B2B Best Practices: How to Choose an Ecommerce Platform
Salsify | July 30, 2020
Choosing a business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce platform can be challenging — especially if you don't know where to start. While the process may seem daunting, there are several necessary steps that can help you get started.
B2B ecommerce expert Justin King, general manager of B2B at Salsify and former president of B2X Partners, outlines the six actions you need to take to plan for your new project.
Step 1: Write a Business Case for an Ecommerce Platform
Your business case should include a return on investment (ROI) based on hard data, such as site traffic, conversion, and average order value. It should also include soft data, such as reduced operational costs and reduced cost per customer call.
A business case can be used to prioritize what you do first and can help you measure the impact of your decisions. A business case and a B2B ecommerce strategy go hand in hand.
Step 2: Learn the Components of an Ecommerce System
Educate yourself on every aspect that makes up an ecommerce platform. The easiest way to learn is to connect with a few platforms to learn about what they do and how they do it.
Learn how to create customer experiences, merchandising, promotions, and what out-of-the-box (OOTB) means. You will find standard features that span across platforms — things like the product information, shopping cart, and orders.
While it's a significant amount of work, it's a vital step. Start by picking two to three platforms to educate yourself.
Step 3: Get IT and Business Teams on the Same Page
To select the right platform for your organization, you must balance what you need to deliver with how to construct it. Come together with joint use cases, requirements, and a business case. These should include experience management, merchandising tools (e.g., product relationships), and architecture.
Here are the unique demands for each team:
- IT: Figure out what your business counterparts need, why they need it, and the tools they require. The customer experience does matter — no matter how much of a geek you are.
- Business: Regardless of what is OOTB, IT has a lot of work to do to get ready for this type of project on your internal systems.
Help each other out, advocate for each other — and maybe even work to understand each other. It will go a long way.
Step 4: Identify Unique Business and Industry Requirements
When developing requirements, the tendency is to focus on where you are unique. While you certainly need to understand these individual needs, it is difficult for any platform to provide all these requirements OOTB.
The use case demonstration will become a race to who can build your requirements the fastest versus understanding what is OOTB and how your organization customizes the solution.
Step 5: Build Use Cases Instead of RFPs
Put your money and resources into building use cases. Develop use cases that address common features and a few to help you figure out how to customize for your unique requirements.
Ask many questions: How did you build that? How was that customized? Can you show me?
Make sure your team has read and agreed with all of the use cases. Ideally, everyone in the room would have had a hand in developing the use cases and even debated the merits of each. Don't eliminate requests for proposals (RFPs) completely — just build the RFP from the use cases.
For those set on doing an RFP, we have created a downloadable RFP template that includes over 950 requirements.
Step 6: Integrate, Integrate, Integrate
Integration is critical to your success. Ecommerce is an ecosystem made up of many back office and front office systems. Consider integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), pricing engines, order management, content management system (CMS), product experience management (PXM), and others.
Understand how each platform integrates with your back office. Have a deep dive technical architecture workshop with your vendors, and ask questions about integration:
- Will you use an enterprise service bus (ESB), service-oriented architecture (SOA), bulk files, or all of the above?
- Do you have data quality issues?
Understand each of your integration options and the consequences of integration decisions. You understand your environment; vendors understand their software. Walk away from your architecture sessions, having explored every possibility.