13 steps to a killer eCommerce RFP
These days, more people are shopping online, their expectations regarding online shopping are continually evolving, and we all need to keep up or find ourselves out of business. If you’re thinking about rebuilding your online store and wondering where to start, the good news is, many professionals have traveled this road before you, and we’d like to share some of what we’ve learned about creating a truly killer eCommerce RFP.
Many companies decided to start selling online in the last ten years, a few early adopters even before that, and some of you don’t have an online store yet. What we are experiencing now, is that the technologies used to build those first online stores have become old and brittle, and they are not able to keep up with modern Content Management Systems and commerce platforms. This technical debt forces many companies to look for a new solution to run their online stores and other B2B and eCommerce needs.
Which brings us back to the original question: where do you start?
Avoiding the most common eCommerce rebuild traps
With any significant initiative, there are a number traps to avoid, particularly early on when the big, strategic decisions are made. We’d like to share some of the most common ones so you can avoid them!
- Don’t let management set an unrealistic timeline for you. This will take between 6 – 18 months, depending on the total sales you want to drive online. And it will take 1-2 months of initial planning.
- Don’t let management set an unrealistic budget for you. Plan to spend as much on your online store as you would a brick-and-mortar store with the same sales.
- Don’t go to your internal IT team and ask them what they would do. We need to figure out the business needs first.
- Don’t let management tell you to do all the work with your current IT teams. Your current team is expert at managing what you have now; they are not expert in the new technologies. They are going to need help, expect to use an outside implementation partner to get started.
- Don’t go online and start looking at new platforms. You don’t know what you need yet, and this will just slow down the process.
Okay, now take a deep breath and let’s talk about the smart way to get started.
We need to treat this like any other major corporate project, and answer the big questions, What, Why, Who, and How? The best approach I have found is to create a high-quality Request for Proposal (RFP). With a well-executed RFP in hand, you will have addressed all the big questions and provided all the key information any team would need to rebuild your eCommerce platform.
At Luminos Labs, we read a lot of RFPs. Over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. For instance, it’s possible to read an eCommerce RFP and predict the digital maturity of an organization. But a bad RFP sets the client up for failure and gets a critically important partnership off on the wrong foot. Not a recipe for success. That’s why we’d like to share a proven approach for creating an RFP that works.
Our 13 Step plan for a killer eCommerce RFP
- Why a new website, and why now?
- Identify all of our eCommerce stakeholders
- Determine goals and objectives
- Evaluate our current solution
- Review the competitors and industry
- All the integration of our current website
- Determine our user’s needs
- Identify our customer’s needs
- Document our key eCommerce features
- Prioritize the eCommerce features
- Write the RFP
- Identify potential implementation partners
- Pick an implementation partner
The key to this approach is that we answer the most important questions first and then move to the next most important question. I have found that by approaching a new eCommerce project in this way that we determine if this is something that is truly important to the company and we get buy-in from the internal teams. And lastly, we have a clear statement of our solution needs.
Step #1 – Why a new website, and why now? The first thing we should determine is how vital a new eCommerce experience is. What’s at stake? At a high level, who are impacted by this change, or failure to change? Why do we need to rebuild the eCommerce platform and online solutions? Then ask, Why Now? Protip: Ensure the executive and management teams agree on the answers to these questions.
Step #2 – Identify all our eCommerce stakeholders: We need to determine who all the people in the company are that will be affected by this change. We need to meet with them to understand how they interact with the eCommerce platform and online store and what they want in the new solution.
Step #3 – Determine Goals and Objectives: It is crucial at this point to determine 1-5 goals and 5-15 objectives for this project. The goals should specifically address the needs of the company, and the objectives should achieve the goals. Once they are written down, getting agreement from the executive and all stakeholders is critical. These goals and objectives will keep us all heading in the same direction.
Step #4 – Evaluate our Current Solution: Next, we should ask some important questions about our current solution: What features are critical? What works well that we want to keep? What does not work well?
Step #5 – Review the Competitors and Industry: This is an excellent time to look at what our competitors are doing and make a list of the things we like. Also look at other online stores outside of our product area and identify things that they are doing that we like. We recommend seeking an eCommerce partner like Luminos Labs to conduct and outside in comparative analysis and benchmarking study.
Step #6 – All the integration of our Current Website: Time to talk with your colleagues in IT and compile a list of the technology that eCommerce platform must connect to. After it is connected to an ERP, order management system, inventory system, credit card processing service, shipping services, and many other things. Find out what we connect to now and if we like those solutions or not. Now would be a good time to get a list of cybersecurity requirements as well.
Step #7 – Determine our User’s Needs: Our users are people inside the company that interacts with the site, these are often merchant that are creating products, planning teams that are setting prices, creative teams creating content and images, and marketing teams planning promotions. We should determine all of these users and what they do, what they like and what they want to have changed.
Step #8 – Identify our Customer’s Needs: Who are our end consumers? We should work to identify 2-4 profiles of types of customers that buy from us. Then we should talk with some of these customers and get their feedback on what they like and don’t like about our site.
Step #9 – Document our Key eCommerce Features: Using all the information we have uncovered, know we can start to create a list of the key things we want on our new website.
Step #10 – Prioritize the eCommerce Features: We should understand we will not get everything that we want for our eCommerce platform and online store. To that end, it is essential to prioritize the features into three equal groups of importance: Critical, Significant and Important. Understanding that we need all the critical items, want most of the significant, and would like but may not get the important ones.
Step #11 – Write the RFP: This should now be easy: You can create a structured document that includes all the things we have uncovered, starting with the Goals and Objectives, including the details of all the roles and customers, providing details on integration and finishing with our prioritized features.
Step #12 – Identify Potential Implementation Partners: Now we can determine who are potential platforms and implementation partners would be. Once we have done that, we can send the RFP to them all and prepare to move to the next phase of the project.
Step #13 – Pick an Implementation Partner: After we receive the responses back from the partners, we need to compare their responses with our preferred answers and then choose the partner that best meets our needs.
As you can see, there is a lot of work to be done just to get started with replacing your out-dated eCommerce solution and online store. This thirteen step approach has been very successful for me and many of the tremendous online brands with which I have had the opportunity to collaborate.
Would you like to know more? Please refer back to the Luminos Labs blog in the coming months. I will be following this up with a series of 13 articles, one for each of the 13 steps to creating a great RFP.