What you need to consider when selecting a B2B e-commerce system

Bild von Fabian Saccilotto, Head of Technology and Innovation bei valantic Schweiz

Five questions for… Fabian Saccilotto, Head of Technology and Innovation at valantic Schweiz

Depending on the market and industry, online retail is growing a lot or it is positively exploding. A current survey by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland confirms this. Now is the best time to plan and implement an e-commerce solution for your company. Fabian Saccilotto, Head of Technology & Innovation at valantic CEC Schweiz, explains what companies need to consider and how they can best proceed.

Fabian, what do companies want and what can they achieve with the implementation of an e-commerce solution?

The past few months with the coronavirus have shown many customers that online purchases are not as difficult to make as they may have thought. Quite to the contrary; customers can browse as they wish and take advantage of self-service offerings and then make the purchase easily from home. Today, even higher-priced products such as a software solution for CHF 15,000 are easy to purchase online; that’s the feedback we’re getting from our customers.

E-commerce providers can open up an additional sales channel with an online solution and make life easier for their sales personnel. Furthermore, an e-shop scales much better than a sales team on-site. In seasonal peak times such as before Christmas, an e-commerce solution serves customers very quickly and reliably and there is no need to hire additional sales personnel. It also works very efficiently.

Nevertheless, an e-shop doesn’t run by itself; there is certainly some work involved. The products and master data have to be maintained constantly, provided with information, and kept up-to-date. In addition, communication is required for responding to customer inquiries or chatting with customers. Responding to digital customer inquiries promptly is very important because there is no direct face-to-face contact with the customer in the digital world.

How many tested and proven e-commerce solutions are there on the market?

There are so many that it’s easy to lose track of them all. Most solutions came from a niche, they have specialized in this niche, and they serve this niche market perfectly. To use them successfully on other markets, however – if this is even possible – would require making some time-consuming adjustments. It matters whether a company is selling a complex product with 80 configuration parameters or selling T-shirts or Q-tips. The size of the portfolio also matters: Some companies want to sell 500 products online, others are selling 250,000.

In addition, there are some huge differences between country-specific retail regulations. For example, a US provider’s e-commerce solution, regardless of how well it works, cannot be used in Switzerland or Germany just the way it is because the requirements for data protection and operation differ greatly. The B2B market also works much differently than the B2C market. Does the company prefer an on-premise system or a solution in the cloud? Is the business international or sooner concentrated on the domestic market? Will there be 2,000 buyers per hour or five potential customers in total?

Companies that want to start using e-commerce need to consider all of these aspects, think about them in advance, and consider them in their strategic planning.

Are there typical dos and don’ts when selecting an e-commerce system?

Yes, there are a few. For example, the system has to fit into the corporate environment, for acceptance by the customer and the company’s employees who have to maintain the system is crucial for its later success. It’s also advisable not to concentrate too much on feature completeness, that is, on all of the included functionalities. We at valantic CEC Schweiz frequently receive requirements specifications that include hundreds of sub-points. But the desired features are not weighted. No one has considered what is really important and what is perhaps something that could be left out. Smaller, nice-to-have functionalities can usually be added by the company itself if the rest fits perfectly.

Caution is also warranted with e-commerce providers’ lists: Some providers mention features that are included. However, in international trade, they may not work as you might want them to in international trade. Another selection criterion is the trustworthiness and seriousness of the e-commerce provider: How long has it been on the market? How many members are there in its community? How many software developers are working on enhancing the solution?

An e-commerce solution that does everything and makes all wishes come true is something that a buyer will never get. Important, therefore, is that you weight your own selection criteria and select a system that is flexible and does more than serve just one niche.

Which steps in the selection process of a B2B e-commerce system should receive the most attention?

Crucial is to establish clarity about what your company wants to achieve and how it wants to place the e-commerce solution. An e-commerce system is not software like an Office package that you purchase and then let run. There’s more to it than just the sales activity. The company’s own systems, its data and workflows have to be put on the test bench. Is, for example, the master data high-quality, well-maintained, and saved in a central location? Or are there still data silos at the company and each department still does for itself? Everything has to work together in order to create optimal experiences for the customer. For this, all departments have to pull together.

For successful operation, it is especially important to select the right criteria and focus on the right goals for the company. With some e-commerce solutions, for example, orders still have to be transferred manually to the ERP system, which depending on the situation, can result in a lot of additional work.

What kind of time frame and costs can companies expect for the implementation of an e-commerce solution?

Typical customers of valantic CEC Schweiz have project terms between four and twelve months, and a team of four to five specialists works on the implementation. In addition, our partners’ and customers’ employees work on the project. The costs vary widely depending on the initial situation, goal, and vision. After a brief analysis phase, we are able to estimate the range of costs very quickly. 

Fabian, thank you very much for the conversation!

The best possible e-commerce solution looks different for each company. Our whitepaper “Framework for the selection of a B2B e-commerce system” provides a detailed overview. The framework helps with the weighting and evaluation of the criteria that are decisive for successful deployment at your company.

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