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Interview

Interview: Global Digital and Ecommerce Education at Scale

A podcast topic so important we needed two guests to do it justice! The role of the ecommerce leader extends beyond ecomm strategy and performance to being the educator for the rest of the organization. Education that is critical to driving the business and mindset shifts required to achieve maximum growth and efficiency. And that takes a village. That’s why Lauren Livak and Peter were excited to welcome Antoine Borde, Global Ecommerce for Danone, and Ian Jentgen, Sr. Vice President at online training provider Circus Street.

Peter Crosby:
Welcome to Unpacking the Digital Shelf, where we explore brand manufacturing in the digital age.

Peter Crosby:
Hi everyone, Peter Crosby here, from the Digital Shelf Institute. Today, we have a podcast topic so important we needed two guests to do it justice.

Peter Crosby:
The role of the E-commerce leader extends beyond E-comm strategy and performance, to really being the educator for the rest of the organization. Education that is critical to driving the business and mindset shifts required to achieve maximum growth and efficiency. And that takes a village.

Peter Crosby:
That's why Lauren Livak and I are excited to welcome Antoine Borde, Global E-commerce Director for Danone and Ian Jentgen, Senior Vice President at online training provider, Circus Street.

Peter Crosby:
Antoine, and Ian, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about E-commerce education.

Peter Crosby:
When I think of the role of the E-commerce leader, it's never just, "Hey, get your strategy, and make sure that you grow." It's also, you have a responsibility or a necessity even, Antoine, to educate the rest of the organization. To help shift mindsets and prepare for the shifts that are necessary to achieve maximum growth for your company through these new motions that come as a result of the shift in consumer behavior.

Peter Crosby:
So with that, A, does that make sense to you? Does that feel like part of your job and then what does E-commerce education mean for you? How do you think about it and when did it really rise to the top of your priority list?

Antoine Borde:
Absolutely. Thank you Peter, for having me. I think you nailed it about consumer shifts and consumer behaviors. I guess that if you take a company like Danone, where we operate on different categories, it can be water, it can be essential dairy products or specialized nutritions, or maybe baby or adult medical products. I guess that we were not necessarily a company which carried products, which were naturally bought on commerce.

Antoine Borde:
But I guess when you have this kind of very fast consumer adoption and shifts, you need to adapt very, very quickly. You need to adapt the types of clients you're going to work with. You need to adapt where you supply your products and you need to also ensure that in terms of understanding that these consumer behaviors shifts will also impact our business. It requires that we do that in a very consistent manner and in a very standardized manner. Or else you start having inconsistency in the way your products were displayed, in the way your consumers buy your products, and that can create a bit of confusion and chaos in the organization.

Antoine Borde:
So this is where in terms of enablers, to make sure that everyone has the same level of understanding. Because again, E-comm is not only about sales or marketing, it's a totally multifunction and multidisciplinary topic. You need to ensure that you have a minimum level of understanding and learning on this topic. And this is where the upskilling plan, which was one of the first action and decision that I took when I joined Daone 20 months ago, was something which was critical for me. Not only to shift the mindset and the culture internally at top executive level, but also to ensure that in the markets, in each of the functions, there was some common understanding of what E-comm stands for, where do we need to play and what are the key elements that we need to drive in order to win on E-commerce for Danone.

Peter Crosby:
Yeah. And I think, that sort of list that you just ticked off is so important. And it sort of all adds up to the understanding. Both the urgency and the priority, which in some people's mind in the business, and I don't know if this is true at Danone, but we've often heard that people think, well, E-commerce is only X percent a part of our revenue. And so why are we investing so much? Why do we need to change so much for that? And this education, I imagine can help answer that question. Did you encounter that?

Antoine Borde:
Yeah, absolutely. There are two things which actually are raised when you start doing that, is that well, eco is a phenomenon, but is it here to stay or not. So there's a challenge and a kind of a belief that it's a phenomenon that will not stay. We know that consumer behavior shifts are here to stay and they will probably remain. Maybe not at the same level as during the peak of the pandemic, but people have discovered E-comm. At the end of the day, when you start discovering for the first time, you say, "That's kind of a cool thing to use."

