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Evolving your eCommerce Strategy: the Ecosystem Approach

The opportunity to sell directly to your consumers is growing at an exponential pace.  With the proliferation of wireless connectivity allowing consumers to explore and shop from their mobile devices, desktops, and tablets, one thing has become clear: consumers are increasingly in control. You now enjoy unparalleled freedom when it comes to selecting the channel in which you want to engage with a company and its products or services. 

Consumer trends in what they purchase online are also changing and expanding. As greater options in shipping and delivery have developed, new industries with less traditional eCommerce products are moving in to capitalize on this direct-to-consumer revenue channel. According to a 2017 study by KPMG, consumers are signaling a greater willingness to buy products in new categories that were previously sold primarily in retail settings.

The first step in achieving success with ecom is realizing, above all else, that you have to provide the customer with an amazing experience from first contact through post-purchase fulfillment. To create the type of customer experience that brings them in and keeps them coming back, “you have to deliver a seamless and consistent experience across channels while factoring in the different devices that consumers use to interact with your business.”

The million dollar question – how do you do it?

Building a Direct-to-Consumer Ecosystem

The answer starts with understanding that your business must run like an ecosystem. Your customer’s end experience is defined by that ecosystem, not just their visit to your website. By this I mean your customer’s impression of you is the culmination of your marketing activities, your website, your backend technology stack, your warehouse and inventory management, your shipping processes, and your customer service.

Ask yourself this question. Could you clearly explain to your newest hire how a potential customer gets from point A to point B – from prospect to repeat customer – via all of the business operations I just mentioned above?

Noodle that for a moment.  

If you can’t precisely communicate your business’ workflow like that, I promise you’re leaving money on the table. Think of it this way. If you couldn’t explain this flow to someone working for you, how can you be sure that a potential customer is going to experience it?

Like I said, a successful eCommerce operation is an ecosystem. It can’t be achieved through a myopic focus on one aspect of the business. Instead, success is built by linking each segment into a seamless operation that a customer can easily navigate to make a purchase across all devices – because that’s what they demand. A great user experience is the result of your eCommerce workflow operating as one organic entity. Any gap, lack of communication, or misalignment in this ecosystem presents an opportunity for failure.

Mold your Ecosystem Around the Buyer's Journey

So what does this “seamless ecosystem flow” actually look like? I’ll break it down by segments as they relate to the Buyer’s Journey. Each segment includes:

  • Your primary goal.
  • The technology and tactics that you need to involve.
  • The business processes you need to mold around the technology.

While the technology is very important, getting the right tech isn’t the hard part. Establishing the interconnectivity between your functional business areas could be the difference between thousands of dollars in revenue or millions. As you read through these stages, gut check your company and how it measures up to these tactics and recommendations.

To provide more frame of reference I’ll explain “business process” in two different ways. First will be how we’ve seen many clients come to us, categorizing their business process approach as standard practice. Our ecosystem practice will follow that, explaining how we evolve our client’s operations to capitalize on synergy.

Before you continue reading, I encourage you to download our free, best-in-class eCommerce Architecture Map as a visual reference while you continue down the page. We use this map to both plan and scale eCommerce operations for all of our clients — it's the visual representation of how your eCommerce ecosystem needs to look. Each of the remaining sections of this piece correspond directly with individual sections of the Arch Map.


DOWNLOAD THE ARCHITECTURE MAP

Download Our Ecommerce Ecosystem Architecture Map

Phase 1: Unaware of Need

Awareness is the name of the game at this stage. Your buyer doesn’t yet know they NEED your product. Generating demand is your priority.

Goal

Increase new visitor sessions, returning visitor sessions, and impressions. Increase conversions/sales where possible.

Technology and Tactics

  • Instagram Ads
    • Brand Awareness, Reach, Engagement, Video Views
  • Facebook Ads
    • Brand Awareness, Reach, Engagement, Video Views
  • Programmatic Advertising DSP
    • Email, Mobile, Display, Geofencing
  • YouTube
    • True View, Non-Skippable, Bumper Ads, Overlay Ads, Display Ads
  • Google Adwords
    • Display
  • Content – HubSpot, Vidyard
    • Blogs
    • Events
    • Video

Business Process

Standard Practice: Your marketing team is doing the heavy lifting. They are driving the engagement initiatives that generate potential customer awareness based on the results of similar previous initiatives.

