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, and Part Three as well.)
Choose a Platform
One key part of your B2B eCommerce project will be picking the right tool for the job. You wouldn’t mix cake batter with tongs, right? So, you shouldn’t use an ill-fitting platform for your B2B eCommerce site.
We’ll admit that we’re biased when it comes to platform choice. After years in this industry, we’ve worked with enough bad options to know the good ones when we see them. But, ultimately, it’s the client’s decision and we can only help you make the most educated choice that you can. So, here are your options:
At first glance, an ERP extension looks like a good option. You wouldn’t have to bring in a new system and could continue to work with what you have. However, we have found that using an ERP extension does not necessarily improve customer satisfaction.
ERP extensions for B2B eCommerce are good for increasing efficiency, sure, but that’s where the benefits end. An ERP extension is not cut out for the job of improving customer experience and increasing sales, which are typically goals of a B2B eCommerce site. Don’t fall prey to the empty promises of an ERP extension.
With Software as a Service offerings, you get more functionality than an ERP extension, but less flexibility and control. Typically, you have access to what the vendor provides you and that’s it. This can limit the platforms ability to customize, growth, and change within your organization.
Additionally, you can only integrate your system with extensions that are offered, leaving little room for customization. In all of our years of eCommerce work, we have yet to see an out-of-the-box platform be the ideal solution for a client. Your business is unique and you need access to the tools to create an equally unique B2B eCommerce site.
A hosted option opens up more flexibility and choices than the previous two options. You will be able to include some customization and extendable services. You will also have the option to work with partners and access their capabilities, further extending your customization options.
A hosting provider will also take care of a lot of additional aspects like caching, DDoS, search tools, and more, that you would otherwise have to figure out on your own. Working with a hosted option gives you a partner on that platform who will make sure that all of your bases are covered.
Using a Platform as a Service or On Premise option is our top recommendation when it comes to launching a B2B eCommerce site. This option gives you the most flexibility and opportunities to integrate with services and tools, allowing you to have a site with everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Our On Premise platform of choice is Magento, which not only gives you access to an entire community of developers and third-party extensions, but provides triple redundancy, meaning your site won’t go down. That security is a lifesaver in an industry where downtime can cost your business significant money.
You’re kidding, right? Don’t even consider it.
Of course, there are other factors to consider in a B2B eCommerce project besides strictly platform functionality, including your project budget and the overall complexity.
We won’t lie to you: a B2B eCommerce project can be a significant investment, and budget can make or break a platform choice. However, it’s important to consider the overall cost of the project as opposed to just the upfront budget. For example, will picking a more complex and capable platform allow you to grow your business through increased traffic and brand awareness? Don’t forget to weigh the potential profit from a successful site against the upfront costs.
A fully-integrated and high functioning B2B eCommerce site will also typically lower the costs of transactions, decrease your rate of returned items, and improve productivity through automation and integration.
Another thing to consider when picking your platform is your target market. Where are you trying to go with your B2B eCommerce site? Are you exclusively trying to improve your relationship with existing customers, or are you looking to expand your market? Are you only selling the products you currently offer, or are you interested in increasing your product line? Your eCommerce platform should meet both current and future functionality needs.
One good way to identify your target market is through personas. Personas are generalized representations of your ideal customers and help make sure that all decisions are made with your end user in mind. Defining who your customers are, what information they want from your organization, and how they want to obtain that information will help you figure out what platform will work best for your needs.
Your platform choice should certainly take into consideration the complexity of your B2B eCommerce project. Do you have specific needs that will require customization? Is your ERP system dated or even a custom platform, requiring a tricky integration with the eCommerce platform? These considerations and more will determine what system you should work with.
We have found that Magento can handle nearly any requirement you throw at it. From complex data configurations to unique product structures, Magento can bend and grow to meet your organization’s needs.
There's more to come! Stay tuned for part five.