Six Things to Consider When Integrating Your CMS with an eCommerce Solution

Maybe you’ve been thinking about getting into eCommerce. You know it could help you and your company accomplish some great things. But you’ve already got an existing CMS that you’re pretty happy with, and the prospect of integrating it with an eCommerce solution makes your head spin. (For a detailed discussion of why you might want to keep your CMS in the first place, see our related blog post “Five Reasons NOT to Replace Your CMS.”)

Before you get overwhelmed, take a deep breath and remember what the Chinese philosopher and writer Lao-Tzu said: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In our case, we’re going to take a little artistic license and change that sage advice to taking six steps. What if we told you that a successful integration begins with addressing six smaller issues? Would that make the project more manageable and less daunting? Consider it done! Let’s take that first crucial step together…

1. Decide who you are

No, this blog post hasn’t suddenly veered into Philosophy 101. Instead, we want you to think about whether your online presence is more about content or eCommerce. In other words, do you primarily want to be a content site that’s going to sell some stuff, or do you see yourself as a full-service sales site that will offer some content on the side? Determining your main focus is extremely helpful as you begin your integration journey. In our experience, it’s rarely a 50/50 setup; our clients are always skewed more heavily to one side or the other regarding content or sales.

2. Think about day-to-day management as well as security

From the standpoint of managing your site, will there be one team of Web editors who will be in charge of the content, and a separate team of people who will be managing the store? If so, how will those two teams work together? Perhaps you’ll decide to have to have one team performing both functions. Whatever decision you arrive at, you’ll need to determine who has access to different types of information, and that’s where you get into security concerns.

For example, your sales reps and sales managers will need to be able to access information that lets them open accounts and access order histories. But your PR staff don’t need that kind of access. They just need to be able to publish press releases and news alerts on the site. Similarly, you’ll want your marketing folks to be able do things like change or update product information and prices. Before your integration begins, it’s a good idea to “bucket” your site by defining who can see which type of data, what they’ll be able to do with it, and why. You can accomplish this easily by mapping out the specific tasks that each person in your organization performs as part of his or her day-to-day job.

3. Minimize redundancy

This next step is closely related to bucketing your site. Your goal here is to minimize the number of places where you go in and touch data. This is where you decide which system “owns” what. In other words, let’s say you’ve decided that all of your new orders will be created in the eCommerce side of things. Those new orders will then trigger a corresponding alert in Salesforce (the CRM side). But what if a customer makes a change to an existing order? You’ll want to make sure that the change is initiated on the eCommerce side and not the Salesforce side. It can be as straightforward as sitting down with your staff and agreeing, “All right – from now on, eCommerce is the place where we make all of our important information changes.”

4. Ensure that your look is consistent

During your integration, you’ll be layering eCommerce functionality into your CMS. You want the transition from content to storefront to be as seamless as possible for your users’ point of view. That means paying attention to the consistency of branding, visual elements, and language. Let’s say you have a camera company. Your CMS has all kinds of useful stories about how to take great photographs, assess different lighting situations, and frame your subjects in the shot. The people who are reading those stories are excited to see that they can now purchase your cameras online, so they click on the “Shop Now” button that appears on your CMS. When they arrive in your online store, there shouldn’t be a jarring or noticeable change. Visually, everything should look and feel the same in your store as it does on the content side. The last thing you want is for visitors to feel like they’ve just experienced two completely different sites.

5. Be realistic about your capabilities and expectations

It’s exciting to get into eCommerce and explore all of its wonderful possibilities and promise. But you’ll want to avoid falling into the trap of overestimating your own capabilities. Remember that you and your staff will still need to do your “real” jobs while your integration is taking place. As you work with your eCommerce partner, make sure you come up with a timeline that takes into account everybody’s routine responsibilities.

It also helps to be realistic when you’re planning for things like publishing blog posts. It’s so tempting to set a lofty goal and say that you’d like to do 10 blog posts each month. Before you commit to that, think about the associated development and buildout that will be required to accommodate that kind of publishing schedule. And don’t forget to consider the workloads of the people on your staff who will be writing those posts. Maybe it’s more realistic right now to plan for just one or two posts each month. That can drastically impact your integration in terms of timeline and financial commitment.

6. Decide early on what your immediate needs are

Remember that you don’t have to do everything at once with your integration. The beauty of this process is that it allows you to test the waters and add more things later if you end up needing them. For example, it’s easy to believe that you absolutely have to be able to accomplish X, Y, and Z with eCommerce. But what if, nine months down the road, after insisting on those three functions, you end up realizing that you could’ve lived without Y and Z in the initial integration? You would’ve been able to launch much more quickly if you had identified at the outset what your “must-have” capabilities were.

The same kind of situation can happen with products. Lots of clients feel they have to include every single one of their products in their brand-new online store. But if you’re like many organizations, only about 20% of your line accounts for 80% of your sales. Why not include just that critical 20% in your initial integration and see how things go for the first few months?

Integrating your CMS with an eCommerce solution is a journey well worth taking. If you choose the right partner and prepare for the trip ahead of time, then getting there should be half the fun.

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