How To Implement a B2B Digital Commerce Platform Part I: Buy or Build?

Evan Klein

In this three-part blog series, we take a look at the critical steps B2B organizations must take to implement a leading digital commerce platform designed to meet customer needs and drive revenue.

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.

Many factors fueling B2B ecommerce expansion: outshining the competition, generating higher conversions, and driving the bottom line – among many more. The most important reason why B2B commerce is on the upswing is that 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. 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 B2B businesses are adopting modern digital commerce platforms to 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.

Buy or Build Your Ecommerce Solution?

When businesses decide to implement a digital commerce channel, they first ponder the pros and cons of buying versus building a commerce platform.

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.

Custom-build B2B ecommerce solutions may also suit companies that have already made a large and early investment in ecommerce, that now find converting to a licensed or hosted solution too costly or disruptive.

For businesses that 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.

    Businesses must also 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.

    Cost of Building vs Buying Chart

    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 and 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. And, with many competitive digital commerce platforms on the market including SAP Hybris / SAP Commerce, Salesforce B2B Commerce, commercetools, and VTEX, your business can get ahead with leading technology that already exists and evolves.

    Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, where we’ll explore how to select the right ecommerce platform for your unique business.

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