Sep
19
2017

Best Platforms for B2B eCommerce: What is Missing in Forrester’s Recent Report

Posted 65 days ago ago by Lori McDonald


Forrester recently evaluated 11 vendors in the B2B eCommerce space using 35 criteria. Magento Commerce ranked well in this report and is a platform with a large share of the market. Also noted as leaders in this report were Oracle NetSuite, SAP Hybris, and Insite Software. Other strong performers in the report were Episerver, Intershop, CloudCraze and Unilog.

I believe, however, that some important aspects of choosing your platform were neglected by this report, and I want to make sure you have the whole picture.

Content

The importance of content was minimized in this report, which is disappointing. Content is of critical importance on B2B eCommerce sites. Some of these platforms (including Magento) are weak in the area of content and this causes problems for many B2B companies. In general, web platforms are either strong at content or they are strong at commerce. It is rare to find platforms that are strong at both.

In the world of B2B, you need to develop relationships with customers by helping them solve problems. Gaining their business and maintaining it over the lifetime is all about providing them the information and tools they need when they need it.

What does it look like to have a strong content site that is also strong at commerce?
  • You have a dealer locator that works well on mobile.
  • You have tech specs and manuals on your product pages, but you also have a separate documentation library where the documents are easily found. (And your marketers only have to upload the information once).
  • Your marketers can create landing pages in minutes, without needing to call in a developer.
  • Your resource library includes tip sheets and helpful hints for your customers and shows related products on the side of the page. 
  • You have promotional offers that are personalized to the interests of your site visitors, and they don’t just appear on your store, they appear on whatever content pages are the most appropriate. 
Sure there are ways to accomplish these with platforms that are not strong in combined content and commerce, but the work-arounds are a bear to maintain and cost more in the long run.

Cost

Speaking of cost, the Forrester list is geared toward mid-sized businesses, and there isn’t a lot of discussion around what the platforms cost in terms of licensing, development and upgrade costs. (There is a criteria around Total Cost of Ownership, but there is little information in what methodology was used for this score.)

If your budget is less than $150,000 for your first-year labor and licenses, the Forrester report doesn’t provide you with many options. Doing B2B eCommerce well does require an investment. But it is important to find a solution that is the right size for your business and build it in a way that can grow with you.

On the flip side, your business may have a strong case for investing in a robust B2B eCommerce platform. If so, make sure you invest wisely.

My two pet peeves when it comes to eCommerce costs are:

  1. Licensing models tied to revenue (like Magento Enterprise)

  2. The cost of “technical debt” (i.e. paying 50%-75% of what you originally spent to build your site again when it is time to upgrade)  
Make sure the money you are spending is going towards features and functionality that enable you to compete more effectively, not towards keeping the same site you have running.

Technical Design


As an engineer, I know that how platforms are built matters.

Even if you aren’t a tech person, stick with me here because it is important that your platform is architected in a way that provides stability, enables it to be maintained and supported well, and improves security.

I believe that developing sites on Microsoft’s stack (C#/ASP.Net) is better than developing them using PHP. (Note that ASP.Net is not a programming language. It is a web framework. The language most commonly used for ASP.Net is C#. So when we compare ASP.Net to PHP, we actually are typically comparing PHP to C#. Many manufacturers and other B2B companies are already on the Microsoft stack, and having common technologies as a part of their work. Magento is built on PHP, which is a popular language for web development,

but is limited in its use beyond that. In addition to being used for web applications, C# is a language that many desktop applications are built on. For many B2B companies who have multiple applications (desktop and web) working together to support their enterprise are able to standardize on Microsoft technology across their organization.

(I acknowledge there are others who disagree with my technology preference, and decisions around programming languages and frameworks are often a heated source of debate.)

In addition to your technology stack, you want a technically elegant design that enables you to build whatever web interface you need for your business. In the world of B2B, in many cases, your technical team ends up maintaining multiple platforms: one for the public facing site, one for eCommerce, and yet another platform for their customer portals.

I believe in designing a solution that enables you to be efficient and effective with your marketing and technical support. Finding a platform that can do all of this isn’t easy, but it is possible.

Now what?

How will you decide which platform is best for your company? It is important to understand all your options, including some that aren’t on Forrester’s list. 

Register for our webinar Why Magento Sucks for B2B (And What To Use Instead) on Thursday, September 21st at 1:30 PM Central. We will compare 5 different eCommerce platforms and share with you how to predict the value eCommerce represents for your business and identify which platform is the right choice for you.