eCommerce Engineering for Marketers

This article was originally published in partnership with MoreVisibility on June 26, 2019. Read it here.

As a marketer, you’re probably familiar with the basics of your company’s eCommerce platform, but you aren’t well-acquainted with all the nitty-gritty details.

And when the day comes where you finally bite the bullet and admit that it’s time to re-platform, it’s easy to feel lost about where to begin.

Who Wants to Re-Platform?

Nobody. The answer is nobody.

Re-platforming is one of those “put-it-off-till-we-need-it” tasks. We all dream of a platform that’s functional, efficient, and scalable to any need our customers might have. But as we know, real life doesn’t work that way. Platforms grow old. Our customers’ needs change. New vendors offer better services at lower costs.

Marketers are knee-deep in these issues every day, and if you’re reading this, you’ve likely experienced several of these problems already. There’s something you need out of your platform that it can’t currently do, and it’s limiting your ability to provide first-class service to your customers.

You know the problem is there, but when it comes to actually engineering new platform features to address these issues, things get a bit more complicated. What can marketers do to plan out a re-platforming project? And how can they guarantee that their technical teams will include the must-have features needed to create a great customer experience?

Here’s the good news. Marketers certainly have a place at the table during re-platforming discussions, and best of all, they don’t need to learn a thing about the technical side of eCommerce engineering. All you need is to give your technical teams the right information at the right time.

The Three Pillars of Project Planning for Marketers

Everything that marketers need to do to ensure a smooth re-platforming experience can be broken down into three categories. These “pillars” will hold up every technical decision made for the new platform:

  1. History of what’s been done
  2. Primary challenges to address
  3. Wishlist for an ideal customer experience

And … that’s it! It’s that simple. As long as marketers can thoroughly outline each of these three concepts, they’ll have done their job preparing.

History of what’s been done

Before any decisions are made, marketing stakeholders need to get together and plan out the specifics of the project. What have we done already? Which strategies have worked, and which haven’t? What do we want to see in our new platform?

Technical teams need to know what’s already been done before they can decide how to move forward. This is a crucial part of the planning process that many companies skip over, often to their detriment.

In most cases, understanding the evolution of the business, your platform’s history, and your previously-tried business strategies will be directly related to the challenges in the next step. Just as often, you’ll encounter previous functionalities you integrated for specific marketing projects, business operations, or systems that no longer exist.

Key points to consider:

  • Review the decision-making process that led to the current platform
  • How has the business changed since the platform was implemented? Or more recently?
  • Conducted interviews and discussions with any stakeholders involved in previous projects?

Primary challenges to address

Next, we have the primary challenges—or pain points—you want to address in the new platform. This is really where a marketer’s perspective can pay off. You’ll want to outline the specific problems that have been giving your company grief and work with the engineers to see what solutions are feasible. These are simple conversations that, like our first step, rely on regular communication between marketers and engineers.

Key points to consider:

  • Write out the complaints (Yes, it can be therapeutic) – what are those things that aren’t working?
  • Most importantly, how does that affect the business?
  • Are those pain points going to be solved with a new platform? Or is a specification required?
  • Are there aspects of the current setup that work well? Adwords? Blogging? CMS?
  • Can you prioritize the issues and pain points?
  • What other options are available for fixing, or moving, to a new platform? Have you considered every choice, including a headless commerce implementation?

Wishlist for an ideal customer experience

Finally, marketers should describe what their ideal customer experience would look like in terms of their platform. We like to call this making a wishlist of customer experience features. Again, the marketer’s perspective is crucial. Marketers should frame these features in a way that makes sense to the end customer without getting too domineering in how the technical teams should work.

For example, if you’re talking to an architect about building a house, you’d probably describe the features and benefits you want in your new home: a galley kitchen, a sunken fireplace, three bathrooms, and so on. You’d describe the ideal outcome—but you wouldn’t suggest placement of the support beams.

The same applies to your re-platforming. Marketers can trust that their engineering teams will know how to integrate any value-adding integrations. The marketer’s job is simply to relay this information to engineers to design the outcome, build requirements and review options; from there, the technical teams will handle the building.

Key points to consider:

  • Be upfront about the timeline you’re looking at including pertinent deadlines, pending product launches, etc.
  • Based on the timeline – how does that affect priorities? Have you written out and detailed your new priority items?
  • What does your team look like? Do you need additional resources internally or the help of consultants? Have you met with all stakeholders from related departments who will be affected? Who will be the project owner/manager inside your organization?
  • Are there additional requirements outside of technical that might hold up the project? Content, product, photography, or others?

Communication Brings It All Together

Marketers have an incredibly important role in these conversations, though, in our experience, they tend to get intimidated when the discussions turn technical. This is a problem because marketers are tuned in to the pulse of their customers far more than a team of engineers.

In short, communication between the two departments is essential. It’s the glue that holds everything together.

We like to look at it this way – The technical team decides how much time and resource investment is required for a given feature, and which of the desired features are actually feasible for the platform. Meanwhile, the marketers determine how to fit these integrations into the overall workflow and manage the prioritization and decision-making. Some features could be delayed until a later project phase, while others might be so essential that they warrant moving back the project timeline.

These aren’t the types of decisions that technical teams can, or should, make. Technical teams implement, but marketers guide the strategy, and no project can succeed without the input of both.

A Collaborative Approach to eCommerce Engineering

Engineering and marketing are the two wings of a plane. Without both, the project doesn’t fly.

Marketers need to make sure they’re leading the discussions from the earliest stages of project planning. Marketers are the driving force behind the changes; they’re the ones who detail out the vision for what the eCommerce platform should achieve. And from there, the engineers do what they do best to bring this vision to life.

At the end of the day, this collaborative approach is the key to re-platforming success. Projects work more efficiently and get done faster when both teams communicate, provide feedback, and keep each other in the loop. You don’t have to learn each others’ jobs. All you have to do is work together to help all of you succeed.

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