Like many e-commerce professionals driving direct-to-consumer sales for small- and medium-sized retail brands (SMBs), I often feel stuck between a rock and the hardware. On one hand, aggressive direct sales revenue targets need to be hit. On the other, the brand needs to support its retail partners. A third hand might need to generate brand awareness, which is essential but harder to put against an e-commerce ROI. And then there are all the other responsibilities that can get layered onto a small web team, including the company’s content website, B2B e-commerce programs, social media, online marketing, email, and other functions that loosely fall under the rubric of “digital.”
I am, admittedly, self-conscious, overly sensitive, and have mild self-esteem issues. And so I can’t help but feel like there is an expectation that, because “digital” is in my job title, I should have specific functional expertise in every online area. That it’s not enough to have honed leadership skills and to competently manage tactical execution, a dozen vendors and a fluid P&L. That it should be easy to seamlessly switch from brainstorming a marketing plan to writing copy and conceiving the creative assets (before lunch); from coding an HTML template (during lunch) to working with customer service to resolve a fulfillment issue (after lunch); from revising financial projections for the quarter (afternoon) to crafting a strategy presentation (after dinner).
More often than not, I find myself delivering a scattered patchwork of mediocrity in place of producing even one piece of work done really, really well. This bothers my inner Eagle Scout to no end.
Have I become a whiny inter-nerd with a fragile ego? I mean, shouldn’t I be able to do it all? Am I failing?
HELP ON THE WAY
It was in this moment of crisis that I connected with Chris Strasser, Director of Brand Marketing and E-Commerce at ICU Eyewear (after he talked me off the 22nd floor window ledge). Chris sells reading glasses, so I hoped he could help me see things more clearly.
“I am pretty much a one-man show here, too,” he said. “There are a number of vendors who help me get things done.” Immediately I felt less alone.
“At the end of the day, it’s about revenue and transactions,” he continued. “Knowing this keeps me focused on things that really matter for the business.”
And when there are limited resources, it is important to choose your weapons wisely.
“This might be prehistoric, but one of my favorite tools is (still) the Excel spreadsheet. I am constantly jumping back and forth between Excel and Google Analytics. Even with limited resources, I can use those two free tools to see what our customers find most important. And what parts of our website to focus on.”
Staying focused and prioritizing efforts are key strategies for SMBs that want to run profitable e-commerce programs. And Chris considers a consistent brand message across every platform – desktop, tablet, mobile, social – to be a primary requirement. “This is who we are, this is what we do, here’s our stuff – it’s that simple. I see a lot of sites that aren’t doing that, but for me it’s the biggest thing.”
Keeping the digital experience clean and uncluttered insures the brand message – and e-commerce offers – are shining through. “I see brands stuffing their sites with content,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of talking, and it’s almost schizophrenic.” Overloading customers with superfluous content makes the experience noisy and distracts from the ultimate goal – landing the sale. “Small companies really need to have their focus and priorities in place.”
As we talked, I began to understand that my anxiety about not winning enough, about not knowing enough, was simply a function of trying to DO too much. And so I asked Chris – who seems to have an almost Buddha-like view of it all – what his priorities are. Here now, free to the world are…
THE “STRASSER 5” FOR SMB E-COMMERCE PROGRAMS
1. The email list, straight up. “Work on growing it at a healthy rate. It’s often easier (and cheaper) to keep a customer than create a new one. Constantly look for new ways to keep people engaged with your brand and buying more.”
2. Product curation. “Companies with huge product catalogs need to curate a selection of styles so that customers aren’t overwhelmed with choices. It’s worth working on every day.”
3. A modest SEM program. “A simple, transactional brand campaign through Google Adwords can be very effective.”
4. SEO and getting ranked. “It’s a challenge for small businesses, because things are always changing in this arena. It’s hard to keep up. But it can’t be ignored.”
Mark’s Bonus Pick: Affiliate marketing. The publishers at Rakuten (formerly Linkshare), Commission Junction and any number of boutique networks can convert a fence-sitter with a modest discount offer, or get your products in front of people who might not know your brand. Working directly with the big networks can be overwhelming (and time-consuming) for SMBs. For a small fee each month, a company like Affiliate Traction can both manage your program and approach new publishers on your behalf. For the right businesses, that kind of service can provide real value.
As we said our goodbyes, Chris and I both agreed that there’s a lot of stuff that CAN be done. There are always new tools and new strategies. And tomorrow a shiny new platform will come whirling through our monitors with promises of higher conversion rates, more customers, and soaring order values. But please always remember and never forget: every new platform does not necessitate your participation. At the end of the day, prioritizing fundamentals is smart business for running profitable e-commerce programs.
It has the added benefit of keeping us from climbing out onto the window ledge.
NOTE: Chris has since moved from ICU and can now be found here.
The opinions expressed are those of the individuals and not representative of their companies or employers. So don’t freak out, ok?