How to sell ecommerce technology to enterprise retailers

November 22, 2022

In ecommerce technology, business development increasingly depends on consulting around the retailer’s commercial goals.

Enterprise retailers are embarking on increasingly ambitious ecommerce offerings. This has accelerated in the past two years, with businesses now working to deliver online experiences that are as valuable to customers, and as profitable to businesses, as the offline store.

As we discussed in the last episode of Martalks, this has been a boon for systems integrators (SIs). SIs have proven invaluable partners to software buyers – in assembling the combination of API-first tech that can facilitate the chosen business model – and to software vendors, as sales partners, and in maintaining the customer relationship.

Rajib Das, CEO of Ignitiv, joined us on the latest episode of Martalks. Ignitiv is an agency that delivers adaptable and bespoke solutions for enterprise retailers, and in this episode, he yields some invaluable insight into how vendors and SIs can better sell to ecommerce businesses based on their business models and commercial goals.

You can listen to the podcast here, or read an article based on our conversation below.

The opening of this article looks at the specific outcomes that large retailers are hoping to achieve with their technology. While these vary from business to business, there is a trend around seeking to:

We then look at the implications, of these buyer-side goals, for the commercial teams at technology providers and SIs. In order to serve more technically ambitious customers, vendors in particular are discovering a need for more sophisticated sales enablement.

Finally, we consider the traits of an effective commercial leader in this landscape. Rajib describes the best business development talent as “consultative sellers”, who go beyond the technical capabilities of their solutions, to become deeply entrenched in the key performance drivers of their clients.

How modern retail challenges are changing ecommerce architecture

Rajib explains that the major factor affecting the performance of a webstore, today, is marketing agility – and freedom of the customer’s marketing team to maintain continuous campaigning in the customer experience.

Many of the conversions happened because you are able to turn things around quickly on the site, bring in fresh new content, engage with customers more frequently with fresh new content.

The marketing team can be more agile in terms of what they put up on the website and how quickly that is turned around, and the customer experience is constantly refreshed.”

Rajib uses the example of Home Hardware, the largest hardware store in Canada, as an example of a complex business model which enhanced its ecommerce offering by upgrading its system architecture.

The brief Ignitiv received from Home Hardware was to create “the first-time experience of the customers of far-flung stores” in the online setting.

This was a particular challenge due to Home Hardware’s franchisee model, and an extensive portfolio of complex products. Home Hardware has close to 1,100 stores across the country. Each location has its own product list, and its own pricing.

“It is a significant engineering challenge that we overcame… We were talking about a price list for every store, about 100 million item price records.”

Complicating things further was the need to publish localized messaging based on the customer’s nearest store.

This depended on implementing API-first solutions that could process and present data quickly. Ignitiv achieved this by creating a bespoke front-end, capable of pulling through large amounts of product information, without the heavy amounts of script associated with monolithic systems.

“We didn’t jump to react with JavaScript frameworks. We kept it as clean as possible, with as much HTML as possible, as much as can be stored in the CDN.

Only the components that need to be interactive, that need data to be refreshed, are the components that go out and call the server.”

Such challenges are increasingly common amongst companies turning to headless architecture. In an upcoming episode of Martalks, we’ll hear from Joshua Hudson, practice director at Pivotree, with a similar case study about a bicycle manufacturer that chose to go direct to consumer.

Josh explains,

“The manufacturer was dealing with a lot of local ‘mom and pop’ dealers nationwide. This manufacturer’s data was scattered all over the place.

Once we had everything organised in the data supply chain, and they were confident they could share all the complexities around a product, they launched their first ever DTC model – and were able to strike up deals with retailers.

This is a case study where the company which pivoted a data management shift into a whole new strategic business model.

Only a month after we went live, they launched new strategic initiatives which were directly related to the work that we were doing.”

The relevant similarities, here, are the two companies’ need to present complex product information in the customer experience, and the sales and marketing power the brands unleashed once this problem was resolved.

This direct line – between system architecture and commercial outcomes – is changing the nature of ecommerce clients, and subsequently, the nature of the commercial functions needed to serve them.

Retailers as technology companies – and the demand on sales enablement

Enterprise clients retain sophisticated technical expertise to maintain their software platforms and help to deliver on marketing requirements.

Rajib attributes this to the rise of API-first architecture, since it puts the client – rather than the SI, or any one software vendor – at the centre of the stack, consuming the various services associated with commerce and content platforms.

“The customer suddenly becomes the software development house. They are a technology company. They own the customer experience. They own every pixel, they own the scalability that is required at the customer experience level.”

In this setup, the SI becomes a commercial partner, helping the customer optimise their technology for their business goals.

