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eCommerce Management: Defining Your eCommerce Initiative

Frank Fiore emphasizes that eCommerce management is management, not administration, web site development, or some other role in the company's digital strategy. Part 1 of this six-part series for eCommerce managers focuses on three crucial steps to getting your eCommerce initiative up and rolling.
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When I teach my college-level business course on eCommerce management, the first thing I ask my class is this: "You're sitting in your office and your boss comes in with his hair on fire and says, 'I just read in BusinessWeek that our competition is making lots of money using the Internet. We need to get online! You have a business degree, so you're in charge of our company's eCommerce initiative.' Now what do you do?"

My question is met with either blank stares or suggestions like, "Open a Yahoo Store?"

Though that enthusiastic boss probably has his hopes mislaid on the current crop of traditional business graduates (that's a whole other subject), he's quite right about creating an eCommerce initiative for his company. It has been a mere decade since the appearance of the first eCommerce site on the Net; according to Wired magazine, the first eCommerce site accepted payments by credit card in October of 1994. Since then, a lot of digital river has run under the eCommerce bridge, but one thing is certain: eCommerce is here to stay.

eCommerce storefronts today come in all shapes and sizes, from large brand-name "click and mortar" sites like Best Buy and Macy's, to pure-plays like Amazon and Dell, to small and medium-sized businesses around the world—and around the corner. But all have one thing in common: A business has to define and manage its eCommerce initiative, and, in particular, have someone in the organization who can properly execute that initiative.

Selecting the eCommerce Manager

A quick search on a popular online job board for "eCommerce Manager" demonstrates that different companies have different ideas about just what an eCommerce manager is. Some businesses believe that eCommerce management is a marketing function, others an IT function; still others see it as a web design and development function.

None of these notions is correct.

For a company's eCommerce initiative to succeed, a different type of manager is needed. In the past, responsibility for a company's eCommerce site sat with the IT engineers and programmers, or with web design and development personnel. A company's eCommerce needs today dictate that the eCommerce initiative sit with a true eCommerce manager.

An eCommerce manager is just that—a manager—involved in launching and running an eCommerce web site from a management perspective. To bring about a successful company eCommerce initiative, the eCommerce manager must be not a programmer, a marketer, or a web developer, but instead someone who is familiar with each of those functions and how to manage the personnel who provide those functions. The eCommerce manager must be familiar with the duties and responsibilities of the IT, web site production, and marketing departments, interfacing with those departments to create and promote the eCommerce side of the business.

Does that mean that the eCommerce manager must know how to perform each of those functions? No. The eCommerce manager's job is to develop the necessary specifications to create and manage the company's eCommerce web site, which requires an understanding of each department's responsibilities and how that department functions in the overall initiative. The job is management, not administration: The eCommerce manager is the eCommerce evangelist for the company, acting as a diplomat to facilitate the various operations of the company to initiate and manage the eCommerce side of the business.

Good eCommerce managers have specific traits:

  • They hold the company's eCommerce vision.
  • They're skilled at forming partnerships within the company.
  • They're able to start new enterprises and recognize new online business opportunities.
  • They're well organized and can prioritize tasks.
  • They understand that in eCommerce, "It's the customer, stupid."
  • They recognize that the success of the eCommerce initiative resides in their responsiveness to customer needs and to moves by the competition.

In other words, it all adds up to customer relationship management (CRM).

Static org charts are out. eCommerce managers must be able to move directly from department to department to facilitate the creation and management of the company's eCommerce web site.

An eCommerce manager's areas of knowledge include eCommerce strategies, technology and capital requirements, online media tactics. A firm grasp of social and legal policies is crucial. eCommerce managers must be learning-obsessed; they learn from their fellow employees and from the competition, and they keep up with the latest eCommerce solution technologies.

The eCommerce manager is responsible for online branding, maintaining freshness and quality of the eCommerce web site, addressing legal matters, promoting the site, and creating a business plan for the eCommerce initiative. But the most important responsibility of the eCommerce manager is to define the company's eCommerce initiative—or redefine it, if the company's objectives have evolved and the site has to deliver a new message to the marketplace.

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