This is how I approached it as an in-house digital leader, and how we approach it as partners.
I’ve been doing this—the eCommerce thing—for a long time now. I joke about it when I reveal my professional history—that I’m an old lady in the eCommerce industry, having been building websites and digital strategies for over 16 years. This means I’ve used at least a dozen eCommerce platforms (industry leaders, open-source, home-grown), leveraged more email and campaign platforms than I can count, worked with several analytics platforms and lots and lots of competitive analysis and tools. They all (and I mean all of these platforms) have pros and cons, but to me, they all kind of blend together after a while.
I know, you may want to argue with me. That’s totally cool. I’m not saying your tool or your solution can’t be the right fit for any number of businesses out there. But I will say that while a given solution may be the right fit for an organization, there needs to be a certain ecosystem existing in that organization to truly take advantage of it. The exact nature, size, and function of that ecosystem all depends on where a company is in their own business journey. And that’s really the rub: where is the business, where is the toolset, and when do they cross over in that sweet spot?
How do you triangulate that as a consultant or as an in-house digital leader?
I’ve been part of organizations that are too nascent for the toolset in which they have invested as well as organizations that have far outstripped the capabilities of their homegrown systems. The irony of this is that, usually, the homegrown systems have come out of the truly innovative and excited teams who have less-supportive executives who think, “Hey, it’s fine and you guys will figure it out.” In truth, it’s those teams that would thrive with real tools.
And then you have the other end of the spectrum: massive organizations who invest in giant toolsets and then leverage agencies to get some function out of the tools, but don’t invest in the manpower and technical infrastructure they need to really create a powerful eCommerce or demand management engine.
It’s out of these environments that my (and now my team’s) approach to eCommerce and our platform was born. It’s all about meeting the customer where they are. If you are assessing eCommerce/digital marketing technology right now, this is how you might think about approaching your challenges.
We come into businesses and first assess where they are on their eCommerce and technology journey. Big or small, companies spend time and resources strategically, and the largest companies can have old ERP systems or disparate data strategies, while small companies can be ripe for advanced technology and really interesting marketing maneuvers—or vice versa.
If you are an in-house digital marketing human who is stuck, start here. Play your own consultant and break apart the challenge you have, if you can.
Our first order of business is typically to ask questions like:
- What does the team know/think they need? (Spoiler alert: there is usually more to it than this.)
- What does the staff look like (business & IT)? What are the constraints?
- What is their technology stack is comprised of? (Old, new, long-term strategy, etc.)
- Where do they sit competitively?
- What do the different human constituents want to accomplish?
- What are the priorities? Does the team agree on what they are?
- Is there a reason to invest in fixing the current situation right now?
- Is there any money to invest, or are we doing skunkworks?
Only after we assess all of this can we really come back with our recommendations. In truth, when I come in to assess a digital opportunity, I sometimes don’t recommend going forward with a complex eCommerce solution, even if it looks like I’m shooting myself in the foot from the outside. If you are in-house, it should be the same for you. In order to come up with an achievable strategy or to successfully influence your audience, you have to meet them where they are and really understand the landscape.
If a business will benefit far more from rearchitecting their data structure, replacing their ERP, or leveraging a simpler web strategy, then that’s what we’ll bring forward. Architecting a 5-year digital strategy needs to be about what’s best for the business itself. We stay rooted in this philosophy because we believe in long-term relationships, and our team has been in-house in large organizations where transformation is a long process.
If the business is ready for an eCommerce platform, we will work with them to identify the best solution. Yes, we have our own (and I like it a lot), but in some cases, if a company has invested heavily in legacy technology, we will absolutely work with them to build out what they need. Should it be the right fit, though, our platform is specifically designed to be scalable, just like the rest of our services. The POCommerce platform itself is built on the open-source nopCommerce code base and customized for B2B. Our “base” version contains everything a B2B business needs to have a successful eCommerce presence and sales order entry tool.
If a customer needs advanced functions or custom development, we then offer that on an a la carte basis. This allows our customers who can work with the base platform the ability to implement and configure at a lower cost and then leverage the heck (haha) out of the flexibility while our larger customers can take advantage of making the system into what they want and need, with all of the bells and whistles.
The platform is a manifestation of my personal philosophy – buy what you need and really use what you have. You can prove value along the way to get further investment. Find technology and business partners who can help you.
All of this ties back to my experiences, and those of my team, working in organizations large and small, and our frustrations with being trapped in those various paradigms. I think about the technology partner I wish I had access to: someone with my success and best interests at heart who could help me figure out the right roadmap to get to the business goal rather than simply focusing on their upsell opportunity.
The root of all of this is pragmatism blended with an idealism I can’t quite release. As an in-house, I always believed we could solve the problem as a team as long as we aligned and joined forces. From the outside, I believe the same thing, and I love helping clients get there.