Guide to B2B E-Commerce: From Planning to Going Live
The 4 pillars of a successful e-commerce strategy
At the foundation of every successful e-commerce business is a foolproof strategy. Before you think about embarking onto an e-commerce project, ensure you establish a clear
strategy to guide your project. You can do so easily by taking into account these four key pillars.
Pillar 1: E-commerce objectives
As with any project you undertake, you need to define clear objectives. This ensures that you fully considered your reasons for taking on the project and that you can measure its success. You can start by describing the main objective of your e-commerce business and how it will contribute to your overall business goals. In general, e-commerce objectives fall into 5 categories:
- Reduce costs
- Increase revenue
- Improve customer retention (improve customer service and customer experience)
- Optimize internal processes and efficiency
- Drive brand awareness
Learn more about the benefits of ERP-integrated e-commerce.
Pillar 2: Business model
E-commerce gives companies the opportunity to reach customers all over the globe at any time. This means that you can have much more choice over who you sell to. For wholesalers and suppliers, this can include selling directly to the end-consumer (D2C). Many other companies are also embracing the D2C model: we’ve long seen this trend impacting the B2C space, but now it can also be observed in the B2B market.
Therefore, it is important to define your (future) business model. Whether you are selling B2B, B2C, B2B2C or D2C, there are many ways in which e-commerce can change the way you compete in the market and what your competitive advantage looks like. Learn more about the ins and outs of these types of business models (and what you need to do to stay competitive) with our B2B2C to D2C sales guide.
Pillar 3: Target audience
Choosing the right target market for your products is just as important as perfecting the product you’re bringing to market. Targeting a market that includes plenty of customers who understand and need your product can offer you a head start on success. But, select the wrong market and you may find yourself trying to offload products to customers who do not need them.
To define your target market, you can think about:
- Market size: Estimate how many people could potentially buy your product based on the geographical location and type of client you are targeting.
- Customer segment: Define the personas you are targeting. Knowing more about the specific people you want to bring to your web store will help you configure it accordingly.
Pillar 4: USP (unique selling point)
Ensure you stand out from your competitors by defining a USP. There are 3 overarching factors you can use to differentiate your business from your competitors:
- Cost leadership: You offer lower prices than the majority of your competitors.
- Differentiation: Your product or service offers something distinct from the current cost leaders in your sector.
- Segmentation: You focus on a very narrow target audience or niche target market.
How much is your current e-commerce solution costing you?
Find out with our total cost of ownership calculator for B2B e-commerce.
How to start your e-commerce project: A comprehensive checklist
With the right plan and preparation, nothing stands in the way of a successful e-commerce website that launches on time and on budget.
Check off the 9 steps below to fully prepare for your e-commerce implementation and ensure your project is a success:
1. Define your e-commerce goals
- Determine your business needs and goals for e-commerce.
- Define an e-commerce strategy to achieve these goals.
- Set clear e-commerce KPIs that align with your goals and strategy
2. Consider your customers’ needs
- Understand your customers’ needs and expectations: gather feedback from your biggest customers, including customers who are big advocates of web stores and those who are more skeptical about ordering online.
- Use this knowledge to inform your e-commerce plan and strategy.
3. Form a winning e-commerce project team
- Put someone in charge of e-commerce (E-Commerce Manager). This person does not need to be dedicated to e-commerce on a full-time basis, but should take responsibility for the launch and running of your online store.
- Include one person from each department in your e-commerce project team (to bring the necessary variety of knowledge, skills and perspectives). Team members can work on the e-commerce project alongside their current responsibilities.
- Get your directors on board with your plan for e-commerce implementation. For your e-commerce project to be successful, you need to have commitment and sign-off from your senior management team.
- Read more about building a successful e-commerce team.
4. Align your e-commerce plans internally and externally
- Communicate your e-commerce goals, strategy and plans to your entire organization before you start with your project.
- Educate each department on the advantages of e-commerce, with benefits specific to their own department (i.e. communicate what’s in it for them), to overcome any internal resistance
- Present your e-commerce plans and goals to any relevant external stakeholders (e.g. ERP or hosting partner, IT or design agency etc.).
Wondering what solution is best for you?
Compare and shortlist e-commerce software vendors with our comparison template.
5. Specify your web store requirements
- Establish your must-haves: the minimum features and functions needed to satisfy you and your customers (minimum viable product).
- Think about any additional nice-to-haves that you can execute if time and budget allow.
- Create user stories for any journey users might take on your online store, in order to guide your web store requirements
6. Get your web store data and content ready
- Think about what products you are going to sell online.
- Decide what the structure, main categories, and subcategories will be on your web store.
- Check that you have an image for each product and that these images are of good-enough quality.
- Consider whether you need to create additional materials, such as technical manuals for example, that your customers will need to install your products.
- If you choose an e-commerce platform that is integrated with your ERP system and/or PIM solution, make sure to clean up the content in these systems before going live with your web store (because all that data will be automatically displayed in your web store).
7. Set up a project timeline
- Ask your vendor to help you estimate a project timeline based on your chosen platform.
- Factor in time for your internal resources to create your website content. Make sure the people involved in your e-commerce project have the mandate from senior management to make decisions, in order to avoid delays.
- Define milestones and create a project roadmap to keep track of the progress of your e-commerce project.
8. Establish the right budget
- Take into consideration the cost of the initial e-commerce platform implementation.
- Factor in longer-term maintenance and ongoing costs.
- These can include licensing and maintenance costs, as well as ERP partner, design, or content agency fees.
