6 Steps to Build a Great B2B Ecommerce Website
We live in the age of e-commerce. Every company worth its name is today looking to sell its products and services through the web. And rightly so. That is not an easy process, though. Launching an e-commerce site is indeed a daunting challenge.
There are a large number of e-commerce platforms available in the market today. Selecting one of them to base your e-commerce venture on is a critical task. After all, that one decision could decide the fate of your e-commerce venture.
The task gets more complicated in the case of B2B e-commerce ventures. B2B firms often lack the experience needed to evaluate an e-commerce platform. And so the traditional models of selecting an e-commerce platform that have been pioneered by B2C firms will not work in the case of B2B firms.
So how would you select an e-commerce platform for your business? We have identified some steps to ensure that you select the right platform that suits your requirements.
Derive the Business Case for a Perfect Start
The first step is to create a business case for the e-commerce venture. The business case will describe the need for e-commerce, in terms of competitive pressures, new market opportunities or revenues. It should be based on your expectations of site traffic, conversion ratio, average order value, and the cost involved.
The business case would help you prioritize the features that have to be built, act as a communication tool and help measure the success of the venture. In short, it would be the pivot on which the whole project revolves.
Setup the team- Focus IT and Business
Once the business case has been approved, the teams for implementing the project have to be setup. The team members should have experience in e-commerce and a thorough understanding of the business of the company. Usually two teams – one from the business side and the other from the IT side are formed. The business team will identify the requirements for the e-commerce platform by studying the market trends. It will also focus on getting adequate return on investment by incorporating the best practices into the solution. The IT team, on the other hand will focus on implementing the best features, developing a good user experience and providing the tools required to meet the requirements of the customers.
It goes without saying that the IT and Business teams have to work closely to ensure that the best platform is put in place. Proper coordination between the teams is vital to ensure the success of the venture.
Understand e-commerce & Best Practices
Most e-commerce platforms provide all the basic features that are expected of an e-commerce solution. Features such as such as product listing, checkout process, search functionality, filtering & sort option, product availability information, shipping options, promotions, shopping cart and wish list facility and the like are available in most e-commerce platforms today.
But these facilities are not enough for B2B e-commerce ventures. They should have features that cater specifically to B2B customers, such as support for multiple catalogue views and price lists that cater to different customer segments. Support for business accounts with multiple users per account, order approval workflows with buyer authorization limits, templates for easy reordering etc are some other features that B2B customers look for.
Find your unique needs
Even though most of the processes in different businesses in an industry may be same, there would be some unique practices in each company that differentiates it from the competition and provides a competitive advantage. The team has to identify such needs that are unique to the business. The e-commerce platforms have to then be evaluated on the ease with which they can be customised to accommodate these features.
Vendors make e-commerce platforms keeping in mind the requirements of a large number of industries. Hence the e-com platforms might not provide all these requirements out of the box. But the platform should be robust & highly customizable to accommodate your unique business practices.
Initial Vendor Meetings
The initial vendor meets help the team get an idea of the different platforms that are available in the market. It helps the team gather information on the various e-commerce packages and differentiate them. The platforms can be evaluated on various factors such as technology architecture, search and navigation, level of personalization, product information management, the range of business tools, the time required to setup the platform and pricing.
Shortlist 3-4 vendors
Based on the meetings with the vendors, make a shortlist of 3-4 vendors who seem capable of matching your requirements. Provide all relevant information about your business to the shortlisted vendors, so that they have a good understanding of your requirements.
Ask the vendors to come up with solutions that satisfy your business needs. Develop use cases that encompass the common features along with your unique business needs and ask the shortlisted vendors to demonstrate how they can be incorporated in the package.
These use case demonstrations will provide you an insight into how the vendor’s e-commerce platform works and the issues related with it. How the e-commerce platform works with the existing systems in the company is a critical factor that determines its success. The use case demonstrations should help you understand how the platform integrates with your back office. It will also help you know the different integration options and the effects of each of them.
It also helps the vendors get a good understanding of your business and come up with reasonable cost and time estimates.
Make the selection
The use case demonstrations will help you understand how suitable the platform is to your business requirements. It would help you differentiate between the e-commerce platforms of different vendors. Some of the points that are to be analysed for differentiating the vendors are:
- Scalability & reliability of the platform
- Flexibility of the Product Catalogue Management
- Degree to which the platform is customizable
- Time to launch the customized solution
- Ease with which third party APIs can be integrated
- The price-value proposition of different platforms
- Pre and post launch support from the vendor
Evaluating the platforms on these parameters will help you select the right platform for your e-commerce venture.