Brian Beck on Documenting Objectives When Choosing a B2B eCommerce Platform

Brian Beck

August 17th, 2020

This post is an excerpt from Brian Beck's Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce: Seize the Opportunity, available now

The process of choosing an Ecommerce platform can seem overwhelming, particularly for B2B organizations that have little internal expertise or experience in Ecommerce.

However, there is a well-documented process that I share in my book Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce that breaks platform selection down into manageable steps.

In this post, I share the first step: Document Objectives.

Before you even think about what technology platform will be best suited to your company, you have to define business objectives. Objectives should tie to your expected Return on Investment (ROI) model, and can also include intangible benefits that you expect from Ecommerce. Objectives can include:

  • Increased share of wallet from existing customers Incremental revenue from new customers
  • Shift of sales to more efficient channels (particularly repeat orders)
  • Higher gross margins obtained through online selling
  • Increased customer loyalty obtained by making buyers’ jobs easier, as evidenced by increased lifetime value of each customer
  • Enhanced competitive advantage vs. non-Ecommerce enabled competitors
  • Improved organizational effectiveness, particularly in the sales and support functions
  • Overall enhancement of enterprise value

Your business objectives need to be translated into technological requirements; that is, the technology platform you choose must be able to support the objectives.

Too often companies seek to deploy technology for technology’s sake, but this is backwards. Objectives are the foundation upon which technology should be constructed.

Fundamental to this effort is acquiring sufficient customer feedback that will provide you with a thorough understanding of their needs and expectations. By putting the customer first in this process, your requirements and ultimate system selection will be based on a foundation of meeting the customer’s needs, making it more likely that you will gain adoption after you launch your new web site.

I strongly recommend taking the following steps to understand both your customer and your business needs:

1. Interview your sales and customer support teams

Look for common areas where your customers are seeking to use a web site to both buy online and receive support via your site (such as re-ordering products, checking order status, looking up inventory availability, finding product and compatibility information, administering accounts, and other tasks).

Seek out ways that the sales and support teams can be made more effective by using online tools.

2. Interview your customers

Identify a group of customers that you can talk with in person or by phone (or both) to understand their expectations of your Ecommerce web site. Explore areas such as:

  • What are their expected purchase patterns online?
  • What are their expectations from a digital usability standpoint?
  • Which products will they purchase online (e.g. what products do they regularly buy from you on a repeat order basis)?
  • Are there any categories which they don’t want to buy online, and if so, why not?
  • Which other web sites do they use to research and buy similar products?
  • What parts of their current offline workflows would they most likely want to move online?
  • For example, obtaining order status, finding delivery information, researching product details prior to making a purchase, or paying invoices or open credit balances.
  • Look for repetitive tasks that will be made easier by bringing them online. Do they need support for “punch out” (ERP-based) ordering?
  • How do customers want to interact with you across device types (mobile, desktop, etc.)?

Ultimately, you want to discover which customer interactions will become easier via online channels, and focus on building these into your technology requirements. Making these actions easier will be critical for you to drive adoption of your new Ecommerce site. Be sure to talk with at least 20 customers and survey different types of customers across industry segments, including customers of different sizes.

3. Form a customer advisory board

This can emerge from the group you interviewed and will help you through the Ecommerce development process. The most successful B2B Ecommerce implementation I have seen have leveraged a group of customers that can be involved at every stage of the web site development process, providing feedback as you build. This team of customers can be called upon to review your web site creative designs, provide a test panel for usability of the site, and be used as a sounding board for features you are considering adding.

Trends are working in your favor. Twenty years ago, if a B2B company wanted to build an Ecommerce presence, they would need to develop the technology from the ground up, building it mostly in-house and usually spending tens of millions of dollars in the process. In contrast, today there are many platforms that offer a wide variety of functionalities, at a lower cost and with more implementation resources available than ever before.

The challenge in having a wide variety of options, however, is that there are a wide variety of options. Finding the best platform can be exhausting and confusing, but getting smart about the process is the only way to successfully develop and implement an Ecommerce technology, while also limiting the risk of failure.

Elastic Path is proud to sponsor Brian Beck’s Free Virtual Book Tour series featuring a breakdown of key concepts from the book along with real-world success stories from eCommerce leaders at Johnstone Supply, Illumina, Pella, Cardinal Health, and more. Register today

Share on

Brian Beck

Brian is an ecommerce industry pioneer with 20+ years of experience, including more than a decade as a hands-on C-level executive. He is also the author of “Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce”.