B2B ecommerce: start with a plan

When your organization is venturing into new and uncharted ecommerce territory, it’s nice to have some guidance or insights into what to expect and more importantly what NOT to do. Thanks to her years of experience and learnings implementing several B2B ecommerce websites, Carla Gonzales is our beacon of digital hope. As an Ecommerce Business Manager, she brings plenty of insight and experience to share.  For the most part, businesses today have at minimum a website with their logo, about us section and contact information. But in order to meet the demands of the emerging digital-first B2B buyer, organizations need to take a hard look at their current digital offerings and make a change. A lot of businesses and business line leaders are being tasked with launching new ecommerce websites to meet these needs.  “If you are in the B2B space, now is the time to take a serious look at your ecommerce channel and online presence and evaluate if your organization is ready for the upcoming B2B digital revolution.” – Carla Gonzales So, after you’re told “we need a new website”, what do you do next?  Gonzales recently shared her experience in the ebook, Getting Started with B2B Ecommerce. Here’s an excerpt from that book on getting started with a new ecommerce project and what to do after your boss says “we need a new website.”   Understanding business needs and meeting expectations are going to be your two lines for success in this initiative.  Getting a clear idea of what your organization has in mind for an ecommerce site and a clear understanding of which business rules are most important to incorporate will give you the parameters of just how complex this website may become. Fully understanding the direction your company wants to move in will help guide your early planning process.  Next, you need to start managing your internal stakeholders and department leaders, as well as the organization’s expectations. You’ll need to have a few questions answered: What type of website does the organization want to build? An ecommerce channel or an online business unit? What’s the timeframe to start and launch the website? Is there time to plan and develop or is this a project needed to be done yesterday? Is there room in the budget for a new website or is this going to be a start-up project that just gets our foot into the digital playing field? There are significant differences in developing a traditional, conventional ecommerce website vs. an online business unit website (also known as an enterprise website). Both types of websites have different outcomes and produce different user-experiences.  A lot of B2B companies start with creating a conventional ecommerce website. This means your customers will be able to place orders online through a basic transactional B2B store. It is a simple, uncomplicated endeavor with a straight-forward buyer-to-seller experience; with a focus mainly being on order fulfillment, with minimal effort being applied to online customer support services.  This type of website is based on the idea that B2B buyers have limited time to spend on a website, assuming buyers only want to access the website to purchase and leave. This old way of thinking has limited suppliers in the past from providing customers with an online presence that can help them do their job better.  Therein lies the need for an online business unit. An online business unit converts complex business practices and services into online feature services like:  RFP (request for quote) services  Vendor direct product and services  EDI or bulk order ordering  User-account management  Customer service features (such as online returns)  Inventory allocation management  Custom, contract and matrix pricing  Financial account services (bill pay)  Transferring multifaceted business practices from the physical world to the digital world is a decision that requires forethought because development is usually elaborate, time intensive and potentially problematic.  The value of sites like these, however, give buyers the convenience they want and the flexibility to use the website as an extension of their internal systems. Establishing an initial plan can help you set priorities and provide direction for your project. In these early stages, it is essential to set expectations and get a clear understanding of the scope of the project. Other important considerations in the initial planning stage are: Hire additional human resources: depending on the direction the company selects to take with the website, you may need to hire extra support, or you may need to adjust your other obligations to make room for this new project.  Attend training, conference, or workshops: you may want to familiarize yourself with potential platforms or new technology that you may want to incorporate within the website.  Setup regular meeting updates: you may want to meet with your boss, leadership team, or key stakeholders often about any concerns that may arise or potential roadblocks that may need their support to be avoided Identify discussion points: you many want to call specific points in the project with your boss, leadership team, or key stakeholders that are of concerns. Addressing them early may help you avoid potential roadblocks that could come up later.    For more insights and expertise from Gonzales, check out her ebook, Getting Started with B2B Ecommerce.