Guide to Buying a B2B Digital Commerce Platform

Stephanie King

Ecommerce has been one of the largest shifts in the way that we conduct business in the 21st century. Once a business-to-consumer (B2C) dominant practice, ecommerce has aggressively evolved over the last few years, and today continues to grow in prevalence in the business-to-business (B2B) world. In fact, Forrester predicts that the US B2B ecommerce market will reach $1.13 trillion by 2020.

Why? Truth be told, there are many factors fueling B2B ecommerce expansion: outshining competition, generating higher conversions and driving the bottom line – among many more. To call out the single, most important reason why B2B commerce is on the upswing it is because consumer-driven digital commerce is now an expectation. B2B buyers are also B2C buyers, and any time these individuals experience an “Amazon-like,” personalized, streamlined ecommerce experience, the stakes get higher. So, if your business can’t replicate – and even outperform – B2C experiences that the market is accustomed to, your prospects will simply find a business that can: your competitors.

The pressure is on, globally. More and more B2B businesses are moving towards adopting modern technology that will meet buyer demands and scale business processes. In doing so, these organizations not only put to bed the myth that digital transformation is expensive and time-consuming, but they also go on to recognize incredible ROI.

This guide will explore what buyers expect from B2B businesses today, and where to begin when it comes to creating, migrating and/or implementing a digital commerce solution.

Is This Guide For Me?

If your business meets any of the criteria below, then The Ultimate Guide to Buying a B2B Digital Commerce Platform is for you. Continue reading if you are a B2B business that is:

  • Interested in learning more about B2B ecommerce
  • Considering digital commerce platform adoption
  • Wanting to optimize an existing ecommerce platform
  • Working with an outdated digital platform and looking for a more streamlined solution

What You’ll Learn:

  • Which is the better fit for your B2B business: Building an ecommerce solution in-house or working with an ecommerce platform and service provider
  • The benefits of consulting with B2B ecommerce experts at the beginning of your business’ steps towards digital transformation
  • How to select the right platform for your business and be prepared for implementation and/or migration

Section I: Buy or Build Your Ecommerce Solution?

Your business is interested in transformation via digital commerce. The million dollar question becomes should you buy an external platform and work with a service provider to implement the solution, or should you build what you need in-house?

Many companies will first lean towards building their own digital commerce platform. After all, this approach involves complete control, flexibility and customization over your digital commerce solution. Depending on the complexity of your product or distribution chain, when it comes to unique market requirements, it may appear that custom-build is the most appropriate option.

Having an internal development and IT team that is ready to go at any time because they inherently understand the business eliminates a middle-team; plus, your own ecommerce design perhaps positions the business with a competitive advantage. According to Gartner, custom-build B2B ecommerce solutions may also suit companies that have already made a large and early investment in ecommerce, and now finds converting to a licensed or hosted solution too costly or disruptive.

For those businesses who do choose to build custom ecommerce platforms, they must evaluate their internal talent and capacity. A few questions executives should consider:

  • Does your internal development and IT team have the expertise required to deliver against the project?
  • Do they understand the scope of the project?
  • Is there capacity for the project amongst existing priorities?

If the answer is not ‘yes’ to the questions above, then executives must be prepared to hire more talent. Roles such as project leads, front-end developers, back-end developers, IT and QA are essential to ongoing maintenance, function and evolution.

Gartner also recommends that businesses truly ask themselves if their internal resources have the ability to keep pace with the speed of ecommerce innovation (mobile and tablet support, new integrations, etc.). Moreover, resources must be equipped with the skills to rapidly respond to ever-changing market needs with short “time to productivity” requirements met by the in-house team.

As it stands, after carefully examining the project scope, existing talent and defining the investment required to custom-build an ever-evolving ecommerce platform, most businesses will also consider buying. Of course, the influencing factor comes down to return-on-investment. Though both approaches require funding, one investment is likely to outweigh the other.

With custom-builds, the cost of the decision ultimately falls on the business. There are no guarantees about return, and when anything goes awry, troubleshooting is your own responsibility. With buying, vendors can point to returns; with SAP Hybris for example, their customers recognize the average return outlined in table one. Moreover, your ecommerce vendor will be skilled at handling and resolving issues, with as little disruption possible. Finally, your vendors are experts in the ecommerce space – always one step ahead when it comes to innovation and market needs, advising your business on how to iterate and react to demand.

Ultimately, the decision to buy or build comes down to what is right for your unique business. That said, the B2B digital commerce landscape continues to rapidly evolve, change and mature – and with it, vendors’ platforms keep pace. Custom-builds are expensive to fund over time, difficult to scale, and ultimately deliver little competitive advantage.

Section II: Consulting with B2B Ecommerce Experts

Buying or building an ecommerce platform is the first of many complexities involved in B2B digital transformation. As companies consider digital commerce strategies, many executives need to educate cross-functional teams in the latest B2B digital commerce trends, technologies, and best practices. It is wise to turn to B2B digital commerce experts before embarking on an overhaul of your business processes.

The benefits of working with well-versed authorities in the space who have a pulse on B2B ecommerce is manifold. These unbiased strategic consulting teams will rely on three pillars to guide your team:

  • Market Insight: They offer skilled knowledge of all B2B market-leading commerce platforms, making for efficient problem-solving. Technology is just the tool to get there.
  • B2B Experience Design: Apply insights to provide persona-driven omnichannel experiences.
  • Innovation: They are at the forefront of digital commerce, leading the way with new ideas, methods, and technologies.

Drawing on these areas of expertise, consultants will assess your business needs, conduct customer research and competitive analyses, and rely on industry best practices to design a customized roadmap for business digital transformation tailored to your unique organization. This exercise ensures that your investment goes far, and that you have a thorough understanding of the dos and don’ts of digital commerce platform deployments.

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