Getting E-Commerce Done Right

Our team recently participated in a panel discussion where we talked about doing business with customers online, as well as related topics to social media and search engine optimization. The audience was mainly small- to mid-sized manufacturing companies but the discussion easily spread to topics pertinent to all industries. My portion of the presentation was more specifically on e-commerce.

The case study I presented described a $3 billion organization that went through a four-year program that started with the development of an e-commerce strategy and progressed through the deployment of an enterprise-wide e-commerce solution. When completed, this customer portal will be integrated with 47 disparate instances of ERP systems across five Global Operating Groups and across more than five segments of the manufacturing industry.

Here are some lessons learned that we discussed:

  • It’s all about the business
    • Sponsorship for the project should be from the business, not IT. IT teams are typically not close enough to the business to own the requirements and live with results to the end customers.
    • The need for a customer portal or an e-commerce solution should be driven by demand from customers or in anticipation of customer requirements. Consequently, the request and support for the effort should be led from the business.
    • Customer portals and e-commerce take work to maintain and support. Full-time personnel from the business should be identified and engaged to ensure customer needs are being met.
  • What does success mean, exactly?
    • Be explicit in defining what success means for your organization.
    • E-commerce is going to be a significant investment. Develop a business case during the initial phases of your program and establish the metrics by which you can measure success.
    • Be able to describe your bang for the buck. Try to be as empirical as possible, but accept the fact that some of the metrics may be softer than others.
    • There will likely be top line opportunities as well as cost savings opportunities. Some of the softer measures may be related to customer engagement or satisfaction.
  • Talk to your customers and start small
    • Start by investing in the basics and determine those basics by asking your customers. What are they going to buy online? What do they expect from an online interaction? How will this make doing business with you easier? How will this allow you to engage with them? Should it be more interactional rather than transactional, or the other way around?
  • Make something happen quickly and frequently!
    • Get something valuable released to the business and to the customers as soon as possible.
    • Frequently release new and improved capabilities. Don’t overcommit to building everything the customers want. Instead, release the most valuable functionality as soon as possible.
    • Based on your customers’ behaviors and needs, adapt and adjust your designs and portal capabilities in a very agile fashion.
    • The business sponsors and subject matter experts must stay engaged throughout each release cycle to ensure that the highest and best use functionality is always being designed, developed and released in the right priority.
  • Business, Know Thyself
    • Reiterating what I said earlier about having the business own the project, know your business – the good, bad and ugly.
    • An e-commerce project is typically going to involve a deep integration with your sales people, operational processes and technology. Laying the groundwork for your program may expose some cracks in these areas throughout your business. Take a good look at the current state of these areas and develop your e-commerce strategy and roadmap accordingly.
    • Are your internal resources aligned to support this new customer channel? Unless the house is already in great shape and eager and ready to embark upon the e-ommerce mission (most are not), you probably want to start small and grow over time.
    • And a word of caution for the IT teams that are supporting the business. Do exactly that – support the business.
    • Understand the business drivers and the metrics for success. Don’t focus solely on the technical aspects of the solution. If you spend too much time building out the infrastructure and foundation for the solution you may lose the interest of the business owners because it took too long to release the valuable functionality.
    • Yes, a good foundation is important in ensuring that future releases will go smoothly and efficiently, but future releases won’t happen at all if your internal and external customers don’t see value quickly enough. In today’s world that’s measured in weeks and months, not years.

The closing thought for a customer portal / e-commerce program is that a program like this is never really completed.  As customer demands change, business and market conditions change and technology changes at breakneck speed, there will always be a need for improvements and enhancements to our people, processes and technology.


Article Contributors – Kevin Bracy, Dan Valerian and Sarah Baker. 

Joe Smucny is the Practice Lead for Centric Cleveland and is a company vice president. His expertise includes executive leadership, manufacturing and IT strategy – he has held several industry C-level leadership roles with high-growth consulting firms and IT startups. Contact Joe to learn more.