"A good match plays a key role in the success of your project, so you don't want to go overnight. How do you make the right choice?"
Dennis van Marle, CEO
The right implementation partner
for your e-commerce project
Choose the right implementation partner for your e-commerce project in 4 steps.
You have in mind which objectives you want to achieve with your e-commerce project and you now have to look for an implementation partner. A good match plays a key role in the success of your project, so you don't want to go overnight. How do you make a good choice? The following 4 steps will help you choose a partner that suits you.
Step 1. Determine together with all stakeholders which selection criteria are important
Before looking for an implementation partner or system integrator for your project, you must create internal awareness for the project. In this phase, it is crucial to involve all stakeholders, gain broad support and make everyone the owner of the project. You want to know at this stage how this project fits within the planning of all departments involved and therefore get a commitment in advance. This prevents the "not invented here syndrome" in which stakeholders, users, and departments, due to lack of involvement, give such a project a low priority with all its consequences.
To choose the right partner, you need to be clear about what you as an organization find important in the cooperation and on which criteria you want to compare potential partners. While e-commerce may seem like a marketing and/or sales party, our main advice at this stage is to get input from all key stakeholders. This may also include people from IT, customer service or the logistics or legal department.
Selection criteria can be substantive, such as experience with specific issues or within specific branches, but are usually about preferences. Talk to each other so that you know what works and what is desirable for your colleagues. The speed and flexibility of a partner may be key. Or perhaps the maturity of the partner organization is at the top of the list. You may also have a preference for a specific way of working together, such as scrum and agile.
In any case, don't forget to think about preferences for the location or proximity of the partner. This has more impact than you may think, in terms of culture, language, time zones, mindset or cost due to the degree of competition in the region. It is at least as relevant to determine how important innovative ability, service orientation, and mentality are when making the choice. These are more difficult to test, but it is not impossible to determine this. More about that later (at step 4).
After step 1 you have a list of selection criteria from all stakeholders and a short briefing document that follows (and you need it in the next step).
Step 2. Make a long list of 10 companies and resolutely cut it in half
When you have sketched the frames, it is time to make a preselection. It is advisable to start with a longlist of a maximum of 10 potential implementation partners. Usually, people do this with some prior knowledge by, for example, names that have been used more often, combined with a Google search and a check with acquaintances, for example via LinkedIn. Once you have the long list, it is time to resolutely cut half, based on references and industry-specific knowledge.
Do you want to check references from partners? Then ask for customers whose culture and/or issue matches yours. We also advise to look at organizations from other industries, to broaden the horizon and to gain inspiration beyond what is already being done in your industry.
Involve the stakeholders in this step. They may know potential technical partners. We also recommend calling the long-list parties at this stage and explaining what the project is about based on the short briefing document prepared at step 1. In that first phone call, ask about customers with a culture similar to your organization.
If you are unable to determine the long list and/or bring it back to a shortlist, consider hiring an adviser who has experience with this.
After step 2 you have a shortlist of parties you want to meet
Step 3. Test a potential match in a short first meeting
In step 3, you find out who you might be working with. You could write a "classic" RFP, but our strong advice is not to do that. RFPs cost all parties involved a lot of time and money and add little in practice. In general, 80 percent of the content of an RFP in companies is the same and that creates overwhelming noise based on side issues.
If you ask us, a document is not the way to test collaboration and see if a party can answer the questions that matter. RFPs are useful in government procurement. In the profit sector, a short introduction is more practical, faster and more effective. This way you can check the intentions much better.
To test whether there is a match, we recommend scheduling "speed dates" of one hour, max one and a half, with the 5 remaining parties. During that first personal acquaintance, you get a first impression, you can express doubts and ask questions. It is wise to go deeper into the relevant experience with comparable projects.
Also, see what the team looks like and who they put forward for these types of conversations. During this conversation, you can already taste the culture, creativity, speed, and organizational structure.
For example, does a party take a lot of salespeople or the technicians who would eventually tackle the project? This way, you as a customer know who is on the team that you may be working with and you can see if it clicks. Finally, during almost every project there is a moment when you are directly opposite each other, so it is nice to find out during the introduction whether you expect to come out together. Moreover, it is nice for the motivation and involvement of a technician if he or she is there from the introduction.
During such an introductory meeting you will discover that the partner has the experience and the skills to take on your project. It is even more important to find out what the party at the table is and how flexible they are. You want to know if it is possible to accelerate (or slow down) during the project. To help you get started, here are questions you can ask:
- How large is the team that will be working on the project and how many FTEs work in total with the implementation partner?
- Where would this project be on the priority list of the partner concerned?
- Does the partner have the capacity to take on this project? If so, when?
- What about the responsibilities - both budget and technical - within the project team of the partner? And what about commitment from the partner's management?
- What questions does such a party ask about your organization? (to clarify how they can best help and to investigate whether there is a match)
Step 4. Separating the valuable from the worthless in a mini Proof of Concept (PoC)
Now comes the last, most important - and in our view most practical and crucial - phase. At this step, you invite the remaining 3 parties for a mini PoC. Based on a briefing, which focuses on several use cases (consisting of one or more user stories) and a budget indication, each party will start developing a live solution.
Tips: give enough time so that the possibility partners can come up with a working solution. And consider compensating these parties for their efforts. In such an organization, the right people can be released and such an implementation partner can show what they can do.
User cases are important at this stage for several reasons:
1) Competitive advantage: with use cases, you distinguish yourself from your competitors.
2) Compare apples to apples: by putting the same issue (read: use case) with all parties, you can compare them well with each other
3) The ultimate partner: all parties participating in the PoC will be able to meet 80-90% of the project requirements. The partner who comes up with the best solution for your use case is the ultimate partner for the job you now have Formulate the use case and possible user stories together with the stakeholders.
Those user stories can focus on solving something for both customers and employees. Consider, for example, a case about order management: the customer changes something at the last moment in the ordering process. What happens at the back then?
Have the remaining parties present their solution to you live. Watch how they fill in the technique and gather the necessary information. Which party seeks the most contact and shows that it is best to prepare? Who is putting effort into winning the project? These two things give you a good impression of how they would do within a collaboration. It is, of course, essential that in the run-up to the presentations you guarantee the availability of your people to answer any questions so that you can properly simulate the circumstances of real collaboration.
Tips: make a list of criteria with which stakeholders can be given before the presentation. And provide weighting factors within a specific domain of individual stakeholders. So be well prepared yourself, ask all questions, agree on a division of roles with your colleagues, determine who watches what (from different disciplines IT / marketing/logistics/customer service).
By following the steps above, you can see whether potential implementation partners understand your business and whether the people and working methods suit your organization and corporate culture. Also, communication and cooperation during the selection process ensure a smooth start of your project.