The Vice President of Ecommerce

For the first time as a Vice President Ecommerce recruiter, I am recruiting and placing VP Ecommerce leaders who are card-carrying members of the 15 year-club, those who have at least 15 years of experience or more with dot-coms. I am matching them up with a growing number of businesses that are asking for a different kind of ecommerce talent.  Five years ago it was mostly about, “Get me the right person so we can keep the momentum going with the technology we have.” Now, it seems more about, “We have aggressive growth goals, and we need the right technology and a stronger-level of ecommerce leader to get us there.”  I’m actually conducting six such “bench-strengthening” searches as we speak, double what I was seeing over the past couple of years.

Ecommerce, it appears, is entering a new, more mature phase.

The required skill set for the Vice President Ecommerce seems to get longer by the year, and with each placement I make the caliber of talent keeps getting stronger.  For employers looking to scale their online business, my message is unequivocal:  The ROI you receive from your investment in digital marketing and ecommerce will depend on the caliber of the people you put in charge.  So, what kind of talent, vision and essential competencies do you need in your Vice President Ecommerce, to boldly take you where your business has not gone before?

For those employers looking for a little bit of guidance, this post is for you.

Number one on the checklist: A CEO for an IR-500 e-tailer I was working with recently said it best:  “We want to double our size over the next five years. We need a Vice President Ecommerce  who can show us how to get there.”  I couldn’t have said it any better. They are masters at generating website traffic, creating and delivering an online experience that will endear users to the brand, and turning visitors into customers while maximizing overall profitability of the online business. At this, level, P&L comes with the job. The Vice President Ecommerce can track the performance of campaigns on various platforms and act on those results to optimize consumer engagement and create differential brand experiences. The responsibilities of the ecommerce “czar” are truly wide ranging including strategy, website development, user experience, promotions, security, site maintenance, analytics, operations, technology, oversight of third party service providers, and sometimes even loyalty and customer service. They also act as a sort of internal “diplomat” to rally other operations of the company behind the ecommerce side of the business. The best ecommerce candidates I know couple marketing wisdom with technical know-how. They work closely with website developers and oversee the selection of ecommerce platforms, online payment systems and an array of other technologies, plus manage digital marketing speciality functions ranging from social media to content, merchandising to mobile.

As if all of this isn’t enough, what are some of the other key characteristics that define a highly impactful ecommerce chief?

Vice President Ecommerce has a strategic mindset.  As mentioned above, the ecommerce leader holds the company’s ecommerce vision. He or she sees long-term market potential and business opportunities. They’re expert at employing research and customer data to drive the business. They think “beyond the margin, ” as I like to call it.

They have a strong aptitude for data and analytics. I talk a lot about this in my book and other writings, so I won’t dwell on it much further here. Suffice it to say that online marketing is more about analyzing test results and less about gut instinct. In ecommerce, you can measure what works and what doesn’t, sometimes almost instantaneously.  They are highly skilled at crunching and interpreting data, and they have a deep understanding of ecommerce metrics to measure performance.

They build highly effective coalitions. If ecommerce heads had to choose a different career, I think they’d be great at designing bridges. I always delight when I see this on a job description because this is one area that is often under-emphasized. Like every other job in the realm of digital marketing, ecommerce is ostensibly a team sport. Ecommerce leaders interact with practically all major departments within the business. They need to work effectively with teams ranging from product marketing to sales, from finance to customer service.  They also work with many different outside vendors. In many instances, the ecommerce chief also plays the role of “change agent”, leading the company through a transformational shift from legacy marketing into online commerce. In those kinds of environments, the ability to influence colleagues is mission critical. Strong emotional intelligence will get them far.

The Vice President Ecommerce has operational and project management expertise. What we’re NOT describing here are the pure technologists. Leave that to the coders and hackers. As mentioned earlier, the best ecommerce managers are a blend of marketing and technology, the marketing techologists as they’re often called. To them, technology is a means to an end- converting visitors into paying customers. Choosing the right technologies and projecting the vision and mission of an online business is important, but at the end of the day, they’re running a business. Of course, this also includes the ability to hire, develop and motivate a staff of specialists who run the day-to-day of the ecommerce operation.

Organizational structure also matters in the selection of a Vice President Ecommerce, as I’ve written about in earlier posts. Whether or not to create a dedicated ecommerce team, bringing shared services into play, the role of IT- all of these are major considerations that will influence the type of leader you need. Also, there can be specific needs across industries. For example, I can think of ecommerce VP’s who I have recruited from technology companies who probably would have struggled in a similar role at a heavily regulated insurance business.

As a leading Vice President of Ecommerce Recruiter, have been recruiting marketers for more than 27 years, and sometimes it truly amazes me that you can actually find all of this skill and ability in one person.  Even when you do, my best advice is to not lean too heavily on hiring for skill set.  Go for the essentials, then concentrate on attributes.  Tools and tactics can be in vogue one day, out of vogue the next. Core abilities, however, never become outdated.