Antoine Borde:
Secondly, people believe also it's a total cannibalization and that a hundred percent of consumption is just shifting from offline to online whereas there are two elements to that. The first one is that we have an opportunity to increase the penetration and distribution of our products using E-comm.

Antoine Borde:
Two simple example, if you start using an E-comm platform in countries or markets like India, like Africa, like Latin America, where all these distribution or physical distribution is quite small, suddenly you increase your penetration to those markets. So for us, it's totally incremental. The second element is that if you start using digital to supply some of the B2B businesses, coffee restaurants, small moment pop shops, on the go type of point of sales. Where here again, you develop the opportunity of increasing the penetration of your products so this creates additionality.

Antoine Borde:
Then the second element is that, yes, it's maybe 5, 6, 7 for Danone, it's 9% of our total business. It's more than 30% of the growth of the company. So you also need to put into perspective and it's a [inaudible 00:06:08], channel for us. So that's important also to acknowledge, is that, we see this channel as a more profitable channel overall.

Antoine Borde:
Now the last element is that we see a strong profitization of E-comm of our current customers, because you take the big retailers, Walmart, Kroger, Tesco, Carrefour, they are all becoming omnichannel. And so they have understood very early on that E-commerce will be a phenomenon that is here to stay. Which means that they are adapting their business model to it, they're starting to find new revenue streams around E-comm, data, media, supply chain services. And we need to also strengthen our game to have this level of conversation, even where with our traditional retailers, or else at the end of the day, we will lose our bargaining power, and we might be in the situation where we have clients in front of us, which are more eligible on E-comm than we are. Hence the upskilling that we absolutely need to roll out into the organization.

Peter Crosby:
Well, those are some big business drivers. Thank you. That was great.

Lauren Livak:
So, Ian, from your side of things, are you seeing similar trends to what Antoine, was saying around companies really needing to upskill their education and potentially seeing a big shift with COVID and the change in E-commerce in general?

Ian Jentgen:
Yeah, absolutely. I think there's two main drivers that I think Antoine, touched on. The first of which that really resonated from our perspective is that if you look at revenue growth as a percentage, large customers of ours are continue to looking at E-comm, as being the foundation of revenue growth and incremental growth as well. I think there's a conversation at points where could, E-commerce be, and omnichannel, be cannibalizing traditional brick and mortar retail. But that idea has kind of been put to rest by leadership teams across the customers that we work with. And so I think, that's a key trend that we've seen.

Ian Jentgen:
And then you couple that with the idea that as Antoine mentioned, the way in which a lot of the large retail are structured, they're continually thinking omnichannel first. And so as they've organized their retail merchandising and buying teams, that's required the supplier side to upskill around E-comm as well and really, I think that the messaging that we're oftentimes hearing is how do we position ourselves, so that we're referenced as the category captain, as it relates to E-commerce omnichannel. So I think Antoine, touched on a lot of key points, but those are two of the big trends that we've seen for sure.

Peter Crosby:
So when you're a category captain, is there a hat? I feel like there ought to be a hat.

Ian Jentgen:
I think what we find is, there's maybe a hat, but your phone rings a little bit more often. And you're relied on a bit more from the retailer's perspective. And so that's the key differentiator and if you look at value creation around upskilling, a lot of our programs, point to that.

Peter Crosby:
Yeah. That's all important in everything again, but there's got to be a hat, that's all I'm saying. If there isn't one I'm going to design it. Because Danone is certainly in that category of category captains. So Antoine, with that in mind, how did you... you spoke earlier about wanting that global consistency and wanting that global understanding because when you're working at that scale, it's really important that everyone be working from the same hymnal, if you don't mind the religious reference. So with that, how did you approach the strategy to roll that out? Because that's a lot of work and that's hard for a team that has other responsibilities to do I would imagine.

