ERP & eCommerce Integration: 5 Must-Answer Questions for Success

You've heard about the benefits – an ERP and eCommerce integration can make your team more efficient, open new revenue streams and increase profits. But you've also heard the horror stories – integrations that break down, cause corporate disruption, and cost a ton of money.

So how do you enjoy the benefits without finding yourself in a corporate horror movie?

You deep dive into questions about your work processes and your customers' buying processes and make a strategic plan before you get started.

That's what we'll cover today – key questions you must explore with your team to ensure your ERP – eCommerce integration helps you grow. Getting these questions answered will also make it easier to get internal buy-in for this efficient way of doing business. And just in case you're unsure of how the benefits actually come into play, we'll cover that too.

1. Which System Owns Which Data?

The biggest data sets you'll be syncing will likely be orders, accounts, and products. But there are additional data points to take into consideration, like product pricing and quotes. Deciding who's in charge of what will make your ERP and eCommerce integration much more seamless.

Sync Data in the Most Efficient Way Possible

Integrating the least amount of data is the opposite of cutting corners – it's all about efficiency, both in your day-to-day and when things go wrong.

  • The more data you pile on a system, the slower and more expensive it becomes. That means you have fewer resources available to get the best possible results.
  • If something breaks or someone deletes something, it could get messy. You could find yourself with different people seeing different prices or product availability. And you could find yourself with lengthier, more expensive recovery processes.

Decide Which Types of Data Get Originated in ERP vs. eCommerce

When you sync your ERP and eCommerce data, you need to decide whether data will be synced one way or two ways.

  • In many cases, you'll only need to sync data one way.

For example, your basic product catalog might be created in the ERP and synced with your eCommerce platform, but everything eCommerce adds to it – images, videos, descriptions, reviews – don't need to get synced back.

The folks using your ERP system also don't need to know that a specific customer joined a subscription program that automatically makes a purchase order every month instead of her doing it manually. They just need to know an order was made and that orders have been scheduled in the future. Therefore, all of this doesn't need to be synced with your ERP system.

  • In some cases, a two-way sync is essential.

For example, your eCommerce needs to sync data on closed deals to your ERP, so your warehouse ERP users know to find, package and ship a specific product to a specific address.

Then, you need to sync shipping information back to your eCommerce platform, so that the customer can be automatically notified of shipping status and arrival time.

Get a Complete Data Structure

To make the most efficient decisions, it's often necessary to have a complete data structure that’s well documented. Particularly for the most important data sets – products, orders, and accounts – it will help you verify you haven't missed any critical points or practices.

Key Action Steps:

  • Decide on a clear line of operational ownership.
  • Sync the least amount of data to minimize team and system overwhelm.
  • Understand your complete data structure to make efficient decisions.

2. What Business Processes Need to Change?

Integrating an eCommerce platform with your ERP is going to impact your customers' experience – but also your employees' day-to-day work.

Look for Automations, Duplications, and Opportunities to Improve Efficiencies within eCommerce

Launching an eCommerce platform and integrating it with your ERP makes it easier for you to grow more efficiently with resource deployment.

  • Automate tasks, like sending the UPS tracking number to customers, and let employees do more complex work.
  • Save money: A Unit4 study found that, "on average across all of countries in [the] study, office workers spend 552 hours a year completing administrative or repetitive tasks; the equivalent to 69 work days or roughly one-third of the working year. The research shows that the cost of this… in 11 countries is more than $5 trillion USD annually," reports IT Chronicles.

Another way to increase efficiency and save money?

Find duplicate functionality or responsibility across your ERP and eCommerce system, and redistribute the workload more efficiently. This could be an opportunity to create better cross-departmental collaborations that are necessary for the company's overall health.

Some of the function duplications you might see in these systems include:

  • Automated emails: Order confirmation, order delivery notifications.
  • Order entry: Which system (and team) will control the order entry process? You may find that both systems offer a manual order entry system or screen.
  • Product pricing: Who decides on pricing? If it's done on the ERP, can additional options or promotions be configured on top of it?
  • Customer grouping: Both marketing and operations might want to be in charge of customer segmentations. Consider the costs and benefits of each option, then explore how the data can be synced between eCommerce and ERP to optimize the process and determine if the customer groups can be synced together.
  • Promotions: Set guidelines for the type of promotions your company can offer. Decisions like providing free shipping can impact business processes and costs, and therefore, the people and systems who make it all happen.

Change the Way You Sell to Increase Profits

Transitioning to online sales opens new revenue possibilities. Sure, customers might not click a button to make their next seven-figure purchase, but they might buy a four or five-figure annual service subscription online, to maintain the products they bought from you or to keep training their teams.

Moreover, customer data in your eCommerce platform can trigger automatic notifications or promotional emails to segmented markets, inviting fast-growth companies to explore upgrades after a couple of years, or all customers to check out new product versions a few months before it's time to make another purchase.

Simultaneously, ERP data could reveal excess inventory in the warehouse. By syncing with your eCommerce platform, you could offer a special deal on the excess inventory, to make room for more profitable products.

