As you read the title, what was your first reaction? Do you agree with me because you are seeing the industry trends? Do you acknowledge the possibility that it may be true although it’s probably another five or more years away? Or do you think the notion is quite a stretch?
Just about one year ago, we probably would not have agreed as much as we now do. The reason for the change in our view is that we’re seeing many more consumer product companies focus on building and implementing their eCommerce and digital strategies. There is executive buy-in and sponsorship. As leaders are being asked to build internal teams and external ecosystems with the necessary competencies and skills, eCommerce leadership roles are being upgraded; many of them now have direct reporting relationships to executives in the C-suite.
Ms. Christina Rapsomanikis, Coty’s Vice President for eCommerce & Digital in North America (she is also a Member of Pace University’s Advisory Board on Transformative Leadership) pithily articulated the above message when, at an LS International webinar, she declared, “The future CEO will come from eCommerce”. She definitely has some great insight because, for the better part of a decade, she has worked on cutting-edge e-commerce strategies, plans, tactics and technologies for large and well-known consumer product companies in Europe and North America. As such, she has a ringside view of how this function is evolving in scope, scale and importance.
Our experience with clients bears out what Ms. Rapsomanikis said. LS International was recently mandated by Brita Waters to find a Sales Director for their Iberian market. The company’s Managing Director, Clare Lopez Wright (to whom the Sales Director would report), explained to us that experience in developing e-commerce business channels was a critical requirement given that the company had identified e-commerce as a key growth driver in the years ahead. In the past, the role briefing would have been around trade marketing, traditional retail account management distributors, etc… Nowadays it is around eCommerce and omnichannel strategies.
The priorities might have changed but something remains the same… FMCG/CPG companies CEOs will keep coming predominantly from the Sales functions.
When it comes to hiring for your eCommerce teams, speed is of the essence. The longer it takes your company to find the right people for your teams, the more time your competitors will have to put their plans in place. There is, of course, also the possibility that other companies will hire the best talent before you can. Finding the right e-commerce professionals is not easy, but with the right approach, it can be accomplished in reasonably short periods of time.
There is no template for e-commerce even within the consumer products industry. Depending on the products they sell, the customer segments they serve, their business models, value chains and identified growth priorities, individual companies are investing significant financial resources and management time/ bandwidth in defining and refining their eCommerce capabilities. In the context of implementing their eCommerce programs, consumer product companies (and indeed, others), need to answer many questions such as the following:
- How do we engage prospects and customers? How do we know what features they expect or what to prioritize?
- How do we ensure 100% fulfillment? If we are not able to, what impact will that have on our reputation and hence business growth? Will sales through offline channels be impacted?
- What e-commerce capabilities should we prioritize for investment? Should we develop our own eCommerce engine, list our brands on marketplaces or adopt a hybrid strategy?
- How do we efficiently integrate our globally distributed supply chain into our e-commerce plans?
- Should we have separate pack sizes and product variants that are available only on e-commerce channels? What about pricing strategies?
- What kind of content should we use to promote our brands?
Drawing on her experience, Ms. Rapsomanikis recommends that companies looking to build their e-commerce strategies and capabilities must do so around three axes:
- The company’s eCommerce objectives and priorities;
- Where the company currently is in terms of eCommerce maturity; and
- The pillars that are expected to enable and drive eCommerce growth in the company’s space.
Each of the above building blocks has a direct talent impact. If you do not have the right capabilities in your team, you will not be able to move forward on your eCommerce journey. Let’s take a closer look at the three building blocks Ms. Rapsomanikis has identified.
- Defining your company’s strategic priorities and objectives requires an understanding of market dynamics. Specifically, who are your business’ current and future customers and what are/will be their expectations? If your business already has these insights in place and the view is bought into by senior leaders who are willing to support the necessary capacity-building, you will need people with the execution skills. On the other hand, if you need to start by defining the market purpose of your e-commerce program, then you will first need people who can research the market and use the findings to formulate a coherent e-commerce strategy.
