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 computerscience 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:
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.”
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.”
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.