So, you’re considering implementing a B2B eCommerce site. It can be intimidating for sure and there are a lot of moving parts, but if you plan the project well it can be a straightforward process. While the project may not be a piece of cake, we’ve found that breaking it down into a few crucial ingredients is a great way to whip up a successful B2B eCommerce site. Here is the next installment of our 13 ingredients for B2B eCommerce success. (Be sure to check out Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four as well.)
Know Your Data Rules
You may have a general idea of what you need for your B2B eCommerce site to run, but do you know the specifics? To make a cake, you might know you need baking powder, but how much do you need for the cake to rise correctly? When it comes to your B2B site, you need to know what data you require and how to leverage it for success.
Data is what will make your B2B eCommerce site tick, but the typical B2B company has data all over the place. To make sure you’re leveraging your data appropriately, you need to determine what data you’ll need, where it all will live, and how it will all be used.
What Data is Needed?
A B2B eCommerce system requires a huge amount of content, and most organizations are not initially prepared to provide what is needed. There are some key pieces of data that should be passed to the eCommerce system as well as some key decisions to be made along the way.
- Item Number and Name
- Rich SEO Data (Extended Descriptions, Meta Descriptions, etc.)
- Item Images
- Attribute Data
One of the most challenging parts of this will be wrangling all of that data. Whether it’s printed and filed in cabinets, saved to a shared drive or people’s desktops, or already in your ERP, the good news is that the data most likely exists. We beg of you, however, to get started organizing that data now. Product imagery, product attributions, and marketing information are only effective if you have all of it organized.
How Will Data be Used?
All of these pieces of data are crucial for helping to make the sale. The right images will inform your customer and detailed product attributes are necessary for faceted navigation and marketing tools. Product attributes help to define the product and are used for filtering. Things like cross-sells, upsells, and related items are part of what make eCommerce engines so powerful, but they need the appropriate data in order to leverage those capabilities.
Technical data can be helpful in certain industries, especially if your competitors don’t offer it. Technical drawings, dimensions, weights, materials used, and instructional content is icing on the cake if you have the aforementioned data in place.
Another bonus item is product reviews. Not only do reviews help customers make a buying decision, but customer feedback can help you determine if a product is something you want to cut from your inventory or invest marketing dollars into. Reviews will require continued assessment, as you will need to check them for potentially offensive or inappropriate content.
Where Should this Data Live?
B2B eCommerce sites are typically integrated with an ERP system and both the eCommerce platform and your ERP are likely able to store all of this crucial data. So, which system should own all of this information? We’ve found that it’s most common for the ERP system to own the data, especially surrounding inventory and availability.
This gets tricky when the timing of transactions is concerned. When does the inventory get decremented in the ERP? How timely is the data passed or accessed from the eCommerce platform? These are key considerations when designing the integration. Another key decision is whether the inventory availability is checked in ‘real time’ from the eCommerce platform, or whether a batch update pushes inventory to the site. Then, if the inventory balances are pushed periodically, the next decision is how often.
All of this is a lot to consider, we know, but defining your data organization strategy is crucial. It will help determine how everything will pan out and the frequency that data will be updated. Remember: preparing your data for the web is an ongoing process. You will invariably continue to refine it after you launch your B2B eCommerce site.
Prepare for Integration
So, you’ve identified what data you need, where to find it, and where it will ultimately live in your eCommerce and ERP integration. Now it’s time to put that data to work.
In baking, eggs are used to bind ingredients together. While we don’t recommend cracking an egg on your ERP system, it is important to understand how your platforms will bind together to create a harmonious system. Whether you’re integrating your eCommerce platform and ERP system or adding in a third-party application, there are a few things to keep in mind for any integration.
10 Points of Integration for ERPs
There are several integration options available, including a simple FTP process, an MQ Series, Mulesoft, Dell Boomi, and Web Services. It’s often beneficial to use an integration methodology that is already being used, but it may make sense to change to a new technology. When deciding on which methodology to use, you need to consider the initial programming needs as well as ongoing support.
Our standard integration strategy looks at ten different integration points and related business logic and processes. The goals of each project determine which integration point is needed, and how it is used within the overall project. Typically, our project use four to six integration points, but we have had projects with only one or two, and projects using all ten.
These points of integration are:
- Inventory balance
- Payment processing
- Order processing
- Order shipment order update
- Order history
Identifying how those data points will be communicated between the ERP and eCommerce systems will define your integration strategy.
A good example of an integration point is inventory availability. The first business decision to be made is whether or not the eCommerce site should expose inventory availability to the shoppers and if so, in how much detail. Not every eCommerce site does, and those that do use a few different methods for sharing this information. Some sites show the actual number of products available, while others share a red, yellow, or green status to indicate availability. Another option is to simply provide ‘In Stock’ or ‘Out of Stock’ identification on the site. These business decisions drive the type of integration required, and how timely the update needs to be.
Other Third-Party Integrations
The integration between your eCommerce platform and other programs, like third party modules, probably won’t be as intensive as an ERP integration, but it’s still important to identify the relevant data. Focusing on the data, regardless of where it’s coming from or where it’s going, will help eliminate confusion and make sure all of your tools are working effectively.
There's more to come! Stay tuned for part six.