Before you embark on implementing your first B2B eCommerce platform, it pays to put in place a good project plan. Whether you are a small business or a large company, the following ten step process can be used to help ensure an effective eCommerce implementation.
This process has been developed by Sana Commerce and is based on the combined expertise and experience of project, sales, and customer success managers. It can be used equally effectively whether you are starting your first eCommerce website or as a useful reminder checklist if you’re about to start a replatforming project for your current online store.
With the right plan and preparation, nothing will stand in the way of launching your B2B eCommerce Platform on time and on budget. So read on to learn exactly what makes an B2B eCommerce project plan a success so you can do it right.
1. Define your eCommerce goals
“eCommerce is most successful not just when it aligns with your overall company strategy, but when it is part of your overall strategy.”
The first step before commencing your eCommerce project is to determine what your business needs and goals actually are. So before you dive into the project, it’s important to consider why you want to provide an eCommerce experience in the first place. Hint: it shouldn’t just be because your competition has one.
You can do this by asking yourself some key questions such as:
- What do we want to achieve by starting an online store?
- Why do we want to start an eCommerce website at this point in time?
- What are the business advantages?
- What does eCommerce success look like to the company?
- How does it fit into the overall company strategy?
By working through the above questions and more targeted ones specific to your company and circumstances, you should be in a position to define some specific goals. They will be different for every project but may include:
- Increasing revenue and/or number of customers
- Freeing up time for your sales and support teams
- Lowering overhead costs
- Increasing the efficiency of the ordering process and reducing order errors
- Improving your customer experience
Now that you set out what you want to achieve, consider also how you want to achieve it by defining an eCommerce strategy. Consider who you want to sell to, what you want to sell online, and whether you want to expand to new markets (e.g. B2B2C), etc.
Finally, set clear eCommerce KPIs (key performance indicators) that align with the company goals and strategy. Having clear KPIs ensures that you can measure the success of your eCommerce website project and spot any gaps that require your attention — while also ensuring there is a continuous re-focusing on the stated eCommerce goals. Example KPIs can include things like the percentage of orders taken through the web store, the average order value, or percentage decrease in order errors.
2. Focus on your B2B customers’ needs
It’s not just your own business goals that you need to take into consideration when designing an eCommerce implementation. It’s also those of your customers. The success of your online store relies on their shopping needs and experiences because otherwise there are no drivers for them to use or return to your web store. It is therefore imperative to build your eCommerce plans around your customers. This means knowing what they are looking for, what their expectations are, and delivering on those requirements.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What do they need? How do they buy products? What experience do they expect? Their priorities could vary widely from accessing real-time information 24/7 to the ability to select existing payment agreements. Other priorities may include the transparency of an order’s status or the accuracy of delivery updates.
Of course, the best way to find out what your customers want is to actually go out and ask them. Start with your biggest customers. But be sure to also include a good cross section of customers that includes those who are already advocates of B2B web stores as well as those who are skeptical about ordering online. With this information, you can then look to identify common ground between these varying needs.
3. Create a dedicated eCommerce project team
Put someone in charge of eCommerce
From the outset it is important to appoint a dedicated eCommerce manager. This person will be responsible for taking charge of the eCommerce plan, project, and team. They should have all the necessary skills to progress the project as well as the authority to make the necessary decisions to achieve the project’s implementation goals. They should also have specific KPIs related to the success of the eCommerce implementation and adoption. For smaller businesses, this does not necessarily mean having someone dedicated solely to this role on a full-time basis. But you do need to have one designated person who is responsible for the launch and success of the online store.
Identify team members from different departments
Your eCommerce manager is responsible for identifying stakeholders from other departments to form the eCommerce team. Since eCommerce touches many if not all parts of your organisation, you need to involve people from every department to bring the necessary knowledge and skills to the table. All members of the team should understand how eCommerce can help their respective departments and how they can contribute to its overall success.
Depending on whether you are a large, enterprise company or a small to medium-sized business (SME), your eCommerce project team can take various shapes. Large companies tend to form internal multidisciplinary project teams. These teams not only carry out the eCommerce project but also include all the supporting roles needed to run an eCommerce website. On the other hand, small businesses can find it harder to dedicate entire resources to this kind of project. In this case, people can generally work on the eCommerce website project alongside their current responsibilities. Whatever approach you choose to take, as long as the eCommerce project is taken seriously and has the right resources allocated then either method can lead to successful results.
