During my 34+ years as a marketing/ecommerce recruiter, I’ve had the opportunity to work with countless hundreds of online businesses, both B2B as well as B2C. I’ve placed executive ecommerce leaders and helped businesses recruit and hire entire ecommerce teams with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies all the way down to early stagers and brand new start-ups. During my client kick-off calls, I am often asked to share my insights on ecommerce organizational structure, a topic I write about frequently. Over the decades I’ve seen what org structures work and which ones don’t. I’ve seen owners scale up their ecommerce businesses to great success while others crash and burn. The stakes are high: In-house ecommerce departments can be complex machines with many moving parts covering a wide range of responsibilities including product, brand and content, marketing, trading and conversion, operations and fulfillment. A misdirected, outdated or less efficacious structure can result in unnecessary ambiguity, confusion, and lack of accountability. Many figure it out as they go, shooting from the hip as they switch focus from markets to products to competitors, rather than looking at the bigger picture. This often results in piecemeal changes where responsibilities can be overlooked, sometimes overlap, and where people and functions can actually work against each other. Worse, functions become totally misaligned with overall business objectives.
I have never seen two org charts that look the same: There is no one universal answer for how to organize around ecommerce. But there is one irrefutable fact: It’s all about the people you hire. They will make your business, or break it. The structure is no better than the people who work it. The trick is putting the right people into the right places at the right time.
This article will help you do that.
The Ecosystem of Ecommerce
For HR professionals and others who have limited experience hiring ecommerce specialists, first some basic definitions. When I sit down and work with companies on ecommerce organizational design, I like to think in terms of the “front-end” of the ecommerce business (which is my focus) versus the “back-end”. This helps me to compartmentalize the major key roles. Front-end functions would include the following:
Front End Development: Site architecture, site features and functions, frontend integrations, site testing, QA, UAT, asset upload, CMS
Merchandising: Manage and own the site calendar, planning and buying, pricing, site merchandising, manage online categories
Creative: Site creative guidelines, UX, UI (sometimes these functions report up to Development), features, editorial design, copywriting, design for marketing assets
Marketing: Site promotion strategy, SEO, SEM, display, affiliate, social, programmatic, email, vendor management, brand marketing, content
By contrast, back-end operations would include such areas as payment processing, fulfillment and returns, fraud and tax calculations and customer service, chat, and issue escalation.
We all know the engines of an ecommerce business: Attracting customers to the website, converting them into customers once they’re there, fulfilling orders and offering customer service, and turning first time customers into repeat buyers. Eventually, an ecommerce business will grow to the size where it will need specialists to take responsibility for these functions. And even though ecommerce as we know it is barely 25 years old, it’s already taking on whole new directions. One client I know, a global multichannel consumer products corporation, has all but eliminated its ecommerce team and now draws in strategists, marketers, creatives, analysts, IT, pretty much everything the ecommerce channel needs from across the organization and utilizes them as sort of internal “contractors” to come in and help out as needed. They claim it gives the divisional GM the flexibility to re-allocate resources on very short notice and take advantage of market opportunities as they arise. Be that as it may, this represents the only such example of extreme ecommerce decentralization that I’ve seen in my practice.
Marketing Versus Operations
First question you need to ask when considering the best ecommerce organizational structure for your business is this: Do you sell entirely online, or is ecommerce just one of other distribution channels? If you’re a smaller pure play, the ecommerce team should ultimately report up to the owner or chief operator of the business. For those businesses that market through multiple channels, ecommerce typically falls under marketing or operations. Only rarely, and I mean VERY rarely, should it ever report up to IT, Finance or any other function unless the business totally lacks a marketing or operational head. When ecommerce first began it was often included as part of the IT department because in those days there was really nowhere else to put it. Ecommerce was viewed as a mostly IT channel, sort of a “build it and they will come” belief at the time with little marketing behind it. Even today, many companies in manufacturing and construction are still holding onto the outdated idea that ecommerce is an IT function, but that mindset is definitely fading as digital commerce becomes more mainstream among old-line industries.
The decision to place ecommerce under marketing or operations in your ecommerce organizational structure often comes down to the nature of the business. If you have an especially large number of SKU’s with more varied and complex supply chain, fulfillment and customer service requirements, then you’re probably a good candidate for having ecommerce roll up to operations. These functions often require complex systems and processes which don’t often fit within a marketer’s skill set with too many opportunities for the operational wheels to come off. I see this often on the B2B side among companies that manufacture highly customized, engineered products.
This whole question of marketing versus operations really comes down to the strengths of the owner/entrepreneur. If you have a strong marketing or sales background and that’s really what you want to focus on, then it only makes sense to hire someone with a strong operational skill set. At a certain point- I would say roughly in the $5 to 10 million dollar revenue range- it’s time to consider bringing on a strong operator to take care of the systems and processes that have been sucking up your time.