- Consider the internal resources (and time) you will need to launch and run your e-commerce platform.
- Get familiar with the e-commerce expenses that could push you over budget
9. Lean on your e-commerce provider
Your chosen e-commerce provider should have extensive experience in e-commerce implementation projects. They also know what successful and unsuccessful projects look like. So, make full use of this expertise and ask for their support throughout your project.
The 5 biggest mistakes to avoid in your e-commerce project
- Mistake 1: Underestimating content demand
- Mistake 2: Focusing on your business instead of your customers
- Mistake 3: Not involving stakeholders in the planning stages
- Mistake 4: Wanting too many web store features and customizations
- Mistake 5: Not clearly defining your web store goals
What if you could get rid of e-commerce maintenance?
With the right platform and strategy, you can. Learn more in our guide to e-commerce maintenance.
Types of e-commerce vendors
Today, every business wants to — and needs to — invest in a web store (or in web store improvements) to stay competitive. But the market is oversaturated with options when it comes to e-commerce software vendors, and it’s tough to know which solution is right for you.
First things first: here’s an overview of your options:
ERP-integrated e-commerce software is built directly in the ERP, transforming the ERP into a single source of truth.
Interfaced e-commerce options include a CMS and a connector to sync information to and from the ERP system.
Connectors refer to a third-party application used to sync a web store with an ERP system.
Shopping cart software exists independently from the ERP and other back-office systems and has its own table structure.
What else should you think about when selecting an e-commerce vendor?
Out-of-the-box e-commerce software
Look for a vendor who offers most, if not all, of your must-have requirements in their standard, out-of-the-box e-commerce solution. Too many customizations can quickly increase your project timeline and push you over budget.
Integration of systems
Pick a solution that fits into your current tech stack (ERP system, PIM solution, marketing automation, etc.). What you want to avoid here are systems that operate in silos and lead to additional maintenance costs and resources.
From all-inclusive packages to vendors who will charge you separately for each connector, hosting partner, and support request you require, e-commerce solutions come in a wide variety of pricing models. Therefore, always be wary of hidden costs and ensure you have a clear overview of what you’re buying into.
Time to market
Find a solution provider who can deliver your web store within your timeline.
Relevant experience and track record
Work with a vendor who has experience working with your kind of company and project. Make sure to ask for examples of past clients who are comparable to your business in size, scope and goals.
Choose a provider whose culture, professionalism and working process match or compliment yours, so that your teams working with theirs is a seamless, clear and efficient collaboration.
Make sure your provider has the capabilities to comply with your support and servicing needs.
6 tips to drive e-commerce success after go-live
You’ve just gone live with your e-commerce platform – congratulations! But you’re not done just yet. There are still several steps you can take after your web store launch to drive e-commerce success. Check out the tips below to inspire your e-commerce roadmap and ensure continuous progress.
Tip #1: Set up a meeting rhythm for your e-commerce team
Get your cross-functional e-commerce team together on a regular basis to ensure there is a continuous focus on e-commerce. They can discuss successes and progress on KPIs, but also help each other with challenges and opportunities. We recommend a meeting rhythm of short, daily meetings, and longer weekly meetings.
Tip #2: Measure, analyze and report
Google Analytics with the Enhanced E-commerce plugin is a great tool for measuring the performance of your web store. You can use it to collect data, such as your:
- Amount of (returning) visitors
- Average order value
- Percentage of orders or revenue taken coming from your online store
- Conversion rate and best-converting products
- How often users use your web store’s search bar or filtering system (and what they are most frequently looking for)
Analyze this data and draw conclusions: Are the results on track? Do you see trends in your data? Are visitors on mobile converting well? Report, make hypotheses, and think of
improvements. Then test and continuously optimize your web store as your knowledge and experience grows.
Tip #3: Gather customer feedback
When making improvements to your web store, be sure to also involve your customers. As first-hand users, they should be a key source of information on how you can make meaningful improvements to your online customer experience. From passive data capturing using online monitoring tools, to face-to-face discussions and user groups, there are various ways of collecting customer feedback.
Get more advice about capturing B2B customer feedback.
Tip #4: Learn more about your e-commerce platform
Make time to continuously educate yourself and your team on your e-commerce platform. This also applies to any other tool that you use, such as your ERP system or marketing
platforms. By continuously exploring the potential of your business tools, you’ll likely find new features and possibilities that will improve not only the way you use the tool, but also help improve the tool itself.
Tip #5: Stay up to date
E-commerce moves at a fast pace. Because of that, we recommend that you upgrade your platform every other year to keep up with the latest e-commerce developments, including features, performance, and security. By upgrading regularly, you can ensure your web store remains safe and user-friendly.
Bonus Tip: If you would like automatic upgrades for your web store, you should look for a provider that offers a SaaS solution.
Tip #6: Gather inspiration from other web stores
From design to content and additional services, many aspects of another business’ web store can spark new ideas for how you can improve your own. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the following blogs, which include real-life web store examples to inspire improvements to your own e-commerce strategy:
- 8 B2B E-Commerce Best Practices
- How To Improve Your E-Commerce Website Design
- The Psychology of E-Commerce Sales: Copycat Effect
Next Steps: Kick off your e-commerce project
You’ve made it this far, and now you’re armed with all the information you need to launch your web store.
Next, it’s time to take the plunge and get started. Be sure to keep all our tips and tricks in mind as you go. If you have more questions about e-commerce and how to get started, you can talk to one of our experts for tailored advice.
Thinking of replatforming?
Use our checklist to guide your project as you get ready to change your B2B e-commerce platform.