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How to Lead a Commerce Team Through a Crisis

In this new digital-only world, commerce teams have to transform their business rapidly. As a leader of one of these teams, you face a new set of challenges.

Nixon, a Salesforce customer, wrote this article.

If you’re like me, you might see a new article every day around how to work from home — but leading from home is a whole other story.

In this new digital-only world, commerce teams have to transform their business rapidly. As a leader of one of these teams, you face a new set of challenges, including:

  • Keeping your team motivated and supported 
  • Finding ways to promote innovation and experimentation
  • Discovering what to bring to the post-COVID world to make your commerce business better
  • Driving customer satisfaction in an era of unending pitfalls around logistics, service, and potential staff reductions

Before I share any lessons learned, I’ll share my story: I lead Nixon’s ecommerce team. We are a leading premium accessories brand for both men and women. Our business is a mix of wholesale, company-owned stores, and online retail, and we have teams on four continents.

In a crisis, leadership must change fast

At Nixon, we saw COVID-19 gathering speed worldwide. We started to discuss our contingency plans and train our company on remote work best practices. What we didn’t know was, just two working days later, we would be mandated to work from home. And our target customers would only be able to interact with our online brand, until further notice.

We are not unique in this situation, and the subsequent challenges came with changes in consumer spending habits, reductions in the workforce, and the plain-and-simple mechanics of running a commerce business from home.

Here are a few quick takeaways on what has worked for my leadership style across people, process, and technology at Nixon:

Use this time to experiment with the “how-to” of marketing

From bounceback cards (What printer is open? How do we get these to the warehouse? How do we get these cards out to customers?) to email promos, executing marketing that drives your business in today’s market requires broad-level input and strong leadership. Now is the time to involve your operations leader, your IT staff, and your digital marketing ninja. 

You might have to pull back in some areas. But just maybe there is opportunity as well. For example, did your competition get floored by the closure of department stores? Does your product resonate well with a customer stuck at home? Is this a time you can be empathetic and transparent as a brand and shift the tone?

All of the above are unique for each brand and business. Take the time to run the gauntlet of “outside input” from across your organization. You’ll be amazed by what you might uncover that you hadn’t thought of.

Provide referrals and professional support to furloughed or laid-off employees

Let’s face it, many of us are facing reductions in our workforce. As a leader, do everything you can to see the laid-off or furloughed employees as whole people, not just a number.

While every decision to reduce headcount is difficult, I want to keep the door open for when we inevitably gather speed again. I always make sure to provide references, referrals, and touchpoints for former employees. An excellent way to provide support is with formal recommendations on LinkedIn. These have to be requested of me from LinkedIn by each individual, so I always offer these in advance. They are free and personal. When written with care, they show the employee and any prospective employers insight into who that person is. Hopefully, as a leader, you know! If you don’t, find someone who does. Additionally, you can endorse them for relevant skills. I encourage every commerce leader to open your network to these individuals and keep nurturing our ecommerce community.

Set up fun ways for your team to digitally connect and collaborate

Cutbacks or not, your company and team culture must continue to thrive and grow. Don’t delete team stand-ups. I personally can’t attend 100% of mine, but that’s an opportunity for others on the team to lead in my absence.

Fun is not optional. Virtual happy hours, trivia games, breakfast meetings, the craziest thing you did at home since this started. Think outside the box and dive in. In 18 months when you’re back in a dull conference room stuck in a routine you should look back and think how much you went outside the box. The box got left at the office and the office is closed!

Use social media to share leadership lessons and provide mentorship

As a leader, you have a responsibility to give back and contribute to the broader good. Your expertise and mentorship can help more than just your team and your business.

For example, several years ago I began a LinkedIn video series. My goal was this: be real, don’t preach. Yes, I have bad days — but I believe in loving what you’re doing, where you’re doing it, and the process one goes through to get there.

The feedback I receive is overwhelmingly positive. I’ve heard personal stories that otherwise might not have been shared. And you don’t have to post on your own channels. My Toastmasters group has gone online, allowing me to share the experience with others who want to improve their public speaking skills but have been too busy to attend Toastmaster meetings. I’m video chatting with people I would normally go months without seeing.

Don’t burn out — take better care of yourself to take better care of others

Take time to prioritize your physical, mental, and spiritual health, in whatever combination is right for you, during this time. It will help you. It will help your co-workers and your teams. It will help your family. Honestly, there’s very little if any downside to keeping an eye on self-care. 

If some of these tips seem overwhelming, don’t sweat it. I really think there is a silver lining to this situation. A lot has transpired, and we all want to return to “the norm.” But in that process let’s try to preserve the truly human connections we’re forming across a digital divide.

You can also find best practices and tips in Going Direct-to-Consumer, the step-by-step guide to building a D2C ecommerce site.

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