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Jan 28, 2020 | 9 minute read

Building a customer centric ecommerce strategy and roadmap

written by M. McMahon

“Many ecommerce executives jump into their roles with both limited experience and aggressive management expectations. Trying to wade through the sea of information available is challenging and often frustrating. I wish I had had a series like this for when I was starting out in B2B ecommerce,” – Mike McMahon

Whether you’re a novice or expert in the field, building an effective ecommerce strategy begins with an aggregation of different perspectives. Asking stakeholders from various business units what the primary ecommerce goals are will often yield a variety of conflicting viewpoints and project requests. This is due to each stakeholder having different motivations and perspectives on the matter.  

  • C-Suite Executives want the ecommerce projects to be fast and inexpensive. We all know the effect that has on quality (but it’s their job to ask for it!).
  • The Marketing Team will want to wow the user with robust content, imagery and brand-supporting collateral. 
  • The IT Team will likely strive for a smooth systems integration and may push for an extended timeline that includes an inordinate amount of testing built into it.  

So how do you incorporate all of these requests (and others) into a cohesive ecommerce strategy? The simple answer is to only allow these inputs to inform your strategy not dictate it. 

Your ecommerce strategy (and deployment roadmap) is ultimately decided by serving the interests of the one entity everyone in your organization ultimately reports to - your customers.

When planning initiatives or making day-to-day decisions, ecommerce executives need to always ask themselves:  How does this make things better for the customer?  Think of this as the “Customer Centric Consideration”

As with many initiatives, this involves distinct phases of Discovery, Definition and Deployment. Following are key elements to constructing a holistic ecommerce strategy, that is predicated on being very customer centric:

  • Understanding the “Jobs to Be Done” concept 
  • Discovering customer roles/personas
  • Conducting a Readiness Assessment/Gap Analysis 
  • Prioritizing key initiatives into a customer centric roadmap 

Understanding the “Jobs to Be Done” Concept

Delivering a great customer experience is based on you having a clear understanding of what the user intends to accomplish by their interaction with your company. Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen coined the term “The Jobs to Be Done” (let's call it JBD) as a way of describing what people are really trying to do, versus what we may think they are trying to do. Which are often quite different. 

It is critically important for ecommerce executives to be more focused on ethnography (the study of what people actually do) versus speculation (what you think they need to do). This can be accomplished in a number of ways:

  • Analyzing various software tools that track site pathing and, in some cases, can literally record a video of the complete visit so you can identify various points of struggle and JBD completion points.
  • Talk directly to, or better yet visit actual end user customers. They usually LOVE being a part of an initiative to make things better for them. Just say to them “my job is to make your job easier and more efficient. How can I make things better for you?”  You stop talking and start taking great notes.  

Customer Centric Consideration: This is a foundational element of ecommerce; everything needs to be built with customer needs/interests at the core of functionality.  If you don’t have this properly defined, you are sending your customers down a path to frustration. 

Understanding Customer Roles/Personas

Understanding customer use cases is equally important to understanding the “JBD” concept. If you have a clear knowledge of how people interact with your website (and know their JBD), you are positioned for success in properly addressing those needs. B2B ecommerce executives must be keenly aware that various individuals within an organization use the website for quite different purposes. 

Following is an example that combines the JBD concept and traditional use case discovery.    

Let's say you perform an analysis and discover that 47% of your customers follow up on orders within 24 hours of order placement; and 32% of that group is actually viewing shipping/tracking information for their orders. You can easily speculate that customers are doing routine follow up on their orders and thus create a use case called “Routine Order Follow Up”. However, there may be more to this though. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Buyers are looking to see if any items are backordered, and if so, they may want to seek alternative items or even buy from another supplier.
  • Warehouse managers are checking the tracking information so they can obtain an approximate delivery time to ensure they are staffed to receive the shipment into stock.
  • Accounting is doing a shipping costs audit and is viewing orders to ensure shipping costs are kept to the stated goal.

Each of these distinct JBD are actually a separate use case, and as such require attention to ensure that the customer experience is up to your “customer centric” standards. In other words, you don't want to leave anything to chance. 

B2B-ecommerce_Mastering-the-basics_JBDView enlarged image

Customer Centric Consideration:  Your customers are not companies. They are individuals, in specific roles within a company, and they have specific tasks they want to accomplish each time they interact with your company. They are just as busy as you are, and they want to do their job and move on to the next thing on their to do list. Make that easier and faster for them, and you have delivered a good customer experience (CX).

