5 Ways to Launch B2B eCommerce Affordably

The world has shifted to eCommerce, and B2B is no exception. For years now, B2B executives have agreed that eCommerce platform integration is a top priority for their technology investments. And with the proliferation of B2B commerce platforms available to businesses these days, companies have more options than ever for getting their storefronts off the ground.

The problem facing B2B companies these days isn’t a lack of choice; it’s how to launch those choices faster, and without excessive cost or effort. And it can be done with a bit of planning. In our experience, B2B organizations can get their eCommerce experiences off the ground by taking a few simple steps before the implementation begins.

1. Integration Planning

First and foremost, a project is never as simple as just launching a storefront. You'll have various integrations to consider, some of which will be absolute necessities, some will be "nice to haves," and some will be optional. Start by defining which integrations are essential and work from there. The basic idea here is to lower launch costs by planning ahead and reducing the need for reworks and rebuilds as the launch progresses. 

For each required integration, look for opportunities to streamline. Can you launch the integration with less functionality than you originally intended? Try to simplify where possible without sacrificing essential features. For example, with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration (which nearly every B2B launch needs), can you minimize the number of touchpoints included to make the sync processes more efficient?

Another option is to leverage syncing tools that let you build the integration with as little custom development and programming as possible. Think of them as interpreters that serve as a middle layer between your eCommerce platform and ERP. The less complicated your architecture, the more affordable your launch will be.

Of course, you’ll want to start the development process as early as possible and get your web teams, ERP teams (both internal and external), and any other stakeholders on the same page. Start from a simple place and be ready to collaborate as your first step.

Key Decisions to Make

  • Which systems must be integrated into the platform? Which are essential, and which are optional?
  • For the optional items, do you have a plan to integrate them later on in development?
  • Are all teams on the same page with your launch schedule?

2. Functionality and Feature Prioritization

We learned when we were kids that we couldn’t get everything we wanted. We had to make choices. The same is true with your eCommerce launch. You can’t have everything at the beginning; and just as with integrations, you’ll need to prioritize which features to implement first.

This is often easier said than done. When you have big dreams for your eCommerce launch, it’s tough to admit that some functions simply aren’t essential. This step is about being realistic and making the hard decisions about which functions should go on that “must-have” list.

Perform an honest self-assessment of your needs. Consider what you already have (if anything) and what can be pushed off. Prioritize the features that you know will best serve your customers and drive new business at the early stages of your eCommerce experience. Even if you don’t know for sure which features will produce the best result, consider which features you’d like to test out. Of course, give the proven set of tools a higher slot on the priority list since you can be reasonably sure they’ll work – but be willing to test new ways to drive business as well.

A word of warning, here – it’s easy to fall into competitor analysis during this step, basing your decisions off of what others have done. But keep in mind that you can’t be sure whether their eCommerce features are actually working for them. Save the experiential comparisons for a later date. You’ll have plenty of time to establish a competitive advantage later, but for now, focus on serving your existing customers as well as you possibly can.

Key Decisions to Make

  • Which functionalities do you have now? Which do you anticipate needing as you move forward with your launch?
  • Which of those features are required and which are optional?
  • Among your feature list, which offer the most potential to serve your existing customer base?

3. Keep Design Simple

It’s tempting to use your storefront launch as an opportunity for rebranding. But remember, your goal is to launch quickly and affordably – meaning that now the optimal time to undertake extensive redesigns. Each design effort you take on will add costs and time to your project. Much like tip number two, your goal here is simplicity. The fewer features or design elements you try to integrate at once, the easier your launch will be.

Keep in mind that you’re not likely to get everything right on your initial launch, especially in regards to your customer-facing elements. You can hedge your bet by focusing on the design elements that cater to your existing customers first. Leverage your site data to your advantage here and see which features are preferred by your buyers. This is the best way to design successfully without wasting too much time going back and forth developing processes with dubious value.

Remember, the customer experience is paramount in B2B eCommerce.According to research, buyers are willing to pay an average of 13% more for products when companies provide a great customer experience. Don’t worry about how your design elements sell your brand. Instead, focus on creating a simple shopping and customer service experience.

Key Decisions to Make

  • Where should your designers focus their efforts? (We like to suggest focusing on product catalog and search)
  • What challenges do you anticipate, and what problems can be solved with a great design? (Think complex product details, large catalog, etc.)
  • How can you leverage your design to streamline the customer shopping experience?

4. Limit Your Product Catalog

Distributors and wholesalers love to talk about the size and breadth of their product catalogs. Sure, extensive catalogs help reinforce the idea that your company has access to the most (and best) products, but from a design standpoint, it also means two things: lots of imports and lots of images.

These two immense tasks are almost guaranteed to delay launch efforts, add complexity, and eat up your valuable data management budget. As such, you’ll need to be reasonable about how many products you include in your launch.

You might get lucky and work with manufacturers who already have a robust system for importing product data and images to your team. If so, then great! But more often, you’ll be left on your own. This means extensive manual efforts to import product data and imagery from your ERP. And for each product in your library, you’ll need to add data imagery, review processes, and more. In other words, there’s a direct cost for each item you include – and you’ll need to consider whether that cost justifies the benefits of bringing it live.

 

Key Decisions to Make

  • What products lend themselves to being sold through your web portal?
  • Can I go live with a more limited set of products? (Be honest, you probably can).
  • What resources and investment do you need to make to best sell those products with a limited catalog?
  • Which products need imagery or additional specifications? Can you put off that responsibility to a later date?

5. Data Is… Expensive

Data is a focal point of your launch across your product catalog and integrations, but that’s not the only time it’s relevant. Regardless of its application, data is expensive – even more so when you get data wrong, or get more than you need. Every data point requires time, computing resources, and planning to incorporate into your eCommerce platform, so if you want to launch affordably, you’ll need to manage how you handle data. This applies to having too much as well as too little. If you’re missing data that’s critical to selling or customer service, it’ll negatively impact your selling goals.

As you’d imagine, you’ll begin generating lots more data as soon as your eCommerce storefront is live - so getting it right when you start off will save time and money down the road. Make sure there's a clear map of ownership for data, accounts, orders, and products in your system. Who owns the account records as the master system, eCommerce or customer relationship management (CRM) software? You can ask this question for each data point in your system. Make sure you know where data is moving across importing, exporting, and syncing, and don't be caught off guard by exorbitant data costs.

Key Decisions to Make

  • Which systems own key data sets across products, orders, and accounts?
  • What data is changed, updated, or otherwise affected by integrations?
  • Will those non-eCommerce platform systems allow you to make the data updates you need?

Proper Planning Ensures a Smooth, Affordable eCommerce Launch

>Too many eCommerce launches are plagued by poor planning and after-the-fact problem-solving. It’s common for project costs to skyrocket when approaching things without a plan, but if you follow the above tips, you’ll be able to stay two steps ahead of the most common launch challenges that drive costs up. If you need more help with your eCommerce launch or advice on which commerce platforms may work best for your business, contact Slatwall for a walkthrough of your eCommerce strategy.

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