There are many things to consider—costs, scalability, feature sets critical for customer experience and conversion rates, to name a few—when deploying a B2B ecommerce site and related business growth strategy. Four industry experts—Sam Gupta of ElevatIQ, Eric Landmann of Earthling Interactive, Kris Harrington of GenAlpha Technologies, and Dave Meyer of BizzyWeb each offer detailed advice on best practices in ecommerce deployment. Their comments here are from a recent WBSRocks podcast hosted by ElevatIQ.

Developing a deployment plan is critical to early success in any organization’s ecommerce journey. Deployment can be more complex than it seems. If not properly reviewed, it can lead to underutilization of the ecommerce site and a loss in potential revenue.

Every week, industry experts host an ecommerce roundtable through the WBSRocks podcast, where they give their insights into ecommerce and the impact it can have on organizations. They recently discussed ecommerce deployment and gave their thoughts on how to make sure it’s a success.

Sam Gupta: Get discovered online

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Sam Gupta

“Deployment is essentially finding a home for your website to be discoverable and available for use on the internet. Of course, the easiest option would always be to find a SaaS provider as they provide hosting as part of their entire platform in their subscription fee. But you might see a lot of surprise line items on your bill if you didn’t understand terms such as the number of sessions, the number of transactions, the type of your tier, storage, bandwidth, etc.

“For example, if you are a high-volume, low-dollar transaction business, such as pet food manufacturers or distributors, you may have tons of sales orders per month. So, if your pricing is based on the number of transactions per month, you might be paying a lot as part of your monthly subscription fee. On the other hand, if you are selling costly items, you could have many more sessions while you may not have as many transactions. In this case, the consumers are likely to spend enough time researching expensive items, and their decision-making would be slower. They might come back to your site multiple times to research but may not complete the purchase, which will drive up the number of sessions. So. if you paid based on the number of sessions for expensive items, you might end up paying a lot more than if you paid based on the number of transactions.

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“The type of tier is another consideration that would drive how fast your site loads. Most cloud providers would offer multi-tenant options to make it affordable for you. Think of multi-tenant as like multiple businesses sharing the underlying hardware infrastructure and splitting the costs. As you might be able to imagine, if there are too many businesses sharing your tier, your site would not likely be as fast. However, even if fewer businesses may be sharing the hardware, the site may still be slow if underlying hardware doesn’t have enough processing power. Thus, you need to plan for the appropriate tier depending upon the expectation of your volume. Or your conversion may suffer.

“Finally, storage and bandwidth are other considerations you need to keep in mind while planning your site. For example, suppose you plan to sell products that may require you to upload high-definition videos. In that case, you need to watch for the charges for additional storage in case the storage provided with your tier is not sufficient. Similarly, think of bandwidth as a ‘pipe’ available to send large files in chunks. If the bandwidth for your current tier is too low, it may take forever to stream the video files of your product, which may affect the customer experience.

“Understanding how deployment options affect your total cost of ownership and customer experience is critical for your ecommerce journey.”

Eric Landmann: Manage all the moving parts

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Eric Landmann

“What is deployment? For the purposes of discussion here, a deployment is pushing out code for a new feature or upgrade to a website. For open-source platforms, this is usually done by a system controlled by developers or a DevOps (development operations) team.

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“Deployments have a lot of moving parts and some danger zones where the process can run into trouble and take longer than expected or fail in the worst case. If everything goes well, web visitors will not notice anything at all happened, except maybe some new features are now available. If it goes bad, it can go really bad. That is where you need highly competent staff and a backup plan.

“The below is written from the perspective of larger sites using open-source codebases, but many of the points also apply to software as a service (SaaS) platforms.

“Some of the pieces that add complexity and cost to the process are:

  • The hosting environment;
  • Hosting environment tech support turnaround time for issues that arise;
  • Integration systems that push code;
  • Developer knowledge or available time to do deployments;
  • The amount of time it actually takes to manage a deployment by developers or DevOps personnel;
  • Server and database backup plans and management of those systems;
  • Versions of underlying web hosting architecture, development languages, and databases;
  • Is the site owner or admin in direct communication with the personnel doing the deployments?

