Whether you are a small business or a large company, every successful B2B eCommerce implementation starts with the following 10 steps. These are based on the combined expertise and experience of our Project, Sales and Care Team, here at Drink-IT. Read on to see exactly what makes a successful eCommerce project plan, and what is the best way to start your eCommerce website.
With the right plan and preparation, nothing stands in the way of a successful eCommerce website launch on time and on budget!
For more checklists and best practices to steer you through your entire eCommerce project – from planning to Go-Live: download our definitive Guide to Drink-IT eCommerce.
How to start an eCommerce project: Follow these 10 steps!
- Start by defining your eCommerce goals
- Focus on your B2B customers’ needs
- Form a winning eCommerce project team
- Communicate your eCommerce plans and align internally
- Specify your eCommerce product requirements (MVP)
- Get your data and content ready for your eCommerce website
- Set up a timeline for your eCommerce project
- Establish the right budget for your B2B eCommerce implementation and maintenance
- Make use of your vendor’s eCommerce project expertise
- Take the leap: Launch your eCommerce site!
1. Start by defining your eCommerce goals
Before you dive into your eCommerce project, consider why you want to start a web store in the first place. Hint: it shouldn’t just be because your competition has one!
The best way to start your eCommerce project is to determine your business needs and goals. Do this by asking yourself questions such as: Why do I want to start an eCommerce website now? What are the business advantages? What do I need to achieve by starting an online store? What does eCommerce success look like to my company? How does it fit into my overall company strategy?
Examples eCommerce goals include:
- Increasing revenue and/or number of customers
- Freeing up time for your sales and support teams
- Lowering overhead costs
- Increasing the efficiency of the ordering process and reducing order errors
- Improving your customer experience
Now that you know what you want to achieve, consider also how you want to achieve it: define your eCommerce strategy. Consider who you want to sell to, what you want to sell online, whether you want to expand to new markets (e.g. B2B2C), etc.
Finally, set clear eCommerce KPIs (key performance indicators) that align with your goals and strategy. Having clear KPIs ensures that you can measure the success of your eCommerce website project and spot any gaps that require your attention – while also ensuring there is a continuous focus on your eCommerce goals. Example KPIs include percentage of orders taken through the web store, average order value and percentage decrease in order errors.
2. Focus on you B2B customers’ needs
It’s not just your own business goals that you need to take into consideration when you start with eCommerce, but also those of your customers. The success of your online store if it suits them. It is therefore imperative to build your eCommerce plans around your customers. This means knowing what they are looking for and what they expect and delivering against these requirements.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: What do they need? How do they buy products? What experience do they expect? Their priorities could vary widely from accessing real-time information 24/7, to the ability of selecting existing payment agreements in the web store, or even transparency on order status and delivery updates.
Of course, the best way to find out what your customers want is to go out there and ask them. Start with your biggest customers. But be sure to also include a good mix of customers who are big advocates of B2B web stores, as well as those who are sceptical about ordering online. Then, see if you can find some common ground between all these varying needs.
3. Form a winning eCommerce project team
Put someone in charge of eCommerce
Before you start your eCommerce implementation, you need to appoint an eCommerce Manager: someone who takes charge of your eCommerce project, plan and team. This person should have KPIs relating to eCommerce success and adoption goals. They should have the authority to make decisions and the skills to move the project forward, including the ability to get people together and move them in the same direction.
For smaller businesses, this does not necessarily mean someone dedicated to eCommerce on a full-time basis. But you do need one person to take responsibility for the launch and running of your online store.
Gather team members from different departments
Your eCommerce Manager should then involve stakeholders from other departments to form an eCommerce team. Since eCommerce touches so many, if not all parts of your organisation, you need to involve people from every department to bring the necessary knowledge and skills to the table. All members of the team should understand how eCommerce can help their respective departments, and how they can contribute to achieving eCommerce success.
