The eCommerce platform field is very crowded. There are literally hundreds of platforms to choose from with many different offerings to suit different business models. Sifting through all the choices can be overwhelming and daunting. Often companies spend months in analysis paralysis trying to figure out where to begin and what features are most important to them. So, let’s take a look at the question: Is an RFI/RFP process necessary for an eCommerce Platform selection? Well… The answer may not be what you expect.

The average enterprise company may look to Forrester and/or Gartner to start this process and this is a very good idea. It shows you the leaders, the innovators, up and coming platforms, etc.  Forrester and Gartner will do an excellent job telling you the details behind each platform. However, if you really want their opinion about what platform is right for your business, then you will need to have an expensive one-on-one with them and they are likely going to name a small handful that may be right for you. Then the expectation would be to evaluate each of these from there in a traditional RFI/RFP Process.

The second option is to ask peers from other similar companies with the same exact business model. The same exact business model is important because how your business works deeply impacts the foundation of what is needed from an eCommerce Platform. Two manufacturers may manufacture similar products, but one may have straight line pricing and discounting. The other may have complex negotiated contract pricing by customer. This is a core difference requiring a much different platform. In addition, it is recommended that any peer referral come from a peer that has been live on the platform 1-3 years, not more, not less. The reason being that commerce platform architectures have been somewhat perishable over time. Every 5-7 years a new architecture gets introduced that dramatically changes resource cost, then the development languages around that architecture evolve. The changes in operating cost keep getting lower and are significant enough to evaluate.

The third option is to hire a commerce firm to run your RFP process. There are plenty of these companies as well. The selection process can be drawn out and expensive, but you can trust them to properly run your RFP process. 

However, the purpose of this article is to offer you another alternative. Yes, the options above are all viable methods, but can have serious impact on your time to market and selection costs, In reality, there is a much faster methodology that can be performed by many eCommerce professionals, who are very familiar with the eCommerce ecosystem. They can ask you a series of questions in the course of an hour and tell you what platform is right for you. An eCommerce expert can do this so quickly, because the eCommerce platform selection process can be broken down into a decision tree.  

The decision tree starts by asking you about your business model and go to market strategy.

Is your business b2b, b2c, b2b2c, or a combination?

Will you need multiple sites with a common admin?

What channels do you use to sell to your customers?

We typically recommend a cloud offering. Are you open to a cloud solution?

As you answer these questions there are further delineations that narrow the field of choices fast.

Therefore, as a recommendation work with an expert and get a single answer. You may still get 2-3 choices that will work great for you, which is still good. You should have a demo of the 2-3 choices and get pricing. Then negotiate. If you are working with a large vendor they will likely offer you a good discount when it is competitive. The competitors are typically familiar with each other’s pricing and so you will get competitive pricing. Also, ask to speak to the product support team who will be supporting you during your implementation. No matter how much you love your sales rep. They will not be along for the implementation, you want to meet who will be supporting you from a product perspective.

Finally, and most importantly, evaluate the product in the context of an implementation partner. The implementation partner should come with deep commerce expertise and be able to guide you through the process. More importantly, a good one will set your expectations.

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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