B2B eCommerce Guide
for eCommerce, marketing and technology teams of industrial companies
Last Updated: June 10, 2020
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Project Lens
B2B eCommerce Guide Using a Project Lens
We are going to use a project canvass as an organizing framework to discuss all the topics related to this B2B eCommerce Guide. We believe this lens takes you close to where the real action is where the rubber meets the road. If you do a Google search using the phrase “B2B eCommerce Guide”, you will mostly find articles written by product and platform vendors to get top Google ranking. We are writing this guide based on real life experience in B2B projects so you can use this guide as a roadmap regardless of where you are in your B2B eCommerce journey.
If you do a Google search, you will notice that searches include the term B2B in the beginning of search term so you will find that suggested keywords include B2b Strategy, B2B Content Marketing, B2B Email Marketing, B2B Digital Marketing, B2B eCommerce Platforms, B2B Social Media Marketing, B2B Marketing Trends, B2B Internet Marketing.
The last chapter of this guide provides you links to the best source we found on topics mentioned above. Our main objective here is to give our readers the best tools so they can make optimal choices for their unique situation.
Enterprise Architect Framework
Any time a large scale IT project (like B2B eCommerce Platform implementation) is undertaken, one must run it through all relevant viewpoints. Since this guide is intended for industrial companies who are executing on known business models, we can safely assume that all viewpoints need to be considered before a B2B eCommerce Platform selection and implementation decision is made. The following diagram is loosely based on the Enterprise Architecture Framework. We always suggest a holistic approach and systems thinking when embarking on potentially disruptive technology projects. We believe choosing or developing and then implementing a proper B2B eCommerce platform falls in this disruptive technology category.
All the viewpoints mentioned in the above diagram are valid. The “Project Viewpoint” helps us prioritize projects, the “Capability viewpoint” shines light on what capabilities we already have and what we must develop, the “Operation Viewpoint” ensures that we take into account our current operational processes, the “Systems Viewpoint” helps us think through how a new system will work with our existing systems already in place (e.g ERP, CRM, etc.), the “Data Viewpoint” articulates how data and information will flow between systems and to people, the “Standards Viewpoint” asks us to review what standards (PCI, ISO, Six Sigma, etc.) we must comply with, the “IT Services Viewpoint” ensures we review the IT support and service function and tech burden, and “All Viewpoints” ensure that there is participation, collaboration and some reconciliation of views before a final decision is made.
We will be writing this guide from a project perspective. Since we have been working within the industrial B2B ecosystem since 1991, what you will find in this guide is based on real-world experience, instead of hypothesis or theory. The lessons shared in this guide were extracted from 12 different projects that we were involved with.
Before we wrote this guide, we did a little research to see what we can find through some Google searches. As of early 2020, we were getting over 42 million results from a Google search when we searched for “B2B eCommerce”. There were four paid ads and top SEO rankings went to eCommerce platform vendors. See details below:
All the viewpoints mentioned in the above diagram are valid. The “Project Viewpoint” helps us prioritize projects, the “Capability The results speak for themselves. What you will find in Google’s top results usually fall in two categories; one is “we have the best platform with all the features you need” and the other is “we have the best advice and services on how to get you to the promised land”. There is a lot of good advice out there just like there are a lot of good platforms out there to choose from.
Our goal is to share a different perspective. We want to show you what happens in the “kitchen” which is the blackbox where service design and execution happens.
Chapter 2: Participants
Who are your project members, stakeholders and third parties who play a role in the project?
This should include all the people who will be involved in the project in some way. We tend to have several lists of participants by type, such as “core team,” ”stakeholders” and “interested parties.” You should include individual names as much as possible. Optional: in the lower half of this box you can show dependencies. For instance, if prototypers are dependent on getting content from a client, then that should be made explicit.
Below, we have listed some of the most commonly encountered participants in a B2B eCommerce project:
Project sponsors have a crucial role but often their day-to-day responsibilities get in the way unless something bad happens and the project comes to a screeching halt. We are suggesting that project sponsors create their own rules of engagement instead of allowing the technology vendors to impose engagement terms on the business.
Who are the B2B “influencers” and decision-makers?
Let’s be real. B2B purchasing is done by buying teams in various states of engagement and internal business context. In reality, B2B buyers can be overwhelmed because of the workloads they have to carry, they may be confused by the number of options available and all the bells and whistles that software vendors have. Buying teams at large enterprises are much more sophisticated and have professional training. In small and midsize companies, buyers can be:
Overwhelmed: Sometimes the buying team has too much on their plate. They may not have time to do thoughtful research.
Confused: Comparing technology products like Magento Open Source vs. WooCommerce vs. another platform can be very confusing since there are so many variables.
Misled: If a company is buying from a professional sales team and they don’t take the time to dig a little deeper, they can be misled. Most of the time, it’s not just one thing or one claim that’s misleading, though. Maybe they did some research, reached out to some solution providers, have received multiple sales pitches where multiple options sound good. They got on a path that was not very well explained by a well-meaning sales team but felt they were “misled” after the purchase.
Misguided: Sometimes buyers believe they have developed a good understanding of what their needs are but their understanding is incomplete because they have not considered all the variables when choosing a platform and then they end up making a suboptimal decision.
Stuck: We have been involved in projects where poor choices during the “due diligence” phase or small mistakes during the implementation phase wasted a lot of time and effort downstream. Projects can get stuck for many reasons that nobody can predict but if the buying team follows a process and the project sponsors help create a healthy team dynamic, a lot of this risk can be mitigated.
eCommerce Platform Professional Services Teams
With the higher-end eCommerce platforms, like Netsuite or Salesforce, there are professional services teams involved. These companies will walk you through their own selling process if you’re not a sophisticated buyer. A good professional sales team has an advantage over unsophisticated buyers when it comes to these platforms that they sell.
