Jason Eastman began his career literally at street level—stocking shelves and building displays with Coca-Cola products at point-of-purchase locations across multiple channels in the metropolitan Atlanta area. It gave him the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of how the most effective sales and marketing strategies are executed, as well as the downstream implications when those fundamentals aren’t in place.
Today as vice president, e-commerce at Crayola, Eastman has been tasked with adapting a legacy company to the “digital-first shopping journey,” through which consumers prioritize searching online to find the products they want. Through extensive research and analysis, Eastman has identified specific capabilities that have to be standardized so that, as he describes it, he is able to put his house in order.
By developing and implementing comprehensive strategic plans, he has scored successes with Crayola’s largest e-commerce account, and he learned much along the way. Here, Eastman tells Profile how he tackled that strategic plan.
What were the biggest challenges in developing a successful e-commerce strategy?
E-commerce may be more dependent on cross-functional capabilities between departments than any other retail business unit. Just to make one item successful on Amazon, all the business units involved have to collaborate and cooperate flawlessly. We had to identify exactly what we needed to accomplish, where the friction points were across the organization, and anticipate as many problems as we could. Once we had the right people, tools, and processes in place, we didn’t have to focus as much on how to do what needed to be done as we did on what to do. We put a high premium on developing predictable workflows so that issues that do come up are easier to manage because everything else is routine.
What was one of the first signs you were on the right track?
When we turned around negative growth and associated performance issues with Amazon. By building an organizational structure around their business requirements, we went from a very reactive relationship to one where doubling their business in less than eighteen months is achievable.
What basic operational components have been key to adapting to the digital world?
Like many legacy companies, Crayola had previously bolted new structures onto traditional operations, which left us, for example, with three different areas that were responsible for business within the e-commerce channel. But they weren’t coordinating with each other. That made us vulnerable to duplicating efforts and competing with each other in some cases, which increases the cost of doing business overall. By creating an enterprise-wide strategy, we’ve eliminated those types of vulnerabilities.
How are you helping the company adapt to the digital-first shopping journey?
We’re clarifying exactly how customers experience that journey and then determining what we need to do to respond appropriately. It’s helping us answer questions about how we need to commercialize our products: Should we focus on how they look on the shelf or how they appear on a screen? How does that impact design and development in terms of fonts for labels and product names?
We think about internal behavioral changes that are cultural, that evaluate our capabilities and, ultimately, how we compete in the marketplace. However, it’s a gradual process to shift all of those priorities.
What advice would you offer to other e-commerce executives?
First, make sure you have executive sponsorship and organizational commitment from the top down when you start. Second, recognize that there is no one “right way” to do e-commerce. Every company is structured differently with different priorities, so find the approach that’s the right fit for your organization. And third, define your focus and decide exactly what you want to be good at. At first, I tried to do too much too fast because I felt I had to tackle everything that I knew was possible. But if you try to boil the ocean, your team ends up working on one hundred different things when they can only handle fifty—and they won’t be able to do any of them well.
You have to constantly self-assess to keep yourself on the right path. In our case, that led to leveraging my customer management background to create executable domestic product and digital marketing strategies, rather than developing a global strategy for business in every conceivable market. We focused on the basics that we needed to get our house in order, and they’ve been huge components of our early growth and success.
Was there one particular lesson you learned from your experience at Coca-Cola that directly influences how you approach your job now?
You always get better results when your objectives are clear and the strategies are actionable and realistic. Also, you get out what you put in. You can’t develop plans for a Volkswagen and expect to end up driving a Porsche.
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