Antoine Borde:
Well I guess for me, there were few criteria. The first criteria is that the content of our upskilling program needed to be relevant. That's the first element. The second one, it needs to be engaging and the third one we need it to go fast. And I guess that when you put those three criteria together, the first conclusion is that you cannot do it yourself you cannot do it from the center. I mean, yes, we have a lot of knowledge and knowhow at Danone. We know how to do E-comm. We know how to do E-comm for food and beverage and for our categories, but that's probably not... was not the most important. The most important for me was to have, how can we create these center of expertise in terms of upskilling on the fundamentals of E-commerces on the fundamentals of omnichannel, on the fun on how to work with Amazon those kind of topics.

Antoine Borde:
And this is where, when I assessed the different possibilities in terms of partners that could work with us, Circus Street, was really the most suited because the format is super engaging. And I guess when you are a new company, which is a very marketing driven company, product driven company, you need something which is snappy, works very fast, very engaging, you can consume an on the go. So I guess the whole format was absolutely the right one. Then of course we get push back because it was not tailored to Danone.

Antoine Borde:
Now we looked into the content, we looked into the modules that were more suited for, or I would say, "Our categories" and the way our E-commerce was built. We also partner with Circus Street to engage with them in developing future modules, which would be more closer to, I would say, "Our problematic" and the real engagement that we wanted to have on certain topics like omnichannel is a very good example. And I guess that they've been also very flexible and agile in the way they were producing content and delivering it to us. So that for me, we answered the brief in terms of tools.

Antoine Borde:
And on top, I would say, "We have a lot of people coming at Danone which came from other companies." I have a background at L'Oreal and Coty. We have people from Unilever. I mean, you have many other FMCG companies that have now talents within Danone, they knew Circus Street. So for me it was also, and I had used it in the past, it was also a sign that I could also leverage these past engagement on current leaders at Danone, in order to roll out this training and in this platform internally.

Lauren Livak:
And now Antoine, when you were rolling it out and you started thinking globally, did you get pushback from the teams taking the training saying, "Oh, we have so many other things that we're working on. Now we can't take time to do this." And how did you work with them to incorporate that into what they were doing?

Antoine Borde:
There were two nature of pushback. The first one is what you were saying, "We don't have time." And there are many, many trainings going on, and it's true that I came in the middle of other types of trainings that were engaging some of the population I was targeting. So I guess that clearly was something that I needed, to tackle.

Antoine Borde:
And the second element, is that we went through a global restructuration at Danone in the past 12 to 18 months. Which meant that a lot of the functions existing 8 months ago were not the same and people were moving around. So I guess when you go and try to obscure people in the moving environments, it's more unstable and it's not because people are saying, "Well, I don't know where I'm going to be in 6 months, so I'm not going to take this kind of training."

Antoine Borde:
So the way we've built it is with two fundamental elements. The first one is having a high commitment at top executive level. So I report to someone which is at the executive committee, Nigyar Makhmudova, so she's the Chief Growth Officer, for Danone. She really was the one driving this and engaging the executive committee of Danone to really be the advocate and be the kind of sponsor also for this training.

Antoine Borde:
But on top, what we've done is that we went through an approach of nominating people. So when people at the exec committee level say, "Well, this is a great program, everyone should do it." And then the second message that you give, "Well, we don't have space for everyone. We're going to start nominating meeting people based on priorities and profiles." And you can tend to create this kind of scarcity. Immediately, you have a reaction from the organization. Well, I want to be in and you get this cool thing of people really wanted to be onboarded on the upskilling program and actually it worked.

Antoine Borde:
Now the trick here is that if your content and your platform is not good, you're dead. Because you said, "Well, this is the cool thing to have." And if there's a use deception, because it's not at the expected level, then people would just say, "This is a fake." The good thing is that the platform is very good. The content is great and so the buzz started to create, thanks to that.

Lauren Livak:
So Antoine, as you were going through that gamification approach, did you have any measurement for which region was doing better than another to even add another element of competitiveness?

Antoine Borde:
Yes. Well, the first element that we've done is to make a proper assessment of the level of understanding of E-commerce and knowledge throughout the group. That was important because we needed to have some benchmark, where do we stand, before starting to roll out this upskilling plan.