They know how to push products to the marketplace. They have answers to all your questions. They are trained on how to give demos. They know what not to talk about. We are not claiming that there is any deceit in play here. We are just saying that if the technology team is not fully prepared they may end up buying a product that may not be a perfect fit for their environment.
Project Managers and Coordinators
You will encounter two types of professional teams when buying technology products. Sales Teams and Implementation Teams. More often than not, after the sales team has closed the deal, you will experience the implementation team. Even the best companies have tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 consultants, so be sure and have a conversation about the implementation team. We have seen sloppy implementations where choices made during initial configuration resulted in long term adverse implications.
Here, we are referring to internal eCommerce professionals who have to take responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the store, like populating it with product information or images.
Digital Marketing Managers
Their role is to run and manage marketing campaigns and to make sure proper tracking is being done.
If you have a detailed oriented person in-house who understands your business and helps with data-related tasks, there is no substitute for that. For example, having someone who can make ETL (Extract, transform and load) maps, will make a big difference to a project.
Even if your in-house person is not a programmer of the specific platform you choose, just having some technical resources in-house is a huge advantage for the business.
No matter what platform you choose, there are times when default functionality and features are not enough. We have written our own B2B shopping carts and worked with some open-source and higher-end systems. We have always had to customize it for client needs. Sometimes the changes are small but if not done properly, the process takes time and chances of mistakes during implementation, especially at “hand-over points” can be significant.
One should not underestimate the importance of QA resources. Quality assurance is one of the most important elements of B2B eCommerce project management. There are two types of QA resources; internal and external. Internal resources must drive the QA process and must test “happy paths” as well as “unhappy paths” which are sometimes overlooked even in mature platforms. We believe if the team has good QA resources on both sides, the end result is a much better chance for the success of the project.
Customer Service Team
The customer service teams play a crucial role that is sometimes overlooked. They are the ones who field all inquiries when customer-facing interfaces have issues or if the interface is not intuitive. We believe customer service teams should be involved from day one and that there should be a feedback gathering process that collects all the important feedback and sends it to the technical teams for review and prioritization.
Chapter 3: Goals
What are the primary objectives and intent of the project, including success metrics?
This is another lens where you look at the primary objectives and intent of the project, including success metrics. You want to know the expected percentage of:
Visitors from email campaigns,
Visitors from referral links,
Visitors From organic search,
Visitors From social media,
Visitors From display ads,
Average visit duration.
The business may not know what the visitor goals will be ahead of time, but this is something that you should set from day one. An experienced and impartial 3rdparty will be able to assist the business with this.
Let’s say that you are considering buying a high-risk eCommerce platform and the platform vendor makes a claim that some of their customers were able to grow their digital sales by 20%, or that they were able to get to a specific number of visitors per month. If you have done your homework and have done some campaign-level thinking, you can ask the right questions and possibly dig deeper into the stories sales teams share.
Setting goals and getting clear on them is just another lens through which you should approach your eCommerce journey. It’s like sitting in the “goals room” and saying, “let’s think this through”. If you look at it from that angle, you can be on Woocommerce, Magento Open Source, or any other platform, it doesn’t matter, it won’t affect your goals.
All eCommerce platforms have pretty much built all the key modules and features that you may need. An item detail page, a category page and basic features on all the platforms are very similar. A more important consideration is which ecosystem makes sense for your business, depending on the technology that you already own and use, and what your internal skill set is. It’s in this context that you should pick the platform and then set the goals and maybe set the project timeline. For example, you can decide to do open-source this year, and next year you’ll think about investing in a million-dollar eCommerce platform.
Chapter 4: Users
Who are users (target groups or segments) of the product or service?
Users stand at the center of attention in every project and they should be included from day one. You must involve users from all functional areas of the business and preferably involve customers as soon as possible. There are several different types of users involved in a B2B eCommerce project:
Having a customer user that you have a good relationship with engaged early in the process is important. Having their voice heard, and showing them the customer-facing user interface can save you a lot of time down the road. Again this is a lens through which you must look at the project early on in the implementation process.
eCommerce Platform Administrators
eCommerce admins are the ones who will be using the platform the most. They, sometimes, have to update product information one SKU at a time and other times they may need to update pricing or attribute information at the category or vendor level. The amount of time it takes to make edits on a poorly designed user interface can be extremely time-consuming if thoughtful consideration is not given to the interface from an admin user’s point of view. We have found that in industrial B2B companies the need for product updates, product obsolescence management, product pricing change management, and promotional campaign management can be extremely time-consuming for eCommerce admins if the platform does not have appropriate features or the features are there but they are not very well thought out.
Content Creation and Management Team
Nobody disputes the need for authentic content in the B2B context. Authentic content with useful information is key and B2B subject matter experts must be able to create content in multiple formats across many channels. In the context of B2B platforms, most platforms do offer the ability to add blog posts, videos, images, and infographics but interfaces are not always user-friendly. Platforms allow all types of content and the ability to get that content efficiently is essential. One recommendation is to have some sample content when testing platforms and to add that content on all the platforms that are being tested and keep good notes along the way and then assign scores that indicate which ones have a better user experience.
Order Processing Team
Order processing teams should pay close attention to the entire order process. They should create scenarios ahead of time. For example, let’s assume the person placing an order is a maintenance person and he or she is looking for 2-inch duct tape or a can of WD-40. How would they find it and add it to the cart? If they have questions along the way, is there a place for them to ask those questions during the ordering process?