Get your directors on board
Your implementation will be far more effective if the company directors or senior management are on board with the eCommerce project plans, understand the project’s importance, and the work that is required. Indeed, eCommerce is most successful when you make it part of your broader company strategy. This means you need to have commitment from the top. Ideally, your eCommerce team should also have a mandate from management to make decisions throughout each stage of the project, to avoid frustrations or delays to the launch.
4. Communicate and align
“Our most successful customers align everything internally and externally. They have a dedicated person in the lead who has the mandate of management and the skills to get people together. And they start by doing – they don’t just keep talking, they act.”
To ensure your eCommerce project is a success, internal support and alignment are key. Make sure your entire organisation is on board with your eCommerce plans and understands the benefits. Ideally, you want to involve each department and stakeholder from the initial planning phase to ensure everyone has an opportunity to have input and to improve buy-in.
Change often causes concern and resistance. So it is your responsibility to educate each department on the advantages of eCommerce, highlighting the benefits relevant to each stakeholder. Will it increase your revenue? Will it help you reach new markets? Will it help IT processes run smoother and with fewer errors? Will it free up your sales and support teams’ time so they can focus on bigger deals and clients? In short, communicate what’s in it for them.
And don’t forget about external stakeholders. Perhaps you have an external ERP or hosting partner? Or you work with an external IT or design agency? Make sure to also align your eCommerce plans and goals with them.
5. Specify your eCommerce product requirements (MVP)
Think about what you want from your eCommerce web store. Start by establishing the must-haves. That is, think about the minimum features and functions needed to satisfy you and your customers – your minimum viable product (MVP). Only after this, if time and budget allow, should you start thinking about any additional nice-to-haves.
When defining your eCommerce MVP, consider the following:
- Ensure it aligns with your eCommerce goals
- Only include features and functions that you plan to use within the first year of your eCommerce website launch
- Ensure it addresses the most common questions you get from your customers
- Be realistic about how much you can accomplish with your internal resources. For example, if you want a video content feature, check first that you have the capabilities and resources internally (or the means to hire an external agency) to create it
- Understand and make the most of the functions and features your chosen platform delivers as standard before looking into more costly and complex customisations
Once you launch the MVP, you can start testing it and gathering internal and customer feedback. Only then will you know which additional functions and customisations are really needed, and which ones you can do without.
Guide your product requirements with eCommerce user stories
One way to develop a comprehensive eCommerce MVP is by using eCommerce user stories. User stories help you define the different steps and journeys users might take on your online store. They are written from your web store users’ point of view, which will include your customers, but also any sales or support teams who might also use the web store. The user stories should be split into the smallest steps possible.
The number of user stories you need will vary depending on the scope of your project. If you don’t let your customers pay online, then you don’t need a user story for this. But if you want to be able to send quotes to customers, allow them to track their shipping, or enable sales reps to order via your web store, then you need to create user stories for each of these journeys.
Once you have created your user stories, ensure you translate these into eCommerce features and functions that meet the needs of each user. Think about making sure your web store users can easily accomplish each step. User stories also make great guidelines when it comes to testing your website, as you’ve already identified the customer flows that will need to be tested.
6. Prepare your data and content
Companies starting with their first eCommerce website often underestimate the amount of content required and the importance of getting it right. From product and company descriptions and images, to web store look-and-feel, structure, and categories. It means you need to prepare a lot of content before you can launch.
Think about what products you’re going to sell. Decide what the structure, main categories, and subcategories will be. Check that you have an image for each product and that these images are high quality. Perhaps you also need to create some technical materials, such as guides your customers might need to install your products.
If you choose an eCommerce platform that is directly integrated with your ERP system and/or PIM solution, you can automatically display the product descriptions and images that are already stored in your existing systems on your web store, saving you valuable time. However, this still requires you to clean up your ERP data or PIM content. This helps ensure that all the product names you use are clear and usable on a customer-facing web store.
7. Set up a timeline
How long will my eCommerce project take?
An eCommerce project timeline can be difficult to predict, especially if this is your first eCommerce website. The timeline depends both on your vendor and the solution you choose, as well as the time it takes you internally to configure the online store.
