In the foregoing specification, the invention has been described with reference to specific embodiments. However, one of ordinary skill in the art appreciates that various modifications and changes can be made without departing from the scope of the invention as set forth in the claims below. Accordingly, the specification and figures are to be regarded in an illustrative rather than a restrictive sense, and all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of invention.

Benefits, other advantages, and solutions to problems have been described above with regard to specific embodiments. However; the benefits, advantages, solutions to problems, and any component(s) that may cause any benefit, advantage, or solution to occur or become more pronounced are not to be construed as a critical, required, or essential feature or component of any or all the claims.