6 Key Roles for Building High-Performance Ecommerce Teams

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The Optimal Ecommerce Team

Whether you’ve been doing ecommerce for a while now or simply late to the game, optimizing your human resources to deliver the best possible customer experience is vitally important. In this article, we’ll explore the 6 key roles and functional areas you should address to get the most out of your ecommerce efforts.

A successful ecommerce business is a combination of many factors. These include the value proposition of their product offering, the combination of technologies effectively deployed to create an online shopping experience, and the end-to-end customer experience a shopper receives. However, it’s the human capital you invest in your business that will ultimately determine your success.

While the size of your team will be a function of numerous factors including your revenues, your commitment to selling online, the allocation of internal vs. external resources, and your volume of both orders and SKU’s, mid-market ecommerce retailers (we define as having between $10 and $100M of online revenues) will typically have anywhere from 4 to 10 employees dedicated to their ecommerce efforts. Regardless of the number of employees, these are the 6 key areas you should focus on:

1. The Multi-Faceted Ecommerce Leader

This person is the “conductor” of your ecommerce organization. They help develop your digital strategy and coordinate the activities of multiple internal and external functional areas.

2. The Data Merchant

This role serves as a bridge between your existing product/merchandising teams and is comfortable using data to both inform and enhance your online merchandising strategies.

3. Customer Acquisition Guru

Applies marketing technology, analytics, and performance marketing techniques to drive traffic and convert customers.

4. Customer Relationship Maestros

Develops personalized merchandising and marketing strategies through the application of customer segments, onsite personalization tools, and via email marketing.

5. Content Specialists

Web designers, copywriters, photographers, and front-end developers help craft the user experience for your website and supply the content needed to sell your products and attract site visitors.

6. Operational & Tech Support

The “mechanics” of the team, these individuals help maintain your website, move data between your systems, and handle the logistics for fulfilling orders.

This isn’t to suggest that you need to hire for each of these separate areas before you can run an ecommerce site. For smaller companies, several individuals may play multiple roles on your team. However, for larger organizations with increased complexity, you may have entire teams comprising each functional area. Or, in either case, you may rely on outside partners to handle some of these capabilities.

Which roles you need to hire for will depend on the specifics of your business, however, as we’ve pointed out you will need to ensure that your team can focus on each of these six areas. Let’s explore each of them a bit further.

1. The Multi-Faceted Ecommerce Leader

Building and leading a successful ecommerce business requires a multitude of skills and capabilities. Since the primary goal is to drive incremental revenues into the business, many organizations will appoint someone with a strong business and/or marketing background. That’s not to say someone with a merchandising, technical, or even operations background wouldn’t make a strong choice though. Whatever the background, the key to a strong ecommerce leader is their ability to operate on multiple levels at any given time.

Whether it’s your Chief Marketing Officer, VP Ecommerce, Director of Ecommerce, or Chief Technology Officer leading your ecommerce efforts they will need to have extensive knowledge of your products, your customers, and your key business drivers. They’ll need to be able to develop an ecommerce strategy that accounts for the various system interdependencies and your company’s internal capabilities. They will have to juggle various requests coming from all over the organization, prioritize them, and execute on the ones with the biggest impact. They’ll have to orchestrate employees from numerous functional areas with differing skills, points of view, and potentially conflicting agendas. Part negotiator, visionary, strategist, and technologist, this is someone who can paint the “big picture” while also being mindful of the details.

2. The Data Merchant

A product expert, with a keen understanding of your customer, this individual needs to interpret data and be able to inspire shoppers to become customers. Part taxonomist, part data geek, well-organized, a strong collaborator with an understanding of how SEO drives website traffic (and ultimately sales), this individual helps showcase your products in the best possible light. That’s what makes a digital merchant extraordinaire!

Hey, we never said these roles were going to be easy to fill!

All kidding aside, its critical for individuals in this role to be able to wear multiple hats. Oftentimes, companies will pull product data from a catalog or ERP system that only partly fills your ecommerce requirements. Your data merchant will typically need to supplement that data with additional elements and/or attributes (e.g.: material type, occasion, features, etc.) that will improve the online shopping experience and help customers quickly find what they’re looking for. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of this individual to ensure that “dirty data” doesn’t impact the performance of the website.

Taxonomizing is another critical aspect of this role. Ecommerce websites layout differently than catalogs, or even retail storefronts. Having a well-organized shopping hierarchy that maximizes the visibility of your SKU’s and minimizes the effort of your shoppers is a crucial element to the success of your website. Your merchant will need to analyze sales data and visitor traffic flows to continuously shift product categories to boost conversion rates and average order sizes.

Lastly, your data merchant will need to have a good understanding of search engine optimization techniques. Understanding the right keywords to target (is it a suitcase or an overnight bag?), ensuring that your product copy is sufficient and keyword rich, all your images have alt text, adjusting the URL and title tag (or the product title for that matter) all helps to maximize your visibility in those all-important search engines.

Hence, you don’t just need a merchant. You need a data merchant.

