Whether you have an ecommerce solution in place and need to upgrade it, or you have nothing and need to build a solution, you might be thinking about how to effectively evaluate solutions in the marketplace without spinning up a large project just do the evaluation. Furthermore, if you are thinking about how to grow your ecommerce business, you should be thinking about whether you have the right marketing automation platform in place to support that growth (if you’re not thinking about that already).
With that, we’ve outlined the typical customer journey from awareness, to credibility, to trust in your marketing and sales processes as it is important to understand those aspects of your own business in order to make platform selections that support the way you do or want to do business.
Selecting the right platform can be tough because there are so many on the market. And before you can even choose a platform, you have to understand what “right” means for your organization. The process below walks you through our approach to vendor selection—and it works for any vendor—be it an ecommerce platform, a marketing automation solution, a customer relationship management (CRM) software, a customer data platform (CDP) or some combination of all of these.
Recently, we took a customer through this process. They knew they needed some marketing automation features, some CRM features, and they also had massive requirements for customer data management. They already have an ecommerce site, but they needed to integrate the solution to their ecommerce platform. The key to helping them navigate hundreds of potential solutions was to really understand their business problems and which ones were most important to solve first. If you are exploring any of these types of solutions, I would encourage you to think a little more broadly about your business problems and objectives before just getting into a feature by feature evaluation.
Once you get into the evaluation process, we recommend that you elicit the top-level requirements first, then select a solution using that high level of detail. Meaning, at the selection stage, don’t try to dig into the details of how all individual processes are performed today. By staying at a high level, you will force the selection team to focus on core capabilities instead of detailed design. Chances are, no system you are considering will implement all the capabilities the same way you currently do them in your organization. After the selection is made, work with the vendor to specify the detailed requirements necessary to configure and implement the solution, integrate it to existing systems, and customize, if necessary, to build missing functionality.
As you compare vendor software, you will probably have to make some tough decisions. For example, let’s say you have 4 needed features. One vendor may support features 1 through 3. Another vendor supports features 2 through 4. A decision maker on the project has to weigh all of the factors to make a choice between vendors, including things like: price to buy and implement each solution, price to build the missing feature in each case, cost of not having one of the features, or time to implement. But the reality of this situation is that someone may decide that feature 4 wasn’t really a requirement after all!
A Proposed Approach to Selecting a Vendor for Your Ecommerce Solution
Here is a sample process to follow to select a vendor:
- Define business problems and objectives. Quantify them so you can prioritize between competing solutions.
- Define the actors or users that will use the functionality.
- Define high-level business processes that describe the kinds of things users need to be able to do in the new solution.
- Derive high-level requirements from the business processes. These can take the form of use cases, user stories, or features.
- Specify more detailed requirements based on the highest risk areas or areas you are most curious about exploring against competing solutions.
- Research the marketplace to identify a list of potential vendors. This can be done by surveying SMEs, doing web research, or talking with colleagues.
- Narrow the list of vendors down to the top three to five, based on how closely they match the requirements gathered at first glance. Try not to get yourself into analysis paralysis here by going too deep in early-stage evaluations.
- For the final contenders, have the vendors do high-level demos of their solution. Eliminate any vendors that do not seem to be a fit at this point.
- Create test cases using the requirements gathered to sufficiently demonstrate how each vendor measures against the requirements.
- Have the vendors demonstrate how their solution satisfies the detailed requirements, measured by execution of the test cases.
- Create a comparison matrix with each test case (and all other measurement criteria you care about) to directly compare the vendors.
- Gather information from the vendor beyond just the functional capabilities.
- Gather pricing data: licenses, support, installation, training, etc.
- Ensure the vendor’s business operations are acceptable and meet security requirements and regulations.
- Determine if their support structure is acceptable
- Understand their development roadmap
- Perform reference checks with colleagues
- Ask about an exit strategy. How easy is it to get data off the vendor’s system if costs or your organization’s requirements change?
- Decision maker chooses a vendor.
I will say the steps in this approach get more complicated quickly if you are thinking you need more than one type of platform in your overall solution. But the basic approach should still hold.
Fast forward a bit—once a vendor is selected, the detailed requirements elicitation process should continue. Your detailed requirements should be focused on the scope of the solution dictated by the vendor you selected. If there is an area in which there is a lot of flexibility in the vendor solution, you should specify that in more detail. Obviously, if there is a gap between critical requirements and the solution the vendor provides, you need to go into greater depth on those requirements. Points of integration should also be explored in detail.
It is worth noting that you will also typically need to spend time on updating your existing processes to work with the new vendor solution. Document existing processes, including the goal of each process, and work with the vendor to reproduce those processes in the new software. This not only allows you to elicit detailed requirements more easily, but also goes a long way toward becoming comfortable with the solution you’ve selected.