When your legacy digital commerce is unable to support your growth plans, it’s time to change tack. Composable commerce enables your business to achieve commerce excellence to meet the ever-increasing demands of B2B buyers. But how to get there? Here are some easy-to-follow best practices for your composable commerce implementation.
According to McKinsey, digital commerce has now taken the lead as the most effective sales channel for B2B. Also, B2B customers are increasingly willing to spend big on eCommerce transactions, with 70% of decision-makers prepared to spend up to 500,000 USD on a single eCommerce transaction. How can B2Bs stuck on legacy platforms realize these opportunities?
With composable commerce, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors can tap into the increasing consumerization of B2B offerings while accessing relevant B2B-specific features, like reordering, fulfillment across multiple warehouses and quotes management. So, what best practices should you consider when implementing composable commerce in the B2B space? Here are eight ways to unlock all the benefits of going composable.
Best practice #1 — Identify your business & customer needs
The crucial mistake many companies make is to assume they know what customers want and create implementation plans without looping in the people they have to impress. So, while it seems obvious, uncovering customer expectations and the issues they face is critical.
Here’s a great example of taking customers’ opinions seriously: Mars (the company behind M&Ms, Skittles and Snickers) also offers products to businesses. Despite their sweet success, the B2B ordering process for the ice cream unit was far from palatable. After receiving frequent customer complaints, the Mars team decided to act.
The first step? Talking to customers to create a prototype they could test and give feedback on. In 90 days, the Mars team developed a prototype delivering what customers asked for. After implementing additional feedback, Mars created a frictionless order experience that wowed customers.
In addition to customer feedback, what other business needs are critical to achieve? For example, do you want to reduce total costs of ownership (TCO), eliminate technical debt or implement hybrid sales teams? What about omnichannel and personalization? These are all questions you need to answer when exploring a modern commerce platform for your business.
Best practice #2 — Build a flexible and agile architecture
Now that you know the business and customer needs, it’s time to think about your tech stack. If you’re on a legacy commerce platform and plan to migrate to a more flexible and agile architecture that is microservices-based, you can do so in a phased approach (instead of the traditional “big bang” switchover).
First things first: What is a microservices-based architecture?
Microservices are small components that can be deployed independently, so swapping components in and out of your application without impacting the overall infrastructure is much easier.
In a nutshell, microservices are the antithesis of monolithic platforms.
Migrating off a monolithic architecture to a microservices-based one is ideal with a phased approach (aka, the strangler pattern), which enables you to move one component at a time to the new infrastructure. This way, you can reduce the risk associated with the big bang approach while reaping short-term benefits by decreasing the time-to-value of your composable migration.
Best practice #3 — Evaluate and select the building blocks
What components do you need to create unique customer experiences? The beauty of composable commerce is that it lets you break down your commerce infrastructure into building blocks, so you can best evaluate what you need, what you can develop yourself and what to buy from best-of-breed vendors. This may include (but is not limited to) payment gateways, inventory management, search and CMS systems.
Next, assess the B2B eCommerce features that matter to you, such as personalized pricing, reordering and order scheduling, quote management, and more, so you can better evaluate your current tech stack, what’s missing and what needs to be built or bought.
Many B2Bs have invested time and money into homegrown commerce platforms in the hopes of capturing the business uniqueness in their tech stack. However, this approach usually falls short as maintaining a DIY platform internally requires a lot of resources and, over time, tends to accumulate technical debt. Composable commerce provides the best combination of the build-and-buy approach: You can build what makes your business unique and buy the components that you don’t have the internal capability to create from scratch.
With a build-and-buy strategy powered by composable commerce, your business can select the building blocks according to functionality, internal skill set and budget.
Best practice #4 — Integrate seamlessly
Start integrating the building blocks you need. As composable commerce is an API-first approach that enables components to integrate seamlessly, regardless if they’re built in-house, sourced from best-of-breed vendors or a mix of both.
Most B2Bs should consider integrating ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems with their commerce platform to maximize operational efficiency, automate processes, minimize expensive order errors and eliminate data discrepancies.
While some B2Bs buy their ERP and commerce solution from one vendor for simplicity's sake, this approach doesn't necessarily lead to the best results. This is because such solutions are tightly integrated (and therefore, monolithic in nature), which prevents the company from adapting customer experiences faster, customizing features and innovating at a fast pace.
