The One Habit of Highly Effective E-Merchants


Unless you spent the last 30 years in a cave, you’ve probably heard of the seminal business management book by Stephen R. Covey, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.

The book spawned an entirely new personalized management philosophy for business and industry executives across the world. But it was first published in 1989, and while the book remains popular, its lessons are fading. A new generation of business owners in an entirely new industry born after its publication (e-commerce) – deserves a glimpse into one of the book’s most relevant lessons.

For our purposes in this e-commerce blog, we’ll focus on just one of those habits, number three:

“Prioritize.”

How do you apply habit #3 when you’re an E-merchant?

As Covey explains, each of our daily tasks necessarily fits into one of the 4 boxes (he uses the term “dial”) in the table below:

There is quadrant 1, important and urgent tasks (projects to be finalized, a supplier calling, etc.), quadrant 2, important but not urgent tasks (planning, thinking ahead, anticipating, etc.); quadrant 3, urgent but not important tasks (the phone rings, meetings, some emails, etc.) and, finally, quadrant 4, non-important and non-urgent tasks (pretending to work, drowning in work, reading articles on the Internet all day, etc.).

As a busy E-merchant with constant deadlines, your instinct will be to focus on only Dial 1 tasks. Every day is a new race to deliver on time, place your orders with suppliers, call this or that service provider, and make sure all fires are put out.

Except, that won’t help your store grow.

The secret is in the tasks in Dial 2!

Like any entrepreneur (in the broadest sense, i.e. the one who has decided to move forward in life), the e-merchant must focus herself on the “not urgent, important” tasks: Dial 2. As you’ll see, that can be very, very hard to accomplish.

How to understand what’s really a priority

Let’s take a few examples to understand where you could be prioritizing things in Dial 2 rather than attending to these tasks:

  • Participate in the meeting planned for the new website design? No, it’s Dial 1.
  • Your main provider has sent you an email announcing the price increase and wants to talk to you? Missed again. It’s Dial 1.
  • A package arrived broken and the buyer is asking for a refund? Dial 3!
  • You walk into the office of the sales team that is on a lunch break and the phone rings? Dial 1 or 3 (you’ll know after you pick it up).
  • Keep an eye on your market (reading the trade press, competitive intelligence, social networks)? Despite everything you were taught at school, it’s Dial 4.

Delegate someone else as the firefighter to meet the urgent things. As the E-commerce Manager you need to calm down, take a step back and think about the future.

Welcome to Dial 2.

For an e-merchant, Dial 2 contains everything you know you have to do, but don’t have time for. It also contains everything you know you should be doing and setting up, but you think you must manage the daily fires because only you know how to do it. But that’s what a good team is for.

As you’ll see, dwelling in Dial 2 is going to require a lot of uninterrupted concentration. Here are some things you might be doing while there:

  • Read as many books as you can
  • Look for new products
  • Make the Body/Mind connection with a sport, meditation or yoga
  • Contemplate the international market
  • Think about changing your Ecommerce/Flow Manager/Emailing software
  • Arrange a better deal with your main supplier
  • Hold a “no agenda” meeting with one of your employees or your boss
  • Launch a big internal project with your colleagues
  • Take the time to define specific objectives for the coming year and present them to your team
  • Consider creating your own brand on your best sellers.

These are just a few examples, but you get the drift.

You see, with dial 2, there’s plenty to fill your days. If you want to grow your business, that’s where you need to go.

This isn’t to say that Dial 2 stuff should completely fill your day. Aim for more like 30%, and spend the rest of your time (as you’re already inclined) on Dial 1. Urgent is urgent, and sometimes you really are the only one for that need.

Think creatively, and avoid traps.

The secret is in being creative to arrive at Dial 2. At least every second dial 1 action can turn into a dial 2 result. A phone call you take from a supplier on a mundane thing can turn into a mutual idea after some pleasant banter.

Most importantly, now you will now be aware when you are doing a Dial 1 task. Being aware of this is the only way, day by day and week by week, to do more and more Dial 2 activities.

One last trap not to fall into: telling yourself that you are saving your Dial 2 actions for the end of the day, when everyone has left the office. No. Dial two actions should be done during your regular workday. It’s a priority, and priorities don’t get pushed to the end. At least, not if you want to grow.

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