Where Do I Start? A B2B eCommerce Quick Guide

November 22, 2017

By: Ryan Shields,
Author Title: 
CEO & Co-Founder
, Indaba Group

This year I’ve been to a handful of conferences across the country featuring a wide range of B2B merchants. As a salesperson, I’m always interested in learning about the B2B online experience and the unique challenges B2B companies face. I like to ask a lot questions to find out where an organization is in terms of eCommerce, and offer advice where I can. Then up-sell, of course…

During these conversations, I saw a lot of puzzled looks, as if to say, “An online, eCommerce experience for B2B”? At first, I thought they were having trouble with my South African accent, but the more people I talked with, the more I realized B2B merchants were well behind their B2C counterparts in terms of eCommerce.  

So, I explained the value an eCommerce experience brings to both customers and business administrators (operational efficiencies, keeping up with consumer behaviors, foundation for long-term growth, etc.). The benefits were clear, but as I explained the process the puzzled looks returned. Usually, the first question was, “Where the heck do I start”?  

Over time, I got pretty good at answering this question. Below are some talking points I always include: Recommendations, Key Considerations, and a Pre-Development Checklist. These are high level (we’re talking the 40,000-foot view). But addressing them at the start ensures that any B2B-centric organization hits the most critical areas when creating a new eCommerce experience.

These types of projects are extremely nerve-racking for any key stakeholder; the project and all the necessary decisions can make or break a job; maybe even a career! Taking all the points below into account, and using the categories below as a “blueprint”, will help any individual within a B2B organization plan and prepare for success.

Recommendations

For anyone just starting to develop a B2B eCommerce experience, I would recommend the following, especially at the beginning of the process:

  • Take Your Time – Yes, this can be difficult, especially when you have “higher-ups” breathing down your neck. But taking the time in the beginning for robust research and discovery will pay dividends later on.

  • Understanding that your Website has “Legs” – Your website touches almost every aspect of your organization including Sales/Marketing, Customer Service, Accounting, and Information Technology. When you start to put your website strategy together, understand how your website can reach each corner of your organization.

  • Resource Planning – In conjunction with the development of your website strategy, stakeholder alignment, etc., keep in mind that you need to plan resources. This includes how you leverage internal resources (if you have them), outsourcing, and who will champion and project plan this effort.

  • Platform Selection – Last but not least, think about the platform you want to build your website on. Along with the development of your website/digital strategy, there may not be another decision that is as important; the research effort up-front around platform is mission critical.

Key Considerations

Digging a bit deeper into the approach, there are a few Key Considerations each decision maker should take into account.

Platform: When you’re thinking about which eCommerce platform is most appropriate, remember the “legs” of the website. In a spreadsheet, list every department and every individual within that department impacted by the site. For each one:

  • Determine business and technical requirements

  • Ensure the platform aligns with the long-term business goals of your organization

  • Engage individuals who need to be included in the Discovery process as soon as you can, and ask them to begin preparing any documentation that may be useful

  • For each platform, note the total cost of ownership (TCO), the payback period, and tools and methods for measuring ROI

Technical Requirements:

  • How “flexible” should the platform be? For example, do your developers need access to the code to achieve your business requirements? What are some of your unique business processes that may require customization? This will help determine whether you select a SaaS or an on-premise solution

  • Outline what hosting provider is most appropriate for your platform

  • Determine all the “hooks” into your website: ERP, IMS, OMS

DON’T FORGET—and this should not be minimized—to ensure that your shipping and tax solutions are fully vetted out before platform selection. This can be a MAJOR hurdle to correct while in the middle of a website development project. We see it time and time again...

Pre-Development Checklist

Below are the key areas to be completed before any merchant starts their website development project, whether it’s B2B, B2C, and/or B2C2B.

Strategic Elements:

  • Establish both digital and website strategies

  • Align digital and website strategies to the holistic business strategy

  • Receive all key internal stakeholder alignment

  • Establish baseline information to develop strategic information architecture (sitemap)

Resources:

  • Clear plan of resource requirements to build and manage this project

Customers:

  • Fully understand who your target audience is

  • Understand your target audiences’ digital behaviors

  • Clear vision of your audience's’ goals and objectives

Requirements:

  • Complete a list of all business requirements

  • Complete a list of all technical requirements

  • Complete a list of all transitional requirements

A Success Story

At Indaba, we call the above process “Discovery”. We advocate for Discovery with all of our clients; it makes for a seamless development process that hits timelines and eliminates surprises.

One of our newest builds just went through this process with outstanding results (fingers crossed, launch is less than one month away!). They had a complicated business model that included 10 microsites requiring one administrative back-end. They needed to integrate with NetSuite ERP for products, customers, and orders. They had some complexities around promotions, customer segmentation, and transactional emails. We planned the project from start to finish, and are now on the homestretch.

About Ryan Shields and Indaba

Ryan Shields is the CEO and co-founder of Indaba Group, Inc. Ryan was educated in Cape Town, South Africa and holds a Bachelors Degree in Information Systems Strategy. Whilst in the UK, Ryan held positions with VISA International, NTT, and Moodia where he worked with leading brands to leverage the right technologies with the best people, for business success. Since moving to the US in 2008, Ryan has elevated Indaba to be a reputable leader in the eCommerce global arena by expanding from humble beginnings in Denver, CO to California, Montana and the UK. Ryan also serves on several advisory boards and his passionate about business transformation. He enjoys the Colorado outdoors, and travel with his wife and two kids.