When does it make sense to have marketing run the ecommerce show? I usually suggest it for any business other than the kind I’ve just described, eg, ecommerce businesses that are pure plays, or those that need to put at least as much focus on customer acquisition, conversion and retention as they do on product management, fulfillment and customer service. This category would include B2C resellers in highly competitive consumer product categories that rely on search, email, social, affiliate, UX, conversion, retention and other marketing channels and strategies to drive traffic and retain customers. Some of the best owners I have ever worked with are very strong operators. They can take complex operations and create repeatable systems and processes while they grow and scale. Even better, they recognize their strengths and weaknesses. Some have little interest in figuring out the “front end” of the business, eg, site promotion strategy, search, display, affiliate, social, programmatic, email, vendor management, creative, user experience and interface, etc. Instead, their skill is in building the best operating machine for the digital channels.
While marketing is the most common functional bucket where you’ll find ecommerce, it is not universal. In larger corporations where there is a strong reliance on software and other computer technology to serve up the ecommerce store, IT groups will sometimes take ownership. Having all that technology is great, but with less marketing involvement there is usually a trade off in lack of understanding of customer behavior, which can be problematic in a world where the customer is in charge.
I’ve also had clients who run consumer goods ecommerce businesses ask me if merchandising should run the store. After all, they reason, without merchandise there IS no business, and of course in the brick and mortar retail world the head merchant sits at the same table with the President, CFO and other top executive leaders. I explain to them that while all of that may be true, the mantra of “sell it and they will come” is not a winning strategy. In ecommerce, marketing the product is more important that the product itself. My most successful ecommerce clients ask themselves what I call the “how” question- “HOW are we going to grow the business?”, and then they structure around it.
Hiring Your First Ecommerce Head
Once you’ve determined which direction you’re going- operational versus marketing- the needs of your business will dictate who you should hire first as you develop your ecommerce organizational structure. For many of my smaller clients (who I define as generating roughly up to $10M in revenues), it starts with an ecommerce specialist, a hands-on, roll-up your sleeves “doer” with both marketing and operational experience. At this level they may not have more than 7 or 8 years of experience, but that’s OK. It’s always better to hire slightly “up” than to hire “down,” as you want to allow this person room to grow into the role over time.
For businesses owners whose personal passion is building the best operating machine, this first ecommerce hire should be someone who can run with the marketing and sales side of the business, someone who has a grasp of digital marketing, customer experience and perhaps even brand positioning. Every online business needs to attract visitors, convert them and retain them. This person should be a digital native with a creative mind, highly data-driven and analytical, and proven experience developing teams.
There are two ways to go here. Depending on the size of your business, you might need someone at the Manager level or you might need a Director. By “Manager,” I’m referring to someone with roughly 7-12 years of experience in the areas just mentioned. You might be able to get by with someone at the lower end of that experience scale (and at a lower price tag) IF they’re going to be reporting up to a President and/or owner who is a savvy and deeply engaged marketer. In that scenario, this role essentially would be a hands-on project manager. On the other hand, you might need someone who is both highly strategic as well as very hands-on, has a demonstrated track record of successfully growing an online business to at least the size you are now and preferably to multiples larger, knows more about the latest trends and best practices in digital commerce than you do, has management and leadership experience, and can identify and direct outside resources. Tickets to that dance would typically start at the Sr Manger or Director level. Most Directors have anywhere from 10 to 20 years of experience. In order to attract a candidate who currently has the title of Manager or Senior Manager, offering the title of Director can be a very strong inducement for someone who is ready to move up in their career.
This person can’t be, and won’t be, an expert in everything. They will be what is often referred to as a “T” marketer, someone who has some depth in a few areas of digital marketing and exposure in others. Ideally, they can wear multiple hats, sort of a “Swiss Army Knife,” as I like to call them, who is an inch deep and a yard wide but deeper in the areas where you need stronger expertise to drive the business. Those areas of need should be defined by how you expect the business to scale. Where do you want the business to be in 12 months, 24 months, 36 months? Exactly what will you need to focus on in order to reach those goals? What will your cash flow allow you to hire right now? These questions, and others, should be part of the roadmap that spells out your vision for the business and how you’re going to get there. As an example, if your business is going to be driven largely by paid media then you’ll start with someone who has solid paid media background and exposure to other growth drivers such as email or social media. I had one client who recently told me that 90% of their business was generated through email. Sounds like a scenario for an Email Marketing Manager to be hire #1!
For owners who already have strong marketing and sales expertise as well as product domain knowledge, on-boarding an operator is the perfect complement. A good operational hire will help create leverage and free up the owner to apply their expertise to the business side of the house. I worked with one client recently who started his business after spending some 10 years with a bigger business in the same product category. He had the product knowledge, the domain expertise, and an extensive background in the specific marketing channels that he knew would drive his business. The product catalog was also relatively large (more than 20,000 SKU’s) and came in a wide range of weights and sizes. Some were private labeled, others were manufactured. This business was a perfect candidate for an ecommerce operations specialist.
