It’s no secret that e-commerce can be challenging, and building a good e-commerce team doesn’t happen overnight. Yet having a dedicated team to own and manage your company’s e-commerce efforts is key to optimizing results. So what’s the best way to create one?
In a session at Ariba LIVE 2014, two leading e-commerce sellers explained how they developed their teams in order to respond quickly and efficiently to their customers’ e-commerce requests. Senior e-commerce operations manager John D’Aquila from SHI International shared his experience as a value-added reseller, and Heather Westerman, eBusiness manager of large accounts at Lexmark International, provided the sales-and-service perspective of an OEM. Despite the structural differences between their organizations, their team-building experiences have much in common. As D’Aquila points out, “It’s all about understanding the relationships with the customers and the relationships internally to make sure we deliver quickly, move on, and keep the relationships strong.”
Why create a dedicated e-commerce team?
- It drives efficiency and increases revenue. When Westerman took over Lexmark’s e-commerce efforts, the company was spending a lot of money to set up online customer connections, since each one was started from scratch. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, why can’t we just rinse and repeat?’” she says. By building a dedicated team—which then spearheaded a major enhancement project—Lexmark has dramatically reduced e-commerce costs while continuing to grow revenue.
- It aligns disparate internal groups. A successful e-commerce team connects and integrates the efforts of multiple departments, which typically might have a myopic view of what’s important. For example:
- Sales wants to own the customer relationship and revenue and is concerned about commissions and making sure contracts are followed.
- Marketing wants to own the product line, marketing material, and content.
- IT wants to own the systems and integrations.
“We’re sitting in the middle of it, and we see from everybody’s perspective,” Westerman says. The e-commerce team helps each group understand the value of the others, which builds trust and keeps everyone aligned to achieve overarching business objectives.
- It strengthens customer focus. The e-commerce team helps to consumerize the buying experience and also consolidates each customer’s products, pricing, marketing, and specifications so they see only what they care about. “That’s what the e-commerce team really brings to the table,” Westerman notes. “It says to the sales team, the marketing team, and the IT team, ‘Let’s work together. Let’s make sure that we stay focused on the customer and not just show our customer how disorganized we can be.’”
Best practices for building a great e-commerce team
While every team is unique, D’Aquila and Westerman suggest the following guidelines to use in building yours:
- Keep relationships paramount: “People skills” rule. For example, though SHI’s e-commerce team is part of the IT department, everyone is trained to be customer-service oriented—and usually they’ve come from a sales, accounting, or purchasing background, not a technology one. “I could teach them the e-commerce piece, but I can’t teach them to have a personality,” D’Aquila says.
- Stick up for scalability. When a customer wants new functionality, is it viable to implement? “Don’t just do it because sales or marketing told you to,” Westerman advises. “Do what makes sense, and not just for that particular customer. Make sure whatever you’re creating can be used across the board.”
- Spread the e-commerce gospel. “Even now in 2014, e-commerce frightens a lot of people because it takes the control away from them,” Westerman says. So her team provides plenty of internal communication about why they’re doing what they’re doing. For example:
- E-commerce is not about trying to take someone’s job or grab market share from channel partners. It’s about giving customers what they want: a quick, easy, always-on way to order a product or service.
- Nothing will replace one-on-one, face-to-face sales meetings to help customers understand products, value, and contract terms.
- Support innovation and stay current. “You have to keep up with what’s going on in the market,” Westerman says. She encourages her team to benchmark their experiences from their own online shopping against the Lexmark site, providing a constant stream of new insights on cool functionality to add or missteps to avoid.
- Cross-train to ensure resilience. “I don’t expect everyone to know everybody’s job, but it’s good to help them understand what their role is,” Westerman says. For example, “Even though the project manager is responsible for the projects, she also understands the account manager’s role, and she could step into that if we ever need it on our team.”
- Document all processes and procedures for training, replication, and continuous improvement. Having a written reference can be invaluable when conflicts arise, since you can point dissenters back to the agreed-upon responsibilities and objectives.
- Measure your success. Choose specific areas to measure so you can assess your progress over time (useful to gaining and maintaining internal e-commerce support) and target areas that need attention. Depending on your company’s goals, key performance indicators could include:
- Number of customers using the website
- Sales volume, including number of orders and revenue
- Number of issues/complaints and length of time to resolution
- Level of customer satisfaction
- Response time to requests for sites and integration
- Days from initial launch to go-live
- Site performance specifications, such as page loading times
- Increased throughput without increased headcount
Find out more
To learn additional tips and best practices on how to build a successful e-commerce team, listen to the full session on the Ariba Slideshare site.