Order Shipping Team
Many times shipping teams have to communicate with customers about some specifics of the order. For example, there may be a situation where the shipping team needs to ask the customer if it’s ok to send partial shipment or not. Or there may be a discrepancy in-stock availability as shown on the website versus what is available to ship. In each of these cases, if the team is processing hundreds of orders a day, it can adversely affect the quality of service if the system does not allow for two way automatic notifications back and forth. How important are some of these features for you? If they are important, they should be tested.
Like the shipping team, the billing team has to be able to communicate with customers if a credit card has been declined and the order is ready to ship. How does the process work now? How does it change with a B2B eCommerce platform under consideration? What are the edge cases? Is automation possible? What modifications are needed to deliver a better experience?
Chapter 5: User Benefits
What is the overall value and concrete benefits users will have after the project is successfully completed?
Customers want Amazon-like experiences, so the question is, can you deliver that experience on a B2B eCommerce platform? Well, the answer is not as simple as it may seem. In a UPS “B2B Purchasing Insights” online survey of 1501 purchasers were asked what they look for in a B2B website, the top five list included product quality, product availability, product price, fast delivery, and lower shipping costs.
Even open source and cost-effective cloud-based platforms allow for customizations. If a user-centric approach is used, the ordering process can be streamlined very cost-effectively. If you stretch yourself too thin by starting with a high-end platform that you can barely afford, your focus will quickly shift to cost-cutting so it’s best to start small and perfect your interfaces and related supply chain processes that modern B2B buyers are looking for. What you lack in tech platforms can be delivered through personal touches.
User stories use non-technical language and put users at the center. Once users see a few examples, they are able to grab sticky notes and can start writing stories with minimal guidance. Here are some examples of user stories that you may consider.
eCommerce Platform Administrators: As an e-commerce admin, I would like to be able to manage all configurations without having to involve the technical team, so that we can self-manage the platform post-launch.
Content Creation and Management Team Member: As a member of the content creation team, I want to be able to update the prices of thousands of items through inputs, so we can save time.
Order Processing Team Member: As an order person, I want to trigger email notifications to the customer as soon as an order is processed, so the customer does not have to call us for status.
Order Shipping Team Member: As a member of the shipping team, I want to trigger a notification to the customer if the back-ordering and procurement team to buy items that are not in stock, so that we can improve service quality and order fulfillment rate.
Billing Team Member: As a member of the billing team, I want to be able to stop the shipment of any order that does not have payment approval code, so we can reduce credit card fraud.
Chapter 6: Activities
What are the concrete tasks and actions the team will take to reach the project goals.
Activities – These are the methods and approaches you’ll be employing on the project. Examples include “User research,” “Persona development,” “Concept design,” “Wireframing,” “Creation of detailed mock-ups,” and “User testing,” to name just a few design-related activities.
Some other activities include market research, vendor selection, then creating and optimizing the web store, marketing the store, staffing the store, and monitoring the traction.
The quality of these activities will be determined by your internal team and the team that you choose to partner with. Again, this leads to our point that the entire project should be viewed holistically. Looking at each of these lenses carefully before making a choice about which platform to use, means the odds are in your favor to have a successful project.
B2B eCommerce Platforms Research
There are many platforms to choose from. The report below was sourced from BuiltWith.com website which is a great resource to see what technology stacks websites and ecommerce stores are using.
We have provided you names of popular B2B ecommerce platforms along with a brief descriptions (some of which came from their marketing collateral so please read everything with a grain of salt). These are in no particular order.
WooCommerce for WordPress: Woocommerce is an eCommerce plugin for WordPress and it can be implemented free of charge. It has been downloaded more than 3 million times and it’s easy to learn and exceptionally intuitive. You are able to add additional extensions for Woocommerce, which will come at a small cost. Take a look at WooCommerce reviews on G2.
Magento Open Source: Magento Open Source eCommerce software is popular in the SMB market and they have been focusing on B2B since the end of 2017. For companies with B2C and B2B offerings, Magento is a good solution, since they have capabilities in both areas and thus one platform can be used more efficiently than having multiple tools for the different offerings. Take a look at Magento Open Source reviews on G2.
BigCommerce: BigCommerce has B2B as well as B2C features and is highly scalable. The platform is getting more and more mature with a plethora of integrated sales tools. Take a look at BigCommerce reviews on G2.
Shopify Plus: Shopify Plus is affordable yet offers selling-capabilities fit for enterprise. It is extremely reliable due to the fact that it is hosted and can be customized more than most of its competitors. It should be noted that Shopify Plus is somewhat limited in its lack of multi-store architecture, but there are certain workarounds for that. Take a look at Shopify Plus reviews on G2.
Oracle NetSuite SuiteCommerce: This platform has omnichannel selling capabilities and can be used to manage both B2B and B2C commerce. It was specifically built for software companies and is highly scalable. Take a look at Oracle NetSuite SuiteCommerce reviews on G2.
Apttus E-Commerce Spring: Apttus has undergone a major transformation over the years from contract lifecycle management to CPQ to eCommerce. This platform combines Salesforce and Apttus CPQ to handle product pricing & configuration across all channels, including eCommerce. Take a look at Apttus CPQ reviews on G2.
Episerver Digital Experience Cloud: Episerver began as a content management system, then morphed to include strong marketing and predictive analytics abilities. Today, the suite has a .NET ecosystem that delivers a cloud-based platform that’s agile and easy to integrate with other eCommerce tools and it is also a powerful CMS solution. Take a look at Episerver Digital Experience Cloud reviews on G2.