Then there are those owners who are more of a generalist- good at many things but not expert at any one thing. This can be a little tricker because many clients I have worked with who are more business generalists are actually pretty knowledgeable in a lot of different areas. Sometimes they struggle “letting go”, a condition that is not uncommon among successful serial entrepreneurs. In these situations, I usually recommend letting the business roadmap dictate where to go. For example, let’s say you have a strong Amazon marketplace business and you want to either stand up or expand your direct-to-consumer channel. For this, you’ll need someone with strong expertise in things like email, search or social. If, on the other hand, you already have a strong direct ecommerce business and want to expand into marketplaces and other social channels, you might need a marketer or you may need an operator depending on where the weakest link exists. Sometimes marketplaces can include very complex inventory management requirements, so if most of your business is on Amazon, for example, and you expect that channel to continue driving most of your growth, then you might determine that what you really need is a strong operator on your team. Indeed, whichever direction you go in, each of these hires needs to truly “own” their roles. As owner of the business, you would serve as a sort of GM providing strategic direction so that everyone keeps their eye on the prize.
Usually the next priority, after marketing, is for someone to update the website with the latest products and content and to optimize images to attract customers visually. A typical title for this person is Website Manager.
If your business has a large number of SKU’s, an online merchandiser might be next in line, although in many smaller ecommerce businesses merchandising is often handled by the owner (or one of the owners if co-owned). Many of the owners I have worked with over the years started their businesses based on product knowledge, so merchandisers don’t often enter the equation until SKU counts get to the point where the amount of work requires a stand alone position. In more established dot coms, I’ve seen web merchandising and web merchandise buyers report up to either ecommerce or the top business leader/owner/President. For multichannel retailers, a merchandising manager on the ecommerce team (or Director depending on the size) will serve as that product voice for the web business with dotted relationships with merchants on the retail side to make sure both sides are aligned on strategy, seasonality, stories, etc.
In the world of ecommerce, it’s all about testing and learning. You test different campaigns, see what works. At the end of the day, growing your ecommerce team is really no different. Start with 5 or 10 different campaigns to build your business case for scaling the team. See which campaigns scale better than others. Segment your customer file and swipe it in 30 different directions. Let’s say you discover that retention is a major growth driver. How would you go after that- email, customer service, paid media ? What percentage of revenue is coming in through which channel? A recent call from a new client was a perfect example of doing it backwards. His roadmap was channel based and he discovered he had specialists overseeing channels that simply were not drivers for the business. The important thing is to start at the customer level and then determine which channels should get the resources.
Rounding Out the Ecommerce Organizational Structure
When a pure play ecommerce business reaches rougly up to $25-30M range, it’s not unusual to have as many as 15 or 20 employees/contractors covering additional key functions, including many of the following key categories:
- Customer Service
- Paid Acquisition
- Organic Search
- Management & Leadership
- Technology / Product Management
- User Experience
- Fulfillment (Shipping, Returns)
As-needed specialized expertise is often outsourced, and it has been my experience that many of these functions can usually be covered by outside contractors, with the notable exceptions of Management & Leadership, Product Management, Merchandising, Purchasing and Fulfillment. These areas often require a higher degree of cross-functional internal interaction, and most of my clients who reach this size will hire these roles on a full-time permanent basis. I encourage clients to in-source whatever they view as strategic, that is, when a compelling rationale can be drawn for hiring talent in-house for work that could yield a competitive advantage. After all, “renting” the same team as your industry peers yields little competitive advantage. That being said, hiring a consultant or agency that has unique and specialized knowledge or capabilities can create significant value by compressing the learning curve or producing exceptional work that simply can’t be done in-house. Sometimes the need to go outside is also driven by the realities of the labor pool. Some positions, most notably paid media and Amazon specialists, are especially difficult to fill. And even if you’re lucky enough to hire a good one, it’s hard to keep them because of the sheer abundance of opportunities that are out there. Plus, many of these individuals have shifted from full-time positions to contract. As freelancers, they not only can make more money but they can work pretty much anywhere they wish.
Omni-channel retailers and other businesses marketing through multiple channels that want to devote some focus to ecommerce but can’t yet justify the funds to dedicate the desired level of support often designate other staff to take on ecommerce-related duties in addition to their other primary responsibilities. This approach is most common at the account level, particularly for omni-channel retailers that already have a dedicated account team in place.
If you’re going to commit to supporting retailers other than Amazon, you need to have the right staffing model to do it. You should assign one person to each account or dedicate somebody to support “all other” brick-and-mortar dotcoms. That simply means rather than making digital 20% of one person’s job at each of five customer accounts, make supporting five retailers 100% of one person’s job. Most consumer marketing clients I have worked with who market largely through Amazon have a dedicated in-house Amazon account specialist. The bigger corporations often co-locate these positions in Seattle where Amazon’s account managers are based.
As the channel matures and volume grows, hiring priorities will develop as operational weaknesses become more evident and the channels, platforms and strategies that are most effective at driving that growth emerge. Perhaps your weakest link is in sourcing products, or maybe it’s in customer acquisition or on-site conversion. The amount of work and time required to fill those gaps will determine whether you need to make an internal full-time hire or go with an outside vendor.