Conducting a Digital Readiness Assessment and Gap Analysis

Having completed your customer centric research, you should have a good grasp of who you are targeting (roles) and what they are trying to accomplish (JBD). Now it’s time to direct the research internally and start figuring out how your firm can satisfy these customer needs. 

What experiences and functionality do you need to deliver, to put a smile on your customer's face?  The ideal state is to get them to say “wow” - this is where you need to end up. Your near-term destination (you will keep advancing this over time), let’s refer to this as your “desired state” is where you will proudly and emphatically invite customer interaction.

Readiness Assessment

Getting to your desired state requires an honest assessment of your current state. This requires some soul searching and is nearly as important as your customer focused research.  Lack of organizational resources, processes or necessary infrastructure can quickly derail your ecommerce efforts, leaving your customers scratching their heads. Or worst yet, leaving all together.  

Examples of questions to answer:

  • Do we have executive management support for our ecommerce transformation?
  • Do we have efficient, scalable internal processes that will support the necessary ecommerce initiatives?  
  • Is our technology infrastructure capable of supporting the dynamic landscape of ecommerce innovation?
  • Do we have sufficient internal resources that are capable of fueling the initiatives?
  • Are we structured to properly manage and govern all of the necessary data that feed the various functionalities?

The list of questions can be extensive and is unique to your individual circumstances. Note that the more complete your assessment is, the more likely you will succeed with your initiatives and experience fewer cost and timeline overruns. Many of the assessment questions will trigger a series of discussions and perhaps some challenging meetings. That’s OK – it’s quite healthy to have these intense discussions. It is very likely that these conversations will result in a deeper dive into the certain topics. 

Gap Analysis

At this point you are almost ready to define your strategy and build your digital roadmap. The Readiness Assessment (current state) is your starting point, and your desired state is where you need to go. The key now is to identify those initiatives which will “build a bridge” to get you to where your business needs to go.  

Each identified need has an associated initiative to upgrade your firm from current to desired state. Some of these needs can be fairly straightforward, such as the “need to upgrade the version of X platform to enable Y functionality”. Some can be rather complex and may require a separate cross-functional team to implement.  An example of this could be installing a new platform, such as PIM/DAM, CRM, CMS, etc. 

Be careful not to shortcut this process. Make sure you do the proper due diligence for each identified need. Most problematic is underestimating the resources required to complete a specific initiative. What may seem small in consequence initially will be magnified downstream and can jeopardize other initiatives and, in some cases, impact the entire project.  

Customer Centric Consideration: This one is built in. This entire effort is predicated on serving previously identified customer needs. If you run into any friction during this process (which is likely as you start looking under rocks) remind those involved that they are not doing this for YOU, you are just acting as an advocate for the customers' best interests.  

Prioritizing Key Initiatives into a Roadmap

At this point, based on your background research you are now positioned to begin defining your ecommerce strategy and associated roadmap. Your gap analysis likely revealed a multitude of tasks that need to be completed, but the burning question is; which activities do you tackle first? 

They all seem somewhat important and have varying levels of necessity depending upon the associated internal sponsor. This makes prioritization a challenging, but absolutely necessary process. 

There are two ways to address this that will provide a customer centric roadmap that is not influenced by internal bias.

1. Rank each initiative based on the calculated “benefit to customer” to “cost to implement” ratio. This Customer Benefit to Cost Ratio reveals the “biggest bang for your buck” in terms of positive impact to the customers - an objective yardstick for initiative prioritization. An example is provided below:

Customer Benefit to Cost Ratio Calculation*

Customer Benefit to Cost Ratio Calculation_Get Elastic

*Note: This example is provided simply to illustrate the concept only.  Benefits to customers and implementation cost/difficulty vary widely and need to be evaluated for your specific circumstance.

2. Armed with this organizational agnostic ranking of priorities, you can schedule a Digital Prioritization Meeting to review the ranked list of priorities. This meeting is powerful for a number of reasons:

    • By arranging a cross-functional meeting with key stakeholders, you are providing a forum to review and perhaps challenge ranked priorities. Sometimes attendees will explain why they believe initiatives should have a higher or perhaps lower priority.
    • When the meeting is adjourned, you walk out with organizational consensus among key internal stakeholders. 
    • You have taken the first step in change management; key stakeholder consensus and informing them of changes on the horizon.

Customer Centric Consideration:  Since your prioritization is principally based on what initiatives deliver positive customer impact - by definition it is customer centric. 

With the insights and recommendations provided above, you're now ready to tackle the first phase of your ecommerce project. Share your experience and any questions in the comments below. And be sure to tune in next month for our next installment of B2B Ecommerce: Mastering the Basics where we tackle the customer/user experience.