3 Things To Do Before Choosing A B2B E-Commerce Platform

Brian Beck

You know the future of e-commerce is here, and you need a strategy, but you’re in analysis paralysis.

Your first and perhaps greatest hurdle is selecting the right platform (or re-platform). It’s a significant investment of time and money that can yield real returns and competitive advantages for manufacturers, distributors, and brands if done correctly.

Mid-market B2B companies invest anywhere from $250,000 to several million dollars and spend about nine months to two years to launch an e-commerce presence.

Making the wrong platform decision has serious consequences.

It’s better to invest time now to document your requirements, compare platforms, and understand how your organizations and processes need to evolve if you’re going to take advantage of an e-commerce platform.

First, you need to understand why you need an e-commerce platform.

1. Understand your drivers

Because of the “Amazon Effect,” 88 percent of business executives are purchasing products and services online. They now expect consumer-level experiences from their B2B partners. Companies are feeling market and customer pressure to invest in e-commerce because they want to:

  • Participate in many-to-many marketplaces (i.e. Alibaba and AmazonSupply)
  • Shift procurement to the internet from EDI
  • Place orders from their mobile devices
  • Empower their sales force to become strategic, reducing manual tasks and enabling off-hours ordering

These are some of the broad drivers of B2B e-commerce. Your company might care about something different. But if you don’t have a clear understanding of your needs, you’ll solve the wrong problem.

After all, 27 percent of B2B transactions are expected to move online by 2020. You need to be there if you want to meet and exceed customer expectations, empower your sales force, create efficiencies, and build competitive advantage.

Now that we understand our stakeholders’ needs, let’s examine our capabilities.

2. Perform a realistic self-assessment

If your organization isn’t ready to tackle e-commerce, it doesn’t matter how well you understand why you need a solution. You won’t have the support, resources, or strategic alignment to get the job done.

What are your current capabilities? Do you have people who can run with an e-commerce project, to set it up or own the platform once it’s live?

Do you understand your current processes (sales, service, inventory, fulfillment, etc.) such that they can be automated through e-commerce, or at least supported and made more efficient?  With e-commerce, your customers can track their orders, address questions online (product, technical, installation, and otherwise), and generally self-service. In turn, you get a new level of insight and analytics on your customers’ preferences.

If you’ve got your internal resources lined up, great. But is e-commerce central to your company’s overall strategy? If it isn’t a priority, you increase the odds of failure. Strategy alignment is a must before embarking on a platform search.

3. Answer these questions

Here’s a quick checklist for you:

  • Do you understand your company’s overall strategy and competitive differentiators?
  • Have you assessed your current resources (and identified the resource gaps)?
  • Have you clearly defined and outlined your ecommerce opportunity?
  • Have you documented your system requirements?
  • Do you have a detailed and objective platform selection process?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you’re not ready to select a platform. Retrench.

But if you have five “yes” answers, you’re ready. You can select a platform that will last you seven to 10 years (at least).

It’s time to start preparing for growth.

For more e-commerce strategies that boost your business, see 4 Critical Steps For Building A B2B E-commerce Organization.

Brian Beck

About Brian Beck

Brian Beck is Senior Vice President of E-Commerce and Omnichannel Strategy at Guidance. He has over 20 years of experience, including more than a decade as a hands-on C-level e-commerce executive. Brian has achieved high growth rates in excess of 100% per year and has held full P&L responsibility up to $100 million as the lead digital executive in both early stage and multibillion-dollar enterprises. He is an expert in the areas of omnichannel and e-commerce strategy, online marketing and customer acquisition, Web-site experience / merchandising, technology evaluation and selection, and all operational aspects of building online commerce organizations. His recent clients include both B2B and B2C industry leaders such as Brasseler USA, Five Below, Charming Charlie, Johnny Was, Sole Society, Epson, Harry & David, and Teleflora.