B2B eCommerce is complex. Whether you’re just getting into B2B from B2C, or whether you’re a B2B manufacturer looking to implement eCommerce for the first time, the whole project can feel incredibly daunting. Many moving pieces have to come together and play nicely.
The good news is that your team can work together to conduct effective due diligence in preparing for B2B eCommerce. Whatever your role in the company, we recommend that you start with an understanding of these 8 high-level priorities and communicate them to the relevant stakeholders.
1. Start with your ERP software as the system of record
If you’re integrating eCommerce to your ERP system, which you should, it’s critical to take an inventory of that system as it relates to eCommerce. Are all of your business rules set up properly? Is your ERP system functioning smoothly on its own? At Corevist, we specialize in SAP B2B eCommerce. Damian DellaVecchia, our VP of Client Services, shared his thoughts in this article, Getting Ready for SAP eCommerce. He said, “Get your SAP house in order first, but don’t become a perfectionist about it.” This applies to any ERP-eCommerce integration.
2. Get your IT department to buy in
If you’re integrating Magento to SAP—or, for that matter, any eCommerce platform with any ERP—it’s essential to get your IT department on board. The Marketing Department may have very different concerns from IT. The eCommerce Manager may not know all the potential pitfalls that await in the eCommerce launch. Because the ERP system is the domain of IT, it’s critical to engage their expertise. Don’t leave them out.
3. Consider your data flow
How do you want the eCommerce solution to talk to your ERP? There are 4 basic options.
- No digital communication between ERP and eCommerce. This requires a CSR (Customer Service Representative) to enter each eCommerce order manually into your ERP system. This might be a great place to start if you’re just testing the waters of B2B and don’t expect many orders. It will work best with simple business rules and processes.
- Batch update. This involves timed upload of eCommerce order data to your ERP system. It can be automated but may require troubleshooting and maintenance. The conversation between ERP and eCommerce happens at different points. Loading customers, products, pricing, deliveries, and inventory can be done via batch, as well as understanding credit history. The very last scenario, uploading orders, can also be done via batch.
- Real-time data flow via web services. This option makes real-time calls to retrieve data that is used in the moment data comes across your ERP and eCommerce solution in real time. It requires the least upkeep and maintenance.
- Combination of batch and real-time. This works for data and rules that don’t change often, or are fairly simple and can be managed via batch updates. Basic SKU information and relationships between customer groups and storefronts are examples of data that work well in batch updates. Complicated pricing, credit limit checking, and inventory positions are best interrogated in real time.
We advocate a rational mix of the above. The exact mix is based on many factors, including company size, website needs, and in-house skills that the company possesses. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer--but there is a principle that every company should follow: Keep it simple!
While the best solution for data-handling will look different for every company, we can say one thing: it’s irrational to do it all by batch. The complicated, volatile data will require a very complicated set of website activities built by the integration team. Now, if your website becomes successful--and we’ve seen this--your nightly batch loads coming from the ERP system to the eCommerce site will become HUGE. You’re trying to bring everything over to do order tracking, order placement, and more. You have hundreds of thousands of orders and products. Moving all that data every day will crush you.
If you want to succeed in B2B eCommerce, make a self-assessment on what you’re willing to invest based on what you think the website will need to handle. Will the eCommerce website be trivial forever? Or are you headed toward 50% of your revenue coming through eCommerce? How you answer this question can help you determine where you fall on the batch vs. real-time spectrum.
4. Realize that eCommerce effort doesn’t stop after launch
It’s easy to focus on the development and launch of the project. And while there are great challenges to overcome in these stages, the real eCommerce journey only begins after launch.
This is why we advocate simplicity. A complicated architecture is complicated to support. Any time you want to do a change--add a new product, adjust pricing, and so on--that simple request becomes a project. Now you’ve lost your agility.
Think of it like this. What kind of eCommerce lawn do you want? A big lawn impresses the neighbors, but do you need it? Once you buy the house, you have to mow that lawn. Keep the solution simple, and you’ll keep your maintenance simple across the entire life of the eCommerce site.
5. Conduct a persona analysis for the eCommerce website
Here’s one big difference between B2C and B2B: in the B2C world, there’s no concept of a power user. Everyone in B2C is a consumer. No one is a purchasing manager. While B2B eCommerce user experience is trending towards B2C, it’s important to realize that not every persona needs that. In fact, some personas may experience friction with rich content, browsing, and upselling functionality. The professional buyer or purchasing manager just wants to get in, place an order, and get out.
The opposite error is also possible. The IT department may think that everyone who will use the eCommerce site is a power user. That’s not true. Some users will have much less experience with the ERP system and will have more familiarity with B2C-style eCommerce UX. For them, the lack of rich content, browsing, and related products may present a daunting navigational task.
The ideal solution needs to work well for all the personas who need the site. The key is to analyze all the existing personas, decide which of them you’ll encourage to use the eCommerce site, and understand the needs of those personas. Then, use that analysis to drive the UX design.
6. Build an action plan for rolling out eCommerce to your personas and market segments
The Achilles Heel of any eCommerce implementation is trying to do it all, and to do it perfectly. This leads to geological time frames for implementations—and it also leads to bloated solutions that don’t work for real people.
Rather than try to build the Great Rube Goldberg Machine of eCommerce, companies should look for a solution that can be rolled out to a real persona and market segment in a reasonable timeframe. This solution should provide a personalized experience for that persona, whether it’s power users, salespeople, casual users, financial users, or some other type. The solution should do that efficiently while honoring the complex business rules that are already in place.
The idea is to get a “quick win” that keeps everyone inspired and excited. eCommerce will always evolve, and with the right eCommerce platform integrated to your ERP, you can continue to build out functionality as necessary. After initial success with one market segment, you can expand your efforts gradually to more and more segments.
7. Involve Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service right away
The eCommerce project will depend on 3 departments to encourage eCommerce adoption once the new eCommerce site is launched: Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service. These stakeholders need to get involved in the project as early as possible. They need to understand what eCommerce will mean for their processes, and they need to be given a voice in the development process. They also need to understand their roles as drivers of eCommerce adoption, which is a key metric to use when evaluating the ROI of the eCommerce solution after launch.
8. Work with a trusted advisor who can bridge the gap between eCommerce and your ERP
Because B2B eCommerce touches so many moving parts, it’s essential to work with the right people. You need a team who knows your ERP inside and out, especially as it pertains to eCommerce—and you need a team who knows your chosen eCommerce platform like the back of their hand. We’ve seen home-grown solutions before, and they just don’t work. Save yourself the headache and work with experts from the start.
Yes, B2B eCommerce is a complex undertaking. But if you address these 6 areas in the planning phase, you stand a much better chance of creating a robust, efficient, scalable solution that works on Day 1. If you’ve been putting off B2B eCommerce, get in touch today to find out how Americaneagle.com and Corevist can help you achieve the solution you need.
George Anderson / Corevist / for Americaneagle.com Blog