By 2020, the B2B industry will generate an estimated $1.1tr through online sales. Despite concerns about cost and ROI, B2B players must be prepared to further develop and scale their online presence. While digital commerce overhauls may be intimidating, thorough implementation planning can help companies stay on track and avoid unnecessary costs and lost time.
To create the most effective and profitable commerce experience possible, B2B brands should develop a project management road map that guides the organization from ideation through implementation. As with any IT initiative, traditional and familiar project management phases can help reduce risk and ensure value delivery during digital commerce implementation, and can help companies break this large initiative into manageable steps.
Commerce solutions and projects present many options and potential for complexity. B2B companies planning to expand their digital offerings can help themselves by focusing on four familiar but key phases: initiating, planning, execution and closing.
While it may seem obvious, the first step in any project management process is to determine exactly what you’re setting out to accomplish. Addressing key questions provides overarching guidance throughout the entire implementation process. The ability to answer questions like “what is this project? and why is it a good idea now?” will help a company to clarify their high-level business objectives.
For B2B digital commerce specifically, businesses need to assess and capture the additional benefits they hope to achieve. Most B2B brands want to reach more shoppers online, but companies should define more specific goals. For example, a business may want to reduce costs by scaling back call center head counts with an online customer service platform. Or, a company could be looking to reduce costs per order by helping and encouraging customers to place larger orders. The outcome of the Initiation phase: B2B organizations must emerge with clear objectives for their commerce implementation.
After companies have answered high-level questions and set key objectives, they can then begin planning the details of the project. To create the most effective plan possible, businesses must document their intended outcomes with who, what, where, when, why and how they will achieve each goal. Discussing and capturing this detail is “project management 101.”
During Planning, B2B organizations should be considering their options for commerce systems. When considering solution providers, companies must conduct a thorough assessment of all options, inclusive of software and implementation costs and total cost of ownership to maximize the value and minimize the risks of their digital commerce investment. While it might seem safe to go with traditional on-premise systems that feel familiar, newer approaches to commerce implementation provide significant benefits. For example, cloud-based commerce platforms are often scalable, faster to market and more flexible when it comes to customer needs.
B2B businesses should also take time to weigh providers based on cultural fit during this phase. Businesses will work closely with their solution providers, so a good relationship and demonstrated good communication practices are a must. To foster an optimal partnership, organizations should schedule regular opportunities to discuss not only the project, but how teams are working together. Regular, candid conversations about progress and processes will help both parties learn, adapt, and minimize problems.
The third phase of the project management cycle is Execution. At this point businesses may differ in how they proceed. Ideally, B2B companies will have selected an implementation option that enables them to move online rapidly and experience rapid ROI, but not all B2B companies will embrace digital commerce using the same project and business approach. For instance, one brand may choose to move all company systems online in a single overhaul, while another may opt for a phased approach where departments or business units move online over a phased period of time. Businesses that put in effort upfront during the initiating and planning phases, can programmatically reuse detailed release and execution plans to simplify implementation and manage risks.
B2B players need a trusted implementation partner to ensure successful execution. The execution phase is truly where B2B companies can look for opportunities for agility, even within a traditional, waterfall approach. For example, selecting a flexible SaaS system gives organizations the opportunity to better control the scope of their digital implementation and ensure that projects do not exceed cost and schedule expectations. Often, it’s important for a company to release its first commerce implementation rapidly, as this achievement builds credibility with internal stakeholders and reaches customers faster. Cloud-based solutions make this rapid payback period possible.
As an additional facet of Execution, companies must begin collecting customer and internal feedback on the platform. Asking stakeholders how a project is going can help guide the execution phase and solve problems or requests in real time. Execution is most effective when customers are a part of the implementation process.
The work does not stop once a site is live, and one successful release should lead into the next release for ongoing and iterative value creation and improvements. B2B companies should go through retrospectives to gather any knowledge gained or lessons learned from the first project. Businesses can determine what went well, what could have gone better and what to do differently for the next release. This is also a great time for brands to incorporate customer and internal feedback and reflect that information in future release plans.
Once the final Closing phase is finished, B2B players can repeat the cycle again. Every cycle completed will make the next release smoother and more effective, and the knowledge gained adds continual value to the overall commerce system. With market share and revenue at stake, B2B organizations cannot afford to make mistakes online. Although digital commerce implementations are complex endeavors, any company can achieve an elite digital presence with the use of disciplined project planning and execution and trusted partners.
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