Why do companies leverage ecommerce software consultants?
Learn what experience you’re asking for before you commit
Global leaders in today’s business world are continually looking to expand into new marketplaces and generate additional revenue streams. These new areas of business are highly advanced and technical and leaders often face the problem of not knowing how to get there with their existing assets. More and more, we are seeing those leaders reach out and lean on outside sources of expertise. In many cases, these outside experts are labelled as ecommerce consultants.
Things to consider when hiring an ecommerce consultant
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Here’s the catch: the term ecommerce consultant covers a wide scope of insight. This article will help you learn what experience you are asking for before you commit to an ecommerce consultant. It also covers the areas you should look at when you are searching for consultants to help you grow your business.
Ecommerce consultants can be found for almost every aspect of your business: marketing, product selection, customer service rep coaching, marketplace, and channel expansion or even supply chain negotiations. It is important to know what areas of your company that you want to address before getting started. Quite frequently, because of the different needs of each of these areas of business, we see ecommerce consultants focus on either B2B or B2C segments.
Below, we spend some time digging into what to expect from an ecommerce consultant, and how to ask the right questions in the evaluation process before you dive into an agreement together.
What is your company trying to achieve by hiring a consultant?
Ecommerce consultants are typically hired for three main reasons:
- You have a problem, or pain, within your organization, and you’re looking for an outsider to identify it and provide a solution to get you past it.
- You’re thinking with words like “growth”, “scale”, “increase revenue”, and you don’t know how to make more money through your online channel.
- You’re a well-developed and mature company, but you come from the old school (manufacturing and B2B, we see you), and as experts in your industry, you want to make sure that your transition into the digital market is seamless for both you and your clients.
All three of these reasons are good starting points for hiring outside experts, but the type of experts needed for each of these groups looks quite different. Making sure you have a clear understanding of why you need an ecommerce consultant in the first place will help you get better value out of your engagement with this type of expert.
Which category of consultant does your business need?
When you take a look at the following lists, which do you relate to more? You’re likely going to have a bit of need in each category, but focusing on which of the pain points is more closely related to why you’re looking for a consultant in the first place will help narrow down the field.
Category one: ecommerce business and operations consultant
- My company’s CSR team is taking 5 minutes to process orders. We need an internal communication tool, we need new hardware for them, we need processes and procedures to make them more efficient
- We need help selecting products to list on our storefront to become more competitive; what are consumers shopping for?
- We want to expand a channel to Amazon’s marketplace but we don’t know where to begin
- We are having supply chain issues from Asia, we need help negotiating in a second language and working with a manufacturer overseas.
- We have been tasked to make a plan to optimize, control ad spends, deal with SEO, monitor customer reviews, and get clicks.
While these areas of consultancy are valuable and can help streamline business operations and maybe even help with sales, these are not areas of true ecommerce consultancy. They will not drive the kind of digital transformation and leadership your company needs for real growth and scalability in the new business era.
Category two: ecommerce software consultant
- Our eComm platform is holding us back; we want to switch but there are way too many moving parts and IT won’t allow it for security reasons.
- Our organization is stuck in the past, we can’t leave old systems behind, but we want to move our customers online (ie: hunting for a new ERP).
- Our business setup is complex with warehouses, multiple platforms, dealers, B2B, B2C and marketplace channels. Every stream is in a silo, how do we transform?
- Our business is starting a new division around a specific launch of a product or service. We have been tasked with getting an ecommerce site live to support this new initiative.
- Our current ecommerce ecosystem is complex, disconnected, expensive and we can’t customize any components to match our business rules; we need advice on if it’s possible to change without disrupting operations and revenue.
- Our current systems don’t allow us to use personalization, design customer journeys, or edit content easily.
Do you recognize your motivation for finding an ecommerce consultant in one of the two categories? Maybe you need a mixture of both? Here is how you can narrow it down.
In category one, you are looking for a consultant that deals in ecommerce operations specifically. You may be able to find a single individual or two that can work with your team and cover off the majority of these skills. This type of consultancy is focused on operational efficiencies as they concern people, helping you select a great digital marketing partner and introducing you to the right supply chain teams and manufacturers while removing language barriers.
The second category is much more technical. These areas require that you find a team that offers specialists in hyper-specific areas. You need technical research with options that are secure and realistic to take to your IT team. You need data modelling and programmers that can talk about digital architecture. You need content management systems teams that can show you your options for personalized experiences. You need help understanding all the technical bits when evaluating an ERP. You need someone to talk over what it means to research hosting. You need an expert in the area of customer data platforms. The list of technical areas of expertise goes on and on.
This consultant, while ideally one single human, doesn’t exist. You’re looking for a company that offers a team, which you can access, of subject matter experts (SME’s) with some hardcore technical programming and architectural chops. This category of consultancy is like working with an experienced ad-hoc CTO.
How do you evaluate ecommerce software consultants?
Ecommerce software consultants fall into this more complex and technical category and it takes some serious research to ensure you’re going to get value out of your engagement, and more importantly, that you’re going to receive secure and contemporary technical guidance to base your organization’s digital footprint on.
Here are a few questions you can ask when narrowing down your list of potential organizations to work with:
- Are there any complimentary consult sessions? Can you try out these services without entering a long-term engagement first?
- How many subject matter experts (SME’s) make up the entire team?
- Are there programmers on staff?
- Is there security, hosting and infrastructure teammates on staff?
- Can the consultants provide case studies and references for previous clients they’ve worked with on a technical architecture level?
- How long are the engagements? (Note: Acro Media ecommerce consulting engagements take on average 9 months for highly technical projects.)
- What artifacts are produced from a consultation?
- How will the ecommerce software consulting team learn your business and corresponding business rules?
- Is the company you are evaluating specialized in B2B, B2C, Retail, virtual and digital goods and/or manufacturing?
- Does the company you are evaluating consult on topics other than marketing, SEO and optimization?
Before going out to seek consultant options, figure out what your motive is, and ensure you’re searching for the right type of team.
List out your business pains, both operational and digital, as well as your goals. Be prepared to divulge some details about your operations and systems, monthly and annual financials, and team interactions. The more you are willing to prepare and share in the evaluation stages of finding a team to work with, the more likely you are to find a consultant, analyst or subject matter expert that is worth the money you are going to spend.
Be prepared to learn, and pivot during the course of a software consultancy engagement. The reason you’re out looking for help may not be the root cause; be open-minded to looking deeper into your infrastructure, architecture, and physical operations.
What are the next steps to finding the best consultant for your business?
Hopefully, you’ve defined if you’re looking for an ecommerce business and operations consultant, or an ecommerce software consultant.
Now begin the process of reviewing possible companies and their teams to make sure they staff the subject matter experts to solve your problems. Don’t get hyper-focused on experts within your industry or vertical; software problems, pains and shortcomings are universal. Look for a team that is willing to learn your company and join you in the trenches to digitally transform.
- Read the company’s case studies.
- Ask for references.
- Try out a few complimentary consults in the technical, marketing and operations buckets.
- Be committed to a 6 - 12 month research phase in order to develop your organization’s digital roadmap.
- Work with this team to talk about budget, stakeholder buy-in and team connectivity.
Most consultants have seen a bit of everything in the digital landscape; don’t shy away from the tough questions upfront. Alternately, do not shy away from asking questions that you may think are minor or insignificant. Every question can lead to better insight, making sure you get the best value out of the consultation process.
At the end of the day, an ecommerce consultant should be there to help answer any questions you may have, help map the digital future of your technical infrastructure and get your business on track for growth and success.