Handshake Rep and Handshake Direct: Handshake excels at making the order processing features easy for sales reps. It works well on mobile platforms and is a customer favorite. Experts believe the product will need to better embrace delivering a dynamic buying experience in order to be truly successful. Take a look at Handshake Rep and Handshake Direct reviews on G2.
InsiteCommerce: Insite has a good reputation with B2B manufacturers and distributors. It offers B2B fast ordering capabilities and can handle all promotions and marketing. Insite Analytics, a newly updated CMS and an integrated B2B solution, is also available as part of the InsiteCommerce suite. Take a look at InsiteCommerce reviews on G2.
Intershop Commerce Suite: Intershop is a flexible eCommerce suite that can support both B2B and B2C, but very few people use it for B2C sites. It is affordable and easy to scale. It boasts the ability to optimize employee productivity and deliver maximum customer value for complex businesses. Take a look at Intershop Commerce Suite reviews on G2.
Magento Commerce: Since 2018, Magento Commerce has been part of the Adobe family, adding top-rated management solutions to its offering. It offers not only a paid solution but also an open-source solution, a BI solution, and an OMS. Today you’ll find over 3,000 extensions available and about half of its new coding comes from the community. It is a good option for businesses with B2B and B2C offerings. Take a look at Magento Commerce reviews on G2.
OracleCommerce Cloud: OracleCommerce Cloud boasts state of the art architecture, easy integration, and reusability. It is also suitable for both B2B and B2C, which makes it a good choice for companies with complex offerings. Take a look at OracleCommerce reviews on G2.
Salesforce B2B Commerce: Salesforce B2B Commerce has been around since 2018 when Salesforce acquired CloudCraze in 2018. One of the advantages of this platform is that it forms part of the larger Salesforce offering and it is also supported by the Salesforce team. In addition, they have clearly defined plans to grow their platform to fill any gaps that may exist because of their late entry into the B2B market. Though it excels in some areas, it still lacks the sophistication necessary in other areas. Take a look at Salesforce B2B Commerce reviews on G2.
Sana Commerce: Sana Commerce has a strong enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform integrated from SAP and Microsoft and was created for the manufacturing and wholesale industry. It also allows for great flexibility in the designing of product catalogs. Take a look at Sana Commerce reviews on G2.
SAP Commerce Cloud: SAP Commerce Cloud delivers a great eCommerce experience for both B2B and B2C clients. They offer seamless scaling so if your business takes off and becomes an overnight success, your site will be able to handle the heavy traffic. Unlike most other platforms, SAP offers a full PIM solution together with a fully supported OEM version of OpenText, an industry-leading digital asset management solution. It does require professional developers to set up and manage. Take a look at SAP Commerce Cloud reviews on G2.
Unilog Commerce: Unilog offers a full-featured eCommerce platform and gives the user the ability to access data at the lowest level of detail. They offer customization, together with implementation and post-implementation support. This is a great solution for businesses with a wide-ranging product catalog. Take a look at Unilog Commerce reviews on G2.
Review sites play an important role but how useful are they? What do review sites tell us?
Let’s take a closer look at five review sites, we have selected.
G2: Wikipedia shows that G2 Inc has over 400 employees as of 2019. In our opinion, this is the best software review website. Their scoring method is better than most. They get over 1 million visitors per month and have more than 300,000 product reviews so it’s considered to be one of the most in-depth sources for reviews. G2 users can upvote and downvote reviews which further improves the quality of their content.
G2 scores products within each category. According to their website, their scoring method is “based on reviews gathered from our user community, as well as data aggregated from online sources and social networks. A unique algorithm is applied to this data to calculate the Satisfaction and Market Presence scores in real-time.“
Their top eCommerce platforms list is a mixture of B2B and B2C platforms which is understandable because the boundaries between B2B and B2C features are fuzzy. Their top 10 list is:
Shopify, Shopify Plus, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Salesforce B2C Commerce, Ecwid, GoCentral Online Store, Miva, FastSpring, and OracleCommerce.
Here are four additional review sites:
SoftwareWorld: it’s not clear how they do their scoring but based on various top choices with 99 scores, we feel it’s a mixed bag. If you read content on their “top 20+ eCommerce Software 2020”, it’s clearly written from an SEO perspective. There is nothing wrong with that but when you combine this with other signals that a neutral observer gets, you must wonder how useful these rankings are.
GetApp: GetApp has a user-friendly interface and is easy to use. We are impressed with the filters they have. For example, when we selected 11 to 50 employees, it gave us a pretty decent set of results with some familiar eCommerce platforms but when you change sort order, you get some interesting results. This definitely is worth a look, but it needs some human intervention.
Capterra: Why is Capterra free for users? According to their website- “because vendors pay us when they receive web traffic and sales opportunities. Capterra directories list all vendors—not just those that pay us—so that you can make the best-informed purchase decision possible”.
The bottom line is that you must assume that all review sites have some commercial intent so be skeptical about their rankings. You may get better “reviews” from Reddit. Here is an example thread about “NetSuite SuiteCommerce” and one where users are discussing BigCommerce.
Cautionary Note About Reviews
Take a look at the three reviews about a well-known mid-market B2B eCommerce platform (Insite eCommerce). They have been recently acquired by Episerver which has gone through many mergers and acquisitions. There is a lot that one can read between the lines. We believe G2 is doing a great job of collecting these super important dots. It’s easy to see that some reviews are encouraged by marketing teams to raise the overall score of a review.
A Five Star Review
We chose Insite eCommerce as an example because it fits well in the mid-market B2B segment. The company has a big footprint in this eco-system. First, read a five star review. Is there something you can read between the line? Do you think this was solicited by Insite marketing department. Maybe, maybe not.
