Imagine for a moment that mega-retailer Amazon was like many of the traditional e-commerce companies, working with slow, out-of-date systems and business processes that reduced the stream of growth to a trickle. And what if it was using the classic, non-iterative approach of waiting to do one big release of its software and solutions, but only after they were planned out and perfect? I think it’s safe to say that if Amazon had done this, we would never have heard of it.
In fact, the world’s largest web-based “store for everything” actually updates and deploys software on a continuous loop every 11.6 seconds. And if B2B enterprises want to beat competitors off the block and build better customer experience and loyalty, they need to strive to move at the pace of Amazon.
Today, many B2B customers are spending so much time on sites like Amazon and Facebook that they have the same expectations for digital commerce platforms that they do for consumer-facing ones in terms of ease of use and experience. While your company may not be able to move as swiftly, you can model this approach of satisfying customer needs and driving profit by consistently implementing new features and functionality to customers. It’s called continuous delivery.
Switching To A Continuous Delivery System
I run a consultancy that helps companies build and optimize digital commerce experience platforms. I tell my clients that they have to stop taking three to five months to do something and start doing it in two to three weeks. That may sound shocking to companies using legacy systems, but it encapsulates the logic behind continuous delivery. As opposed to the wait-and-perfect “waterfall” methodology, continuous delivery provides a scalable solution by iteratively making small improvements and fixes to the site, piece by piece. When we use it with clients, we build the requirements for the MVP (the minimum viable product) and then release them over multiple sprints throughout the lifetime of the project.
While continuous delivery isn’t a new idea, it’s not very well-applied yet. Legacy, systems are rarely fast or mature enough to support new innovation, and they have to integrate with the new platform. Continuous delivery makes companies look at their internal processes and organizations, and re-evaluate how they have been working in the past. Establishing a new mindset with incremental releases and an acceptance of iterative failure is vital.
Making Continuous Delivery Work For You
When we worked with a leading global industrial manufacturer, a number of these challenges came to light.. The company needed to design and operationalize a revamped B2B e-commerce platform, but its rigid waterfall strategy was inconsistent with its customer’s needs. It needed to switch toward a seamless customer experience that was scalable, flexible and met the demands of its customer base. Using continuous delivery, we help them ensure rapid development, with sprints adding new features every three weeks. Ultimately, it’s MVP site launched in just 90 days. We achieved this by:
Establishing a product-centric approach to managing the delivery of capabilities in smaller releases. Features were prioritized by economic value.
Implementing automation for faster testing and release cycles, enabled continuous delivery.
Taking an agile and experience-led approach. This allowed for iterative UX enhancements that could be validated quickly by customers.
The result was that the company’s revenue grew with new platform capabilities and product line additions, and reduced its operating expenses through new efficiencies, and delivers new capabilities to customers every 3-weeks.
Another example of how continuous delivery can help an organization get in front of its buyers quickly and start generating revenue is our work with a healthcare company. Its reliance on traditional modes of selling products meant the company didn’t have any e-commerce channels in place to sell to its customers. We helped it create a new marketplace for its products via a robust digital presence. We did this by prioritizing the company’s list of requirements and working collaboratively to create an MVP site in four months. We then added functionality and features through incremental sprints. Continuous delivery’s shorter timelines gave the company a platform built for speed and revenue growth.
Keeping Pace Is Paramount
Companies that execute continuous delivery innovate more rapidly with products and get them to market faster with less investment. By breaking away from legacy systems, B2B companies can experience improved customer loyalty through a tailored user experience. And, the organization comes to adopt the essential mindset of continual evolution, where advances in technology aren’t just viewed as projects that are started and launched.
Results like these are not uncommon, we’ve found. B2B companies are facing more competition than ever before and are under pressure to show ROI with measurable transactions while saving costs. The good news for the future of the continuous delivery model is that a majority of business leaders are interested in accelerating how their companies move to production. And by 2019, B2B firms are expected to spend more on e-commerce technology than B2C online retailers, a recent Forrester study found. The reason why reveals a simple truth, said Forrester: Many of your customers believe that buying from a website is more convenient than buying from a sales representative.
One thing I tell my clients is, “Digital is here and you can’t ignore it – and your B2B customers are already buying online.” When will your company make the switch?