Ecosystem Practice: While your marketing team performs these functions, your product team needs to be assisting in the efforts to find and define more of your target market. Communication must be frequent. They know the product best and most likely represent your target market. Your marketers know how to communicate. Connect the dots.

Phase 2: Needs Recognition

You’ve generated awareness and planted a seed. This doesn’t mean your potential buyers think they need to make a purchase yet. Now you need to get these brand-aware prospects to your site to educate or convert them.

Goal

Increase new visitor sessions, returning visitor sessions, and clicks. Increase conversions/sales where possible.

Technology and Tactics

  • Instagram Ads
    • Conversions, Product Catalog Sales, Store Visits
  • Facebook Ads
    • Conversions, Product Catalog Sales, Store Visits
  • Google Adwords
    • Brand, Non-brand, Shopping Ads
  • Organic Search - SEMrush
  • Direct Traffic
  • Referral Traffic
  • Social Media - Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter

Business Process

Standard Practice: Marketing still runs the show. Although the tactics have become more targeted, Marketing still largely leans on their testing and past learning to drive their strategies and implementation.

Ecosystem Practice: Again, marketing and product teams need to be attached at the hip here. Product teams should be regularly communicating and reinforcing with your marketers the benefits and features of your products. They built the products to solve problems and be attractive to customers. Their reasoning and messaging should be ever-present in your marketing efforts. The more informed your marketers are, the more targeted their messages get. This attracts the right traffic more quickly.

Your web team now has a role to play as well. Marketing is the tip of the spear as far as conversion pathing goes. Where Web is often responsible for just maintaining product pages, they now need to be building specific targeted funnels to educate, entice, and convert this traffic. Just ensuring products are displayed correctly doesn’t cut it.

Phase 3: Information Search

You’ve coaxed the traffic to your site and exposed them to what you want them to buy, but buyers don’t necessarily know they need YOUR product yet. Generating demand with relevant and enticing content is your priority. Get them over the finish line. This is the most critical and in-depth stage in the buyer’s journey.

Goal

Increase time on page, page views per session, page views, average session duration, email list growth rate, and social shares. Decrease site bounce rates. Increase conversions and sales wherever possible.

Technology and Tactics

  • Website - HubSpot
  • Shopping Cart- Shopify or Bigcommerce
  • Chatbot - Drift
  • Video- Youtube and Vidyard

Business Process

Standard Practice: At this stage the business is totally reliant on whatever content Marketing has provided to convert traffic. Product pages with their descriptions and images pulls the most weight. Some credibility statements on the product pages and maybe a handful of blogs or FAQ pages pulls the rest.

Ecosystem Practice: In the traditional brick-and-mortar world, this is where your in-store customer service team would come into play. Now in the digital age your site must do the talking for you, and intelligent consumers are going to ask a wide array of questions. Marketing, Web, Product, and Customer Service have to all play a role here.

Marketing’s role of providing the necessary content still holds true. However, blogs and FAQs won’t be enough. You need automated and real-time customer service processes (a chat bot, for example) that answer customer questions as quickly as possible.

Your Web team should be looking for innovative new features to add to your site to aid conversion, like new payment methods, promo pop ups, and single-click check outs.

Lastly, the Product team’s ERP needs to integrate with your shopping cart so you can take advantage of data flow between the two systems. If these systems aren't integrated, you miss out on displaying your available product inventory online. This practice is one of the best drivers of purchase urgency and an easy way to convert consumers.

Phase 4: Evaluation of Options

If you didn’t convert your traffic in the last stage, staying top-of-mind is the goal now. Do not let your brand and your products slip into the abyss of the internet with all of your competitors. Be ever-present.

Goal

Increase returning visitor sessions, email click through rate, email conversion rate, and email list growth rate. Increase conversions/sales where possible.