A 2.5 Star Review
Again, this is Insite eCommerce review. Is there something you can read between the line? Do you think this was solicited by Insite marketing department. Was this solicited and honestly shared by Insite?
A Zero Star Review
Again, this is Insite eCommerce review from 2018. Do you think that the reviewer is a real user? Do you think this was solicited by Insite marketing department? What perspective do you get from reading all the reviews? What’s real and what’s marketing and how does help you make a decision?
You will find a mixed bag in reviews. It’s rather easy to identify reviews that are solicited by marketing teams to counter some bad reviews from a few unhappy customers. Reviews are helpful but they can mislead you. A bad review may convince you to not even consider a perfectly good solution and a really good review may result in you wasting time to look at something that is not a good fit.
Technology Stacks Assessment
Traditional IT Stacks
If you randomly selected any B2B company that has been around for a few decades, you will find a mixed bag of on-premise and cloud technology stacks that don’t talk to each other. Generally, ERP is purchased first. Then CRM is brought in and at some point an ecommerce platform is either developed in-house or an off-the-shelf product is customized with some B2B features. If you stacked all IT components on a pallet, they would look like the illustration below.
Software as Middleman of Sales and Marketing
In “Hacking Marketing”, Scott Brinker, who is known for reporting on marketing technologies, makes a point that software is the new middleman. In the image below, we are illustrating a bunch of items on a pallet that should look very familiar to industrial businesses. In our view a pallet jack is equivalent to a shopping cart you get at a grocery store. If you walk into a server room of any established B2B manufacturing and wholesale distribution company, you will find a bunch of hardware and software that has to be purchased, installed, configured, patched, upgraded. What sits between your customers and your website is this stuff. Delivering a better user experience requires digitizing a bunch of stuff and navigating multiple software applications.
Sales and Marketing Technology Stacks Landscape
Chiefmartech has been keeping track of sales and marketing technology stacks since 2011. As you can see in 2011, they listed 150 solutions in this category. By 2019, the number had reached 7,040 and it keeps growing.
B2B Sales and Marketing Technology Stacks
We have created our own version for B2B companies. This is not an attempt to come up with a comprehensive stack that is in play at industrial B2B companies. The purpose of this is to show what’s in play and point out that every industrial company would have a different set of components in each category and that some of them have implications across all business processes.
B2B Sales and Marketing Technology Stacks
Product Information Management Related Activities
One of our clients has about 80,000 items from about 200 vendors. There are PIM (Product Information Management) software products out there, but we organically and slowly built this on MS SQL (but this can be done in MySQL or even MS Access DB depending on the number of total SKUs).
To do this in-house, you need someone who knows SQL really well plus a detailed-oriented resource with project management skills to make sure proper “quality check process” is in place before bulk imports and updates are done. For each new vendor, there is a one-time effort to develop the initial documentation and scripts (Readme docs, ETL Excel sheets, and SQL scripts):
New Vendor Process
Download main data files in whatever format they are available (like part numbers, units of measure, costs, weights),
Download any attributes, detailed descriptions (or scrape that data from their website),
Download item and category images and related files,
Create ETL files that show how data is mapped from source files to target file format (e.g NetSuite),
Write import SQL scripts that import source data as is,
Write transform SQL scripts that make any changes required so that NetSuite import ready table is prepared,
Write an export script to prepare the NetSuite import ready file, and
Prepare a readme guide for each vendor that details how often data changes.
Existing Vendor Process
For existing vendors, the process incorporates complete product life cycle needs like new product insertion, deletion, price change comparisons and updates plus handling “phased out” and “obsolete” items.
Here is a screenshot from one of the Excel Sheets that summarizes task categories, tasks, frequency and roles including on-page SEO if selling online:
B2B eCommerce Department Tasks and Activities Across Project Phases
Running B2B eCommerce platforms efficiently is a competency that must be developed in-house or by assembling a really good “hybrid” team. An agency model with the right incentives and right engagement features can work well too. The best way to make this decision is to look at on-going activities after the eCommerce platform has been implemented and see what can be done in-house and what must be outsourced.
Chapter 7: Deliverables
What are the outcomes and documents that will be shown to stakeholders or customers?
Success Factors Assessment
It’s best to make a list of critical success factors ahead of time before any investment is made. Here is a list that we have compiled from our experience:
eCommerce platform Fit
There are many options available. Pick the one that is a good fit for your IT environment. If your company has been around for decades, you are bound to have some technology stacks that are not modern. There are many ways to leverage what you already own and build on top of it.
Our view is that when you are considering which B2B eCommerce platform to implement, you have to look at it holistically. There are many options out there, catering to different budgets and requirements and it is easy to get overwhelmed by choice. For example, at the lower end, you have platforms like WooCommerce, while at the high-end there are solutions like Hybris or Insite. Either option has its own pros and cons. Suitability of a specific solution will depend to a large extent on the context within any given business.
Even if you make the right choice at the platform level, if somebody doesn’t look at the other side, like the CRM or ERP system that you have and the other technology that you have, some crucial pieces of the puzzle may be missed. You can end up with a solution that is suboptimal for your specific business.
We recommend that the choice of platform is selected and methodically tested by a hybrid team that includes technical, creative and functional role representatives. If any outside parties are involved they must be platform agnostic so they are not pushing you to a particular solution for commercial reasons. This decision must be based on “fit for you” rather than what’s being marketed really well.
The correct advisory partner will also recommend methods in which you can limit the risks you take when implementing an eCommerce solution. For example, when you have a relatively tight budget, going with an open-source platform and running small experiments, getting your data in order, organizing your categories and images, etc with a well-run small project can bring a lot of learning at a relatively low cost. This can then empower the business to make a more informed decision when deciding to go for a higher-end solution down the line.
