Practical Ecommerce

Managing the Technological Side of Your Business When You Don’t Understand Technology

A businessperson doesn’t necessarily understand technology. Nor does a technology expert necessarily understand business. But the two fields certainly do intersect in the world of ecommerce.

So how does an ecommerce merchant who is lacking in technological understanding, manage a successful online store?

For an answer to that question, Practical eCommerce turned to Stephanie Leffler, an ecommerce pioneer who co-founded MonsterCommerce, an early day hosted ecommerce platform that she sold in 2006 to Network Solutions. Her latest venture is Juggle.com, which provides factual information on the web’s most popular topics and products.

Leffler says the first thing to understand is that this is well-covered territory. “Few business owners have computer

Stephanie Leffler

Stephanie Leffler

science degrees, so you are not alone in your quest to find an answer to this question.”

Leffler offers a range of strategies that vary depending on your budget.

For the Smaller Budget

Even if you don’t have an in-house technology staff, there are people who can help you.

“You have to remember than any problem you face or any initiative you undertake has been faced before by others. Learn from their successes and failures.”

Search online for opinions and recommendations of other business owners. And then, she says, pick up the phone.

“Call clients of users of any technology professional or company to whom you entrust any part of your tech operations. Ask what is good and what has been bad.”

Leffler notes that there isn’t any person or company that is without shortcomings. Your goal is to find the most usable solution.

For the Larger Budget

“If you have a more aggressive budget for managing the technology that powers your business, you will be best served by investing in someone who possesses technological expertise and an innate understanding of business and value,” Leffler offered.

There are a couple of key things to look for when hiring an in-house technical expert:

  1. A history of leading people. “Often the personality traits that make someone a good leader are good indicators of an ability to comprehend business value.” Leffler says it’s a good idea to do a “reverse reference” check. “Ask for the name of t here former direct reports and place phone calls to find out if your candidate is a solid leader.” Says Leffler. What you are trying to determine is if your candidate always remained calm and assertive. “Ask what smart technology decisions they made. Ask what technology decisions they made were mistakes. Ask if they ever raised their voice or were extremely heated in a conversation.”

  2. Ability to be business-minded. Take your candidate through some fabricated scenarios to determine if they think about business the way you think about business. Here’s a typical question Leffler asks, “Imagine we are a company of ten people. We operate an online store selling widgets. We have a limited software budget and are trying to decide how to deploy those funds. Take me through your thought process on how to decide where to deploy the funds and how you make a final decision on the matter.”

Leffler says there is no right answer. What you’re looking for is thinking patterns. “You want someone who understands that each hour spent by one of your ten team members is highly valuable. You want someone who is looking to automate where possible without sacrificing customer experience. You want someone who is thinking about revenue (increasing sales) and cost (saving time.)

One Final Note

Making a strong hiring or contracting decision is about more than finding someone who has experience in the technology employed in your business. “Experience with online technology would be the minimum qualification,” says Leffler.

“Experience with ecommerce would be best. Just because someone has run a network at another company doesn’t give them the experience you seek.”

Summing Up

You do not have to be a technology expert to run a successful ecommerce operation. But whether you have a small or large budget, you’ll need to do research on the people you’re contracting with or hiring. Search online for opinions and recommendations, get on the phone and call people who can provide you with insights into the technology, company, or individual you may be hiring. And remember to utilize people and technologies that match your business and philosophy.

Kevin Patrick Allen

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  1. Lori December 28, 2009 Reply

    I definitely agree with you that it doesn’t matter what your budget is you still have to do your due diligence to find help with technology. I’m very surprised by the people who think that technology should be easier to manage and that it is as simple as clicking a few buttons. I am not an expert with technolgy either but as a marketer and a virtual assistant I have been pushed to do lots of research to find out who can help me. The internet itself these days is full of great information that can help a person find the answers to their technology questions. I love YouTube for the way people love to showcase their knowledge right there for me to learn.

    The one thing that I would add is that everyone has an area of expertise. So, why not barter with someone for technological help. You could help them with an area where you excel and they can help you with technology. So, even if you don’t have a budget at all at first you could trade something of value.

  2. Louis Camassa December 28, 2009 Reply

    The more you understand technology, its limits, and its future, the more successful your ecommerce business will be. When looking for employees or contractors to help develop your ecommerce vision, I always ask for a portfolio of work and whether they would be willing to complete a sample project first. In many cases, the portfolio will speak for itself. Sometimes the links in the portfolio are broken, the work is lackluster or it isn’t theirs. The sample project really helps solidify the relationship, and separates the inexperienced from the experienced. Usually I choose a sample project that would take no longer than 3-5 hours. The project varies depending on whether it is design, programming, Internet marketing, etc…

    Although, if you do not have a firm understanding of technology, you will have challenges checking the results of the sample project, or any project for that manner. If you’re a businessperson with no goals of becoming a technologist, than hire one-someones needs to set clear expectations for the technical work.