In midsize and large scale ecommerce businesses, each of these areas can become stand alone departments of their own with a Manager or Director of Ecommerce, Digital Marketing or similar function as department head, reporting up to a Director, VP or even a SVP. Some companies I’ve worked with have dissolved their centralized marketing technology departments, and instead have distributed these specialists among individual teams. The resulting structure has served to reinforce the cultural shift from reporting to respective departments to sharing responsibility for a team and leveraging expertise where it is needed. These teams are measured by the success of the product or service, and I’ve observed that incentives that reinforce this type of more collaborative culture can often lead to a surge in new ideas by newly empowered employees.
Here is an ecommerce organizational structure for one of my clients with a well-developed ecommerce business generating $50-100M in annual sales:
A few important observations as you review this chart. This is more representative of a B2C (or D2C) marketing organization versus B2B (this structure does not include sales enablement, as an example). Some of these roles are specialty positions that were initially outsourced and later brought in house. Also, note that this particular organization includes a Director of Retention. An internal CRM team is more typical in businesses that have a heavy focus on subscription, loyalty, membership and the like, and have systems and processes in place for collecting and segmenting customer data.
Here is an org chart for a $30M Etsy-like consumer products ecommerce business that sells through retail, online marketplaces plus its own DtoC website, with multiple positions to fill (the Marketing Director will oversee the DtoC ecommerce business only)
Writing job descriptions for these roles is a whole other discussion, but I have that covered for you. For starters, check out my article on job description tips from the trenches. Also, my ecommerce career guide goes into much more detail on exactly what to look for when hiring candidates for the most common digital commerce roles, along with sample job descriptions.
Aligning Ecommerce With Overall Company Structure
As the org chart example above shows, ecommerce rolls up under marketing, and as you’d expect that is typical for organizations that have a marketing leader. Sometimes I am asked if ecommerce should be a stand-alone unit, separate from marketing, sales or operations. That structure seems to work best with smaller and mid-sized ecommerce “pure plays” where the entire function reports up to a President, CEO or an owner (s). However, in larger media and consumer product companies, it is not uncommon to find ecommerce within brand management, integrated marketing or even media. A classic example of this would be a large consumer package goods company such as a Procter & Gamble. Some of these bigger CPG’ers can have dozens of ecommerce teams supporting a large number of brands and brand categories. Then there are businesses like Sephora, who have combined the retail and online teams to create a sort of “Digital Center of Excellence,” a centralized swat team, as it were, which has transformed the way they look at customers across channels.
Here’s another example of an ecommerce organizational structure with an ecommerce team led by merchandising, marketing and operations:
Finally, here is an example of an ecommerce organizational structure with a client which is a branded manufacturer specializing in women’s apparel. They launched their web business about two years ago and with my help have built a very capable merchandising and marketing team while going outside for their development work. They have one website that grosses approximately $10M per year:
I’ve had owners ask me about Product Development and whether that should be a stand alone position. Perhaps in a larger business, yes, but definitely not in a smaller ecommerce environment. That’s because with smaller businesses, successful business innovation almost always falls under the governance of the owner or President. Also, product development is more of a classic, highly strategic cross-functional process that requires the input of multiple internal teams and requires the direction of a top leader to keep everyone engaged.
Often I’m asked by business operators or owners how they should structure their ecommerce department around multiple brands. Whether those brands currently exist or they’re on the product drawing board, they want to know: At what point does it makes sense to stand up separate digital commerce teams to support the individual brands? There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question because like so many other things in ecommerce there can be many variables, and those variables can become… well, even more variable over time.
In large multinationals (think P&G, Unilever and Coca-Cola) the digital commerce teams have a wide variety of functions and granular specialties. In those environments, Email Marketing, SEO/SEM, Social Media Marketing, Creative and Design and other digital marketing functions have separate teams responsible for each of the different brands or business units. Some of these companies literally have dozens of internal ecommerce groups overseeing the online businesses of their major brands or product categories.
But what about smaller organizations?
When a business is marketing distinctly branded products (often with their own branded websites), it’s inevitable that some of the brands are going to sell better than others, so they will demand more immediate resources. But before you expand the org chart to accommodate brand or product-specific ecommerce teams, the P and L for each category needs to justify it. And that usually doesn’t happen until revenues being generated by each of the brand or product categories reach a substantial size. At that point, many businesses will name Brand or Category Managers to run P and L over each of the brands- sort of a mini-GM. They, in turn, typically report up to a head of marketing. These brand/category managers may or may not have strong digital commerce backgrounds. If they don’t, then the existing ecommerce department becomes a sort of “Center of Excellence” supporting each of the brands and will expand its capabilities as the brands grow and demand more resources. If a Brand or Category Manager comes to the business with a background in ecommerce, that’s even better. They can oversee the duties that require more concentrated ecommerce expertise in addition to brand marketing and category management. As an example, I recently worked with a client that had three brands under their corporate umbrella, but one of the brands accounted for nearly 80% of the business, and email was a huge driver for brand retention. In that particular case, because of the size of the business (more than $50M), it made sense to hire an emailer dedicated to that particular brand. For the other brands, email fell under an ecommerce manager who supported the other smaller brands, along with social media and paid search (which was outsourced).
