eCommerce has never been more important than it is now. The pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have caused a major shift in buying behaviour, in favour of online commerce and the shift is most likely going to be a permanent one rather than episodic, even if not entirely in the same measure as now. As businesses work towards providing an improved digital buying experience for their customers, they need to ensure that these experiences are easy to use, personalized, accessible across devices, consistent across channels, and also support an end-to-end experience to bridge the gap between experience and expectations.
We at CRMIT have been increasingly working with our customers, particularly B2B customers, on aligning better with this shift. Some are in their nascent stages, wanting to get started and least get an online order entry vehicle going for their customers, and then there are others who are trying to further mature their online commerce capabilities and offer more to their customers in terms of features, flexibility, and individualized experiences. We have also helped some of our B2B customers establish a relationship with their end consumers and then use this D2C data to serve and power the B2B customer better.
There has been a lot happening and there have been learnings in the process. Below, I share some best practices on what B2B businesses can consider as they envision, design & execute their eCommerce strategy. By no means is this a comprehensive guide, and the attempt is to focus on key areas and share important considerations that you can make in those.
1) Defining a vision and onboarding all stakeholders
At the outset, be clear about what your business will look like and how it will operate in the future. Planning from your strategic goals will ensure your eCommerce project is focused on raising performance and outcomes, not just adding features. Identify all internal and external stakeholders and ensure that you have them aligned with your eCommerce vision. They need to be able to understand, appreciate, feedback, contribute and then be ready to team up and execute the vision. There are a lot of stakeholders, as you know, from your marketing team to your suppliers, and having a detailed roadmap with milestones and entry-exit criteria for every team involved, on every leg of the journey, will be important to have. Connecting these teams and the internal experiences will be pivotal in helping you deliver the external customer experiences and will help minimize the customer experience vs expectations gap that I spoke about earlier. Finally, put together a cross-department steering committee to drive the roadmap.
2) Segment customers and personalizing the experience
Customer-centricity should be at the heart of your eCommerce strategy. This is even more important in B2B as customers expect you to know them far better than in B2C. So segmenting your customers and planning to personalize the experience is expected and needs to be designed for. This will require you to do a detailed customer journey mapping exercise for every segment, identifying their “as-is” journeys, channels, touchpoints, feedback & expectations through surveys/interviews with carefully chosen customers in each segment and then define the “to-be” journeys. This is a crucial activity, so the advice is to plan this phase well and ensure adequate participation from the right internal teams, customers, suppliers, and implementation partner(s).
3) Knowing your data and interfaces
Alongside defining the to-be journeys and experiences, what is also needed at this stage is for you to map all your data that will power these journeys and experiences. This includes what this data is, is it usable, where is it presently stored, and also how it is and will need to move between systems. eCommerce systems consume and also generate huge volumes of customer data and ensuring this data is eventually stored in a structured way with needed governance around its access and management will allow you to make the best use of it while respecting the security and sensitivity of the data. Tackling these areas early on will help reduce the cost of your eCommerce implementation and get you closer to realizing the full potential of your data.
4) Identifying the right digital Commerce platform
Choosing a platform that helps you deliver as much of your business and technological vision out-of-the-box, across channels and devices, generally helps. That said, this is not necessarily a golden rule and there is also scope for one to assemble the commerce platform using a combination of best-in-breed modular components and stitching them together in a micro-services architecture. The out-of-the-box platform capability should also include the ability of the platform to seamlessly integrate with the rest of your application ecosystem (Marketing, CMS, DAM, CRM, PLM, ERP, Analytics, etc.) with pre-built connectors rather than the need to build custom integrations. Since your experiences are going to be powered by data this will be an important attribute to consider while making your platform choice. Note that the choice of platform(s) can also feedback into your vision, as advancements in platforms and technologies enable new ways of workings. So do not be hesitant to do revisit your vision and experience maps. Let your vision adapt and take advantage of the advancements in technology.
5) Identifying the right Partner for you
Choose a partner that you feel can work well with you, and who is able to both challenge and implement your business vision. The partner needs to be able to build a solution that propels your business forward and delivers a strong future-proof outcome. In addition to having the needed consulting & technical expertise, a partner who already understands your application ecosystem, business processes, and your data will have an edge. Do not also miss out on evaluating their DevOps expertise and their ability to automate deployments, testing, performance, etc., and hence be able to support rapid release cycles, as time to deploy incremental changes will be crucial to staying responsive to market needs.
6) Going agile with your execution:
Build the platform piece-by-piece, focusing on what will deliver the most value next. The short cycles will considerably less stress and risk on the business and technology teams by delivering provable results sooner and more frequently and also help you affirm if the vision remains appropriate. However, it warrants a good level of trust in the implementation partner as they are not typically delivering a whole new platform for a known price.