B2B Digital Transformation: Part 2 – How to Get Started

We’ve all been guilty of it – whether at home or at the office, the urge to dive head-first into a new project can be tempting. A successful digital commerce project (or any project for that matter) depends on a well-planned requirements gathering process. One of the most common reasons these types of projects fail is that the work wasn’t put in ahead of time to plan out the necessary resources resulting in critical requirements being rushed or overlooked entirely.

That said, how should you kick off a B2B commerce project to ensure the best chance of success?

Here are a few key steps you should take when planning your requirements for a new project:

1. Define your goals
2. Lay out your budget & timeline
3. Build your team
4. Gather Requirements

Clearly Define Your Goals

It’s always a good idea to plan out some goals before starting anything. In our first article, we outlined the reasons why it’s probably time to start a B2B eCommerce transformation project, but which of those resonate with you and your team the most? Quick tip: it can’t be everything.

If you’re like 99% of business stakeholders, you don’t have infinite time, resources or budget to tackle everything on the list. Driving conversations with an internal team to review their priorities are going to be the most important.

Creating The Goals

What does the company need to improve? What are the aspirational targets? It’s possible to start at a high level like “We want to sell online”, “We want to launch a customer portal”, “Our product catalog is incomplete” and then narrow down the focus to more specifics. For example, what does “We want to sell online” really mean?

The goals don’t necessarily need to be directly tied to a project but could also be project supported. For example, improving site traffic through SEO might not be possible right now due to a poor storefront, but could be improved with a build related to the digital commerce initiative.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Sales or Revenue

Surprising, right? One of the key goals doesn’t have to be “We want to sell more online!”. The purpose behind the transformation you’re targeting could be as simple as building efficiency or enablement of the existing sales team. If there are challenges you can solve quickly and easily, especially with customer experience, that reduce churn, drive more reorders or save the customer service expense, those might take priority.

Getting Team Buy In

Getting your internal team and key business stakeholders on the same page requires some difficult and challenging conversations, but the exercise is worth it in the end. The “who” of the key business stakeholders list is different for every company, but will most likely include the leadership team and other roles that are directly interacting with the customer, marketing or sales efforts.

As a final deliverable, after reviewing the priorities of the internal team, will be to send or review an outline describing what the team has identified as most important. In the end, there are two lists: “Here’s what we’re going to do now” and “Here’s what we’re going to do later”. Openness and clarity will be key to the process to build the timeline, budget and engineering, and to keep the team informed as those lists change when there is more insight after developing budgets and timelines.

Budgets & Timeline

Nothing will prevent your team from hitting its goals and delivering a business solution like a massive budget overrun, lack of financial resources or failure to launch. While getting to the point of a launched and working solution is challenging, being realistic about the resources and timeline required to get there is crucial to setting expectations internally.

Building The Budget

Leaning on previous budget building experience, and asking tough questions like “how much do I have to spend” as a high level number is likely to provide a strong guideline internally (helpful for backup) and in the vendor selection process.
Setting a budget for an eCommerce project requires careful consideration of many factors. The budget should reflect the goals and objectives of the project, and should also take into account resources such as personnel, materials, and technology. A budget should also include a contingency plan in case of unexpected expenses or delays.

Creating A Timeline

Going hand-in-hand with the budget is a timeline framework. Defining a timeline will require input and scheduling from any vendor or external team, but will also be one of the first questions they ask – “when do you want something new to go live?” Working with the rest of the team, are there any critical milestones, business events or plans that have an impact on your target?

Here are some important considerations:

  • Expiration of existing technology services or license
  • New brand or marketing initiatives
  • Acquisitions or other major business events
  • Product launches (trade shows, marketing, etc.)

Building Your Team

You’ll get to a point where you have your vendor(s) team working hard to build a solution and deliver on time for your business, but that doesn’t mean that you and your internal team can sit back and relax. Now is the time to determine who will be on your internal team and define their roles.

Choosing your internal project team

Working with an agency and vendors, you’ll have resources assigned to your project, but what roles will need to be filled on your internal team? Identifying these and defining responsibilities for each member will ensure that all gaps are covered.

Defining expectations for each role

Each business and implementation team has a unique makeup, with members that have specific responsibilities and can make significant contributions to the overall project. However, three key roles that are often overlooked or are too loosely defined, are:

Project Manager

The Project Manager is responsible for daily communication and delivering the materials and resources that technical / agency teams are looking for. This role can often be confused with the “project owner”. Follow-ups, managing meetings and assigning work related to the storefront project are all required here. At the end of the launch, the role can sometimes be scaled back if necessary.

Data Owner & System Expert

The internal team member who knows the back-office systems like the back of their hand. Probably technical and experienced, and comfortable working with solution architects and technical team staff from vendors. Building integrations, importing historical data and expanding the scope of the product catalog will rely heavily on this role.


Training the entire company to work on the eCommerce platform isn’t going to be possible. Instead, different roles and departments will receive customized training and rely on a go-to resource when they need extra help. Going back to the vendor or technical team for each question will cause chaos. The designated “trainer-in-chief” serves as the in-house expert for the new commerce solution.

How To Select & Build A Team

Now that you’ve thought through the roles and responsibilities, you have two options when it comes to building the team:

  1. In-house vs. outsourced
  2. New team members vs. existing team members

Before you begin any of the actual work, you’ll need to decide whether that work will be done in-house with your own employees or outsourced to a company that builds and integrates commerce platforms for businesses. It’s an important decision. Consider these factors:

  • Cost: Is it in your budget to outsource?
  • Employee resources: Do you have the manpower to assign to this project?
  • Employee time: Do your employees have the time to take on this project?

If you do decide to use current employees, you’ll most likely need more. Either way, you’ll need to determine if you want to move existing employees away from their normal duties, reshuffle your current staff, or bring in new ones.

What Do You Need?

Before kicking off the B2B commerce project, take some time to knock out some homework assignments that will help to ensure the entire team, internal and external, can hit the ground running.

Technical Documentation

Services, software and existing systems…what are they and who knows anything about them? Kicking off an engineering project with business-critical integrations means you and your service providers will need to dive deep into the existing systems. Get a head start by gathering the contact information of your existing vendors and available documentation. In fact, handing over a complete breakdown of information at the beginning of a project will make you a very popular client.

Product Information / Dynamic Product Catalog

Get started earlier than you think for product data content and assets. Existing product data? Expanding the catalog? If there is any part of the resource and implementation process that will take more time and requirement investment than required – it’s data (see below) and more specifically product data. Whether adding more products, enhancing existing SKUs or new brands to a storefront, the process can wreck even the most reasonable of times. So, can you start now? Your team can start the data collection and validation process today before any engineering.

When assembling, cleaning and reviewing the product data from new or existing sources, focus on how the data you’re working with will be integrated into your users’ search and filtering experience. Are you collecting the right data to populate the filtering options that your customers are going to want to use?

Data Migration Highlights

Without getting technical or into a high level of detail, make an inventory of the data sources that will need to be integrated or migrated into the new commerce project. Building a workup, allows the implementation to quickly build and map a data workflow as part of an engineering deliverable.

Other Action Steps to consider:

  • Advanced search capabilities customized for each user’s unique needs
  • Analyze your customers’ needs & requirements
  • Plan for specific promotions targeting your B2B customers

Final Thoughts

Getting started with a project that has the potential to transform your business is both exciting and a lot of work. To streamline the process, deliver on time and hit the return on investment required for a successful implementation, do as much early homework as possible. Creating a team, asking tough questions, building consensus and reaching agreement on success measurements – talking is cheap while fixing technical mistakes is expensive.

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