The best advice I can give any owner or operator is to not get too far ahead of yourself when it comes to organizational planning. Before different brands or categories are even ready for market, leaders tend to think about organizational structures one year, two years and even five years down the road. I can guarantee you that whatever plans most ecommerce businesses had in 2020 will hit the shredder because of the unexpected impact of the pandemic.
The pandemic also had an outsized impact on the location of jobs in the ecommerce organizational chart. We all know how COVID-19 has turned the traditional work model upside down, and ecommerce has been among those business categories leading the way in that transition. That’s partly because a portion of ecommerce work was already being done remotely before the pandemic hit, particularly in areas such as paid search, SEO, social and email that are heavy individual contributor roles that can be done from pretty much anywhere. When everything shifted off-site, workers became acclimated to remote work, and now according to a number of surveys I’ve seen, 40-50% won’t even look at a job unless it has some sort of remote or hybrid arrangement. That has major implications for any business that operates under a high level of collaboration among team members, which of course is a hallmark of ecommerce and digital marketing. When it comes to more senior level, transformational type positions either newly created or back-fills, I lean heavily towards the camp that says they should work mostly on-site. Most of the businesses I work with seem to agree, and are opting to keep these mission critical positions in-office with a hybrid option of maybe 1 or 2 days off-site.
-Start with strategy, then build the ecommerce organizational structure around it. It’s important that everyone in the company is on the same page and working towards the same goals regarding the firm’s commitment to ecommerce and its definition of success. So, first things first: Define the strategy up front and communicate it internally. Only then will budgeting and resourcing around ecommerce fall into place with everyone in the organization understanding it, and feeling some level of ownership and involvement.
-Set up high level goals including KPI’s and a roadmap. Review the roadmap every 3 to 6 months. Start small and work your way to the top, step by step. Either someone within the existing management team should take responsibility over ecommerce, or you should hire a Manager or Director to do that. I usually advise against contracting this most critical role.
-Dedicated resources are generally better than designated resources. Some omni-channel companies that are relatively new to ecommerce assign responsibility for ecommerce to leaders or teams that carry other core responsibilities. When work becomes crucial to driving performance, it deserves someone who is a dedicated specialist. Then, as the business scales and volume grows, more dedicated resources can be added.
-As commitment increases, positions become more specialized. Performing at high levels requires expertise and specialized tools. Consequently, industry leaders are increasingly dedicating people in specialist roles to ensure that important work gets done right at the right level. It’s important to identify gaps in your ecommerce teams and where specialists may be needed to round out your ecommere organizational structure. Ask yourself: In terms of skills and competencies of our current ecommerce team, where are we strongest where are we weakest? Where are we focusing right now to grow the business? What’s working and what isn’t? Are there big, clear areas that need attention? Your ecommerce structure should start at the CUSTOMER level, not channels.
-Culture is key. Whether it’s done by experimenting or simply instilling a sense of ownership and involvement in every part of the business, company culture is key. Firms must help every team and individual understand what digital means for them, have the right incentive structures in place so employees know what they need to do to impact success. Without cultural alignment, it doesn’t matter what your ecommerce budget is or how big your team is- eventually it will self-destruct.
-Attention to detail is a highly valued attribute, and definitely something you should look for in candidates. The first-in ecommerce manager is initially likely going to be tasked with controlling many areas of the online business, so it’s essential that members of the initial support staff are highly detail oriented. The last thing that you need with limited resources is to have to check over work and correct errors- that can be extremely time consuming and set the business back. In other words, don’t cut corners when it comes to hiring the first functional specialists. Be sure they have a track record of successfully performing the work that will be required and at the detail it will need to be performed.
-In-source and develop expertise internally where it matters most. Outsourcing critical activities can help accelerate results, particularly if the business is new to ecommerce, but I recommend developing expertise in-house in the areas that you view as strategic to the business, ie, anywhere work can generate a true competitive advantage.
-If it’s outside ecommerce, keep it outside the ecommerce department. Ecommerce should be treated as a highly specialized stand-alone function, so keep things like finance, IT, HR, and strategically selected out-sourcing in their own silos. But DO tap other internal teams for things where it might make sense, eg, pulling in someone from Finance who’s anxious to take on added responsibilities to do some data entry.
-Don’t be afraid to make tough changes to stay on track with your roadmap. I recently had a discussion with the owner of a $20M DTC ecommerce business that has been doubling every year, and he is concerned that his current Ecommerce Director will not be up to the task of scaling the business from there. Making it even harder, this Director has been with the owner since almost day one and they’ve become closely tied to the hip. But sometimes it takes an outsider such as myself to remind owners that having the wrong person in charge of a growing ecommerce business is a losing strategy.
-There is no one size fits all when it comes to ecommerce organizational structure. Don’t we wish it was that simple! No two ecommerce businesses are alike. They all have their own unique needs. All the more reason why it is essential to review your roadmap quarterly and make course corrections where needed.