Proactively upselling and cross-selling could be crucial for your profit margins:

  • "90% of the customer value for B2B businesses is actually obtained after the initial sale" (Marketo).
  • "The average spend of a repeat customer is 67 times higher" than that of a new customer (Chargebee).

Key Action Steps:

  • Automate tasks to leave employees time for more complex work or direct sales generating interactions with customers.
  • Look for duplicate features and functionality in your ERP and eCommerce and redistribute the work more efficiently.
  • Create a plan for promotions, cross-sells, and upsells. Map out how they will impact your ERP and eCommerce operations.

3. How Many Products Will You Sell via eCommerce?

Not all your products will necessarily be a good fit for an eCommerce platform. As mentioned above, most customers aren't likely to click a button to buy a seven-figure machine. Similarly, some products might be highly customizable and require in-person (or Zoom) meetings.

So how do you choose how many – and which – products to sell?

  • Choose products that are smaller or easier to sell, and easy to ship or otherwise deploy.
  • Choose products you can represent well online, with high-quality visuals and descriptions.
  • Alternatively, choose products that don't require a lot of visuals and descriptions. A bag of corn might just be a bag of corn.

It's OK to start small and add more products as you go. It's OK to skip visuals of "obvious" products at first, so you can start getting some sales and testing your eCommerce platform, and adding them later on to improve conversions.

It might even be better to start small. It will help you test the integration with your ERP when the stakes are lower. Then, improve what's needed, and scale more seamlessly.

Key Action Steps:

  • Review your product catalog at a category or type level and decide which ones will go on your site first.
  • Create visuals and descriptions to represent them well online.
  • Build a pilot to test your ERP and eCommerce integration, then add products as you go.

4. How Often Do You Need to Sync Your Data?

When you set up your ERP and eCommerce integration, you need to choose which data will be synced where, and how often:

  • Some data will be synced instantly the moment it's created. Once a customer makes a purchase, for example, you want it instantly updated in both the eCommerce and the ERP systems, so that the customer can be served well.
  • Some data needs to be synced often, but not instantly. Depending on your situation, inventory stats might be OK to sync once an hour. Other data might be less critical, and could be synced only once or twice a day.

Take into consideration that:

  • The more data that lives within each system, the greater the cost to manage and store that data.
  • Over-syncing can end up doing more harm than good, as explained above.

To avoid mishaps:

  • Map out all your data points and syncing options.
  • Sync everything you need, at the frequency you need, for your organization to operate well, but don't over-sync for the sake of syncing.
  • Prioritize more frequent syncs for what matters most.

Key Action Steps:

  • Map out all the data that needs to be synced between ERP and eCommerce.
  • Divide it into categories – what needs to sync instantly vs. once an hour vs. once a day, etc.
  • Sync everything you need to operate seamlessly, but don't over-sync.

5. What Other Systems are Involved?

If your company is like most companies, you're juggling a lot of tools and platforms. "The number of software apps deployed by large firms across all industries worldwide has increased 68%" within "four years, reaching an average of 129 apps per company by the end of 2018, according to an analysis by Okta Inc. Nearly 10% of businesses now have more than 200 apps," reports The Wall Street Journal.

Therefore, chances are you'll need to integrate more than just your ERP and eCommerce systems to ensure the company operates smoothly. You've got shipping solutions, email providers, analytics platforms, CRM… you name it.

To prepare for your ERP – eCommerce integration, consider all these platforms and their roles in this new journey, including:

  • Which platform integrates with your ERP system, and which will integrate with your eCommerce system?
  • If one of these platforms – say, your CRM – integrates with your ERP system, but your eCommerce system will need its data too, how will you integrate them all together?

Key Action Steps:

  • Make a list of all relevant software products you might want to include in your ERP and eCommerce integration.
  • Decide which system owns which part of your app collection.
  • Set guidelines for collaboration when both ends of your integration need access to the same app.

Get Input from All Relevant Departments to Set Your ERP – eCommerce Integration for Success

When you integrate ERP and eCommerce, you get multiple teams, each with its own complex needs and processes, working on the same systems.

It's important to get input from every relevant team on what they need from your integration, then make a list of priorities. It will help you understand your company's non-negotiables when choosing a partner. Then, it will help you set the integration in a way that the right people own the right processes, and the right data is synced when it's needed, to whoever needs it.

Once you make your priorities list, get back to fellow departments to verify all their key needs have been met.

This might require multiple rounds of feedback and adjustment, but once you get started, it'll be much easier to set your integration to a "happily ever after" corporate story – one of efficiency, growth, and making a bigger impact.

Key Action Steps:

  • Get every relevant department to prioritize its needs from your ERP and eCommerce integration.
  • Make a company-wide priority list.
  • Go back to the departments to verify their key needs are still included.
  • Once you have a final list of priorities, it's time to get started.

Wrapping Up

The integration between eCommerce and ERP is so critical for the long-term success of any B2B business that if you don’t plan ahead, it can cause all sorts of issues. Take the time to consider each of these points and put together a strategic roadmap to minimize integration problems that might arise. When done correctly, an eCommerce and ERP integration will allow you to unlock valuable innovations across the entire enterprise.

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