Decoupling commerce and ERP systems is not as complicated as you think. This is possible because, by definition, composable commerce can be broken down into pieces that enable you to leverage the components that best work for you. It means you don’t have to worry about adopting a microservices-based architecture from day one; you can, for instance, extend an API to your backend ERP integration without affecting the rest of your infrastructure.
There are three different ways to facilitate this process:
Integrate via your ERP solution’s integration middleware. For example, if you’re using SAP ERP, you can use SAP Cloud Platform Integration middleware as a centralized platform for connecting different systems and applications, and connect to commercetools via APIs.
Integrate via third-party middleware by leveraging best-of-breed iPaaS solutions, such as Dell Boomi, MuleSoft or Workato. With pre-built integrators, you can connect commercetools with your ERP in a low-maintenance and low-code fashion.
Integrate via cloud services (AWS, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure) by building a “point to point” integration flow between commercetools and your cloud service of choice. For example, AWS provides a myriad of services like Amazon API Gateway, AWS Lambda, etc., that can be used to build a connection between commercetools and your ERP. While this approach is more technically demanding, it gives you more control of the data flow, plus the ability to expand and enhance integrations over time and leverage auto-scaling to handle a high volume of data flows.
Best practice #5 — Create an MVP or prototype
Creating a minimum viable product (MVP) or prototype is essential for B2B companies to test their ideas and validate assumptions before investing significant resources into a full-scale implementation. It also helps identify potential problems or limitations early on, saving time and money in the long run.
Composable commerce enables B2Bs to create MVPs with ease as tech teams can quickly iterate and refine their solution based on feedback from customers and stakeholders, ensuring that the final product meets their needs and expectations. With a flexible and modular approach that lets tech teams try things out without fearing breaking the system, your business is more agile in capturing customer feedback and/or adapting to new market shifts.
Best practice #6 — Prioritize security and compliance
With the continuous growth and evolution of eCommerce, it’s paramount to ensure the security of online transactions and safeguard user data. That’s why B2Bs should prioritize security and compliance and watch out for:
A governance framework
Complete isolation and segregation of persistent data
Regular penetration tests
Compliance based on industry standards which may include (but is not limited to) ISO/IEC 27001, TISAX, GDPR, etc.
In addition to the standard certifications and regulation compliance, another best practice is to use cloud-native infrastructure. In contrast to on-premise IT, whereby you need to build and maintain all servers by yourself, a cloud-native approach offered by Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS) means you get the highest level of data separation. It also includes:
Automated security measures like backups and real-time threat detection.
Multi-layered security including network firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs) and encryption, to help ensure data protection at every level.
Data recovery in the event of a disaster or system failure.
Best practice #7 — Test rigorously and constantly
Test every component and integration in your composable stack to:
Identify compatibility issues between different tech stack components, avoiding system crashes or data loss.
Ensure data integrity by verifying that data is accurately transferred between different components of the tech stack, preventing errors or corruption of data.
Optimize performance by identifying any bottlenecks to improve overall system performance and reduce downtime.
For testing to become an integral part of your process, you can follow these four steps:
Develop a testing plan outlining what components will be tested, how testing will be performed and what metrics will be used to measure success.
Use testing tools such as load testing software, performance monitoring, etc.
Test constantly to ensure everything works without issues — or anticipate problems before they become a blocker.
Record and analyze the results of each test, identifying any areas of concern or future improvements.
Best practice #8 — Monitor, optimize and adapt
Here are a few ways B2B companies can monitor their digital commerce solution:
Performance monitoring: Keep track of performance metrics such as page load time, server response time and transaction processing time to identify areas that could be optimized. Also, with real-time monitoring tools, you can identify issues at once, like system crashes or slow page load times.
User monitoring: How does the B2B buyer behave? What areas of your platform is the user interacting with? By tracking the customer journey through the platform, analyzing user search queries and monitoring shopping cart behavior, you can spot expectations and issues that can be improved.
Analytics: Analyze data like customer behavior, product performance and sales data to identify trends and patterns that could be used to optimize performance.
More than monitoring and analytics, open and continuous communication with customers will help you stay on top of expectations and demands, so your innovations can cater to the people that matter the most — and your business is ready to capitalize on that.