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Brian Beck on Documenting Goals in Selecting a B2B Ecommerce Platform : E-COMMERCE MARKETING


This post is an excerpt from Brian Becks Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce: Take This Opportunity, Now available

The process of choosing an e-commerce platform can seem overwhelming, especially for B2B companies that have little in-house expertise or experience in e-commerce.

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

In this post I share the first step: Document targets.

Before you even start thinking about which technology platform is best for your company, you need to define business goals. The goals should be tied to your expected return on investment (ROI) model and may also include intangible benefits that you expect from e-commerce. Goals can be:

  • Increased wallet share from existing customers Incremental revenue from new customers
  • Shifting sales to more efficient channels (especially repeat orders)
  • Higher gross margins through online sales
  • Increased customer loyalty by making the work of buyers easier, which is reflected in a higher lifetime value for each customer
  • Improved competitive advantage over non-e-commerce capable competitors
  • Improved organizational effectiveness, especially in the sales and support functions
  • Overall increase in company value

Your business goals need to be translated into technological requirements. That said, the technology platform you choose must be able to support the goals.

Too often companies try to use technology for the sake of technology, but it is backwards. Goals are the foundation on which technology should be built.

Fundamental to this endeavor is to receive adequate customer feedback that will give you a thorough understanding of their needs and expectations. When you involve the customer in this process, your requirements and the final system selection will be based on meeting customer requirements, so you are more likely to receive acceptance after your new website is launched.

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

1. Interview your sales and customer service teams

Find public areas where your customers would like to use a website to both shop online and get support from your website (e.g. reordering products, checking order status, checking stock availability, finding product and compatibility information , Managing accounts, and other tasks).

Look for ways that online tools can help make the sales and support teams more effective.

2. Interview your customers

Identify a group of customers you can speak to in person or over the phone (or both) to understand their expectations of your ecommerce website. Explore areas like:

  • What are their expected buying patterns online?
  • What do you expect from a digital usability standpoint?
  • Which products do you buy online (e.g. which products do you regularly buy from you when you reorder)?
  • Are there any categories that you don’t want to buy online, and if so, why not?
  • What other websites do they research and buy similar products from?
  • What parts of your current offline workflow are you most likely to want to move online?
  • For example, call up the order status, find delivery information, research product details before buying, pay bills or open credit.
  • Look for repetitive tasks made easier by bringing them online. Do you need support for ERP-based ordering?
  • How would customers like to interact with you through different types of devices (mobile, desktop, etc.)?

Ultimately, you want to find out which customer interactions become easier through online channels and focus on integrating them with your technology needs. Simplifying these actions is vital for you to drive the adoption of your new ecommerce website. Talk to at least 20 customers and interview different types of customers in different industry segments, including customers of different sizes.

3. Form a customer advisory board

This may be apparent from the group you interviewed and will help you with the ecommerce development process. The most successful B2B ecommerce implementation I’ve ever seen has taken advantage of a group of customers who can be involved at any stage of the website development process and provide feedback as it builds. This customer team may be asked to review your website’s creative designs, provide a testbed for website usability, and act as a sounding board for any features you might want to add.

Trends work in your favor. If a B2B company wanted to build an e-commerce presence twenty years ago, it had to develop the technology from the ground up, build it largely in-house, and typically spend tens of millions of dollars on it. In contrast, there are many platforms out there today that offer a variety of features at a lower cost and with more implementation resources than ever before.

However, the challenge with a multitude of options is that there are a multitude of options. Finding the best platform can be stressful and confusing, but a smart process is the only way to successfully develop and implement an e-commerce technology while limiting the risk of failure.

Elastic Path is proud to sponsor Brian Beck’s free Virtual Book Tour series, which features a breakdown of key concepts from the book as well as real-life success stories from e-commerce executives at Johnstone Supply, Illumina, Pella, Cardinal Health, and others. Sign up today

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