“Each of these items must be considered from a cost/time perspective. Questions to ask when considering cost are:

  1. Will extra hosting resources be needed?
  2. What is the cost of any downtime?
  3. How fast is the typical turnaround if a tech support ticket is filed with the hosting provider? Will you be waiting half an hour for an answer, or half a day?
  4. What happens if the deployment fails midway through? What is the rollback plan?
  5. Are there developers scheduled and on-staff who can deal with deployments at the necessary time window?
  6. Does the development (or staging) environment match the production environment? If these are not substantially the same, code may not perform the same.

“It is difficult to put numbers on some of these things, but many of these are quantifiable within a reasonable range. Addressing these questions with some planning sessions will help assure deployments with the least amount of friction.”

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Kris Harrington: 8 steps to success

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Kris Harrington

“A strong deployment plan is critical to the success of any ecommerce launch. Whether this is your first launch or you are replatforming, there are many elements of deployment that can impact cost, site traffic, and the customer experience.

“To ensure you don’t miss any important factors, I recommend including the following activities in your deployment preparation:

  1. Invest in a single experienced leader with full accountability for your ecommerce goals and objectives. Surround this leader with a cross-functional team of influencers who will be dedicated to supporting pre- and post-deployment. The investment in resources is critical to the success and adoption of your new selling channel.
  2. Prioritize a seamless customer experience. What are your customers’ goals and objectives? How can you make their job easier? What information do they need to make a purchase decision?
  3. Build and prioritize your requirements list. Minimally, this should include customer requirements above, global business needs, systems integrations (ERP, CRM, PIM, Marketing Platforms, etc.), and all features and functionality identified from your cross-functional team.
  4. Evaluate each vendor’s ability to deliver your business requirements. Be sure to review their ability to offer security and monitoring (Hosting, GDPR, CCPA, PCI compliance, Penetrations Tests, Service Level Agreement, and System Availability Guarantee), open APIs, and multiple environments for user testing and production.
  5. Define your success metrics. This will determine the budgeted amount you are willing to invest in order to get the appropriate business outcomes. If you are simply migrating sales from offline to online, this is different from growing revenues or winning back market share lost to competitors. Make sure your objectives are clear and any changes to sales compensation to achieve these objectives are included in your plan.
  6. Define a content strategy and determine any costs associated with preparing your data.  For many B2B companies, data preparation is very different when transitioning to digital.
  7. Plan to test. Test payment processes, all ERP integrations, and workflows.
  8. Develop a launch plan. To get the greatest level of internal and external adoption after launch, you need to tell everyone about it. Identify the marketing and sales activities necessary for a successful launch.

“Low adoption rates, loss of market share, and a decrease in customer satisfaction are potential business implications if this process is not handled properly. These 8 elements are important in determining your deployment success.”

Dave Meyer: Identify your end goals—and how to scale

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Dave Meyer

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“When deploying your ecommerce site, you need to think about the needs of your company, your customer’s end goals, and find a solution that will help you scale up over time. Manufacturing businesses need tools that are scalable, and that allows you to add relevant SEO content.

“For Google to notice a site it needs to be findable in a few different ways. For example, ecommerce systems have allowances for meta descriptions, formatting in the right tags, easy access to cross-linking, “pretty” permalinks that include keywords, and more. Some consumer-grade ecommerce tools are easy to set up but start to have usability issues when you load too many products, or when you need to integrate with your company’s ordering and ERP systems.

“Manufacturers should also consider the depth of content on-site, including variations of your products, cross-links between pages, and alternate descriptions and uses for each part and item. The more useful your site is to your intended audience, the more likely you are to get traffic, rank well on search, and generate real revenue. It can be tempting to go with the cheapest option for your site and for marketing—but if you don’t get the traffic you need or those visitors don’t convert, you could save a few thousand dollars but also lose out on hundreds of thousands in lost potential revenue. Invest wisely and find a partner who will grow with you.”

Consider all the steps, and make the crucial leap

Making the leap into ecommerce is one of the most important decisions an organization can make, and we’ve touched on everything it takes for that to be successful. All the factors that go into it need to be considered, and all the proper steps need to be taken to prepare. It’s an early step on the ecommerce journey but a crucial one. There’s no one-size-fits-all deployment strategy, but taking what we’ve discussed today will help to make sure there is a strategy that fits any organization’s needs.

Sam Gupta is principal consultant at ElevatIQ. Eric Landmann is Ecommerce Division manager at Earthling Interactive. Kris Harrington is president and chief operating officer of GenAlpha Technologies. Dave Meyer is president of BizzyWeb.

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