3. Customer Acquisition Guru

Driving targeted website visitors, with a need for your products and a high propensity to convert is the holy grail of any company’s ecommerce acquisition efforts. Unfortunately, while driving traffic to your site is relatively easy, it takes a special mix of consumer insight, marketing landscape awareness, and analytical capabilities to be able to generate profitable marketing campaigns. That’s why you need a customer acquisition guru.

This person is part strategist, part tactician. They need to have a clear understanding of who your target customers are and how best to reach them. They must navigate the rapidly changing landscape of digital marketing properties, ad formats, and technologies employed. They need to be both left and right-brained. Strong analytically while also possessing a creative flair that will help your marketing message break through the clutter of countless competing messages.

This individual will also need to determine the optimal mix of marketing channels that drives the highest amount of traffic with the most profitability. (Unless you’re an early-stage, high-growth, organization focused on topline revenue gains.) Maximizing low-cost channels first (SEO, word-of-mouth, earned media) they should combine those with paid advertising efforts to extend your reach and drive conversion at the bottom end of your customer acquisition funnel. Using attribution modeling and customer lifetime values, they’ll need to quickly ascertain channel and/or campaign profitability pivoting resources to the most profitable sources. It’s a constantly changing and evolving effort that requires extensive expertise, instincts, and quick reflexes. In short, it requires a guru.

4. Customer Relationship Maestros

In 1993, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time, a book that launched the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) industry. Today, the concept remains as relevant as ever. While difficult to achieve, technology advancements have helped make this an increasing reality for many companies.

However, it’s not just technology that’s required to create a personalized relationship with your customers. It takes a customer relationship maestro to analyze the customer insights, develop the messaging strategies, and personalized merchandising approaches needed to create meaningful one-to-one relationships.

Specifically, this individual will use data (where have we heard that before?) to create customer segments and develop targeted email marketing campaigns that speak to their specific needs. Using 3rd-party technology, they’ll build connections between that data and the ability to deliver individual-specific recommendations in real-time, whether in an email or on the website. Investing in the customer relationship has never been more important and never more achievable than it is today.

5. Content Specialists

At the intersection of merchandising, user experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO) is content. Content tells the story of your products, helps establish your brand, and gets consumed by search engines which in turn drive traffic to your website. Compelling content generates interest, educates your customer, and leads to higher conversions. Too many times, companies repurpose their existing, uninspired content, to their websites and are left wondering why their ecommerce site is underperforming.

Great content covers many areas but starts with your site’s design and ease of use. It’s ensuring that you have sufficient and accurate product information. It’s compelling photography that gives a clear sense of the product and its features. And its educational, or informative, content (often in the form of a blog) that conveys your brand identity while discussing topics of interest to current and prospective customers.

Done well, an ecommerce team typically will have several (if not more) content specialists contributing to these efforts. They include web designers, copywriters, photographers, and front-end developers who help convey your story. Depending on the size of your organization these can be full-time employees, shared resources from other departments, or in smaller organizations, part-time freelancers who contribute to these efforts. However you decide to handle your ecommerce content requirements, the important part is to not overlook these critical activities.

6. Operational & Tech Support

The last (but not least) area of focus for any ecommerce team is Operations & Tech Support. This is probably the area most companies think of first, outside of a team leader, when assembling an ecommerce organization. These are the “mechanics” who will help build, maintain, operate, and provide the logistics needed for an ecommerce operation.

Like many of the areas above, there is no one-size-fits-all model for building out your operational and technical staffing needs. Many small organizations will outsource much of this work to either system integrators and/or 3PL logistic companies. Larger organizations, typically those in excess of $100 million dollars in ecommerce revenue, may decide to build and staff those functions internally. Other companies, especially early-stage growth or mid-market organizations may outsource these functions entirely, insource them entirely or set up some hybrid combination of the two.

An especially difficult question can be whether to build an internal technology team to support your ecommerce efforts or to outsource this to an outside systems integrator. The answer is – it depends.

  • Does controlling the technology give your company a competitive advantage?
  • Is your business model so unique that it may not easily adapt to a 3rd-party ecommerce solution?
  • Are the number of current, and potentially, future customizations you need to make so numerous that it pays to control this internally?
  • Do you have a technical architect who understands the data flows and sequencing between your various systems including your ecommerce platform, ERP, WMS, OMS, and PIM?
  • Will you be able to find and hire the technical talent necessary for this undertaking?

Unless you’re a technology-centric organization or large company with the online revenues to support a full development staff, then it probably makes economic sense to outsource your technical needs. Under that scenario, you can work with an outside partner with just a limited amount of inhouse IT support in the areas of data migration and ERP integration. And if you can swing it, limiting your IT relationship to one single external partner will lead to fewer headaches down the road.

Conclusion

The future of ecommerce has never looked brighter. Whether you are just getting started or have been at it for a while now, the technology you choose will only get you so far. Instead, it will be your ability to assemble the right team, both internally and externally, employing the right combination of skills that will ultimately determine your long-term success.