Technology and Tactics

  • Google Adwords
    • Remarketing
  • HubSpot CRM & Marketing Hub
    • Email

Business Process

Standard Practice: This is often the most underserved, or completely ignored, phase of the buyer’s journey. If Marketing’s paid media efforts have evolved past standard campaign types, remarketing campaigns to are hopefully in play to draw traffic back to the site. Beyond this, not much else is usually done.

Ecosystem Practice: The above statement is a must-do for Marketing, but it’s just a fraction of the effort you should be expending to try to drive traffic back to your site. Web and Marketing need to implement every site functionality app and CTA to drive the capture of email addresses. Email is king in ecomm. Don’t wait for a purchase that my never come to capture a consumers email address and market to them. Pre-customer nurture series are a game changer. A 10% off coupon is a quick way to generate a purchase.

Product needs to be involved in this phase as well, particularly when seasonality is in play. Again, your Product team knows your buyers best. If the prime use season for your product is the fall, marketing should be in the know ahead of time and expediting their efforts to get ahead of that season when people are purchasing. Lastly, being on multiple third party marketplaces ensure that not only can customers purchase in different place, but they also can go evaluate your competitors without seeing you there as well. Stay in the conversation.

Phase 5: Purchase Decision

It’s time to close the deal. Reinforce all of the value propositions, benefits, and pain-point solvers your product provides with your potential customers. Make it clear as day that they have no other option but to buy your product.

Goal

Increase returning visitor sessions, email click through rate, email conversion rate, email list growth rate, and conversions/sales.

Technology and Tactics

  • Google Adwords
    • Remarketing
  • HubSpot CRM & Marketing Hub
    • Email
  • Third Party Market Places
    • Google Shopping
    • Amazon
    • Facebook Marketplace

Business Process

Standard Practice: Almost every shopping cart platform offers the ability to send abandon cart emails, which Marketing should have implemented. This simple and standard practice definitely helps bring potential buyers back to your site, but because this is such a common practice it is easily brushed off. This being the case, businesses often rely on shear hope that their visitor will return.

Ecosystem Practice: The implemented tactics in the Evaluation of Options phase remain consistent in this buyer’s journey phase. Email does however evolve. Hopefully already in place as a standard practice, abandoned cart and abandoned checkout nurture series come into play. Offering light promotions and spiffs, whether on your site or on your third-party marketplaces, is a muscle to flex here. Lifetime value of the customer has to be weighed against potentially lighter first-purchase revenue. This gets those would-be purchasers to become guaranteed purchasers, eventually becoming repeat customers.

Phase 6: Initial Use of Product

The hard part of this entire journey is done. Now begins the process of ensuring your new customer have a truly incredible end-to-end experience.

Goal

Increase in specific email open rates and click through rates.

Technology and Tactics

  • HubSpot CRM & Marketing Hub
    • Email

Business Process

Standard Practice: Your shopping cart sends the standard order confirmation, order shipped with tracking, and delivery confirmation emails *yawn*.

Ecosystem Practice: The previously stated emails are the bare minimum requirement here. Marketing needs to enable Customer Service to extend beyond just these three standard emails. Customer Service should use Marketing’s well-segmented database to extrapolate new purchasers and reach out to them on their own to follow up. Ensure there was no trouble with shipping, ensure the product arrived as expected, ensure the order received was what was purchased, etc. Some personal acts such as these demonstrate next-level commitment to your customer's satisfaction. Don’t wait for your hard-earned new customer to become disgruntled upon their order's arrival and have them have to reach out.

Phase 7: Purchase Affirmation & Support

Build on the customer experience of the last phase. Ensure you have support systems in place that can address your new customer’s needs and issues on the platform of their choosing. Don’t make them work for support.

Goal

Increase in specific email open rates and click through rates, service tickets by source, service tickets closed by owner, ticket volume over time, knowledge article views, NPS over time.

Technology and Tactics

  • Chatbot - Drift
  • HubSpot Service Hub
    • Service Tickets
    • Knowledge Base
    • Feedback Surveys

Business Process

Standard Practice: Most organizations consider their job largely done after the last buyer’s journey phase. At this point, as long as Product and the Warehouse have a means to accept returns and exchanges, companies consider this box checked.

