You might not think there are many parallels to be drawn between the HR industry and the world of ecommerce, but there’s actually a substantial overlap in the skills required. After all, where an HR pro is trying to minimize conflict and get a team performing optimally, an ecommerce seller is trying to keep their sales funnel smooth and avoid friction that might reduce conversions.
Image credit: Max Pixel
So if you work in the HR world and you’re looking to polish your performance, you would be well-served to look at how good the ecommerce industry has become at practices such as analysis, conflict resolution, and branding. Let’s look at some specific takeaways you can use:
Delegation is vitally important
It might sound easy to be an online merchant, but it’s far from it. You need to manage product inventories, handle customer issues, create promotions, pay hosting and storage bills, deal with taxes, and do all the research necessary to compete in the hectic digital landscape. There’s so much work to be done that every entrepreneur who enters the industry quickly realizes that they need to delegate if they’re ever going to succeed.
They can hire a copywriter to optimize their product descriptions, have a photographer produce their photos, get a developer to speed up their store, and generally use freelancer services to outsource any tasks they’re not passionate about. In the same way, an HR professional won’t be able to get the most out of a team if all of their time is going towards the minutiae.
Whether through delegating tasks to other HR workers (possibly making the case to management that more help is needed) or through using automation software to lessen the workload, you can free up more time and fully focus on what really matters.
A lack of trust is extremely damaging
In ecommerce, there’s an issue known as the trust gap. When you visit a brick-and-mortar store, you can see all the products up close — you can probably lift them, too, or even test them. Online, you don’t have that luxury. You can only look at the provided product photo and hope that the real product actually does look like that. It’s not uncommon to be misled by this. Think about how common fraudulent selling is on marketplaces such as eBay.
In HR, trust is what holds a team together. Colleagues need to be able to trust one another if they’re going to effectively cooperate, and when that trust is missing, it breeds resentment and inefficiency. In both cases, what keeps trust going is accurate and transparent communication.
In ecommerce, a seller who makes a special effort to prove that their product photos are accurate and proves their reliability over time will earn trust from their customers. Similarly, coworkers must learn to be honest with one another (even about negative things) if they’re to move past their issues and optimize productivity.
You must understand how people think
Ecommerce is a game of research and targeting more than anything else. If you want to sell to someone, you must know what drives them, what frustrates them, what entices them — everything that motivates them one way or another. If you lack that information, you won’t be able to convince them of anything. They’ll write you off as indifferent or incompetent.
And as an HR worker, you’re called upon to work closely with people, finding ways to address their concerns and get them performing as well as they can. If they don’t believe that you understand or empathize with their problems, they won’t want to talk to you, and they certainly won’t want to confide in you.
If you currently feel that you don’t really understand the people you’re working with, then make a special effort to reach out to them and ask them questions. Carefully listen to their answers, letting go of your assumptions and approaching everything with open-minded curiosity. You might find out that someone’s motivations are entirely different from what you thought.
Skill stagnation is disastrous
Succeeding in ecommerce can be somewhat like playing a frenzied game of whack-a-mole. You figure out where to strike to get maximum impact, but then it moves, and you need to start all over again. Trends appear and disappear, products go in and out of fashion, and target audiences shift significantly. Any seller with a one-note marketing strategy will struggle to keep the sales coming in.
This is something an HR pro must understand about team performance, because it’s not enough to keep skating along on skills that were impressive two years ago. The business world moves quickly, particularly in the digital era. The entrepreneur I mentioned earlier doesn’t just have to delegate — they also have to diversify. In a matter of months, one skill can lose its importance (why create a business when you can buy one instead?) and another can become essential (if you don’t understand analytics, you’re woefully behind the times).
Consequently, team training is massively useful. Through online courses and digital tools, you can get a set of colleagues working together more effectively and expanding their skill sets at the same time — as a bonus, the new skills will boost their general confidence levels.
It’s (almost) all about the metrics
I said that anyone who doesn’t understand analytics is behind the times, and that’s because everything in both ecommerce and HR ultimately comes down to performance metrics. Businesses exist (for the most part) to make money — the more money they make, the more everyone involved benefits. Sellers make money, employees make more money. It’s simple.
In order to survive in a cutthroat marketplace, ecommerce retailers have needed to become ruthlessly obsessed with metrics. They analyze everything and A/B test every feature that can be tweaked to see which minute variant performs the best. Customer experience (what it’s like to use a particular store) is important because it produces more conversions. When an online merchant forgets about the metrics and starts going by their gut instinct, their store suffers.
This isn’t about downplaying the role of intuition in HR, because personal impressions do matter, and if you’ve worked in the HR world for some time then you’ll have a strong understanding of the minor nuances. Instead, it’s about remembering the bottom line and knowing that it isn’t how likeable someone is but what they bring to the table that makes them valuable to a company. It’s possible (though challenging) to be empathic and ruthless, and sometimes the best thing you can do for a worker is to reject their excuses and make it clear to them that they must improve.
As we’ve seen, there’s plenty for HR professionals to take away from the challenges of the ecommerce world. Keep these things in mind, make changes accordingly, and see if you can take your HR work to the next level.