Choosing online retail technology partners – remember this

By Craig Harper-Ashton

This article will discuss the 5 most important things to consider when choosing and working with a partner for online retail technology:

  • Partnership
  • Size
  • Ideas
  • Culture
  • Approach

Whether you’re the end consumer receiving a new book from Amazon, or a B2B buyer looking for your next business purchase, customer experience is everything. For the former, today’s consumer is more on-the-go and more demanding than ever before. If that book doesn’t come within 48 hours of it being purchased, you’re going to get disheartened and find reason to complain.

For the latter, a B2B buyer wants only the relevant information. If you’re bombarded with email campaigns and calls that just don’t match your business needs, your experience of that company is quite clearly going to affect your purchasing decision – if you even get to that stage.

Listen, listen, listen

So listening to that customer is paramount. If your customer is telling you that your after-sales service is poor then of course this is the area of technology that you should focus on; this could be CRM (Customer Relationship Management), Order Management, improved post-marketing emails/campaigns for better relevance etc.

It is fairly obvious to see where the technology challenges are when you ask your customers and this should certainly drive one aspect of improved and innovative technology, in addition to more general research, trends and competitive analysis.

Once you’ve discovered what your customers think and want improvements on, it’s then about selecting the right online retail technology partnership to increase those sales.

The five golden rules of any online retail technology partnership

There are four main aspects to consider when you’re on that all important search for the right technology company to partner with and drive growth:  

1. Partnership

Perhaps surprisingly, this word is used often in our industry, but rarely executed well. Here is the best and simplest way I can summarise it: “Don’t hire the experts and then tell them what to do.”

At first glance, this doesn’t sound all that logical. I’m always surprised when technology partners are given requirements – and very specific ones at that! You wouldn’t hire a plumber for your house and tell them exactly what you want them to do, would you? You’d tell them what you need for sure but you wouldn’t specify the lengths of pipe that you’d wish them to use!

So it’s always seemed strange to me that this is common practice in IT/technology. I believe you can truly get the best partner and the best value from that partner by making your ‘requirements’ very vague. This can be as simple as: “We want to increase our sales by 25% through our ecommerce channel”. This is a perfectly valid requirement and allows the technology experts to find out the best possible way of doing that.

Strangely, it’s also much easier to spot a good partner from a bad one when it’s this vague – very specific requirements tend to lead to everyone saying joyfully “yes, we can meet that requirement!”. The best partners will step up and tell you what you need to do.

2. Right sizing

It’s very important to get the right size partner. You want them big enough that you know they’re not going to break halfway through a project or engagement but small enough to make you very important to them. The same goes for the technology provider too – you have to be important enough to them that they not only look after you but go the extra mile or fix something when inevitably you run in to hurdles and challenges.

3. Ideas

At the end of the day, if you want to improve customer experience and sales you need ideas for how you’re going to do that – the philosophy behind the technology. Applying technology without a purpose or underlying meaning is usually pointless (but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen very often!). If your potential technology partner can’t articulate why and how it will improve CX etc. then it’s a rather easy decision in my mind.

4. Culture

I think it’s very important that the technology provider either has a similar culture to the client or at least that the client is happy with the culture of the partner. Many people talk about this but I think far too abstractly and actually it’s very practical.

Do you like the personnel? Can you make sense of what they are saying? Do they appear to be genuinely interested and passionate about what they say they can do for you? Are they smart? In my opinion, you can normally tell if you’re going to get on fairly quickly.

Working together is never easy and for anyone who says it is, I’m likely to question their experience, because there are all sorts of emotional and technical challenges along the journey. If you don’t like the cut of their jib then these challenges become difficult to get through in true online retail partnership.

5. Approach

How your partner approaches working with you is the envelope in which all of the points above can be more easily determined. It will very quickly indicate their level of experience and capability, provide essential insights as to how they practise their culture in a very practical sense, how they inspire and communicate ideas through the journey and perhaps most importantly how the customer is at the heart of this approach.

There are really three summarised characteristics of the partner’s approach: there isn’t one in which case you can normally expect a voyage of unpredictability; a firm, well-defined methodology that stipulates clear and unalterable activities and deliverables and a third that is well-defined but adaptable to specific undertakings.

The latter two are perfectly suitable in that they demonstrate what the future looks like and certainly demonstrate expertise. Preferred is of course the adaptive-style but take care in establishing these adaptations ahead of your project. There’ll always be surprises during any project – projects are, in my experience, at least where the surprises tend to be.

 

So as you’ve seen, picking the right technology partner isn’t an easy decision. You need to think about your strengths & weaknesses, their strengths & weaknesses and how you’ll work together to get the most valuable relationships.

Listening to your customer and then advocating these changes through the right online retail partnership will improve that tricky-to-get-right customer experience and consequently embolden your sales team to achieve bigger growth.

 

By Craig Harper-Ashton, Multichannel Director at Salmon

Read more blog articles from Salmon on their profile page in our Solution Provider Directory

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