-No matter which model your company employs, you will likely see greater effectiveness when working towards clearly outlined company goals, and setting micro-goals linked to these larger objectives for both individual indicators and specific time periods.
Head of Ecommerce Job Description
Of course, for every box in the org chart there needs be an accompanying job description, and when it comes to the ecommerce leader, I have you covered. The job description I am sharing below is for a Director-level department head, but this could just as easily be a VP position depending on the business. Titles, of course, can be very interchangeable from one organization to the next, but generally the major distinguishing factors between a Director and a VP would include the level of strategic direction, size of budget, size of the ecommerce team they manage, reporting structure, and the level of influence this person will have over the entire business. There are also other more subtle differences, but if you have a VP level position to fill you can take the same job description I’m presenting below for Director and incorporate those higher-level criteria. I wrote this Director level job description to serve as a sort of template that includes many of the best features I’ve seen in recent JD’s for these roles.
Major Duties and Responsibilities (Director of Ecommerce):
- Create a product roadmap for the business. Partner with Executive Team, business and technical teams to ensure that the roadmap meets the needs of the business and that the priorities are set.
- Manage the product roadmap for the eCom business. Define projects needed, timing and assemble teams of subject matter experts. Data and analysis to be included in every step of the product roadmap process.
- Lead, develop, and manage the ecommerce team
- Source new third-party vendors, conduct RFP processes, contract negotiations and on-boarding and implementation of new vendors.
- Manage and support the team to optimize engagement and sales conversion of all online traffic.
- Oversee tracking of key success metrics for the ecommerce business
- Oversee SEO keyword and content strategy to drive results. Manage existing SEM & SEO teams, agencies and contractors.
- Partner with IT to lead privacy compliance initiatives (GDPR, CCPA, etc.) and support customer relationship strategies.
- Enhance our testing methods for optimizing the site and evaluating the impact of each improvement on the sales funnel.
- Proactively understand customer needs and how we can capture and retain their interest
- Identify opportunities to increase relevance of the Natural Life online experience through recommendations and personalization.
- Establish meaningful business insights and lead development/implementation of analytics tools to drive improvements in ecommerce business.
- Introduce and manage tools for increasing onsite engagement.
- Communicate key insights and recommendations to senior leaders across the organization.
- Conduct analysis of digital experience, market trends, and third-party partnerships, in support of the development of new and existing digital experiences.
- Stay up to date on industry trends, competitive landscape, as well as new digital technology, approaches, resources, and opportunities.
- P&L responsibility for Ecommerce budget
The second most common ecommerce position I am asked to fill is search engine marketing. The Search Engine Marketing Manager oversees the planning, optimizing, implementing and analyzing of natural and paid search engine activities. They are responsible for the top-to-bottom management of all pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) including forecasting and budgeting. This person works both at the strategic and tactical level touching all aspects of the organization’s search marketing roadmap such as keyword management, creation of campaign messaging, bidding strategies, creative testing and analytics. They can also be in charge of affiliate and online advertising programs. One of the things that I sometimes finding lacking in these candidates is the ability to explain SEO methodologies to those who have little or no knowledge of how it works. You want someone who can translate complex terminology into terms lay people can understand, and that’s especially true when dealing with senior leaders in the C-suite, but even middle-level managers as well.
Social media would be next on the list. The first rule of social media is that content drives social media success. The ability to write with clarity, creatively and professionally, while adhering to the rules of grammar and spelling, cannot be overstated. If you’re filling a position that has customer service interaction, look for writing samples that convey empathy with words. Editorial experience including first drafts, re-writes and final edits is a nice-to-have. Of course, they need solid expertise with the most popular platforms and need to stay up to date on emerging trends and the latest technology. Any indication that they feel “comfortable” with what they know is a red flag. When I qualify these candidates, I like to ask for examples of projects where they weeded out data that didn’t align with the business goals of the company, along with examples of “data interpretation” which helped optimize marketing efforts. Managers and Directors of Social Media must be able to demonstrate that they can think beyond tactical execution. Essentially, you are looking for things they brought to the business that the business didn’t even know they needed. THAT is true thought leadership. Of course, you want to know how those strategies helped achieve business goals. Another tip is to ask about any experience they’ve had in handling a social media crisis. It seems like every business has had that experience at one time or another, and that “in the fire moment” can be very revealing in understanding how they work under pressure.
Below is a short list of many of the other specialized functions that ecommerce businesses will eventually need to fill out as they grow. Or course, much of this is initially outsourced, and when the business is ready for a new full time hire many of these duties can be combined by two’s or three’s into single positions.
