In the past 10 years, numerous B2B companies have experienced a failed or extremely challenging ecommerce site launch. These attempts were often expensive and affected the long-term customer adoption rate of the portal. While each B2B ecommerce project is unique, there are seven questions that should be considered before beginning an ecommerce project.
1. What is your long-term ecommerce plan? Most B2B companies do their due diligence when gathering project requirements and creating implementation timelines, but they don’t often create a long-range plan for their ecommerce site. B2B ecommerce sites are often implemented as a primary sales channel, and as such, should be viewed in line with a large software deployment initiative which plans for quarterly/annual upgrades and software upgrades. Scheduling revisions and updates allows a B2B company to add new features and functionality while planning for the time, cost and testing that is necessary to successfully add such features.
2. What is your budget strategy for years 2 & 3 and beyond? Too often B2B companies consider the initial costs of launching an ecommerce initiative, as in, “What will it cost to get the site live?” While this question addresses the initial cost of launching a B2B ecommerce site, it does not consider total cost of ownership. Maintaining a B2B ecommerce site over time requires ongoing investment to ensure that the site stays fresh and ahead of the competition. Planning a budget for Years 2 and 3 will ensure that your company stays ahead of the pack.
3. How will you brand your B2B portal? Quite often, B2B organizations spend significant dollars on their public websites, but spend little-to-nothing on the design of their user portal. Created by developers who are not accustomed to building a user interface for a large audience of customers and users outside the organization, these portals fall victim to poor design and lack of usability. To avoid offering a functional portal that never gets used, engage your marketing group and agency to build a portal that is consistent with your brand and highly intuitive to the user. This WILL increase your budget in the short-term, but will ultimately impact the use and success of your ecommerce site.
4. Who is on your project team? Putting the right internal project team in place is often one of the most challenging aspects of a B2B ecommerce launch. Projects led by one department without collaboration and buy-in from other areas of the company are doomed from the beginning. The right internal B2B project team includes an executive sponsor, internal project manager, marketing/agency resources, development/software resources, and a testing team that includes potential users from outside the organization.
5. What are you plans for integration? Integration is an overused term and means different things to different industries, but it’s essential to your B2B success. I’m referring to the integration of your ecommerce site with your enterprise resource planning (ERP) and back-end business systems. Without this essential link between systems, you generate multiple databases, inconsistent pricing/products and high labor costs to update data manually in both systems. While there is a cost associated with adding integration from the outset of a B2B ecommerce project, it’s worth it as you avoid creating an un-tethered and expensive monster that must be dealt with down the road.
6. Does your ecommerce vendor have experience in integration? You understand how important integration is to your ecommerce initiative and you asked your vendor about it. They assure you they could “get the integration done.” Before you sign the deal, make sure they can prove that they integrate to a system like yours on a regular basis. Anyone can SAY that they can do the work, but the proof is in seeing a handful of live, integrated sites and sampling how that integration is working for the company as well as the end user.
7. What is your ultimate goal for your ecommerce site? Ecommerce is known for a “build-it-and-they-will-come” mentality. The truth is, building an ecommerce site is just the first step. Before you begin building, you need to have a clear understanding of what success looks like for your ecommerce site. Would a 10% adoption rate by your customers constitute success? 80%? What if the site reduces calls to Customer Service by 25%? I worked on a project where a company required that at least 50% of its non-EDI orders to come through the ecommerce portal within 18 months for the project to be considered a success. After 7 months, 95% of their non-EDI orders were coming in via the ecommerce site. I’d say that was an overwhelming success! There’s no right or wrong answer–but knowing what you are measuring from the outset will help you determine if your project has been successful.
While the experts have declared the recession to be over, many companies are looking for ways to shave costs and do more with less. A B2B ecommerce portal will help automate manual processes and make you more competitive. Just be sure to spend some time pondering these seven key questions first.
Want to learn more about how to make your B2B ecommerce site successful? Download the whitepaper, 7 Questions to Consider When Beginning an Ecommerce Initiative.
Brian Strojny is CEO at Insite Software. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.