Business-to-business ecommerce projects range from changing an entire platform to adding features and improvements to the current one. The projects are often complicated, in my experience, with diverse goals and layers of decision makers.
Absent careful management, B2B projects can quickly exceed initial budgets and timeframes. Critical components can perform poorly.
Unfortunately, failed B2B ecommerce projects are common. In this post, I’ll address three reasons for the failures and how to avoid them.
Lack of Planning
One reason for failure is that there wasn’t enough planning at the beginning of a project to fully understand the work required. “Measure twice and cut once” applies to B2B web development. Plan not only your current requirements but also your long-term outlook.
- Business objectives. Be clear on your B2B ecommerce goals. Select the platform that will enable you to meet those goals. Assemble a budget that will cover hosting, marketing, software, development, and ongoing support.
- Technical interfaces. Plan for the integration of your ecommerce site and other management software. Identify the systems that will need to share data with your ecommerce platform and create a technical roadmap for how it will work.
- User experience. Plan the user experience. Consider an outline of your ecommerce site that includes its content requirements — how-to articles, PDF guides, product specifications, maintenance tips, videos. Build wireframes for the pages.
Scope creep occurs when a project’s capabilities exceed its initial requirements. It typically has to do with the project team and the feedback during the development process. Be clear on who is the final decision maker. Beware of input after a critical decision that would create rework.
The priorities for your site will direct your decisions for the project. Consider these questions during the planning stage to keep your project on track.
- What is the smallest set of features that you could launch with and then improve over time?
- What was the business objective for this project when it was approved? Do you require a return on investment in a given timeframe? If so, how does each feature impact that goal?
Focus first on features that would provide the most benefit with the least amount of effort.
Consider dividing the work into two-week sprints with an understanding of what will be completed in each sprint. Ensure that the final decision maker reviews the work frequently and provides feedback — to keep the sprint (and project) on track.
Have a daily “standup” meeting with the project team. It’s called a standup because team members are often standing to keep the meeting short. (It is sometimes called a huddle, too.) If your team is remote, the meeting is via audio — phone, Skype, conference line. All participants should provide an update of what they did since the last standup, what they are doing currently, and obstacles that are getting in the way.
Remember that there is value in completing basic functionality, even if it doesn’t have everything on your original wish list. Roll out the features and then improve on them later. A client of mine often reminds me: “Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.”
Good, clean data is critical for B2B ecommerce. You can have an otherwise effective site, but the resulting experience will be poor if your data is poor, such as these examples:
- Product names and descriptions are in uppercase characters and cryptically written because that is how they are stored in your backend systems.
- Category pages contain items with the same name. Only the size that is listed at the end of the name is different — “Heater_550”, “Heater_600”, “Heater_650”.
- Info to filter searches isn’t structured well in your database, and thus your site search is limited.
How to Succeed
Success comes down to having an experienced team who is process oriented and communicates well. That experience and process will guide the planning steps, starting with a clear direction. A good process will help set priorities and reduce scope creep. And an experienced team will help plan for data needs, including product data.
Adopt agile software development, which is an efficient, iterative process of ongoing, smaller releases.
Finally, meet with your development team in person (at the same location) at least once at the beginning of the project. It builds trust and improves dialog.