+ UX / UI – website troubleshooting, improving user experience and interface, A/b testing,
+w daily management + merchandising
+ Conversion Rate Optimization
+ Data analysis
+ Management of third-party apps
+ Ecommerce product shots + image optimization
+ Email marketing & SMS strategy
+ Email marketing content creation
+ Site + product reviews program management
+ Product assortment + PD / design recommendation
+ 360 marketing strategy
+ Product + collection launch planning
+ Creation of ads, website banners and other creative
+ Loyalty program management
+ Social media management
+ Influencer Oeoutreach program
+ Creation of visual brand materials
+ PR agency management
B2B Ecommerce Organizational Structure
Too often, companies think ecommerce is all about building a transactional website, the kind they experience with the consumer products they buy online. But as any B2B’er who’s done this will tell you, this is an entirely different ballgame. The entire business needs to transform- your culture, your structure, your operations. The entire company needs to think “digitally”, traditional organizational silos need to be torn down, all sales channels need to be aligned. It can be a daunting task, particularly for more traditional businesses in manufacturing, construction and distribution. The fact that you are reading this lengthy article tells me that you have probably decided that ignoring the digital centricity of your customers is now going to be a losing strategy. Going digital might have started as a back-of-the-envelope sketch. But now, now you may have gaps to fill and you want to be sure you’re positioning key roles in the right place at the right time. Just a few years ago, you could have gotten by with a simple website that contained basic sales information and a “contact us” button. But the move towards digital has accelerated rapidly, completely transforming the traditional B2B go-to-market model. And that trend is expected to continue to evolve in the post Covid years to come. So, where do you begin? You can hire an organizational management consulting firm which will charge you the big bucks, or you can do a little bit of research and learn where the puzzle pieces go. One place to start is to look at a sample org chart for a middle-sized B2B product company. Your particular business may be much smaller, but that’s OK. You probably have a good idea where the weaknesses are. If you already have a marketing team, you’re halfway there. All of this may be easier said than done, however, for new roles that have a strong digital orientation. If you’re a more traditional B2B marketer, those job descriptions may not be part of your everyday vernacular. SEM? DAM? CMS? Welcome to the digital revolution!
Below is a schematic of a sample B2B marketing organizational structure for a mid-size B2B reseller I recently worked with in the MRO category. The business itself has several divisions located in different markets, each division headed up by a General Manager. This chart could also represent a business with a head of marketing reporting directly to a President, CEO or an owner(s).
Let’s take a closer look at some of these departments in the B2B marketing organizational structure.
Director of Brand/ Communications
This has two main responsibilities: Brand awareness and company messaging. This person is tasked with creating a uniform brand look and feel across all channels of distribution. Typically in a larger B2B enterprise, 4 or 5 positions will report up: Public relations (and/or marketing communications), industry relations, a brand marketer, a creative manager, and a social media specialist. Website creation would live under creative. In-house creative is often among the last of the roles in this category to go in-house since that can involve many specialized functions such as design and user experience. Website can also fall under Demand Generation, as discussed below.
Head of Content
The head of content is a “must have” department for any B2B’er who generates a great deal of original content for the purposes of demand generation, sales enablement and overall brand support. I call this person the “voice” of the company, aligning all external communications to the brand. Among other things, they are in charge of all creative execution which is the responsibility of the Content and Design specialist, who in turn work with other team members covering copywriting and multimedia. In this particular chart, I’ve put this department in as a shared services unit supporting brand marketing, sales and demand generation, but initially it could report directly to the head of marketing before the other roles under it are filled out. Here, “ecommerce” refers not to ecommerce operations, but rather tasks such as product descriptions, pricing, sales, promotions, codes, third party marketplaces such as Amazon as well as other catch-all subsets that all tie back to products that are purchased on the website..
Director of Product Marketing
This role typically exists long before digital positions are added to the mix, but I include it because it is, of course, one of the seats at the head table of most B2B businesses, or at least those that consider themselves “product driven”. And many B2B’ers, at their heart are highly product-driven (just ask the sales force!). I won’t go into great detail here because many B2B business owners or Presidents/CEOs were once PM’s themselves, but it’s worth noting that this has a heavy customer communications component to it (particularly with outbound messaging), so internal-departmental collaboration becomes key, particularly with brand marketing and content teams.
Director of Demand Generation
A role that is found in larger B2B businesses, the Director of Demand Gen has a strong digital orientation as a main objective of this group is to nurture acquired leads through the funnel which can have many different digital touchpoints. The Digital Marketing Manager would be responsible for numerous lead-driven channels, supported by marketing operations which handles automated communications such as email and social funnel metrics. Lead scoring, KPI’s and reporting duties often fall under an Analytics and/or Optimization specialist (rarely are these functions outsourced even in a smaller B2B’er). The job of developing and executing the campaigns fall into the hands of Campaign Manager(s), and that would include Account Based Managers who handle the biggest key accounts. One other important note: Although I’ve put website creation in this chart under Brand, that can also be added here if there are a large, steady volume of leads to capture and events to market. Businesses that engage in a large number of industry or product-specific events often have a stand alone event marketer. Also, a separate partner marketing role might be considered for B2B businesses where partnerships are a key channel.
This particular B2B marketing organizational structure is, of course, only one of hundreds if not thousands of others where these seven top-level departments represent the key functions of marketing. Sometimes “Strategy” has its own stand alone team (with market research among the functions underneath it), and you might find larger B2B’ers with a separate staff of specialists in data and analytics. Multichannel B2B marketers might place the tech stack and website structure under a “Digital” leader, and still others might combine Marcom with Demand Generation.
