EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post is the fourth in a continuing series. If you’re considering an eCommerce project at your company, you’ll want to watch this space. The posts in this series – and the link to resources at the end of each post – will help you complete some vital groundwork and address important questions that will save you time, work, and money. We hope you enjoy them and find them useful.
The first three posts of this series covered the importance of planning your eCommerce project, establishing your company’s specific marketing objectives, and addressing operational objectives. If you’ve already downloaded our free eCommerce planning template, then you’ve probably completed the first three tabs of that document, titled “Overview,” “Marketing Objectives,” and “Operational Objectives.” In today’s post, we’ll be focusing on the fourth tab in this document: “Internal Resources and Vendors.” (If you haven’t already read the first three blog posts in this series and populated the planning template with your own information, now is a perfect time to do that.)
Let’s assume you’ve already completed your planning and identified your marketing and operational objectives for your eCommerce project. Now it’s time to start thinking about the people and resources you’ll need to fulfill all of those objectives. This is where the real work begins!
The first things you’ll need to address are the required internal resources that are project-related. These are the resources you’ll need to allocate in order to get your eCommerce project up and running. So who, exactly, are we talking about? Here’s a typical list of the players:
Project manager – This is by far the most important role you’ll fill, because this person will be running the entire show. Anyone who has anything to do with your organization’s eCommerce initiative will most likely be interacting with your project manager on a frequent, daily basis. Whoever occupies this key role will need to dedicate his or her full-time attention to the work, so you’ll want to plan accordingly from a budgeting and payroll perspective. This is definitely not a role for a part-timer.
Decision-makers – It’s vital to identify ahead of time who your decision-makers are going to be, and what their roles are. In other words, who’s going to be responsible for what? Three months into your eCommerce project is not the time to be playing “That’s Not My Job.” If you clarify now who all of your key people are and what they do, you’ll have a document that you’ll be able to refer back to weeks, months, and even years from now. And you’ll eliminate confusion and costly miscommunication.
Technical – When it comes to eCommerce, your in-house information technology (IT) department is going to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting, so it’s crucial that you determine exactly how many people you’re going to need in this area. It’s also important to have accurate estimates on how much time your IT staff will need to get your eCommerce up and running. This is not the place for guesswork: Careful allocation of your IT resources will ensure that you don’t find yourself over budget or hopelessly behind schedule.
Miscellaneous – This category includes various functions that you’ll have to address as you plan for and launch your eCommerce initiative. For example, you’ll probably need talent in these following areas:
- Customer service
- Public relations
- Quality assurance
Take the time now to identify the people in your company who work in these disciplines. If you don’t already have these capabilities or departments in house, you’ll want to staff up accordingly so you can hit the ground running.
You’ll also need to address the required internal resources that are ongoing. Planning for, creating, and launching eCommerce in your organization is all well and good, but what happens once that project is actually live? What are the regular, day-to-day tasks that will be required to keep eCommerce up and running at your company without a hitch? And what about future enhancements you’d like to make? Who will be identifying and handling those? This kind of ongoing work will most likely be done by people in these two departments:
- Marketing – Factoring in the long-term cost of marketing objectives is mission-critical. For instance, let’s say you decide to roll out a new blog as part of your eCommerce initiative. A blog can be an extremely effective way to communicate with existing customers, reach out to prospects, and position you as a knowledgeable member of the community. But how frequently will you be publishing the blog? Will it be weekly? Monthly? And who’s going to write it? Is there somebody already on your staff who’s able to devote the time to this task on a regular basis? If not, you’ll need to hire someone. Either way, you’ll have recurring and ongoing tasks and costs associated with just this one effort. You may have similar plans to host regular roundtable discussions, expos, webinars, or other events that may interest your stakeholders and prospects. Identify what these efforts are and how much they’ll cost in terms of your resources and time.
- Information technology – As you identify what your ongoing eCommerce tasks will be, you’ll need to work closely with your IT department to determine the impact of those tasks on department members. Request ongoing and accurate time estimates from IT staff so that you know exactly what’s involved from a scheduling and budgeting standpoint. This will ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises down the road.
Finally, once you’ve got a handle on your internal resources, you’ll need to address the issue of vendor selection. Depending on the scope of your eCommerce project and your own in-house capabilities, you may decide to outsource and hire specialized professionals to partner with you. Here are some useful tips that will make vendor selection easier:
- Formalize your process – The goal here is to take the emotion out of decision-making so that you can be as diligent and well-informed as possible. Make sure you meet with multiple vendor candidates; don’t just hire the first one you meet. It’s important for you to see what each vendor offers, learn what their strengths are, discover how they handle challenging situations, and hear what current and past clients say about them. Decide ahead of time (and put in writing) how you’ll handle RFPs, evaluate candidates, select your finalist, and award your contracts. These are significant decisions that will impact your business’s bottom line, so doing your homework now will pay real dividends in the future.
- Don’t formalize too much – Yes, that may sound a little contradictory, given that we’ve just told you to formalize your process. But remember: the whole reason you’re hiring vendors in the first place is because they have the skills or talents that you probably lack in-house. Leave enough space in your selection process to let those vendors educate you – you don’t know all the options that are out there. And make sure the vendors you decide to work with have exactly what you need and are able to customize solutions based on your unique requirements.
- Consider the relationship – As you evaluate various candidates, think carefully about how long you’ll be in a relationship with the vendors you need, and make your decisions accordingly. Hiring a hosting vendor, for instance, is a long-term commitment. But if all you need is a freelance designer for a specific deliverable, then you’re looking at a short-term engagement.
- Get to know the vendors’ teams – This is an especially important tip, because you need to understand who is going to be doing the work with the vendors you interview. You’ll typically be meeting with a vendor’s account executive at first, but ask who’ll actually be providing the services you need. You don’t want to find out after you’ve signed a contract with a vendor that you’re entrusting your company’s eCommerce future to an intern who was only hired the week before.
- Don’t value non-requirements – You’ll be meeting lots of potential vendors and sitting through plenty of presentations. Candidates are going to be showing you all of the cool things that they can do. Fancy bells and whistles are great, but if you don’t need certain features and functionalities, they shouldn’t influence your evaluation process.
Ready to put all of this information to work for you? Go to Tab 4 (titled “Internal Resources and Vendors”) in your eCommerce Planning Template. Re-read this blog post and enter all of your company’s information into the appropriate sections of Tab 4. Be as specific as you can, and the result will be a blueprint that will help guide every business decision you’ll need to make about internal resources and vendor selection.
Watch for the fifth post in this series: Timeline and Budgeting. In the meantime, please share your comments and questions about this blog post with us!