Using an out-of-the-box solution like Sana Commerce, a timeframe of two to three months between buying and going live is a realistic estimate. This includes the implementation of the web store as well as configuration by the customer. But any additional customisations need to be evaluated individually. If you factor in the time it takes to do your research, specify your requirements, and approach eCommerce vendors, a total of nine months from the initial planning stage to the launch of the eCommerce website is a reasonable timeline.
On top of customisations, several other factors can influence the speed of your eCommerce project timeline (both positively and negatively), including factors that you sometimes cannot control internally. The two factors that can most impact the launch date are the decision-making process and your available internal resources.
The decision-making process
The decision-making process is often what makes eCommerce implementation timelines overrun. Especially in the last phase of eCommerce projects, when it comes to the finer details, there’s always a lot of discussions and delayed decisions. Some companies have strict processes in place that mean that every decision needs to go through legal or procurement departments, which can slow the implementation process. How can you overcome this? As touched on previously, to avoid any delays in the launch of your eCommerce website, make sure the people involved in the project have a mandate to make decisions. Ensure they have the authority from senior management to sign off and keep the project moving forward.
Your internal resources
Another key factor that can delay or speed up the launch of your eCommerce website is the time it takes you to get ready internally. During the project phase, it is your internal resources that will have to create the content for your website. So factor time in for this. You’ll need dedicated resources with clear responsibilities and the right technical, product, and content knowledge. And don’t just expect that your employees will be able to accomplish this in addition to their regular workload as this can risk delays to the eCommerce website launch.
One of the best ways to manage this risk is to have clearly defined milestones and a widely distributed project roadmap of the project. This helps you ensure you keep project momentum as well as serves to pinpoint any hurdles that you might need to address to make sure deadlines aren’t missed.
8. Establish the right budget for implementation and maintenance
“If you win the lottery and receive $1m, you shouldn’t buy a house for that full amount. You have to set funds aside to maintain your house, pay property taxes, hire a gardener etc. The same goes for your eCommerce platform.”
How much does a B2B eCommerce website cost? There is, of course, no set answer to this question. Some basic platforms are free to use, while others can run into the millions of dollars. So it all depends on your business requirements. But whatever you choose, you should always consider your total cost of ownership (TCO).
Make sure you look ahead to create a realistic eCommerce budget for the future. You should of course take into account the cost of the initial platform implementation but you also need to factor in any licensing and maintenance costs as well as an ERP partner and design or content agency fees if you don’t have the resources internally. And it’s not just about hard cash. Think also about the internal resources you will need to launch and run your eCommerce platform. They also cost money.
How many internal resources you need to set aside will vary based on your business and your chosen eCommerce platform. For example, some platforms are more automated than others. So, while with one platform you might need an entire team of people to manually process orders, with another this process can be automated, saving on resources, which is one of the key benefits of ERP-integrated eCommerce.
9. Make use of your vendor’s eCommerce project expertise
Your chosen eCommerce software provider is likely to have extensive experience in B2B eCommerce project implementation. They also know what successful and unsuccessful projects look like. So you should be looking to make full use of this expertise.
How should I get started with eCommerce? How long does a typical B2B eCommerce project take? What budget should I set aside for my eCommerce website? Who should be in my eCommerce team? How do I get my online content ready? What do your most successful customers have in common? These are all questions your eCommerce provider should be able to help you with. So make sure to ask for tailored advice at every stage of your eCommerce project.
For example, Sana Commerce provides a customer onboarding program to help make the eCommerce preparation stage as smooth as possible. This includes information on how to form a project team and how you should format your content; documentation such as user stories, RFPs, an overview of the total cost of ownership (TCO), but also assistance with estimating the cost of your marketing budget and internal resources. It also offers other online resources such as blog posts, white papers, factsheets, and customer eCommerce stories that you can use to inspire your own.
10. Taking the leap
However much you prepare for your eCommerce implementation, it’s never possible to know or predict the entire journey. As with most things in life, you will run into issues that are very difficult to forecast and you’ll need to respond to these challenges. But that is where your eCommerce manager and designated eCommerce team come into play, with the authority and skill set to overcome these challenges.
There also comes a point in time where you have to just make the decision to go ahead. So choose a software provider that suits your goals, prepare well, but then be prepared to take the plunge and go live with your eCommerce implementation. Once it is live, you can learn, test, and continuously optimise your web store as your knowledge and experience grows.