Data-driven Commercial Leadership: One Year In

Ryan den Rooijen
Ryan den Rooijen

While I find it hard to believe, I am now more than a year into my Chief Ecommerce Officer role! As they say, time flies when you are having fun, or at least when you have ambitious top-line targets to hit. At the same time, when I consider how much our teams accomplished during this time it feels like it must have been longer. After my first 100 days I wrote two articles reflecting on my experiences; now a year in, how have those experiences held up?

Firstly, channelling Stephen Covey: it is critical to start with the end in mind, in this case by asking the right questions. I have found this to be much harder than I expected. I joke with friends that my IQ dropped 50 points when I took this role. Not because P&L ownership makes you inherently less intelligent, but it likely makes you time poor. Our brains need time to process. There is data flowing in every second, but what do you choose to act on?

This is why, as I mentioned, reporting is a priority. Yet it is critical to find the right balance in reporting. Breadth certainly matters, i.e. what are the main elements of the business you need to manage, be it from a prospecting perspective or because you want to keep a weather eye on risk factors. But one also needs to consider depth, e.g. looking beyond revenue at the different drivers. All this without overwhelming leaders who have limited bandwidth.

Unless you have the right people on the bus, you will not go fast. Photo by Luis Quintero.

That said, tools and technologies are not the most important success factors. It might be a cliché but it is critical to ascertain who is "on the bus." As a leader you cannot manage every relationship or project, so people need to be empowered. This is where you will find a significant difference between OK talents and great talents. The challenge is discerning between the two, given that the proof is not necessarily in teams' commercial performance, more often in the watercooler conversations. Being able to tune into this to gauge the health of the organisation takes time, but is of critical importance.

Additionally, solving for today's challenges is not enough, one needs to solve for tomorrow's as well. One example from the past year is how we tackled digital marketing campaigns. Yes, step one involved hygiene, e.g. ensuring we had the right negative keywords etc., but concurrently we also started work on a personalisation engine because there is only so much efficiency that hygiene efforts can unlock. Now our new targeting capabilities are going live.

Figuring out what the trade-off should be between agility and scale is painful, but arguably one of the most important roles of any executive. Whether in commercial or manufacturing, it is tempting to have every business unit operate in a silo – particularly because people have a tendency to claim they are unique. However, phenomenal efficiencies can be unlocked if you can standardise in a manner that still allows for creativity and improvisation.

What looked like an easy road can be a rough scramble in practice. Photo by Jan Kopřiva.

Our performance this calendar year has been consistently ahead of target. When I was asked what our teams had done differently to last year, the answer was – nothing! A year ago we put a strategy in place, and we have since been executing against it. I have learned that in the short term, it is easy to overestimate the impact a strategy is supposed to have, whereas in the long term, it is easy to underestimate its impact. Keep the faith; stay the course.

Now, credit where it is due, this requires board-level buy-in. Investing tens of millions to unlock an opportunity that most do not appreciate yet requires trust. A year, ago I wrote about the 4Ds for newly appointed executives. Delegation. Direction. Discipline. Delivery. Perhaps I should have added a benign form of Dogmatism. After all, on any transformation journey things will go wrong, and sometimes you just need to keep believing.

I recently had lunch with a friend, who asked me whether all the pressure and late nights caused by my move into a commercial role were worth it. Truth be told: I love it. While this accountability comes with stress, I can now own decisions I care about. To commit to what I believe in, commit to people I believe in, all with the aim of creating a sustainable business that truly services our employees, our customers and our partners, is a great privilege.

– Ryan

Digital Transformation

Ryan den Rooijen

Chief Strategy Officer of Appsbroker CTS, the leading Google-dedicated consultancy. Formerly Chief Ecom & Data Officer.