Ten E-Business Proverbs for 2006, Part 1

2005 was a great year for e-business.

Goldman, Sachs & Co., Nielsen//NetRatings, and Harris Interactive Inc. reported online sales grew 30 percent year over year this holiday season. That’s great news. If you were one of the businesses that experienced this level of growth (or better), your online business should get lots more attention in 2006. On the downside, you’ll be challenged to hit some lofty growth goals.

A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts and advice on what you should work on in 2006. This week, I want to share some profound wisdom from my friend Sam Decker, former e-commerce and customer-centricity leader at Dell. Decker recently joined Bazaarvoice, a new company providing managed technology and services to bring word of mouth closer to a company’s online experience (it’s still in stealth mode, and, in full disclosure, I’m an advisor to the company).

Bottom line: when it comes to online success, Decker knows what he’s talking about. He spent seven years at Dell, four of them leading the consumer site, Dell.com, to double conversion annually in the midst of a struggling PC industry and online sales slowdown after the dot-com crash. By 2003, Dell’s consumer online sales reached $3.5 billion, making it the largest e-commerce site (according to comScore).

For several years, I’ve tapped Decker’s expertise and shared his advice in this column as well as my recent book, “Call to Action.” I asked him to reflect on his 13 years of online experience and share his top 10 principles for lasting e-business success. Like orange juice concentrate, below I’ve attempted to squeeze in as much of Decker’s great ideas on e-business strategy, operations, metrics, and merchandising:

  • Drive individual ownership among the company ranks. When you give team members the expectation and autonomy to “own” a goal, they widen their scope and take responsibility for achieving it. There’s an entrepreneur in everyone. By giving each team member published goals or numbers to hit a week, month, or quarter, they’ll quarterback the plays to make it happen. Whether it’s in their control or requires collaboration with others, owners are responsible to report on progress weekly and to hold partners accountable. The goal should align to larger e-business goals and objectives so all quarterbacks can see how they fit into the larger picture.

  • Narrow team focus. In e-business, there are 100 plates to spin. That spreads a team thin. Sometimes at the end of a quarter or year, you realize you just maintained the Web site. A team can achieve strategic breakthroughs if everyone moves in parallel toward a targeted direction. At least once a quarter, align team members to accomplish one to three strategic objectives. Publish dates, owners, and goals that lead to achieving these objectives. Then share and celebrate the accomplishment. True, this is basic management stuff. But it’s easily forgotten in the trenches. Without this focus, day-to-day maintenance leads to mediocre results. Besides, it’s more fun to look back on big accomplishments.
  • Align business with e-business. Many companies keep the Web team in a figurative corner. One company with over 40 percent of revenues in online sales put its online team in another building! E-business is an outward reflection of almost every business function. The best way to get other groups engaged in the online business is to share goals and measures to which they’re personally committed. Put online goals in the performance plans of customer service, sales, brand management, finance, IT, and other company functions. Each function can affect your Web site in some way. Don’t just align the Web team toward goals, as it takes others to help achieve them. Widen the lens and align the business around your e-business.
  • Democratize metrics. How accessible and convenient is it to view your Web analytics? Are they only analyzed by a select few in the company? Bringing a wider set of eyes to the online metrics increases companywide attention to e-business. As a result, more cross-functional partners will participate in moving e-business forward. Whether your Web analytics is outsourced or homegrown, make it easy for everyone to frequently view relevant Web metrics.
  • Share Web metric reports. The key to making e-business effective is to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Another obvious one, because what company doesn’t have reports? But great reporting brings e-business to the forefront and keeps things moving in the right direction. Great Web reports should be accessible; easily understandable outside the Web team; consistently formatted; distributed frequently; presented weekly; and easy to demonstrate impact to the business. Show goals, the status against those goals, and the plans to achieve them. Get Web metrics reported alongside other business reports and operations reviews so executives see the connections. Use these metrics to motivate and align.

I told you Decker knows his stuff. Next, the remaining five bits of wisdom. In the meantime, if you’ve had successes or failures implementing these concepts, share them with me.

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