The Vice President of Ecommerce is the chief steward of the organization’s electronic storefront (transactional website). Their goal is to drive new traffic, create and deliver an online experience that will endear users to the brand, and turn visitors into customers while maximizing overall profitability of the online business. The responsibilities of the ecommerce “czar” are wide ranging, including strategy, website development, user experience, security, site maintenance, analytics, operations, technology, and oversight of third party service providers. They also act as a sort of internal “diplomat” to rally other operations of the company behind the ecommerce side of the business. Ecommerce is big and getting bigger. Forrester Research predicts online sales will account for one of out every ten dollars of overall consumer spending by the year 2016.

The best Vice President of Ecommerce candidates I know couple marketing wisdom with technical know-how – ecommerce managers work closely with website developers and oversee the selection of ecommerce platforms, online payment systems, authentication, security, and an array of other technologies required to operate a web-based business. But besides the technical skills, what else does it take to be an effective ecommerce chief?

Having a Strategic Mindset. The Vice President of Ecommerce holds the company’s ecommerce vision. He or she sees long-term market potential and business opportunities. They’re expert at employing research and customer data to drive the business. They think “beyond the margin, ” as I like to call it. Being strategically adept is one of those attributes that comes only with experience. It’s what truly separates the major leaguers from the under-studies. You want concrete examples from your candidates that demonstrate these competencies.

Strong Aptitude for Data and Analytics. I talk a lot about this in my writings, so I won’t dwell on it much further here. Suffice it to say that online marketing is more about analyzing test results and less about gut instinct. In ecommerce, you can measure what works and what doesn’t, sometimes almost instantaneously. Your Vice President of Ecommerce candidate must be highly adept at crunching and interpreting data.

Collaboration/Relationship Making/Influence Maker. Like practically every other job in the realm of digital marketing, ecommerce is ostensibly a team sport. Ecommerce leaders interact with practically all major departments within the business. They also work with many different outside vendors. Cross-collaboration and interpersonal skills are a key part of the job. It’s essential to understand the candidate’s ability to work effectively with teams ranging from product marketing to sales, from finance to customer service, plus external partners. That’s one of the most important areas I probe when conducting reference checks for these candidates. In many instances, the Vice President of Ecommerce also plays the role of “change agent”, leading the company through a transformational shift from legacy marketing into online commerce. In those environments, forging cross-functtional relationships is mission critical.

Operational and Project Management Expertise. What we’re NOT describing here are the pure technologists. Leave that to the coders and hackers. I believe that the best ecommerce managers are a blend of marketing and technology, the marketing techologists as they’re often called. To them, technology is a means to an end- converting visitors into paying customers. Choosing the right technologies and projecting the vision and mission of an online business is important, but at the end of the day you want an ecommerce leader who brings a proven track record of driving results. That’s how business leaders will measure the ecommerce leader’s success. At the root, ecommerce leaders need a deep understanding of ecommerce metrics including conversion, AOV (average order value), traffic, shipping and so on. And of course, this includes their ability to attract, hire and retain strong talent, and show demonstrative management and leadership skills (assuming it’s a department of more than one).

Ask about their experience juggling multiple and concurrent projects including the following:

Desktop and mobile website development
Digital content
Online merchandising and launching new products
Brand marketing
Social media
Order fulfillment
Also, confirm their budgeting and P and L experience for positions that are responsible for revenue rather than only operations.

The Vice President of Ecommerce needs to be able to describe the consumer’s purchase path on the website, and how to optimize that navigation. Also, make sure they’re well-schooled in cross-selling and upselling. Ask how they have tracked the performance of campaigns on various platforms and acted on those results to optimize consumer engagement and create differential brand experiences.

As for technical skills, this is not an all-inclusive list, but I look for candidates who have familiarity with the following:

Web Analytics tools
Strong knowledge of search engine marketing, and all of its variations
Social media analytics tools
Ecommerce platforms like Magento, Shopify or Demandware
Online advertising tools such as Google Adwords, Google Product Listing Ads (PLA’s) and display ads
Experience working with the major social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google
Experience with Vine, Instagram and Pinterest can be a “nice-to-have”
Remember: At the end of the day, the ROI you receive from your investment in digital marketing and ecommerce will depend on the caliber of the people you hire.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and multichannel marketing, and CRM. With 80 published LinkedIn articles, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 28 years. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.

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