A Better Way for B2B eCommerce RFPs

A Better Way for B2B eCommerce RFPs

A Better Way for B2B eCommerce RFPs

So, here is the problem.  There is a significant gap in the B2B companies understanding of what an e-commerce platform does along with all of the other pieces surrounding an e-commerce platform (Content Management, Product Information Management, Search).  See, in retail, e-commerce platforms are the equivalent of ERP systems.  Retail companies have been working with them for years, they understand them, and they have the talent to support them (a generalization of course).  So, when they evaluate these platforms, they know what they are looking for, their requirements, and how to evaluate the different solutions in the marketplace.  The problem this creates is that we are using the same approach to educate B2B organizations that we have used in retail.  However, in B2B, they have not been working with these platforms for years and they typically don’t have the talent to support and understand all of the foundations of e-commerce (again more generalization).

So, if the two organizations are so different, and the gaps are as significant as I have described, shouldn’t we be approaching the selection process differently?

I think so.

Take a recent example.  A manufacturer has a mandate to make a bigger splash in digital – e-commerce being a major driver.  They follow the same process as has been prescribed to them:

  1. Approach an analyst to understand the platforms out there
  2. Bring in a consultant or agency to help identify requirements and drive the process
  3. Build high level requirements
  4. Send out an RFI to 6 or so vendors
  5. Narrow to top 3 vendors
  6. Develop B2B e-commerce RFP with more detailed requirements.  Send to top 3 vendors
  7. Vendor B2B e-commerce RFP presentations demonstrating platforms and differentiators
  8. Build use cases
  9. 1 – 2 days use case demonstration for top 3 vendors
  10. Evaluate use case demonstration
  11. Contracts

Okay, that’s the process.  But that is not what actually happens.  The following is a typical reality.

  1. Start with very little understanding of what an e-commerce platform is.  So, when an Analyst explains the platforms, they all sound the same.  To the extreme that Content Management systems sound the same as an e-commerce system, a CMS sounds the same as a PIM – you get the point.
  2. With little understanding of customer experience and what customers expect, requirements are either generic or targeted at the wrong requirements
  3. Companies struggle with the RFI and RFP process because most vendors respond affirmative to the requirements with little accountability to what those responses actually mean
  4. During the B2B e-commerce RFP presentations, the presenters all use the same words and even the same customer references and examples.  It is hard for companies to understand what each platform has out of the box, and what the true differentiators are.
  5. Without an understanding of the out of the box features, the use case demonstrations become a race to see which platform vendor can custom build the use cases to meet everyone of the companies requirements instead of the company understanding what is truly out of the box, what out of the box means, how configuration is completed, and what needs to be custom built.
  6. B2B companies are typically very complex and have unique requirements.  These requirements typically make it into use cases as they should.  The vendor works hard to build whatever use cases they lack in the base platform into their demonstration.  The goal of use cases should be to understand how the platform deals with both common and unique cases and the level of effort needed to do each.
  7. At the conclusion of the this process, a single vendor may stand out, but not because of a deep understanding of how the platform will support the company’s requirements.  Many times, the company and those in the selection process are more confused then at the beginning.
In my book, we need to change this process.  To what?  Stay tuned, I have some ideas on how to go about the B2B e-commerce RFP process differently.