The choice of platform is really a key decision and people sometimes get hung up on features that they see and they start comparing that and then lose sight of the big picture. The big picture is the context in which the technology comes and the internal skills your team already has. For example, let’s say you are a one-branch distributor, and you end up buying InsiteCommerce. Insite has its own infrastructure, it has its own server on the Microsoft platform. It may even be hosted at a data center but it comes with its own tech-burden. The team must analyze TCO, ROI and the Opportunity Cost of the selection.
The team must understand the difference between true SaaS B2B eCommerce platforms and B2B eCommerce platforms that use traditional architecture. We find that most industrial B2B companies still have “traditional IT assets” (see the first column in the figure below).
Let’s assume that you have a traditional on-premise ERP and CRM and now you purchase a B2B platform that may be hosted in the cloud. The hosting provider only gives you access to virtualized servers, storage, networking, and operating system but there is still quite a bit of technology management burden on you (see IaaS column above).
Good quality data
You need good quality data that includes all attributes a customer may need to make a decision. If you embark on a B2B eCommerce journey without this in place you won’t get good results. Later in this article, we will look at the option of running smaller pilot projects on different platforms, as a first step towards ensuring your data is in good shape. Following a measured approach like this can help ensure that by the time you implement a high-end solution (if that is what you choose to do), your data will support the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Internal team skills
It’s best if the internal team develops B2B eCommerce platform know-how along the way. Too much reliance on external resources is not good. Most platforms are user-friendly and they are not that complicated to learn. See if you have some internal team members who are tech-savvy, willing to learn and detailed-oriented. Give them some breathing room to learn and run experiments.
One place where you will do well to identify an in-house team member early on is with the administration of your B2B eCommerce platform. The administrator is the person who must know how to use the admin area and who can maintain the store once it is in production.
The project manager and the digital marketing manager are also important team members. The project manager will make sure everyone stays on track and the project is delivered on-time. The digital marketing manager should have knowledge of PPC and SEO campaigns. She should also have the know-how to ensure the web store makes and delivers on the right promises. Depending on the platform that you choose, these resources can be on your side, or they can be on the vendor side.
Customer service team members will almost always be on the business side, but the QA resource, for example, can be on either side.
Ideally, you would want as many of your skills in-house and involved in the project early on. They should be involved in the buying, implementing and designing phases, then they will be able to extract a lot more value from the platform as opposed to if you don’t have resources like that in-house.
B2B eCommerce platforms require some additional technology components like analytics tools (Google Analytics, Hotjar for heatmaps and many more). It’s not practical for your internal team to be experts on all these tools. You must develop a strategic outsourcing competency that fills some of the skills gaps.
Periodic Reviews and Adjustments
Every so often, people leading change and people working on day-to-day stuff must come together and collaborate. They must come together in a safe judgment-free environment where they can ask each other tough questions and, if needed, get into healthy conflict. It’s easy to hide in organizations by doing just enough and by avoiding things in a way so one does not get fired.
Real change happens at the intersection of people wanting to change, people having to change and an environment that supports that change. What makes digital transformations sink or swim is not what technology platform you buy. As we have mentioned, most technology vendors have built almost identical features. As you will see in the analysis that follows, there are many correct answers when choosing IT platforms but only one path to changing minds and that’s through people’s hearts.
Sense of Urgency
You must create a sense of urgency. Digital transformations are really personal transformations that are hiding. Unless there is a sense of urgency people don’t change.
The top-down, quick and reactive approach works in some cases but when you bring in new ways to organize and do work, you will encounter resistance. Bosses at all levels intuitively know that they don’t have true control over others. Most of the creative work that today’s workers do cannot be “supervised”. In some job roles, it’s easy to measure performance but for any work that requires transformative changes, you must have internal buy-in from your team.
If you can get internal-buy-in you will have a team that’s engaged. We believe results in business are co-created by teams when individuals pursue outcomes in various degrees of coherence. Better outcomes are achieved when there is an inner alignment and a shared vision. People at work have the ability to go from level A+ effort level to a C- effort if the team chemistry and engagement level is not right. A lot of enterprise value leaks if “management” is not aware of the real problems that stem from disengaged team members.
This is yet another lens through which to evaluate a project. One outcome or deliverable will be a user-friendly web store, and within that, there will be some features and functions.
Sometimes people get hung up on the detailed features and functions. In the buying process, they will start thinking about details that are the equivalent of looking at the color of the windows or how big the window is or what shades the tiles are, before the foundation of the house is even laid. In this way, a lot of energy is wasted and the big picture stuff sometimes gets overlooked. It is important to remember that good professional services sales teams are really good at avoiding roadblocks or objections. They will steer you gently and unconsciously away from the hard questions and perhaps focus on impressive features instead. They can do this because they have a lot more experience on their platform, so they know the problems and they will steer you away from identifying the problems with their platforms.
So if you look at it from this point of view, take the platform and look at the unique page. Even if you have 70,000 unique items on a page, if you really think about it, it’s always: category page, item list page, item detail page, and then the features on top of that. A feature could be something like how the facets that are featured show up. Therefore, if you look at unique pages, and the data that’s visible, looking at your internal data, and seeing from the deliverables lens, you can get a lot of insights before going too far with a platform that may not be a good fit for your company.
Chapter 8: Risks
What are the possible future events that have a potentially negative impact on the project?
If errors are made in a market research phase it can have devastating effects on the outcome of a project. Sometimes just one small error can cause an effect similar to steering the ship just a few degrees off course. This small degree can put you on an entirely different course and you end up in the wrong place altogether.