Antoine Borde:
So we have a very simple questionnaire asking 10 to 15 questions to assess the level of an understanding and the level of engagement on our E-commerce business. Then once we had done that, we were sending out on a regular basis, usually was on a monthly basis, the level of engagement of each of the markets and each of the country. In some kind of gamification where we would see some internal competition, trying to push the markets to engage further and to say, "Well, you guys are at the bottom of the pyramid, what kind of action plan can you do in order to win this competition?"

Antoine Borde:
We also had key moments during the year where they could engage into winning some price for the most active teams for the most active participation for the more number of lessons I accomplished during a simple months. So these were kind of simple tricks, and again, I take no credit for that because the Circus Street teams have done that before, and they know how to engage people in the organization. So we used those techniques and tactics to have a gamification and a, I would say, "A higher engagement," than just rolling out a simple plan saying, "You need to take the lessons and you have six months to do it."

Lauren Livak:
I love that. Maybe Peter, that's where we can incorporate your hat idea. The winner gets to wear the hat for that globe.

Peter Crosby:
As long as there's a hat, that's really what matters. So Ian, in this context of needing, it's so great to hear Antoine kind of tick through the, sort of the natural human nature, anyone who took a sociology or psychology class in college, or lives with family and spouses probably has a pretty good idea of the sort of the David Schonthal, who's a professor at Kellogg and works for Ideo, just wrote a book with his colleague from Kellogg called The Human Element.

Peter Crosby:
And he talks about that there's fuel that can drive adoption and then cause behaviors to shift. But there's also the frictions that you need to understand and get rid of to be able to do this. So when you think about how to make this training palatable, exciting, useful, what are the ways in which you sort of approach the structures of the training or any way to sort of drive that fuel and maybe reduce those frictions?

Antoine Borde:
Yeah, I guess the way we had built the training is to go in phases because we didn't want to overwhelm people. We wanted the targets that we were setting to be accessible. So everyone could have the sensation to have gone through the learning plan and to be rewarded for that. So I guess the rewarding piece saying, "Well, good job, you've achieved it, you reach at the first step of your lesson to plan." And we opened up gradually the number of lessons. And so the lesson plan was articulated through time in order to engage new populations gradually, so that's the engagement piece where we were giving credits and opening the platform to new learning population initially was the E-commerce experts, then sales team than marketing teams. And gradually we opened it up, but also in terms of lessons, in order to ensure that we were focused also on the learning plans.

Antoine Borde:
Because if you start giving access very broadly without giving any guidance, people might be a bit lost. It's like when you open Netflix and you have too many choices. Whereas here we were telling them, "Well, go through class one, two, and three, and then, you'll be able to access the second level of the rockets, of our lesson plan and then access to new lessons." And I guess that created also a further engagement because the more they were learning and going through those learning plans, the more they were willing to learn. And they were actually being proactive saying, "Well, I saw that in the Circus Street program, there is this lesson and this lesson, do you think I can access?" And we were using that as an extra cookie to say, "Well, first of all, finish your plan and then we'll give you access to further lessons." So the engagement started to build thanks to that.

Peter Crosby:
And Ian, does that resonate with you across the Circus Street customer population? And what's the approach you make of different approaches to curriculum to make that successful for folks in the way that you design things?

Ian Jentgen:
Yeah, so I think it totally resonates. And just one more consideration that we look at an aggregate level, is thinking about the customers that we're engaging and what is the current disposition around learning within the organization. And then, going back to some of the fuels and frictions as it were. What our account management team does a great job with, is it fits with our customers and it's the key stakeholders for the program ownership, including leadership and get the good understanding of what's going to make the most sense culturally. And so we're not going to engage on all tactics in sort of a way in which it's replicated across our customer base.

Ian Jentgen:
So they do take on a variety of shapes and sizes, and that might mean engaging leadership where we're actually putting leadership videos and head to camera shots into the platform as well. So it gives them more intentional feel. It might mean as Antoine mentioned, taking an extra step in terms of the tailoring of the content that we do so that, within a particular function, you might have three distinct learning plans. And I think that the question that we're always looking to answer is, "Can we ensure that the learners and users on our platform are looking at the learning as true enablement and that it's time invested, that's going to help them do their job in a more compelling way and reach their shared objectives," versus time spent.

