It’s a long road this
path to digital enlightenment, and it involves many crossroads and epiphanies.

In
the past 10 years I’ve been implementing digital campaigns, defining e-commerce strategy and I’ve been agency-side responsible for a challenging set of retail
accounts. I’ve been on both sides
of the fence when dealing with agency relationships.

This blog takes a peek
at the wonderful mistakes I’ve made that today put me in a position of strength
and confidence. You might well recognise some of these from your own
experience, you might be able to suggest some more; we’re human after all.

Across all my roles
there have been a few consistent themes and perhaps the most critical has been
the need to closely manage relationships/partnerships.

Pivotal to the success of any e-commerce operation is the
need to forge commercially sustainable relationships. 10 years ago I didn’t
understand the complexity of commercial relationships but I’ve learned the hard
way and am no longer fazed by the frequent issues that relationship management
throws up.

Poor communication

You get out what you
put in. It’s the Ronseal approach, it does what it says on the tin. If you
aren’t good at communicating, you will cause confusion with your agency.

I’ve wasted time and
money because I haven’t been clear enough with my requirements. A good account manager agency-side will question your briefs until they understand the detail
but not every agency has such a person.

I once sent a brief for a newsletter
sign-up page on the website but forgot to include any information on data
management. My haste prevented me from thinking through the detail and
implications of the requirement.

I’ve taught myself to
pick apart every email and brief I intend to submit and ask myself “What am I
really asking for?” I don’t send anything until it is crystal clear in my mind,
otherwise how can I answer questions from the agency? I also structure each
phone call so I have a clear objective for making the call and have access to
any reference material that I might need to achieve it.

Playing games

It’s like the early
sins of teenage dating: “I’m not calling her for at least three days”. I’ve
unwittingly played games behind the scenes where I’ve not been 100% honest with
my agency.

I mistakenly thought that if I let them dangle for a while or
exaggerated the threat to their account from cheaper competition, they would
come running and I’d get my way.

However, honesty and
transparency are two of the most important aspects of a lasting relationship.
Smart people will see through the bullshit. Of course you must protect your
commercial interests but that can be done in a professional manner.

If you
treat your agency as an underling or a pawn in an elaborate game of chess,
you’ll get the service you deserve. If you treat them with respect and as a
partner, you’ll often find they support you when you most need it.

Not speaking my mind

You’re sat in a
meeting and decisions are being made that you don’t agree with. Like a living
nightmare, you want to speak up but your mouth is dry and you suddenly develop
an inability to open your lips. The moment passes and weeks later your doubts
are proven right.

I’ve been through that
several times, not willing to put my balls on the block even though I’m
convinced I’ve got a better solution. Usually it’s down to insecurity and a
lack of confidence in one’s own business acumen. One day you wake up and say enough.
I’ve learned to objectively communicate my opinion and challenge the thinking
of others without being obstructive.

Not everyone will
welcome it; some people can’t handle being questioned. That’s their issue to
handle not yours. As with weddings, speak your mind or forever hold your peace.
Just do it calmly and politely.

Being influenced by the wrong people

I think this is the
bête-noire of e-commerce managers who have not had a lot of commercial
experience. You’re not yet used to the political shenanigans that go on behind
the scenes. As with life, at work you will encounter strong personalities.

Some
people will exert their influence without any regard for the impact it has on
others. It’s amazing how a bit of flattery over a few drinks will make you
think you’ve found your new best friend.

I’ve made this mistake
when listening to people at senior level in both my own company and the agency.
When client-side, trusting the wrong person can result in the delivery of a
solution that doesn’t match company needs closely enough.

Smooth talkers have
left me with an e-commerce platform that is poorly optimised for SEO because I
listened to them instead of questioning the detail. I then had to explain to my
Director why I hadn’t delivered what I had promised and then needed to spend
more to achieve it. Schoolboy error and damaging to bonus payments.

Agency-side, the time
I most regret was listening to a Director tell me how to handle a problem with
a client account, being confrontational instead of building bridges.

I knew we
were as much to blame for the issue but I listened and refused to
compromise. I knew it was the wrong approach given the culture of the client
team but I acquiesced. The result was a worsening in the relationship, bad word-of-mouth
that was potentially personally damaging and a sharp rise in my stress levels.

Lacking the confidence of my convictions

Everybody has
insecurities, even if they claim they don’t. At work insecurity will often
manifest itself in a lack of conviction in your own decisions. As an E-commerce
Manager you have to make hard decisions and you won’t always be right.

If you
are not confident when making decisions, your team will realise this soon
enough and will lose confidence in you as a manager. I’ve experience this first
hand where my indecision has left team members confused and worried that there
will be stormy waters ahead.

It is easier to manage
the consequences of a decision you make than one that somebody else has made for you.

Trying to please everyone

It’s like the kid at
school who wants to be liked by everyone. They try so hard that they don’t
realise who is taking advantage. If you try to please everyone, you lose focus.

Working with an agency
is not about being liked by everyone. There is a commercial angle that must be
maintained and sometimes that means making decisions that some people might not
like or agree with.

When I was younger, I accepted work because I didn’t want
to stress the design team from my agency with additional changes even though I
wasn’t happy with the output. The result was the implementation of work that
didn’t have the desired impact and of which I was unenthused, not to mention
the stress spike.

I’ve since learned
that you have to make hard decisions. If you have a good relationship, you can
influence people to support these decisions even if they do not delight them.
The key is to explain the rationale for your decision and take ownership of the
situation.

Not knowing when to say no

No means no. It doesn’t
mean “No, but if you keep asking I’ll
change my mind because you know I’m a pushover
”. I’ve accepted project delays because of a persuasive director
at the agency. The delays weren’t acceptable but I allowed them to get away
with it because I didn’t like confrontation.

Now if something isn’t
acceptable, I tell people and give them the reasons. I also tell them the
consequences if they can’t support me or find a suitable compromise. Good
communication and planning usually avoids this but sometimes you have to be
firm and stand your ground. Knowing when to be flexible is a learning curve.

What lessons can you share with us?

Do these mistakes sound familiar? I’ve been lucky and benefited from the
tutelage of some savvy people in the past 10 years but I’ve learned equally as
much from those who, in my opinion, have no people and relationship management
skills even though they consider themselves messianic.

Show me a businessman
who has never made a mistake and I’ll show you someone who just isn’t aware of
what good relationship management is about.

Please drop by and
share your experiences. What mistakes have you made that you have learned from
and how can they be avoided?