Depending on whether you are a large, enterprise company or a small to medium-sized business (SMB or SME), your eCommerce project team can take various shapes. Large companies tend to form internal multidisciplinary project teams. These teams not only carry out the eCommerce project, but also include all the supporting roles needed to run an eCommerce website. On the other hand, small businesses can find it harder to dedicate entire resources to this kind of project.
Get your directors on board with your eCommerce implementation
Something we see with our most successful customers is that their directors or senior management are on board with their eCommerce project plans and understand the work that is required. Indeed, eCommerce is most successful when you make it part of your broader company strategy. This means that you need to have commitment from the top. Ideally, your eCommerce team should also have the mandate from management to make decisions throughout each stage of your eCommerce project, to avoid any delays to the launch.
4. Communicate your eCommerce plan and align internally
To ensure your eCommerce project is a success, internal support and alignment are key. Make sure your entire organisation is on board with your eCommerce plans and understands the benefits. Ideally, you want to involve each department and stakeholder from the planning phases, to ensure everyone feels heard from the start of your eCommerce implementation.
Change often causes concern and resistance. So, it is your responsibility to educate each department on the advantages of eCommerce, highlighting benefits relevant to each stakeholder. Will it increase your revenue? Will it help you reach new markets? Will it help IT processes run smoother and with fewer errors? Will it free up your sales and support teams’ time so they can focus on your biggest deals and clients? In short, communicate what’s in it for them and establish common goals.
And don’t forget any external stakeholders! Perhaps you have an external ERP or hosting partner? Or you work with an external IT or design agency? Make sure to align with them too on your eCommerce plans and goals.
5. Specify your eCommerce product requirements (MVP)
Think about what you want from your eCommerce web store. Start first by establishing your must-haves. That is, think about the minimum features and functions needed to satisfy you and your customers: your minimum viable product (MVP). Only after this, if time and budget allow, should you start thinking about any additional nice-to-haves.
When defining your eCommerce MVP, consider the following:
- Ensure it aligns with your eCommerce goals
- Only include features and functions that you plan to use within the first year of your eCommerce website launch
- Ensure it addresses the most common questions you get from you customers
- Be realistic about how much you can accomplish with your internal resources. For example, if you want a video content feature, check first that you have the capabilities and resources internally (or the means to hire an external agency) to create this video content.
- Understand and make the most of the functions and features your chosen eCommerce platform delivers as standards, before looking into more costly and complex customizations.
Once you launch your first eCommerce MVP, you can start testing it and gathering internal and customer feedback. Only then you will know which additional functions and customizations are really needed, and which ones you can do without.
Guide your product requirements with eCommerce user stories
One way to develop a comprehensive eCommerce MVP is by using eCommerce user stories. User stories help you define the different steps and journeys users might take on your online store. They are written from your web store users’ point of view, which will include your customers, but also any sales and support teams who might also use the web store. And they should be split into the smallest steps possible.
The number of eCommerce users' stories you need will vary depending on the scope of your project. If you don’t let your customers pay online, then you don’t need a user story for this. But if you want to be able to send quotes to customers, allow them to track their shipping, or enable sales reps to order via your web store, then you need to create user stories for all these journeys.
Once you have created your user stories, ensure you translate these into eCommerce features and functions that meet the needs of each user. Think about making sure your webs tore users can easily accomplish each step. eCommerce user stories also make wonderful guidelines when it comes to testing your website, as you’ve already identified each customer flow that will need to be tested.
6. Get your data and content ready for your eCommerce website
Companies starting with their first eCommerce website often underestimate content. From product and company descriptions and images, to web store look-and-feel, structure and categories, a lot of content is needed before you can launch your eCommerce website.
So, you need to be prepared to structure and fill your web store. Think about what products you are going to sell. Decide what the structure, main categories and subcategories will be. Check that you have an image for each product, and that these images are of good-enough quality.
If you choose an eCommerce platform that is directly integrated with your ERP system and/or PIM solution, you automatically display the product descriptions and images that are already stored in your existing system on your web store - saving you valuable time. However, this still requires you to clean up your ERP data or PIM content, ensuring, for example, that all the product names you use are clear and usable on a customer-facing web store.
