Steve Madden's eCommerce Leader: "Collaboration and Transparency Is Key to Innovation!"

In this Brand Innovator Spotlight, Andrew Koven explains how open communication with coworkers, vendors and even competitors, allows for collaboration that builds everyone’s businesses.

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Andrew Koven is President of eCommerce and Customer Experience at Steve Madden. He has built the marketing, customer service and fulfillment foundations that solve the 5 prong go-to-market strategy a multi-channel manufacturer faces while leveraging new technologies. Koven and his team have nearly doubled the division’s revenue in the past two years.

Brandon Gutman: How did this concept of collaboration and transparency hit home with you?

Andrew Koven: The most important lesson I’ve learned at a relatively early stage, is that there is enough business to go around. Most commercial markets are reasonably sized and the idea of "co-opetition" over competition really resonated. I started paying close attention to people succeeding while having fun and achieving meaningful connections in both their personal and business lives.

What are some examples you can share of employing these fundamentals?

I try to instill the notion of benchmarking with peers and colleagues. I constantly encourage my team to identify who is making an impact – getting it right or wrong for that matter. Pick up the phone, send an email, set up a meeting…as we’re constantly challenged with questions, we should chat with someone who has done this before. Has someone else already aligned a CRM database with their email marketing? Who has the most effective fulfillment systems? The questions are asked internally; however, complete answers must be balanced by external market experience and points of view. We reach out to peers…some are in alternative sectors…some are direct competitors. At first people were a bit surprised – especially our competitors. I always lead with "would it be okay to share a few ideas with you?" It’s a reciprocal process but someone has to break the ice and make it safe. Now the process has become fluid. It’s a two way street; we’re calling one another, interfacing at industry events – essentially having fun and achieving success as extended teammates. If what we’re doing is good for the customer, it’s great for the entire industry. Our mobile initiatives are a good example: Steve Madden has gone public by providing a step by step presentation on how to go mobile. It’s good business to make actionable information available.

How are you collaborating with competitors? What are the exceptions?

With some exceptions respective to working in a public company, our team is willing to share because it’s a shared process. For example, at a recent Summit with industry peers and competitors alike, we sat down with another shoe company. We each shared some challenges and collaborated on some tested strategies to address them. Being transparent, we increased the knowledge pool and created real value for each other. In business or personal matters, be careful not to make collaboration into a game of cat and mouse. You need to show your entire hand to receive the full value of someone’s experience share.

How are you breeding this mentality with your team?

My team is constantly on the phone with current and potential vendor partners, industry peers and internal partners. I encourage everyone to be good citizens of the company and our business community – to pick up the phone and reach out to the best practitioners in industry for idea sharing and take all the calls from those reaching out to us. They’re actively collaborating with peers on mobile, loyalty, social marketing, email and operational strategies.

What has been the benefit for Steve Madden? How can other companies adopt this mindset?

Culturally, Steve Madden is and continues to be a highly collaborative, fast paced environment. On a daily basis, departments are crossing over within the company to leverage ideas and best practices. We have some great champions within the company who are making this happen. While it may take some time to adopt, the mindset has the potential to make everyone’s performance and results a bit better. It’s real simple - it’s mental. The rules of the game have changed and this generation has more outlets to communicate. There needs to be focus on team building, sharing best practices and benchmarking. We’ve come a long way from "this is my special sauce and I can’t or won’t share it with you." We’re seeing more summits, conferences and events where organizations are bringing peers together to educate and raise the bar and freely exchange. The bigger play at hand is becoming more competitive as an economy by working together as companies. Some of the best ideas/learning has come from this process.

How can the industry promote this way of thinking? What communication tools should we be using?

By applying social principles – the social movement has tremendous impact potential…not just on a personal level…but with the ability to apply new channel to communicate professionally. For marketers the biggest question right now around social media is monetization and ROI. That’s important but there is an equally lucrative ROI that comes from the information share. What’s the value of learning from one great idea that gets executed? How much is making one great connection worth? The power of collaboration and transparency embraces all forms of verbal and written communication. Tweets, Facebook posts and email are all parts of it. However, we can’t lose the value of direct human interaction. Open communication is fundamentally the back bone of collaboration and transparency.

What is your secret to remaining innovative?

Be honest, be open minded, be generous and be yourself. Become and keep becoming a better listener. The art of listening is more important than the art of speaking. Not just hearing but understanding. I work on being a better listener every day.

Brandon Gutman is a founding partner of FOCi Group, a Digital Management Consultancy building and optimizing digital practices for the Fortune 500 community. Brandon and FOCi Group are helping brand innovators utilize emerging technology and new media in order to achieve ultimate performance. Follow Brandon on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brandongutman.

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