Once you are committed to a big implementation, the financial risks can be significant. An example is one company that bought Netsuite, but they could barely afford it. When the implementation burden started stacking up they ran into trouble. At first, they thought that they could implement it themselves and so only purchased 10 hours of implementation support. Unfortunately, the person they thought could implement it was unable to do it properly, and ultimately they just got stuck and the whole thing became adversarial and costly. This shows that it is a huge risk sometimes when you try to change yourself through technology, and proper planning should be done to prevent this type of catastrophe.
If a hybrid team doesn’t collaborate effectively and make incremental changes, then the whole project will suffer. That’s a significant risk that people may not be aware of. If, for example, you have an overwhelmed in-house team that is being driven by an efficiently run IT vendor’s well-managed professional services team, the in-house team will fall behind and quality of implementation will suffer. This is a big risk and companies don’t always realize that half the risk is on your side, and not on the side of the IT vendor. The vendor will come in and implement their part of it from their point of view. Then they will move on to the next implementation.
Keep in mind that a perfectly good platform implemented poorly can have really bad outcomes. It could be that an overly enthusiastic salesperson neglected to mention something important or did not set the right expectations or one key member of the implementation team was not the right fit for one particular project and the implementation got messed up. After a project has gone to a certain level, untangling the resulting mess is like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. It’s messy and not very efficient.
Another situation we have encountered a few times when we were brought in was either that a key person had to leave abruptly or that key in-house IT resource did not handle the project very well and the company was in danger of being shut down.
Chapter 9: Milestones
What are the key dates and events that frame the overall timeline of the project?
Prepare an Executive Summary
What we are sharing here is practical project-oriented advice. If you do a Google search on B2B eCommerce strategy, you will get roughly 10 million results. The top organic result is shown as Google’s featured snippet. If you read that blog post ask yourself how much of that advice is practical for you to apply? Chances are that you will find a bunch of ideas that sound great on paper but what they lack is your unique context and what’s practical and doable for your venture.
We believe in a project-oriented approach that gives you a lens that is useful, usable and used in all successful projects.
Small deviations at the start can have exponential negative effects later on. This post presents a tool to help you visualize your project: The Project Canvas.
Business investments in digital projects can come about under a variety of conditions. Some companies do it under pressure when they look around and notice that everyone is doing it. Others embark on this journey by selecting a well-known technology vendor and allow that vendor to guide the implementation.
We propose that before embarking on this digital journey, the companies use a different framework.
We are assuming that some of you have already tried this and have had partial success. Others are in the middle of this. Some of you may have had some setbacks and may be wondering how best to move forward. Our intention with writing this guide is to provide you some dots that you can point to when thinking about your B2B eCommerce initiatives.
The key question is who is keeping track of and driving the outcomes related to this project? More often than not, B2B professional services teams bring their sales process that allows them to close the deal and move on to the next deal. That’s understandable. They have to maintain certain resource utilization rates. Their goal is to efficiently take the prospects through their sales funnel. Sales teams have an edge because they are better prepared to sell but buying teams may need some help. This approach suggests a technology buying framework where outcomes are given more importance than bells and whistles of the technology products.
The order in which things happen in these types of projects is of huge significance. Choices you make in outer circles (operating systems, ERPs, CRMs, etc.) limit your choices in inner circles.
The question is who is driving the project and ensuring that daily and weekly progress is on track. We recommend using Objectives and Key Results as a common language across departments and projects to make sure all objectives are connected to results and that they are measurable. A really good book on this topic is “Measure what Matters” by John Doerr.
Our advice to clients if the budget is tight is to do the first set of experiments on platforms like WooCommerce, BigCommerce or Shopify. You can take a small amount of data and set up your store with categories, images, product attributes, and pricing brackets, etc. If some B2B features are missing you can customize them or go to a more expensive platform in phase II.
Let’s say that you are on BigCommerce or WooCommerce for example, and now you need to change platforms. By now your data and categories, attributes and images should be really well done because you’ve had the experiment on the inexpensive platform. Now it’s very easy to get a good implementation and remove most of the risk from the higher-end platform.
Chapter 10: Constraints
What are the limits and conditional requirements that directly affect the deliverables, activities or projects as a whole?
Market Research needs to be carefully done and considered before product and vendor selections are made.
Project Leadership Team must create an environment with built-in accountability where there is peer-to-peer accountability.
Minimum Viable “Project” should be put in production so that pilot projects and market tests can be done as soon as phase I is completed
Frictionless Project Team, that’s the same from Phase I to Phase III, has to be assembled and empowered.
Traction metrics in all areas have to be established to make sure that the B2B eCommerce platform is able to create and monetize value for all stakeholders.
Chapter 11: Scope
What is the breadth of the product or service to be included for consideration for this project (including what is out of scope)?
We suggest a crawl, walk, run approach using Phase I, Phase II and Phase III separation so you can develop some in-house capabilities along your eCommerce journey.
In Phase I, the focus should be to launch a minimum viable project that is in production. This means learning how to crawl first.
In Phase II, the focus should be on running small pilot campaigns to identify the best selling products. This is like learning how to walk.
In Phase III, the focus should be to use all inbound and outbound sales and marketing tools to increase revenues and improve efficiency through process improvements and automation.
Chapter 12: Guides and Resources
We did some keyword research and identified the most popular keyword searches with “B2B” terms. Here we will give you some high-quality reference articles or guides that you may find helpful. So instead of you having to sort through a lot of low-quality content, this section will save you some time:
This B2B Marketing Strategy 2020 guide provides the reader with a good basic understanding of the current B2B landscape. It shows the trends and behaviors that businesses can capitalize on and it also provides strategies that experts use to optimize their B2B marketing efforts.