Ecosystem Practice: Customer Service that goes the extra mile ensures repeat purchases. The oft-overlooked value add of Customer Service is that they are on the front lines in terms of receiving valuable feedback about your organization and its products. Having systems in place to further assist customer and answer their questions, like HubSpot Service Hub, will yield insights that directly impact your bottom line. From Marketing’s messaging, to Product’s R&D, to your Warehouse’s system of operation, Customer Service findings can and should impact them all. Those improvements mean happier customer and more frequent purchases.

Phase 8: Achieve Value for Product

You now have happy customers. It’s time to monetize them by turning them into you biggest advocates.

Goal

Increase in social shares, social mentions, social likes, social follows, and positive product reviews.

Technology and Tactics

  • Social Media Platforms
  • Review Apps
  • HubSpot Marketing Hub
    • Email

Business Process

Standard Practice: Marketing and Web likely provide the option to share mentions of your brand and new products on social platforms. There is usually a means for customers to leave reviews. The buck stops here when these activities aren’t actively encouraged.

Ecosystem Practice: Sure, customers will likely engage in leaving reviews and social mentions. However, this organic activity only usually transpires when a customer is unhappy. A vocally disgruntled consumer affects all of your potential future consumers. If you’ve given this entire buyer’s journey the consideration I’ve laid out this shouldn’t be a frequent problem. Why not ask your consumers to sing your high praises on their behalf? Just as an upset consumer will impact future purchasers, so too will an encouraged entourage of your biggest fans.

Phase 9: Refer Friends and Repurchase

The journey begins again here, but don’t make it start all over from the very beginning. Have your customers put up at the Purchase Decision phase.

Goal

Increase in social shares, social mentions, social likes, social follows, and positive product reviews.

Technology and Tactics

  • Google Adwords
    • Remarketing
  • HubSpot Marketing Hub & Klaviyo
    • Email
  • Third Party Market Places
    • Google Shopping
    • Amazon
    • Facebook Marketplace

Business Process

Standard Practice: Marketing is back to bearing most of the heavy lifting. A few standard promotional and one-off emails are sent out. Birthday perks, holiday plays, and the occasional new product catalog update spans the basics here.

Ecosystem Practice: This final phase is where Marketing, Product, and Customer Service’s efforts have a chance to shine. Email efforts should span a variety of topics with varied intents. Yes – promos to encourage purchases work well, but Product’s news and events need to be publicized too. The feedback that Customer Service collects needs to be vocalized.

Personify your brand by sharing captivating stories of your customers using your products. Connect with buyers on a personal level by discussing the charitable causes you support. If you do this extensively you will connect with your customer on one level or another. If your remarketing ad campaigns are extensive and your products are displayed across multiple third-party marketplaces, you’ll catch customers coming back time and again – only more frequently and loyal than before.

Let's Build It Together

If you’ve made it to the end of this piece, you get it now. If you take the standard route like many of your competitors will, you’ll get standard results, same as them. If you take the ecosystem approach, your opportunities for growth are nearly endless.

This ecosystem concept (and the need to innovate) is foreign to many of our new clients. It isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. But with the proper strategy, consistent alignment, and an eye on the same goal, we can make this intricate eCommerce machine a reality for your business.

So when you’re ready to get serious, our team is here to help you and your business craft a seamless eCommerce experience like I’ve laid out. Use the buttons below to chat with us directly on this page or to schedule a call with us.

And remember: "Vision without execution is hallucination." Thomas A Edison

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Michael Tucker

Michael Tucker

A strategy and systems geek at heart, Michael spends his time defining process and improving efficiency. If it ain't broke don't fix it isn't good enough for him. There is always something that can be optimized. After years in the demand gen side of marketing, Michael took this philosophy to the sales enablement world. You'll constantly find him heads down in tools like Hubspot and Salesforce. If he isn't doing that, you might be able to catch him in the mountains skiing fresh powder or..

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