For ecommerce merchants to succeed and grow exponentially, one of the catalysts is a deep relationship with their technology providers. As they say in marriage parlance, the initial matchmaking is crucial for ecommerce merchants to garner significant market share, paving the way for this relationship to flourish.
The below 5-point framework will help ecommerce merchants easily and effectively address this challenge.
Evaluate existing partnerships
Apart from prerequisites like technology competence and domain experience, it’s fundamental yet critical for a service provider to demonstrate an intimate, 3600 understanding of your business.
Once that’s accomplished, the next signpost is (assessing) a provider’s pro-activeness, sharpness to understand and appreciate your business drivers within the broad context of the complete e-commerce ecosystem, so that the solution they recommend/develop meets your needs.
What’s essential is to determine whether your service provider is in it for the long haul or not. Needless to mention, a service provider’s proven success stories and customer references are rudimentary.
One way to gauge if you have partnered the right service provider is by engaging them in regular conversations, open ended questions about your business, your competitors, the marketplace, news, economy and the like. Wait to hear the answers and see if what you hear indeed resonates with your line of thinking and expectations.
Technology solutions are seldom developed in isolation. Siloed business and IT teams invariably lead to process failure. Given that a typical IT services organization works with multiple customers, their aggregated learning is typically more than what an in-house IT team can bring to the table. It is always a good idea to see if you can leverage this knowledge.
The biggest mistake most ecommerce merchants make is to engage their technology providers at a tactical level instead of a strategic level, depriving themselves of their technology provider’s insight.
It is essential to remember that anyone can develop technology solutions; the value lies in understanding what a provider brings to the table when s/he understands your business domain and business drivers much better than others.
Understand your unique needs
Servicing an e-retailer requires special insight and a distinct skillset. It is absolutely essential to make sure that the technology provider has the wherewithal to understand what it takes to service ecommerce merchants.
On their part, ecommerce merchants have to make conscious efforts to figure out if a provider is actually cognizant of the difference between servicing an e-retailer versus a large institution. An e-retailer should do the due diligence in finding a provider that comprehends and appreciates their marketplace and its unique challenges.
For example, unlike large enterprises, ecommerce merchants seldom have the luxury of creating multi-year TOGAF based architectural strategy or standards and guidelines. That still won’t absolve the service provider from architecting and creating a scalable and high performance solution that meets the custom needs of an e-retailer.
Further, it goes without saying that time is of critical essence in business; who better than ecommerce merchants to tell you this. Imagine the potential loss of revenue with being unable to get the right marketing campaign out for Black Fridays? It is critical that the providers have and show the same sense of urgency, desperation and responsiveness in getting things done.
A poorly designed search interface of an intranet in a large enterprise may kick off a storm that may not have a revenue impact on the enterprise. In contrast, a poorly designed web store where information is hard to find may end up sounding the death knell for an e-retailer.
The e-retail market place is witnessing a dynamic metamorphosis of sorts. Newer social media sites adding to the count, acquisition of third party providers or launch of a new feature in a competitor’s website and the like, are solid reasons for ecommerce merchants to make significant changes midway to their IT programs to deal with market dynamics. The ability (and flexibility) of the provider to respond to such radical changes at short notice amidst tight deadlines, has now become a bare necessity.
The other stark reality is that unlike hefty enterprise contracts of larger value, multi-year deals, ecommerce merchants’ contracts would be of a shorter time duration and relatively lesser value coming with an annual renewal option. It is this aspect that might seduce technology providers to get short-sighted – depending on the nature, value and the duration of the contract, thereby giving the e-retailer a raw deal. It is in such cases where technology service providers need to rise to the occasion and compromise short-term greed to nurture a lasting relationship.
Last but not the least, it’s also critical to understand the fact that each e-retailer is different from the other – and needs to be partnered accordingly.
Serving your needs?
An ecommerce merchant needs to ensure that the search for a technology provider does not just stop with selecting an organization. Rather, it’s imperative to ensure you are getting a team that is proficient and equally passionate to work on this project.
As ecommerce merchants, it’s important that you engage the team and take them into confidence. Sharing with them your roadmap, showing them how their work has a direct impact on some key business or operational metric such as revenue or conversion rate etc. is essential. Nothing is more enthusing to people than seeing their work make a difference and being appreciated.
It pays ecommerce merchants to ascertain what kind of employee training policy their provider has – whether it’s only technology led or does it encompass the core ecommerce domain knowledge, the kind of certifications they possess, their biggest experience and learnings at both a project and an individual level, the kind of participation in industry forums.
There is a pressing need for ecommerce merchants to push for a team that is “right sized” in terms of scalability, agility and flexibility.
Every client relationship (every relationship for that matter.) is built on 3 key pillars – Trust, Transparency and Ethics. Only then can a truly collaborative atmosphere be established. Only then can a service provider dream of emerging as the client’s ‘technology partner of choice’.
Stemming from simple acts, collaboration can go a long way in building strong, long-lasting business relationships. Flexibility in dealing with customers is paramount – the way in which contracts are structured, the agility (and of course the ability) with which one quickly reacts to changing customer situations, the manner in which decisions are taken to reprioritize resources at a relatively short notice, flexible payment schedules and the like, are critical indicators of how healthy an e-retailer – service provider relationship is.
Last but certainly not the least; good chemistry at the leadership level is the perfect icing on the cake. In my opinion, there is an inherent need for the respective leadership and project teams to meet face-to-face at least once a year, if not more. It does go a long way in building trust and relationship, while helping smoothen out likely hurdles during the journey.
I would say this final point is probably the most elementary, yet the most vital point. It’s no surprise that the technology provider clearly understands that s/he is involved in the business of IT ‘services’.
The great Mahatma Gandhi was a firm believer in the power of effective customer service, well enunciated in his famous quote… “A customer is the most important visitor on our premise. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work – he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to serve him.”
An e-retailer should learn to judge and partner with organizations that embody this mindset of “serving.” How can you do that? By not just talking to sales folks and executives on the service provider’s side – but also talking to employees, visiting the service provider’s campus/office and seeing for yourself what kind of a work culture your provider’s workplace has. What further helps is talking to references and asking examples where the provider has demonstrated this mindset.
Raj Kumar Waghray is Head of Digital Commerce Practice at Collabera.