Article

Brian Beck
Brian Beck 27 December 2017

Avoid the call of the Dark Side and discover Ecommerce Victory

Read, you must... Digital Transformation lessons from the Jedi Knights of Star Wars

A long time ago, in an Economy Far, Far Away, product sellers followed a clear and simple path to selling. Manufacturers and brands made product. They sold it to distributors, retailers, and other resellers through a direct sales force and master distributors. Resellers sold the products to businesses and consumers.

Profit was shared as it had been for decades. Information was not available. Transparency was an adjective describing Scotch tape, not prices. Margins were protected. All was well in the Galaxy. Then…The Force awoke.

An Economy held Hostage

The rebellion began quietly. They called it the "World Wide Web", born of government and corporate communications networks.

“What about commerce over this Web?” some asked. “Crazy, you must be”, those in power replied. A few brave souls – let’s call them ‘Jedi Entrepreneurs’ – ignored convention, and followed their instincts. The Force had awoken in these young rebels.

Seeking to create transparency and eliminate inefficiencies in how products were sold, this rag-tag band of Jedi Entrepreneurs blazed new paths by using the World Wide Web to launch ‘web sites’ and communicate directly with buyers.

They founded companies with names like Webvan, Pets.com, eToys, Boo.com, and Amazon.com. They started selling through this World Wide Web, and named this new approach "Ecommerce." They confronted the dark forces that resisted digital transformation with meager weapons like sock puppets and Ms. Boo (and, to be fair and balanced here, hundreds of millions in venture capital!).

The dark forces of organizational inertia were strong, however, and many fell along the way. A Great Bubble, it was called. Those that doubted the power of the Force stopped providing capital to these companies in the early 2000s, and our Jedi Entrepreneurs went into hiding.

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

But customers were waiting, quietly, for the return of our Jedi Entrepreneurs.

A New Hope (and a New Economy)

While in hiding, our brave Jedi Entrepreneurs began to launch new ventures, valiantly pioneering a new digital economy. Trained by the hardship of their experiences during the Great Bubble, these new companies now used practical business models founded on customer needs.

Solid business principles ruled this new day, centered on growth, long term vision, and avoidance of overspending (OK, admittedly, some overspent and still do…) Mostly selling goods targeted at consumers, great enterprises emerged. Some were survivors of the Great Bubble – Amazon and Ebay – and some new entrants such as Newegg, Zappos, Netflix, and Wayfair.

Traditional enterprises stepped into this new economy as well. Walmart, Apple, Staples, Costco, Best Buy and others followed the lead of our Jedi entrepreneurs, launching their own e-commerce operations.

Recognizing the Dark Side in their own organizations and building on lessons learned during the Great Bubble, our Jedi Entrepreneurs learned the secrets of succeeding in the digital rebellion.

Four keys to re-taking the Galaxy and leading in this New Economy:

  • Be noble in purpose: Put the customer- not yourself – first in designing an engaging and successful e-commerce experience – both during the sale and supporting customers after the sale.
  • Look inside of yourself: Identify the hidden dark force inside the organization – lack of internal alignment, traditional organizational silos, and lack of collaboration structures. Without the right crew on the ship, you cannot jump into hyperspace and take advantage of these opportunities. And, persistence and determination are critical to your success!
  • Build your forces: You cannot achieve success without a solid foundation for e-commerce growth – resources (great people!) and technology.
  • Do not deal in absolutes: (“Only a Sith deals in absolutes” – Obi-Wan) – This New Economy and customer expectations change constantly, and being flexible and willing to adapt is a key to success. One of our greatest Jedi Entrepreneurs, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, said, “What’s dangerous is not to evolve.”

The doubters had been converted. The Dark Side overcome. Innovate, our Jedi Entrepreneurs did. And many grew to generate hundreds of millions in sales and profits from e-commerce.

“Crazy thing is… it’s true. The Force. The Jedi… All of it… It’s all true.” – Han Solo

But the Dark Side continued to have power, and attempted to wield its influence over new generations of would-be Jedi.

The Last Jedi (Listen, you must)

Clear, our lessons are. For companies that are not yet embracing Ecommerce (many of you on the B2B side), you can learn from our Jedi of the New Economy. You are the Last Jedi. The Force is calling you. You must heed its call or risk irrelevance and failure.

I am speaking here mainly to manufacturers, brands, and distributors. Those that are behind in adapting to the New Economy and entering the world of Ecommerce. Those that have been afraid to look inside, build their forces, and are still dealing in absolutes borne from decades of doing business in traditional ways.

Here is your path to embracing your e-commerce destiny:

  • Customers, first must be: The Great Bubble taught us that failure to understand the needs of customers is a sure path to destruction. Use customer interviews, focus groups, customer advisory boards, and surveys to understand how your customers want to interact with you via digital and Ecommerce. What are the top priorities in terms of workflows, site features, and support? What channels are they using to shop? Consider new paths such as Amazon Business and other marketplaces to go where they customers want to interact and buy– not just where you want them to be.
  • Confront the Dark Side: Look inside your organization. Recognize that change is happening, and that your customers are shifting their research and buying preferences towards digital means. Organizational inertia is a major part of the Dark Side. Assemble your leaders and make a plan to act. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect – just get started. “Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
  • Get the right people on the ship: Hire some of the original Jedi Entrepreneurs from the retail side of e-commerce to council you and lead your new efforts. Experienced, they are, and they will reduce your risk. Be careful assigning inexperienced internal resources to lead e-commerce efforts for you, even if they are senior. Be aware of the agents of the dark side working against you. They will say things like, “that can’t be done” or “but we’ve done it this way for years” or “but our traditional sales channels won’t like it if we sell directly to end customers”. Teach them the ways of the Force, or get them off the ship. Internal alignment is critical.
  • Get the right Ecommerce platform in place: Lack of a capable technology foundation is like building your Ecommerce operation in the Great Pit of Carkoon on the desert planet Tatoonie. The Sarlacc is waiting to consume you. Don’t short cut here, and make sure you take a thorough process in pulling your requirements together If you have an Ecommerce platform in place that is underperforming, you likely need to make a change. This is a difficult decision, no doubt, but Jedi Entrepreneurs confront these decisions and make them, and they aren’t afraid to take calculated risks.

Finding victory in the e-commerce galaxy

Defeating the Dark Side takes persistence. It takes focus. Our Jedi Entrepreneurs learned the importance of focus during the Great Bubble.

Make sure you have a Strategic E-commerce Roadmap to guide your success: A prioritized list of items that are realistic for you to get started on, and to keep you focused. The most important lesson from our Jedi Entrepreneurs is to get the process rolling and be nimble – confront and overcome your ‘absolutes’, changing and adapting as you grow. And make sure your technology and resource foundation is solid.

May The Force be with You!

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