If there’s one common complaint across clients, large and not-so-large, with whom we have worked over the past six years, it’s been around ‘talent’.

Yet one of the observations we would have of many organisations is that they are not short of resources. You might think then that the issue is a shortage of the ‘right’ people, but that’s not necessarily true either.

I have begun to wonder whether part of the problem is that as ecommerce develops we are less and less sure about what it is we need. Under these circumstances, particularly if we are being pushed for performance improvements, instincts encourage us to look for more heads and I think that counting heads is the wrong place to start.

Our experience suggests that heads are the last things to worry about. Where you need to start is with how you want to work. This can be split into three things:

1. Culture

Organisations can behave badly, or at least the people in them can. In ecommerce we need everyone to work together, quite often including support functions such as legal and compliance as well as the more obvious IT and marketing.

Function-first cultures abound in many places and these can at best slow down efforts to improve performance and at worst militate against them.

For more on this point, download Econsultancy's guide to Building A Digital Culture.

2. Processes

Part of the reason why key functions can impact adversely on ecommerce teams is that there is no shared process to underpin roles and expectations. This gives permission for ‘localism’ and enables turf wars and the metaphorical stamping of feet.

3. Expert-led thinking

Experts in our world are often the cause of failure rather than the answer to a problem. I don’t mean specialists – these are generally very useful to have as they bring expertise and specific skills to help resolve problems.  

I’m referring to the self-described ‘expert’ that does seem to exist in many ecommerce teams. You know the types, they start their contributions with phrases like: ‘as a UX expert’ and throw all the jargon in that allow the rest of us to play digital bingo as they talk.

The solution

Generally speaking, if you want to build a high-performing ecommerce team then you will need to be active in your management of culture, processes and egos. In immature functions this is a real challenge but if you get this right, it opens up significant opportunities to be quite radical in resourcing.

Cultures need to be customer-centric. They need to value, recognise and reward constant curiosity about the customer in the market as well as the current customer. They need to be driven by a desire to understand why people do and do not buy or become a lead or self-serve. Cultures that work best in ecommerce are curious, open, learning and rigourous about data and insight.

Processes need to be cross-functional. They should be disciplined and driven from the customer agenda not from a particular functional one. At every stage decision-making needs to be well defined including the data/insight required to make effective decisions. They have to include a test and learn discipline that iterates and links back into developing the understanding of the customer agenda.

People need to be low-ego, high standards and low maintenance. They have to be able to collaborate internally and externally and they have to be able to follow a structured disciplined process. Technical specialists are important, but even more important is to ensure you identify the right capabilities that drive performance.  

In our view these aren’t defined by activities such as UX/CX or web analytics but by skills sets that can make a competitive difference regardless of where they are deployed:  

  • Data comprehension and manipulation
  • Customer insight generation process
  • Commercial understanding

Thinking this way about capabilities changes the ‘talent’ pool from a rather limited one into one that embraces a very wide range of disciplines and backgrounds. After all, ecommerce isn’t rocket science is it? What differentiates the outstanding performers are those who understand their customers and the customers in their market and know how to use that to develop optimised executions through a process of test and learn.  

That’s true whether you are marketing, selling or building customer relationships.

Resourcing against the values that build the right cultures, the attitude that accepts the need to work collaboratively and within strong common processes and a genuine interest in customers rather than themselves is likely to deliver far better outcomes. It will also make your ecommerce team a great one to work for.

For more on this topic, read:

James Hammersley

Published 13 September, 2017 by James Hammersley

James Hammersley is CEO and co-founder at Good Growth Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with him via LinkedIn.

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