Lauren Livak:
That's great. And I think Antoine, from your perspective, you've built this educational program and you've launched it globally, and you've gotten people on board and really understanding the purpose behind it. And I really wish I could kind of bottle up your description of why E-commerce is important and share that with every leader. But what's next? You've upskilled the organization on the basics. How do you continue this learning and how do you make sure that the organization takes on the initiative to either continue learning on their own, do those types of videos, or what's that next step?

Antoine Borde:
So I think there are three elements. The first one is a building on what Ian, just said, "Making sure that there is first of all, a connection with what we do concretely in terms of action on E-commerce at Danone." So making sure that every playbook or best practices that we have is integrated within the platform. So learners can also do the link between what they learn, which is, I would say, "Generic." Because we want them to have this generic understanding, but then they can see the concrete application when it comes to E-commerce for Danone. So that's the first element and that's something that we have built and integrated within the platform.

Antoine Borde:
The second element is how do we engage further more people on the platform? Because the, I would say, "We focused on our core target groups, sales, marketing, E-commerce, and some senior editors. We have many more people to upskill when comes to E-commerce and that takes a lot of time. So that's going to be done in the months to come where we're going to open it much more and broaden the number of people and then Danoners as we call them on the platform.

Antoine Borde:
And then the third point is how do we also upscale them on topics that go beyond E-commerce? Because again, I want to make sure that we see E-comm, not only as a sales channel. There are topics which are connected to E-comm, which are important to understand like data, like marketing technology, like CRM. So those topics might not be directly connected to the E-commerce strategy of Danone, but they are important for me to ensure that they get not only an understanding of E-comm, but also about digital transformation as a whole. Because again, they might face tomorrow, some customers, that know better than they do about those topics, it's important that they have the right level of understanding.

Antoine Borde:
And then the last point. I guess, we are such an changing environments. I'm also challenging, but working with Circus Street to ensure that the next modules that will be live on the platform, correspond to the evolution of what we see on E-comm. Can be social commerce, it can be a live streaming. How do we integrate modules around supply chain, around packaging, around road to markets, which are also very important components, about PNL, finance, all those elements. So these are elements which exist today in the modules of Circus Street, not always, but Circus Street is super responsive in the way they want to build their future lessons, just because they understand that this will be requirements from other customers so usually we could build them together. And for me, that's a great added value and a way to go further in 2022 in our upskilling plan.

Lauren Livak:
I love that way of thinking. Because to your point, E-commerce is not just E-commerce and it's not just digital. It is so cross-functional, and it really goes into every element of the business. And so I love the thinking around expanding education into all those other elements. I'd love to double click on that just for a second and ask, do you find that there's kind of two elements of education, one being to what we're talking about now, education on, what is E-commerce? What is the lingo? How do you work with Amazon? How do you work with your retailers. But there's another element, and I've heard this from a lot of different companies around ways of working within the organization. And I'm curious to your point about data and the different systems that are incorporated into getting work done and being successful on the digital shelf. Are you also exploring that element of education? And I'd love to hear from you Antoine and also Ian, kind of where you see that balance between companies doing the information about what's important and also kind of ways of working internally.

Antoine Borde:
Yeah, absolutely. You're totally right. I think that for us, it's important that we bring solid fundamentals to E-comm. And of course upskilling is, is one elements, but you also need to drive those fundamentals from a data point of view, from a tools point of view, from a system point of view. Because these are the elements, which going to be fundamental to drive your growth and to build your E-commerce business. So meaning how do you track and measure in a consistent manner? What kind of tools do you use to measure your performance on the excellence of execution online, for example. How do you ensure you have the right systems to actually take the images that we have centrally from our marketing teams, and then provide them to the retailers or the different E-commerce platforms we're working on.

Antoine Borde:
If you don't have that at the center to bring these solid fundamentals and these consistency and coherence of approaching it, both from a tool and platform point of view, but also from a guideline and frame point of view. Of course you can leave some freedom within this frame, to the markets, because we have a lot of local brands at Danone so, we need to be mindful of course, of the local shopper. But it needs to be integrated within the capability building that I was mentioning. So upskilling is part of it, but it needs to be complimented with all the other fundamentals that we need to work on.

