5 Key Conversations to Drive Commerce Innovation
Have you ever run a RFP process, only to realize that you chose incorrectly because after sifting through hundreds or thousands of responses you couldn’t tell the difference among vendors? You’re not alone. 40% of CIOs state that unclear objectives are a primary reason IT projects fail. History need not repeat itself. I’m here to provide you with some guidance to identify the key conversations to help empower you and your team to make the right Vendor selection that prepares your Business for innovation and growth.
I hope these questions provide a guide from which to approach the evaluation and highlight the true drivers of buying decisions that will help propel your business forward. Knowing that most businesses are experiencing significant and systematic change, I believe it is imperative for companies to widen the strategic lens under which they evaluate their vendors.
Where is your business headed?
Companies must evolve and innovate at the speed of opportunity to survive and succeed. Innovation takes on many forms; acquisitions, organizational transformations, shifting Business Models, new market entries, product diversification and so on. When evaluating commerce platforms, this translates into understanding the following questions:
- Is the platform modern enough to evolve with your business?
- Can it handle multiple, distinct business models?
- What will it cost to grow?
- What will it cost to upgrade & adopt new features?
- What will be the time, effort and resource requirements to handle these criteria?
To be successful when the customer experience is constantly shifting requires thinking about business needs 3 to 5 years out.
What is your customer experience vision?
How do you think your customer experience strategy will evolve over time? Organizations typically select vendors and platforms that meet their needs today but fail to deliver in the future without a guiding framework. The key factors are the inherent flexibility of a platform that enables the business and technical teams to create and change new customer experiences quickly per changing business and consumer dynamics.
How do you define and fulfill the end-to-end customer experience?
End-to-end customer experience requires more than just a commerce platform. It also requires an ecosystem of applications that are either interconnected, or can be easily tied together through web services. You need to understand how the commerce platform fits into your specific ecosystem from both a business and technical integration perspective. This critical element that should be at the heart of your evaluation.
What are your top priorities for your new ecommerce platform?
Every business has their own set of circumstances, pain points and triggers for starting a commerce platform evaluation. Relentlessly focus on the main priority to hone in on the must-haves in the solution. Break these priorities down into what I call ‘absolutes and relatives.’ I’ve highlighted some common drivers.
TCO – Let’s say management has asked you to reduce operational costs. You need to understand the differences when vendors talk about cloud and SaaS. Look at subscription + hosting (if any) + 3rd party services + upgrade costs + developer costs to calculate TCO. Include variables such as network traffic costs and forecasted revenue growth. If you are looking at revenue share models and your business has a high rate of returns, include the impact of GMV vs. NMV.
Business models – Your business is evolving and transforming. You need to know if the platform can natively support multiple business models.
Mobile – With the explosive growth in mobile, being natively responsive is critical. Ask vendors about responsive and adaptive mobile capabilities.
Business user tools and capabilities – The business team needs to be more agile and take control over day-to-day tasks. Which ones can be performed by the business without IT or developer involvement? What do the out-of-the-box tools actually look like?
Relationship – Let’s presume your company wants a strong, partner-like relationship with your vendor before and after the sales cycle. This includes support for implementation, feedback sessions with product management, co-marketing and community forums. Are you just buying a software product? Or, do you prefer to you buy a software solution that’s backed by a services-oriented organization?
Platforms and the supporting infrastructure are built and designed in very specific ways. Any changes made are often typically large-scale projects that require vendors to make significant investments.
Architecture – If you’re using a homegrown application that’s buckling under increased traffic with abysmal page load speeds, ask if the software (not just hardware) was designed to scale. Equally important is to understand the usage of different front and backend technologies.
Developer frameworks – Let’s say your SI partner is working with your development teams for on-going site work. Development velocity is low because your teams have to use some older technologies and everything is blowing up to be a massive project. What technologies and languages will the development teams use for frontend and backend development? Are these frameworks proprietary or industry open standard? What can the vendor offer in terms of PaaS?
Upgrades – You want to upgrade new features and functions more quickly so that you can meet the needs of both your evolving business and customer experience. Does the vendor handle upgrades? What is the time and cost? What types of features and functions are being released with each upgrade (more on this below).
Application ecosystem – You are rethinking your end-to-end customer experience and want to make it easier on the business from both a vendor management and integration perspective. Are you buying a point solution? Or, does that vendor have an ecosystem of complementary SaaS and PaaS applications? How do those applications connect?
Uncovering the Business & Platform Relatives
Most serious commerce platforms are feature and function rich. Additionally, most platforms continually release new features and functions with the variable being the pace of new releases. The challenge is for businesses to understand the nuances of these features and functions.
A key consideration is to understand the vendor’s target audience and industry focus.
- Do they build for SMB, the mid market and or the Enterprise?
- Do they build for retail, manufacturers, CPG, communications & telecom, hi-tech?
The depth of features and functions will vary depending on the target audience and industry focus. Most vendors offer functionality for promotions, catalog, search, pricing, personalization, payment, internationalization, experience management and content management.
The difference comes not just from the depth of functionality, but also their future roadmap. A vendor building for SMB and retail will have a different approach than one that builds for mid-market and enterprise and focuses on several verticals. Features and functions are always being added. It’s a matter of vendor prioritization based on their target audience and industry focus.
One final note on prioritization – I know that the usage of the RFI / RFP came to mind here. Again, the challenge is that 500, 700 or 1000 questions will blur the lines of what is essential to drive your business forward. Focus on the true absolutes and then understand the vendor’s target audience and industry focus to help set the framework of what you should expect from the vendor today and tomorrow.