One of the first steps to justifying the business value of your digital transformation investment is by properly evaluating an ecommerce partner who can help bring your vision to life.

1. Find a strategic extension of your team that is more than just an implementer with a documented process for digital transformation.

Chances are likely that if a digital agency can only provide development operational support, they’ll have a hard time understanding and supporting your long-term business goals.

Look for a partner who can provide diverse digital services from soup to nuts. Consider an agency that is equal parts technical, creative, and consultative. Can the agency articulate how they’re adding value to current clients and accelerating sales? Does the agency specialize in specific verticals with proven results across a diverse clientele? How long is its average client tenure?

A good ecommerce partner doesn’t just help you stand up your ecommerce platform. A partner should also ensure that the workflows, process, and total ecosystem will be able to support it. An agency should be able to identify your company’s operational readiness for ecommerce to ascertain that the overall solution is maintainable, scalable, and profitable. Is the agency you’re considering able to provide concrete examples of how they’re delivering this for other clients?

2. Anyone implementing ecommerce should know the drastic differences in B2B vs B2C.

Something that’s most often overlooked in deploying an ecommerce strategy is understanding the main differences between selling directly to consumers as opposed to other businesses. These differences sit at the helm of any ecommerce strategic decisions, and a valuable agency should be confident in both arenas. Does your agency understand the different technology stacks required by both?

Your strategic digital partner needs to examine and understand deployment within a specific technology layer. Does the agency look at this deployment from a change management and personnel layer with your organization’s field sales force? Is the agency able to understand the customer experience perspective, ensuring that it’s a seamless process for them?

Companies should be aware of the 9 differences between B2B and B2C ecommerce. Understanding these differences helps organizations to optimize their deployment, adopt proven principles, and maximize the value of any sales organization.

3. A good digital agency should know its points of differentiation, and how that can benefit your customers.

Not every agency can be everything to everyone. And it’s becoming more common that enterprise-level companies are outsourcing digital work to a diverse network of agencies. Gartner suggests that small and midsize agencies can offer marketing leaders agility, innovation, and specialized expertise without the bloat of large digital conglomerates. Furthermore, marketing leaders can’t face the challenges of customer experience, digital commerce, and business innovation alone.

Make sure the agency you’re considering has a unique selling proposition (USP), or know what makes them “different.” Do they have a proprietary process or software offering? Where are they located? Are there types of clients they won’t work with? Are they publicly or privately owned? Can they definitively defend what they do well? Are they comfortable admitting what they would pass off to a different partner? Are they willing to talk about a time where a project didn’t go well?

A good ecommerce partner has been through the paces and seen problems that are inherent in any business trying to sell online. They’ve succeeded, and probably failed too, in designing an ecosystem that will support your business goals. Most importantly, they aren’t afraid to talk about it—the good, the bad, and the ugly. When looking for great client/agency partnerships, a mature agency will pursue profitability strategically, and turn down an opportunity if it isn’t the best fit for all parties. Successful companies do the same.

4. Ensure that a potential partner is dedicated to excellence in development operations with deep technical expertise.

What is Development Operations, you ask? Simply put, it’s the set of practices used to collaborate and communicate between software developers and IT professionals, while automating as many processes as possible. Think of good DevOps at the intersection of QA, Development, and Operations. But how do you know if an agency is good at this?

Ask what their workflow methodology is like—are they comfortable working in a waterfall or agile approach? (Bonus if they do both.) Consider what type of technology platforms the agency implements—are they top-tier partners who are working to develop future versions? How is their development team structured? Do they off-shore any development work, and do they internally house the code? Ask them about their professional development philosophy—how is the agency’s development team improving their work and that of their client’s?

Ecommerce is hard. And successful ecommerce initiatives are a singular part of many integrated and complicated systems that require digital gravitas from an experienced partner. If you manage an international organization, ensure your partner has experience with multilingual sites and different forms of currency, and can integrate diverse payment options into your ecosystem. Perhaps most important in the DevOps space is to make sure any agency you consider has a stringent platform evaluation and selection process. Beware of agencies that fail to right-size a platform specific to your organization. One size DOES NOT fit all.

5. A digital agency worth its salt should be able to provide both marketing and IT references at the drop of a hat.

A large infrastructure investment like digital commerce is only successful when stakeholders from multiple organizations are aligned. A competent agency should help bridge the gap between an organization’s marketing and IT teams. Is this agency able to outline a creative, thoughtful approach to solving not only business and marketing goals, but also technical challenges? If the answer is “yes,” an agency will be able to provide one CIO contact for each CMO reference it gives.

Think about your internal team and what challenges you might face in successfully launching your ecommerce system. Make sure this agency has a plan for identifying your business requirements, as well as the technical ones. Does this agency leverage systems, tools, and platforms to better align the sales, marketing, and IT teams to create a more coherent, actionable ecosystem?

The biggest indicator of an agency’s competency in this area is to identify who they request to speak or meet with in your organization. It should be an equal canvas of the IT, Sales, and Marketing organizations. Are they developing KPIs and metrics that meet the goals across multiple business units and functions?

Gone are the days of considering ecommerce as a singular project in a silo. Deploying ecommerce for the first time at an organization, whether it be B2B, D2C, or B2B2C, requires a strategic, collaborative, forward-thinking, and tenured partner. Consider someone who can analyze your entire digital infrastructure before recommending a platform.

If you’re considering going to ecommerce for the first time, we’d love to chat. Already have ecommerce, but want to elevate it to the next level? We can help. Contact us.

Want to stay in the loop on future Ntara content? Subscribe to our blog.