The DNA of a Great CPG eCommerce Leader by Sri Rajagopalan

LS International

It’s 2019 and life in the consumer packaged goods industry is nothing like what we were trained for in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Amazon’s entry into this space using digital as a forefront made it possible for any entrepreneur of any size to truly incubate and grow brands in an erstwhile space reserved for large companies only. This means the skillsets developed over decades in the industry have evolved to be ones that are dynamic, much more competitive and requires decision making real time. So, if that’s the case, what skills constitutes a great digital anchored eCommerce leader? Here we go…

1.) COURAGEOUS – the #1 virtue. Management presentations asking for budget shifts and headcount is never easy. Changing how media is allocated defies a century old media mix model owned by agencies. Having the guts despite low odds to be the change agent for supply chain, finance, packaging, heck, even treasury = priceless.

2.) COLLABORATIVE – #1 above means heavy hand holding with a plethora of functions. eCommerce touches all aspects of business, and it definitely can’t be ‘my way or the highway.’ Most organizations bring outsiders to build this function – a cultural collaborative fit should be non – negotiable.

3.) DYNAMIC – making spot decisions. This channel adapts at the speed of light, and a simple decision like SEO based titles for products, typically not a bastion of large brands may need to look different tomorrow morning – can this leader make it happen?

4.) ADAPTIVE – yesterday’s benchmark for success was $ sales growth and share, today’s is MTA (if you’re asking what this is we have a challenge), CPC, CRM reach, audience, influencer engagement (I highlight some of the basics here). Can this person take an entire organization through this change?

5.) HUMBLE – hearing NO is normal, accepting it – HARD. To lead an organization through change, this leader will hear NO 99 % of the time, and YES 1 % of the time. Understanding that it is not personal, and probably linked to an algorithm and still having the ‘fire in the belly’ to make it happen – that’s who you want, humble enough to know success doesn’t happen only one way.

6.) EXTERNALLY FOCUSED – always aware of retail, consumer needs and habits, and competitive changes in the industry. Presence at seminars, speaking at forums, blogging, engaging on public conversations – all directly proportional to how they will influence the industry not just the company. This allows a planned responsible change agent internally.

7.) HIGH INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY – reads, reads, reads like crazy – yupp. Reads on the smartphone, reads on the kindle, reads linkedin articles (still by far IMHO the best way to continue adult learning), books, audiobooks, podcasts – and, wait for it …..SHARES. Open to feedback upon sharing and adapts.

8.) LOVE FOR NUMBERS – imagine the task of convincing an entire commercial structure what to measure success on – $ sales alone doesn’t cut it in this channel. Enough said. This person wakes up everyday knowing their #’s and what to hunt everyday. They spread the culture of measurement and make it pervasive. They focus on the right things to measure.

9.) DRIVES INNOVATION – the channel as some call it, requires constant innovation – of form, shape, pack size, packaging, graphics, digital content that’s SEO based vs. graphics. This person will need to know how to influence the entire value chain of innovation from science and R&D to actual game day launch tactics. Without innovation all one does is convert offline to online shopping – good luck…..

10.) TECH SAVVY – too many analytic and technology capabilities in the mix. This entire shopping behavior was shaped by technology – should I say more?

In summary, I’m sure there are other skills that make their way here, and we can debate if some of these are just required everywhere. I found my own nature and corporate DNA required adaptation. I’m one of the lucky few that someone picked to get into the eCommerce space. The good news : having spent 15 years in brick mortar, I’m a living example anyone can adapt and live this out.

Sri Rajagopalan is the current VP of eCommerce and New Business Models at Johnson & Johnson Consumer North America. He’s a well regarded expert in eCommerce and currently co-hosts the E-Talk Show.