It occurred to me recently that choosing the right ecommerce solutions partner is in many ways similar to choosing the right partner in life (stay with me on this one). There is certainly no lack of potential suitors that come in all different shapes and sizes, good points and bad points, with varying values, aspirations and importantly, intentions.
And as an organisation that is considering executing a new eCommerce project, you are in the envious position of being belle of the ball, in which all the promising, eager candidates will serenade you with certainties of the great omnichannel heights that could be achieved by your business…. if only you swipe right on this partnership.
Initially a new partnership is approached full of excitement and intrigue at the possibilities. You feel confident of your choice in partner, it just clicks, everything appears to be going to plan, and you can’t imagine ever being apart.
Happy ever after then?….well, hopefully.
Unfortunately, all too often the honeymoon period ends. The shine can begin to wear off, and you may realise you weren’t as best suited as you initially thought. Unfortunately, in an eCommerce context, this realisation can often occur after the ‘marriage’ itself. And as we know, separation then comes with all manner of stress, disappointment and potentially significant associated costs. Best to avoid choosing the wrong partner, then.
So, how do you evaluate and choose the right eCommerce solutions partner to avoid kissing a load of frogs? From my experience of delivering eCommerce projects, here is my top advice:
Knowledge and delivery experience of multiple platforms is an invaluable strength that should be sought after from a potential partner. This especially delivers dividends when you are at the very initial stages of project consideration, where discussions have yet to begin with the platform vendors and you seek a less biased opinion then you would expect to acquire directly from the vendors themselves.
It should be expected from a potential partner that they use their diverse platform delivery experience to truly demonstrate which, in consideration of your requirements, existing infrastructure, business practices, capacity, budget and long term scalability expectations, would be the most suitable platform solution. A more diversified experience facilitates the likelihood of a more objective view, mitigating the risk of an attempt to shoehorn a potentially unsuitable platform solution simply due to it being the extent of their repertoire.
That said, if an SI offers a multitude of vendor technologies, it’s probably worth finding out more about the depth of experience in each platform. Are they a generalist that just throws whatever resource they have on the project?
The past is a good indicator of what is likely to occur in the future. The most suitable way to determine the likely outcome of your investment in this relationship, is to understand the outcome of those that came before it. A potential partner should be able to present you with several referrals from both existing and previous customers (who are ideally a comparable business to yours in) and make sure you are able to speak directly with them.
A potential partner who appears unwilling or able to provide references from previous deliveries should be treated with caution. It is worth mentioning that a dissatisfied ex here or there should be expected, as not all relationships end so cleanly. By no means should you use one failed relationship to immediately disregard the potential partner in question. However if a trend of dissatisfaction begins to emerge….well, no smoke without fire.
Courage to say “No”
“No”. It can be difficult to say. It can be even more difficult to say early on in a partnership, where so much is at risk.
It may sound counterintuitive that you should value a partner who is willing to say “No”, especially when it could be to a request you feel is critical to an immediate business need. However, a partner who has the courage to say “No” when they truly believe the request is detrimental to your interests, who prioritises long term success over potential short term appeasement, is a partner who should be cherished. This is not an endorsement towards any and all who are willing to deny you at each and every turn however. The partner must offer an articulate explanation as to why they have reached this stance, and have the competence to demonstrate alternatives that would be more appropriate. Most crucially, a partner must be willing to reach compromise in a timely and considered fashion, should the need arise for it.
Vested in your success
Willing to put skin in the game; are they?
A partnership in which both parties’ success is dependent on the other, is a partnership of equals. A potential partner should show that they have, and are willing to, put their name, their reputation and their brand on the line. However it’s worth noting that a partnership will benefit both parties more when there is mutual give and take e.g. a client is willing to provide a reference, doesn’t squeeze on costs etc.
Good Chemistry, Great Governance
Charismatic, charming, courteous. Pre-sales teams aim to establish chemistry early on. Ensuring they prove that this relationship will be a great fit for both parties, going all out to reassure you that you are in good, safe hands, that no one else can understand you or your business as well as they do. Consequently, it can be easy to get swept away in all the pleasantries, to forget that once you have formalised the partnership, and kick off the project, the vast majority of your contact will be an entirely separate team – The delivery team.
Meet the delivery team themselves. Put emphasis on getting to know those whom will be delivering the project. Have them explain to you exactly how they have delivered projects in the past, and how they intend to adapt their delivery approach to integrate more easily with your expectations and requirements. The delivery team should be able to take you through:
- Project phases
- Governance practices
- Delivery artefacts
- Risk mitigation approach
- Escalation processes
- Relevant previous lessons learnt
If you believe you can establish a rapport with this team, great. If you believe their delivery approach is sound, that it inspires confidence, and can be integrated having taken your business constraints or needs into consideration, then you’re really onto a winner.
The road to omnichannel success is riddled with risks, unexpected issues and struggles along the way. The goal is to ensure you select the best possible partner for that journey. As long as values, aspirations, respect and intentions are aligned, and both parties are willing to work together at the relationship, then you are well on your way to success.
Hopefully the above points will help you avoid having to wade through a pond full of frogs before finding happiness!