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:

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.