As covered in the previous episode of Martalks, this has made the SI an increasingly important commercial partner to the solutions vendor.

“When we come in with the platform vendors, our goal is to look at the whole solution that the customer is going to deploy. So the vendor is selling their platform, we are selling the end-to-end solution, and then executing on delivering that.

The best solutions vendors, therefore, are investing more in their SI relationships in order to help get their solution in situ with the retailer.

Rajib references the relationship between Ignitiv and Kibo as an example. He describes a relationship where the goals for both parties become geared towards complete success for the customer.

“We work joined at the hip on every implementation we do. And so the success of that implementation becomes a goal for both the partners: us, and Kibo as well.”

Such a relationship depends heavily on the vendor’s investment in sales enablement. Rajib points out that it’s not enough for the vendor to point them in the direction of an API’s product documentation, since SIs need to have an intrinsic understanding of how that API will work in order to provide a solution for the client.

“API-first solutions have a set of services, which are well documented and public – but just because an API is public doesn’t mean your problems are over. There is also a set of capabilities. You need to be able to think of all the different use-cases under which you will call the API and how the API reacts to it, and what kind of data comes out.”

“The vendor’s enablement service is a component of every implementation that we do. Kibo is not going to come here and teach us how to build our own applications on the front end, if it’s a headless architecture, but it certainly can help with explaining which API works in this manner.

And maybe what you want to do is, given a use case, use a combination of API’s ‘A’ and ‘B’, instead of just using API ‘C’.”

Enablement is particularly important in enterprise businesses, whose technical requirements may be more varied and complex compared to SMEs.

Rajib mentions marketing automation platform Klaviyo as another example of a SaaS company that excels in supporting SIs and clients in this way. Klaviyo’s partner content strategy is honed to meet the myriad needs of enterprise-scale operations.

“Obviously others have scaled the partner programme in different ways for SMB companies, but enterprise customers need a different level of treatment.

Klaviyo has led with so much content that you could learn everything you need, provided you understand email marketing, … and your own team could be carrying out implementations right from day one… I was very impressed by Klaviyo’s partner content strategy. It allows you to build up skills in an easy manner.

Providing this kind of advice empowers the SI’s business development team to innovate in collaboration with the customer, and create an end-to-end solution that delivers on their business goals.

Consultative sellers: a crucial profile for technology business development teams

Technology buyer profiles vary between different types of business. As Brian Walker, chief strategy officer for Bloomreach, explained in our recent webinar, the technology buyer at many large American companies may not necessarily be a technology specialist.

Enterprises. are more likely to retain a Chief Digital Officer. In either case, however, business development people at technology companies should operate as consultative sellers, weaving together both business and technical knowledge to sell in commercially effective solutions.

Rajib says this ability is the most important skill Ingtiv looks for in its sales and customer success leaders.

“In customer-facing roles, we need a certain amount of understanding of the technology spectrum and understanding the customer’s business and being able to relate them together. That is critical for every customer-facing role that we have.

Most important for the business development people in our organisation: we want them to be the top consultants of our company.” 

Fulfilling this need depends on the sales leaders becoming fluent in two areas: enterprise commerce architecture, and the key performance indicators that reflect growth.

“Most importantly, they need to be able to map out: what that new solution will bring in terms of tangible dollars, KPIs like conversion rate, or any drivers used by the people managing the commerce business.

That’s a different problem than just implementing a solution for a customer. That needs skills. Not everybody can do it. Especially for enterprise customers.

It’s a different set of skills than you’d get from a Shopify team, making a few cosmetic changes and deploying it for customers on the Shopify platform.

In fairness to the folks at Shopify (which is also available as a separate backend, and serves a number of enterprise webstores) consultative selling does not go to waste in their own sales team.

“Whether you have Shopify or Kibo in the backend, or any of the other platforms, there is a certain amount of technical maturity required to be able to put this solution together and deploy it for customers.”

The key difference is the kind of business outcomes the retailer typically hopes to achieve with different pieces of software.

Assembling a microservices-based, headless system is significantly more complex than adopting a monolith, or a system such as Shopify with a lot of plug-and-play functionality. It also comes with higher upfront costs.

The customer makes this decision partly with a view to longer-term profitability, which will be gained in part from decreased IT dependency on IT for ongoing development. But the primary driver is enhanced capability around their specific business model and business challenges.

As best practices are shared – and as case studies such as Rajib’s become public knowledge – appreciation is spreading, of the links between different types of architecture, and meaningful business outcomes.

After all, these retailers are knowingly doing difficult things. The winning SIs & solutions vendors will be those who collaborate in ensuring that this difficulty is worthwhile, and that the fruits of their efforts are reflected on the business bottom line.

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