Build or Buy Your B2B Ecommerce Website?
If you’re looking to launch SAP-integrated B2B ecommerce, should you buy a third-party solution or build your own? Which path provides the greatest value? What are the risks of each path?
These are huge questions for manufacturers. If you’re an executive at a B2B company, how you answer these questions will determine everything about your ecommerce initiative.
In this article, we’ll give you 5 questions you can use to determine if building your own solution is a good idea. We’ll highlight the risks and benefits of each path (your own solution vs. buying a solution) and explore what that means for manufacturers today.
Let’s get started!
Question 1: Do you have domain expertise in IT?
Every manufacturer is different. Some are better positioned than others to build an in-house ecommerce solution. Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not you have domain expertise in IT.
- If you’re an IT manufacturer, you may already have the skills in-house to build a web portal that’s integrated to your SAP system. (With many caveats—see the rest of these questions.)
- If you’re a car parts manufacturer, you should probably stay away from building a web ordering portal in-house because IT is not your primary business.
If you don’t already have the expertise on staff to build an ecommerce solution, then you should stay away from that path. Ultimately, it will become too expensive to build and maintain.
In fact, maintenance is one of the biggest headaches for companies that build an in-house solution.
Question 2: Are you prepared for continuous troubleshooting by your staff?
Web standards are always evolving. In the case of SAP-integrated ecommerce, you have to maintain not only a functional website, but the integration to SAP as well.
If you go down that route, you should prepare to allocate some proportion of staffing solely to ecommerce maintenance–and these team members should have deep domain expertise not only in ecommerce, but in SAP and any relevant integrations. (Yes, you need real-time integration–trust us!)
Because that’s such a tall order, a homegrown solution doesn’t benefit from the collective knowledge for troubleshooting and maintenance that you get with a third-party solution. When you buy from a vendor, you benefit from a “knowledge economy of scale”—the fact that the vendor has solved so many ecommerce problems over the years, they can spot those issues and deal with them immediately.
Without a diverse portfolio of ecommerce implementations to monitor, your in-house team will have less troubleshooting intelligence. That means your team will take longer to identify and fix bugs in your homegrown solution. Depending on how bad the bugs are, this could cause only slight irritation to customers—or it could prove catastrophic.
Question 3: Are you prepared to build again, and again, and again?
There’s no way around it. Given the continuous evolution of web standards and B2B customer expectations, as well as the impact that evolution will have on the SAP integration, your homegrown ecommerce solution will go out of date awfully fast.
Can you really amortize that investment for as long as you plan to?
No healthy, secure, successful ecommerce website has been unchanged for 5-10 years. Ecommerce requires continuous improvement in all areas—UX (user experience), ERP integration, security, and more. If you can’t manage the continuous construction of your ecommerce store in-house, then you’re looking at carrying a dinosaur solution—or else building again, and again, and again.
That’s not scalable or sustainable. It’s definitely not a good value.
Question 4: Do you need in-house ecommerce to differentiate yourself in the market?
What’s your edge? What sets you apart in the market?
For Amazon, no commercially available ecommerce solution will work—because Amazon’s brand is ecommerce. It makes total sense for Amazon to research, develop, maintain, and troubleshoot an in-house ecommerce platform because the ecommerce brand is their prime differentiator in the market.
That’s about as far from a B2B manufacturer as you can get.
Most manufacturers get their market differentiation from the value of their products. After all, that’s why you’re in business—customers love the quality of your products and the way those products meet real needs.
Ecommerce plays a different role for B2B manufacturers than it does for Amazon. While some manufacturers want to attract new business through ecommerce, most want to move existing customer relationships online. The goal is usually increased efficiency and becoming ETDBW (Easier To Do Business With)–not capturing the attention of a fickle consumer.
For manufacturers, ecommerce technology is a commodity, not a differentiator for your business. You’ll get greater value working with a partner than you will building your own solution.
Question 5: Can you build a scalable solution in-house?
It’s easy to focus on the moment and look no further than your immediate needs in ecommerce. Maybe your customers have asked for a quick-entry SKU order portal, nothing more. Maybe that’s entirely adequate for today, and maybe you can build a passable solution in-house.
But what about tomorrow? What if your market shifts in ways you can’t predict, and in 9 months, you need a full ecommerce catalog to stay competitive?
Is that in-house order portal ready to scale up with a catalog that’s integrated to SAP?
If you have to build an entirely new solution to meet growing demands in your market, then you may have to write off your initial investment in that in-house ordering portal long before you planned to.
Before you build in-house, consider scalability. Don’t just look at 1 year from now, but consider 3 years, 5 years, even 10 years down the road. If there’s any chance that your ecommerce solution will need to undergo drastic evolution that you can’t foresee today, then you should consider a third-party solution that’s designed with scalability in mind. (Hint: Corevist Commerce is built on a modular framework that scales up with your changing business needs.)
Moving forward: Case study
For another look at scalability in SAP ecommerce, download this case study on LORD Corporation. While LORD didn’t have a homegrown solution, they did have a dead-end ecommerce solution that was 10 years out of date. This system threatened LORD’s ability to scale and upgrade to ECC 6. LORD chose Corevist Commerce, a fully scalable solution that includes business analytics for greater marketing intelligence. Download the case study now.