7. Set up a timeline for your eCommerce project
How long will my eCommerce project take?
An eCommerce project timeline can be difficult to predict, especially if this is your first eCommerce website. The timeline depends both on your vendor and the solution you choose, as well as the time it takes you internally to configure your online store.
With our out-of-the-box Drink-IT eCommerce product, we find that 2 to 3 months between buying and going live with eCommerce is a realistic estimate. This includes the implementation of the web store, as well configuration by the customer. But any additional customizations need to be evaluated individually.
On top of customizations, several other factors can influence the speed of your eCommerce project timeline (both positively and negatively), including factors which you can control internally. The two factors which we find most impact the launch date are the decision-making process and your available internal resources:
The decision-making process
The decision-making process is often what makes eCommerce implementation timelines overrun. Especially in the last phase of eCommerce projects, when it comes to the finer details, there’s always a lot of discussions and delayed decisions. Some companies also have strict processes in place that means that every decision needs to go through legal or procurement departments, which can slow the eCommerce implementation process.
How can you overcome this? As touched on previously, to avoid any delays in the launch of your eCommerce website, make sure the people involved in your eCommerce project have the mandate to make decisions. Ensure they have the authority from senior management to sign off and keep the project moving forward.
Your internal resources
Another key factor that can delay or speed up the launch of your eCommerce website is the time it takes you to get ready internally. During the eCommerce project phase, it is your internal resources that will have to create the content for your website. So, factor time in for this. You’ll need dedicated resources with clear responsibilities and the right technical, product and content knowledge. And don’t expect that your employees can do this beside their current workload, as other things will be given priority, delaying your eCommerce website implementation.
Defining milestones and creating a project roadmap is a great way to keep track on your eCommerce project. It helps you ensure you keep moving forward, while also pinpointing any hurdles that you need to address.
8. Establish the right budget for your B2B eCommerce implementation and maintenance
How much does an eCommerce website cost? There is, of course, no set answer to this question. Some basic platforms are free to use, while others can run into the millions of euros. So, it all depends on your business requirements but, whatever you choose, you should always consider your total cost of ownership (TCO).
Make sure you look ahead to create a realistic eCommerce budget for the future. You should of course consider the cost of the initial eCommerce platform implementation. But you should also factor in any licensing and maintenance costs, as well as ERP partner, design or content agency fees – if you don’t have the resources internally.
And it’s not just about hard cash. Think also about the internal resources you will need to launch and run your eCommerce platform. They also cost money. How many internal resources you need to set aside will vary based on your business and your chosen eCommerce platform. For example, some platforms are more automated than others. So, while with one platform you might need an entire team of people to manually process orders, with another this process will be automated, saving on resources.
9. Make use of your vendor’s eCommerce project expertise
Your chosen eCommerce solution provider is likely to have extensive experience in B2B eCommerce implementation projects. They also know what successful and unsuccessful projects look like. So, make full use of this expertise!
How should I get started with eCommerce? How long does a typical B2B eCommerce project take? What budget should I set aside for my eCommerce website? Who should be in my eCommerce team? How do I get my online content ready? What do you must successful customers have in common? These are all questions your eCommerce provider should be able to help you with. So, make sure to ask for tailored advice at every stage of your eCommerce project.
For example, at Drink-IT eCommerce, we have a dedicated Drink-IT CARE team to help make the eCommerce preparation stage as smooth as possible. This includes information on how to form a project team and how you should format your content; documentation such as user stories, RFPs and more templates; an overview of the total cost of ownership (TCO), but also assistance with estimating the cost of your marketing budget and internal resources – to help you get started with eCommerce and ensure your project is a success.
10. Take the leap: Launch your eCommerce site!
However much you prepare for your eCommerce implementation, you can never know of foresee everything. As with most things in life, there is no perfect. There comes a point when you have to just go. So, choose a solution provider. Prepare well. But then make the decision to go live with your eCommerce implementation. Once live, you can learn, test and continuously optimize your web store as your knowledge and experience grows.