Here’s another org chart for a Fortune 1000 B2B client of mine in the MRO space that has a very large demand generation group that falls under a GM who runs the company’s US business. The main channels within this integrated marketing team include online, catalog and print advertising, requiring among other things the need for a wide ranging creative team including stand alone roles for video production and a photographer. In this structure, email, PR, social and content all report up to a Manager of Email and Public Relations. It’s not unusual for email to take a bigger role with B2B’ers that have a heavy email calendar (in this case, the mailing list is in the hundreds of thousands). You’ll notice that this has one person managing PR, the blog and social media. That’s quite a handful, and as a I recall, I believe they ultimately decided to outsource the PR piece to an agency. PR should be among the last functions brought inside until the business reaches at large cap status. Also, you’ll find several technical roles in this structure including database and email system administration. We all know that marketing and technology go hand-in-hand, and while the head of marketing is not expected to be a hands-on techy, that person should definitely have had some past experience along some management responsibility over more technical roles including marketing automation, web development, data and analytics. This particular company publishes an annual “phone book” like catalog which goes out mostly to existing clients. They also place ads in trade publications which would be the responsibility of their product marketers.
Expanding Your B2B Ecommerce Organizational Structure
Among the most common questions I’m asked when it comes to B2B marketing organizational structure is, “Where do I expand next?” Quite simply, you focus where the need is, and outsource the rest. Marketing departments tend to expand “organically”, as I like to call it; tactical needs arise, contract or full-time specialists are brought in to execute the nuts and bolts, and then department leads are created when leadership and strategy become higher priorities. I almost never recommend you outsource product marketing roles, as they apply to the very strategic and competitive advantage of a business which you really don’t want in the control of an outside resource.
Another question I’ve been asked by B2B start-ups is, “What functions/roles should I hire first?” There are really two approaches to this: What the company needs, and what YOU need as the owner/operator. Obviously product marketing needs to be covered, particularly messaging and product launch. Demand gen is usually next on the list, and then branding. Next thing to consider is what YOU need, and that means having an honest conversation with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses as an owner/lead operator. For example, you might be stronger in product marketing than demand generation, so in that situation demand gen will be a higher priority in your search. I also advise smaller clients to consider hiring someone who has been the customer at one point their career. You can be creative and you can be logical and methodical, but you can’t “fake” empathy and experience. There is just no substitute for being in the customer’s shoes and on the receiving end of your sales and marketing efforts. And that experience doesn’t have to be entirely on the B2B side. I have plenty of candidates currently working at B2B businesses who successfully made the transition from brand-side B2C.
A final word on management layers. Usually line managers are not needed until you have around 6 or 7 people, give or take. At that point it usually becomes too much to manage for one person. The direction of the company will dictate where the first line manager should be slotted in, and then additional specialists can be added to fill in areas where the organization is either stretched too thin or where there are weak links in the talent chain.
For a complete guide on how stand up a B2B ecommerce business, there is no better book than Brian Becker’s “Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce.” It will tell you everything you need to know!
Where to Find Talent
Once you have the org structure mapped out, it’s time to fill in the boxes. First place to look is in your own backyard- your employees. It amazes me how employers fail to tap into the full potential of this resource. Employees bring long established networks and their contacts will have other contacts. Nothing magical here: For us recruiters, our networks are gold. So are yours. You just may not realize it. Offer a nice incentive such as a meaningful referral fee or trip, and it’s amazing how many names you might collect.
There’s also social media. Not a lot more needs to be said here, except think of every customer interaction as an interaction with a potential candidate. “We’re growing- rock stars wanted” could be a nice tag to your signature line. It also sends a message to your clients that you hire only the best.
LinkedIn Groups are an often overlooked resource for talent. There are literally hundreds of thousands of them, and I can practically guarantee there is a Group out there that focuses on whatever specific role you need filled. You’re also given a monthly allotment of free messages to other group members. You should take full advantage of that. Few employers do.
Targeted paid ads can also be effective. This is where platforms like Facebook become particular attractive because you can get your job posts right into the feeds of those who most closely match the criteria you are looking for such as job skills, location and even outside interests. Here’s a terrific article I found that will tell you all you need to know when it comes to recruiting on Faceboook: https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2016/08/23/facebook-recruiting. There are also a ton of specialized job boards to help you find everything from developers to designers, full-time as well as contract, on-site as well as remote.
For business owners who haven’t hired large staffs before, I have one golden rule: Hire specialists who are smarter than you in their particular field. You’re running the overall business. You’re providing the vision and top level leadership. Look for people who challenge the status quo, who challenge deep rooted assumptions, who counter your explanation that “this is way we’ve always done things.” THAT’s how you build a high performance ecommerce business!
There are literally a hundred job functions under the category of digital commerce. If you’re looking to fill one of these specialized roles and would like a sample JD, I have plenty of them- many of them I wrote, others supplied by clients. Just drop me an email and I’ll be happy to send one to you. My direct email address is email@example.com. Or, feel free to call me direct at 507-451-4270 and let’s talk about your organization, and where you want to take it.