- Identify where your business is in terms of its e-commerce maturity (crawling, walking and running, as Ms. Rapsomanikis labels the e-commerce maturity levels of businesses), you need people with the relevant expertise and experience to make the assessments with respect to technology, processes and measurement of actual versus targeted outcomes. Once you have these assessments in place, you will need people to develop the necessary team structures and roadmaps to plug the gaps and move forward in the desired direction at the desired speed. Most important, you will need the right number of the right people in key teams such as analytics, digital marketing, e-fulfillment, operations, compliance, etc. It is also important to remember that the frenetic pace of change in technologies, regulations, business models, competitor actions, etc. means that the state of maturity will also need to be periodically reviewed, and necessary course corrections made.
- Define pillars and plan for growth. Each business has certain “pillars” that are critical to the successful roll-out of its e-commerce plans and drive business growth. These could include having the right front-end technologies and UX in place to deliver a differentiated customer experience, efficient back-end data mining and analytics capabilities to detect patterns and extract insights, business-wide mechanisms to capture and share learnings (including mistakes) from different geographical markets or product segments. The pillars could include ways to periodically refine the catalogue of SKUs offered via digital channels, introduce e-commerce variants such as DTC (direct to customer) channels, etc.
Some of the roles required to deliver on the three areas mentioned above will need to be in-house because of their strategic value and the need to safeguard the privacy of data; others can potentially be outsourced. In some situations, you may need functional experts (e.g., HR or Finance) to be embedded in e-commerce teams. These decisions are tied to defining the right organization and team structures, staffing models, reporting relationships and instituting appropriate governance mechanisms. If your organization currently has filled only some of these roles, you will need people with the ability to identify gaps, prioritize requirements and take remedial actions. On the other hand, organizations with less mature e-commerce teams will need leaders who possess the strategic perspectives to envision these needs and the influence with the C-suite to obtain the necessary buy-ins and budgets to move to the implementation stage.
Your e-commerce team’s sustained success will therefore depend on hiring people who possess not just the technical expertise, but also critical behavioral traits such as curiosity, ability to observe and listen, critical thinking and willingness to experiment with new ideas.
From the preceding analysis, it is clear that the task of hiring the right people for your e-commerce team cannot depend on traditional channels and methods that work for other roles. You need experts who not only understand the rapidly-evolving world of e-commerce, but also know where to find top talent- including from across industries and larger geographical hubs. Some talent may perform well in a larger, more mature environment- but when they move to a less mature organization, they may not be able to deliver. It is thus important that your recruitment partners are able to fairly assess candidates for their ability and willingness to adapt.
To come back to where we started- “future CEOs will come from e-commerce”. Hopefully, you are now more convinced that the above notion is not as far-fetched as it sounded when you started reading this article. If you are not sure about e-commerce experience being vital for future leadership roles, look at it another way. Just as in a traditional business, CEO candidates almost always had experience in multiple functions (e.g., Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain, Operations, etc.), future CEOs will need to be familiar with how “digital” touches Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain, Operations, Technology, etc. That is the microcosm of the e-commerce function.
The time to get started on building and strengthening your e-commerce team is now. You could, of course, work with your HR team to build your eCommerce teams. But make sure that your current talent ecosystem:
- fully understands the strategic importance of e-commerce;
- has the resources to quickly shortlist candidates who have the necessary technical skills and commercial savvy, as well as the critical attitudinal and behavioral traits; and
- can effectively position your organization and the role to attract good candidates.
If not, you can always work with external experts who can be a second string to your bow. To get moving quickly on this important journey of building efficient, collaborative, digitally-savvy eCommerce teams in your company, book a call with our experts right away. You will get straight answers to your questions around hiring for eCommerce roles and what your next steps should be. We have helped many clients get the right people in place within a month or two, and can do the same for your business too.