Ian Jentgen:
Yeah. Perfect. And just to build on that, I think where you're seeing that difference between upskilling core commercial teams around, not only the fundamentals of E-commerce, but some of the level 202 or 303 type skill sets.

Ian Jentgen:
So looking at, ensuring that your sales teams know what good product detail pages look like, good product copy, get a product, taxonomy, imagery, et cetera. So that type of information I think is more commercially oriented. But what we've noticed is a trend line, in order to unlock new ways of working, which are inherently cross-functional is particularly for the CPG companies and consumer oriented companies that we work with as part of upskilling the entire organization.

Ian Jentgen:
If you're sitting within a cross-functional team, whether that's in supply chain, HR, procurement, et cetera, those teams are now required to upskill around the foundations of E-commerce. So that's something that has definitely been a trendline that's evidenced itself. And I think that's what's been able to unlock the workflow elements, while still in parallel when we think about customers we're serving that core commercial base, which needs more advanced learnings and understanding.

Peter Crosby:
So Antoine, just to close, imagine you and a peer from another company, global company are out at the bar. You've cracked open a stellar bottle of French Cabernet and your peer starts peppering you with questions about, "I got to do this global E-commerce education program, I know you've been through this. What are the lessons that you learned that would save me from making the same mistakes you did." Or any of the, sort of, what are the top three alerts or learnings that you might share over that bottle of stellar wine?

Antoine Borde:
Yeah, probably the one advice I would start giving is keep it simple. Because we are navigating in a lot of complexity and in a world which is changing very fast. And a lot of people have a very low level of understanding of some of those changes, which are happening.

Antoine Borde:
So keeping it simple sometimes seems too obvious. But that's probably what I like the most in Circus Street platform. To say, "How can we of course have an engaging content, but which is simple enough, so people can get out of it with a simple idea." I'm always a big believer that if you're able to understand that, to get a higher sale, you need to have the right product image on your product page. And that people will actually go back to their office and do it, this when you connect and you add up all those changes together, it makes a huge difference.

Antoine Borde:
And sometimes it's a very simple thing to do. E-commerce is a lot about nitty gritty details. And so keeping it simple both in the way you provide education, in the way you will offer this service and this education platform to your employees. But also keep it simple in the way they will use this information, this knowledge to implement it in their daily work, because if they see the impact, then immediately, they will reconnect that with the added value that the learning plan had.

Antoine Borde:
And to close on that when we were rolling out and we did the assessment pre-learning and put post-learning, we could show very clearly the perception, but also the, I would say, "The operational improvements that the teams were able to make on their E-commerce pages, E-commerce search ranking, E-commerce ratings and reviews, E-commerce, understanding of omnichannel and Amazon." So this is how I make the best assessments. So keeping it simple for me is probably one of the strongest advice. Because sometimes you feel it's going to be a behemoth, a huge thing to do very complex, to put in place. And I would rather take a much simpler approach, but with a high impact than losing a year to create something which would be very complex and a year from now, the world will have changed again. And I guess you need to redo everything from scratch.

Peter Crosby:
That advice is definitely worth a stellar bottle of wine, and I force Cabernet on it on you, but hopefully, it would be the [crosstalk 00:33:09].

Antoine Borde:
I'll pick you on that Peter.

Peter Crosby:
Really Antoine and Ian, both of you, thank you so much for bringing these perspectives into this, really challenging experiment that we're all going through. And how do we bring organizations along in this really massive shift, in how consumers behave and therefore, how you all achieve your business objectives in the face of that.

Peter Crosby:
So just again, thank you both and thanks for contributing to the DSI community.

Antoine Borde:
Thank you. Thank you Peter, thank you Lauren. Thank you for hosting us. It was a pleasure.

Ian Jentgen:
Yeah, thank you so much everyone. This is great.

Lauren Livak:
Thank you both.

Peter Crosby:
Thanks again to Antoine and Ian for sharing their experiences in E-comm and digital education.

Peter Crosby:
Please share this with your colleagues and thanks as always for being a part of our community.