Running a successful ecommerce request for proposal (RFP, also referred to as an invitation to tender, or ITT) is a complex, time-consuming task. When deciding on how to tackle a new ecommerce project, it is important to ensure that you have picked an agency that fully recognises your needs. Here’s an agency perspective on some of the common pitfalls in the selection process.
What are your objectives—and does the agency understand them?
Sounds simple, but it’s often difficult to clearly define your objectives when there are many stakeholders involved. An agency can only provide real direction against a well-defined and communicated set of tangible objectives. But taking that to extremes is almost as bad as not being clear enough: overspecifying robs the agency of the ability to think creatively about your problems. Be clear about your needs and the background of the project, but give your agency room to breathe.
Can your internal structure support the new project?
Your agency will only ever be as good as the support you give it. Provide regular access to and feedback from key stakeholders; a responsive IT support team committed to the goals of the project and systems and processes to monitor progress and performance. A project team in a well-supported agency will also be able to accommodate a change in direction or approach more easily.
Which platform should you choose?
Especially with ecommerce, you’ll have a range of options. Some of it comes down to the philosophy of the business. For example: are you looking to outsource the majority of your infrastructure and supporting services? Then consider adopting a software-as-a-service model (SaaS). Do you want control over your future roadmap and a platform that can grow with your business? Perhaps an open-source solution might be more suitable. Understanding your business priorities and goals and how this relates your supporting infrastructure is key to assessing the right platform.
Is there a good cultural fit?
To ensure a fruitful, productive relationship based on mutual respect, it’s important to compare your corporate cultures. This has a range of dimensions, from technology sets within respective businesses, to attitudes to risk, change and quality—without forgetting the obvious personality aspects. Can you see yourself and your colleagues working with this group of people over the long term?
Moreover, try to get an idea of how the agency’s team responds to adversity. Everyone likes to anticipate a successful, smooth project, but you can learn a lot from how people react when things aren’t going so well. The way the team works to sort out problems is a better measure of potential success.
What are your budget expectations?
Sounds obvious, but one of the most important aspects to consider early in the engagement process will be budget expectations. Understandably, retailers looking to pitch a new ecommerce platform may not wish to share this information upfront in order to ensure a competitive response from the shortlist. Budget is one of the key boundaries within which a project operates. In our experience, having this clarity right from the beginning tends to provide better responses that are more realistic and easier to compare. It’s okay to talk about money!
How does the agency manage change?
A certainty within complex ecommerce projects is change. How you and your agency deal with this change will be a major factor in the success of your project, your ability to control the budget, and the quality of the final product. It’s therefore important that you discuss with your agency how changing requirements can be taken into account and controlled. Whether working to Waterfall or Agile delivery methodologies, a good agency will adopt working practices that maintain flexibility but have clear evaluation and reporting processes that highlight the impact and enable a considered decision to be made.
Does it have back-up plans?
It’s worth assessing the agency’s response to see how it proposes to deal with different points of failure. For example, has it recommended multiple payment providers? Does it understand hosting? Has it considered the edge scenarios, such as huge traffic spikes, failing payment providers, third-party systems falling over, and so forth? Your agency should help you ensure you are prepared for the worst and talk through the options for back-up systems.
Often choosing a provider on the basis of the lowest price means something has got to give. The things that you do not anticipate will be the things that trip you up and selecting the lowest bid inevitably will be at the expense of something.
With all of these considerations in mind, it is important to not only discuss these with your chosen agency but also ensure that you fully understand all your available options. Ecommerce is a complex business, but having the right partner on hand to guide you will ensure your project remains on track.
Dominic Feenan is a director at Magento ecommerce agency Session Digital.
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