Gartner has made available a study in which it outlines how B2B buying has changed, together with strategies businesses can use to adjust their sales strategies.
In the illustration below they show how the B2B buying journey is non-linear and how 6 buying jobs influence the buying decision:
In this article, Adobe proposes 3 Ways to Fix Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy. According to Adobe, marketing must develop content–targeted, job-specific information, and tools that make it easier for customers to make a purchase.
In this 2020 article, Forbes gives a lowdown of the B2B eCommerce landscape today. They predict that from 2020-2025 B2B eCommerce will grow at twice the rate of B2C eCommerce.
The B2B Report Millennials give a 360-degree view on how millennial behavior in the workplace is affecting B2B sales and marketing. It is no longer optional for B2B companies to have exceptional eCommerce capabilities.
Chief Marketer in this B2B Special Report discusses how millennials in the workplace influence B2B buying decisions and demonstrates why eCommerce for B2B is non-negotiable today.
Our number one recommendation when thinking about your long term B2B digital strategy is to use WayPoint Analytics to start your journey. Bruce Merrifield and Randy MacLean have been part of B2B ecosystem for most of their careers. Bruce’s Core Renewal Roadmap and WayPoint’s SaaS based analytics offering will give you all the data you need to start your digital transformation journey.
This Forbes article lists 5 B2B marketing trends. These can serve as strategy guidelines for your B2B strategy. The 5 trends are (1) Personalised communication, (2) Email marketing, (3) Social media, (4) Content marketing, and (5) Chatbot lead generation.
SmartInsights compiled this marketing trends article for 2020. This will help companies identify trends to stay ahead of competitors as far as B2B strategy goes. The most important takeaway is that most organizations have a formal marketing plan to direct their efforts.
This comprehensive B2B Marketing Strategy Guide sets out a new way of looking at a marketing framework for B2B and also provides insight into a modern buyer’s journey.
B2B Content Marketing
This B2B Content Marketing guide for 2020 by the Content Marketing Institute describes the goals B2B marketers have achieved with content marketing over the last year, and creating brand awareness is number one. Interestingly, according to their research 88% of the top-performing companies in terms of content marketing, prioritize their audience’s informational needs over their organization’s sales/promotional message.
Lyfe Marketing in this article provides 4 proven tactics to great content marketing for B2B companies. Their number 1 tactic is telling better, more enticing stories.
Wordstream’s Seriously Comprehensive Guide to B2B Content Marketing magnifies the importance of knowing your audience when embarking on content marketing for B2B. They also provide useful examples of great content marketing campaigns.
B2B Email Marketing
This Best Practices Guide for B2B Email Marketing states that for every $1 spent, $44.25 is the average return on email marketing investment. They also provide a step-by-step guide to starting and running a successful B2B Email marketing campaign.
In this article, Automixy explains in great detail how to set up an automated B2B email marketing campaign, and they also provide examples of campaigns.
Here are 9 B2B Email Marketing Examples provided by SmartInsights. In the article, they describe 9 types of Email Marketing to engage B2B audiences, from case studies, to events and webinars.
B2B Digital Marketing
In the eBook, Digital Branch Secrets, Justin King describes how distributors can win online against the national competitors and Amazon.
This Hubspot Ultimate Guide to B2B Marketing gives you a basic understanding of B2B marketing, the most effective B2B marketing strategies, and how you can tap into and convert your business audience.
In this article, Forbes describes 3 ideas that are the foundation of successful B2B marketing. The 3 ideas are (1) Customer data privacy, (2) Search engine marketing and optimization, and (3) Account-based marketing.
B2B eCommerce Platforms
When searching for information on B2B eCommerce platforms, it is not easy to find information that is unbiased, as most of the Google search results come from the different vendors themselves. We have found some resources to help you navigate this:
B2B Social Media Marketing
This article by SmartInsights takes a look at how social media compares to other channels for B2B marketing.
In this Medium article, the difference between B2B and B2C social media marketing is discussed. They also provide best practice guidelines for B2B social media marketing. Here are some of the best practice guidelines: (1) Use appropriate social media channels, (2) Keep your branding consistent across all platforms, and (3) Set up workflows for welcoming new followers, managing support requests, and engaging with influencers.
Here are 10 examples of the best B2B social media campaigns, from Hubspot, Shopify and more.
B2B Marketing Trends 2020
This article on the Top 11 Most Effective B2B Marketing Strategies for 2020 provides a somewhat different view, not focusing solely on digital. His #1 suggested strategy is Account-Based Marketing (ABM) where you focus on a specific set of accounts, instead of bringing in as many leads as possible.
Here is a list of 9 B2B Marketing Trends to Watch in 2020. One interesting statistic from this article is that 91% of B2B buyers say that they prefer interactive and visual content to static content. They also note that B2B marketers rank live events as the highest performing tactic for converting leads into clients.
In 2020 B2B Marketing Trends: 9 Things You Need to Know it is said that by 2023 digital advertising spending worldwide will amount to over 500 billion dollars per year. According to this article personalization is the most important thing to focus on in B2B marketing.
B2B Internet Marketing
In this article, Wordstream sets out to show the reader how to find commercial intent keywords. They explain that high commercial intent keywords are like invitations from prospective customers. In B2B internet marketing, finding the correct keywords is crucial and this article is a good start.
Let Us Help You Organize Your B2B eCommerce Projects
We created a public Trello board to illustrate how you can visualize your projects using the structure of this B2B guide. One of the services we offer is to help B2B enterprises organize their eCommerce projects on a project portal and provide project oversight. Fill out the feedback form below if you are interested in learning more about this service.