Marketing leaders, such as CMOs, now allocate 3.24 percent of overall revenue to technology, compared to the Chief Information Officer’s respectable 3.4 percent. With that budget, marketing leaders are funding ecommerce, and technical leaders are being asked to play a supporting role. We ran a survey of B2B professionals where only 6 percent of the respondents said a technology role influences ecommerce decisions the most. In some of the boardrooms I’ve sat in to discuss our services, the technical principal is only allowed a pair of ears and a seat at the table. That’s a major mistake.
Without an ERP, it’s a manual process to update inventory, pricing, and shipments. Say a home development contractor orders 30 kitchen sinks from your company through the webstore. You have the systems in place to complete tasks through the sales funnel (add to cart, checkout, etc.) as well as the shipping and marketing systems—but none are integrated. Therefore, sales reps (or whoever manages the sales funnel), must manually check if the product is in stock. Then, they must mark the product as purchased to notify the warehouse team to package the order. Someone also needs to notify the shipping company so they can send the customer a shipping confirmation email. If the sales team wants to drive that customer back to the ecommerce site, they need to tell the marketing team to add the customer to the email list.
However, with an ERP, those tasks can be automated. An ERP integration facilitates real-time data transfer between systems. When someone purchases a product online, the inventory management system is automatically updated and the warehouse team immediately receives a notification. When the package leaves the warehouse, an email goes out to the customer—no need for someone to walk over to the marketing team to make this happen.
There are a lot of technical challenges to building a B2B solution, few bigger than integrating your ecommerce platform with your ERP software. ERP is the software that brings together all the components of the ecommerce business—inventory management, marketing, order management, customer service, sales channels—to make the process more efficient and improve the overall customer experience.
On the B2C side, companies use new, name brand ERP systems like Dynamics. I wouldn’t use the word cakewalk, but there are tools and resources in place that make integration easier. With B2B, we see a lot of custom systems that have been in place for years and sometimes decades. To the marketing team, the ERP is often this unpredictable, complicated elephant in the room. So, even when the marketing team is driving and funding the change, they defer heavily to the senior technical role, such as the CIO. But their request for an opinion is often constrained to technical implications of a proposed ecommerce platform.
Can we integrate our ERP with this ecommerce platform? Should we build an ecommerce solution or replace our ERP first? If you go with ecommerce first, are we confident that it will integrate with our favored replacement ERP, which may be years away?
Your questions should address more than their technical know-how. There are implications to rules and culture when making a serious change to the way an organization works around technology. A choice about an ecommerce platform and ERP will have an effect on operations and morale. Good change management is not only a technical feat; it’s also an art form that requires delicate people skills.
Leadership at your company has deliberately put rules into effect to ensure that business value is delivered from investments in technology and processes. It’s not easy, but you can rewrite the rules in Microsoft Office. On the other hand, everyone at your company has organically contributed to a culture that is meant to prioritize business value. Planning a tangible course of action for an intangible force like culture is not a technical task.
That’s why you can’t just look for cohesive systems. You need to predict how technology will improve the cohesiveness of different departments. A B2B ecommerce site could negatively affect, not just how the systems talk to one another, but how teams will. Everyone from accountants to order fulfillment managers to outside resources to sales will be affected by your ERP and B2B ecommerce site integration in some way. You need someone with a combined understanding of operations and technology that allows them to define what a successful integration looks like. Expecting a CMO to master the marketplace and understand those things is too much for one person to do well.
Oftentimes, a CIO is the only one with the authority to move impediments to make a B2B ecommerce solution work, but all impediments to integration can be conquered. The question isn’t whether you can or can’t, it’s what you need to invest and what you need to change to make it happen.
Capital investment is easy; organizational readiness is hard. If you need to replace all of your technology, a transparent culture is essential. If your employees don’t understand why everything must change, then you won’t get the cooperation you need to make it work. You don’t have to ask someone technical to make the final call, but you do need someone to lead change and inspire confidence. If you don’t have the confidence of your employees, and they seem content with business processes and systems that are holding your organization back, you will need to replace more than your ERP. A little collaboration can prevent that. If you don’t have a CIO, or similar role, then you’re going to need to rely on a consultative systems integrator.