May 18th, 2021 | 4 MIN READ

Don’t Complicate B2B Commerce by Insisting on POCs

Written by author_profile_images Andy Hoar

Andy Hoar is one of the world’s leading authorities on B2B commerce business and strategy. He’s written about, and consulted extensively with, distributors and manufacturers at Fortune 100 and leading mid-market B2B companies regarding their direct and indirect selling initiatives. Until recently, Andy was a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research where he was the author of Forrester’s B2B eCommerce playbook.

B2B eCommerce Proofs of Concept (POCs) waste precious time that business and IT teams need to spend on MVPs (Minimum Viable Products)

Taking different approaches doesn’t mean having different goals

Business functions, such as eCommerce, marketing, and sales, seek rapid time to market and quick updates in a “move fast, break it and learn” approach centered on meeting an ever-changing and increasing set of customer expectations. In contrast, IT demands a clear roadmap, carefully considered and pre-defined functional requirements, demonstrated pre-rollout ROI, system stability and security, and 100% of the information before proceeding.

Without alignment, this tension between IT and business users is real and prevents progress. As we move quickly through 2021, we see this tension between functions rapidly being whipped into an inferno by a C-suite that has awoken to a Covid-driven, existential urgency to digitally transform. When these internal teams spend their time fighting for control, no one wins. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Does the effectiveness of eCommerce really need to be proven?

In working with many B2B firms, we are often asked the question by both business and IT teams, “Can we prove out the efficacy of our eCommerce effort prior to investing fully in the channel?” Tongue in cheek, my answer usually is, “Sure, if you’ve recently woken up from a 25-year coma.”

Why are we trying to prove that B2B eCommerce is effective? Case study after case study of B2B companies successfully pursuing digital channels has demonstrated that eCommerce is both viable and preferred by customers in many instances. Market data abounds that validates the efficacy of digital selling. Ask yourself why Amazon Business, Amazon’s B2B-centric selling channel, has become the fastest-growing part of the entire Amazon empire, generating over $25 BN in B2B revenue in 2020. The answer is that B2B buyers are demanding eCommerce.

I'd suggest that general eCommerce Proofs of Concept (POCs) are mostly unnecessary and give your competitors a head start on lapping you down the road. POCs designed only to show that B2B customers are ready to buy via eCommerce are a waste of time. This no longer needs to be proven and incremental approaches waste valuable time B2B companies no longer have.

Finding Common Ground: An “MVP”

POCs should not be confused with another approach, which is very useful, called an MVP (minimum viable product). The “MVP” can be a wonderful tool by which to unite IT and business users around a common and attainable goal. Legacy B2B firms frequently have large and highly distributed operations, sometimes global in scope, and typically with many systems already in place. The MVP approach focuses on bringing a limited set of functionalities to market within a limited scope. This satisfies the needs of the IT team for limited risk, while also moving the ball down the field for business users. When coupled with a customer advisory board – often the new eCommerce system’s first adopters – this approach can be particularly effective.

The goal is to set a baseline for the rollout of a broader system. This approach has been used successfully by some of the largest global implementations of eCommerce we’ve seen in the space with B2B companies like illumina, Epson, and Cardinal Health.

While the MVP approach can help unite and align the interests of IT and Business users, the choice of an eCommerce platform must still be carefully completed. Remember, “MVP” doesn’t mean “POC”, where a platform with limited functionality can be utilized. For an MVP, users are well-advised to identify a solution that has enough functionality to meet the expectations of the target customer group while also considering longer-term scalability and flexibility. B2B companies with complex operations, multiple lines of business and geographies, and numerous legacy systems are often best served to seek platforms that have inherent flexibility.

New opportunities to deliver value quickly and effectively

Post-COVID, B2B companies are looking for flexible, digital-first methods that maximize the total cost of ownership and time to value. New approaches, such as composable commerce, hold the promise to provide ‘enough’ functionality out of the box to enable an MVP while accommodating longer-term business needs through an open framework. Business users get more transparency into available functionality and IT leaders can focus on building differentiated tools vs. reinventing market-available solutions. Together, guided by a common set of objectives and measurable goals, business and IT professionals can enjoy one of those enviable and rare “win-win” scenarios.

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