An e-commerce brand can spend all the money in the world on software, marketing, and recruiting, but if two crucial interactions with their vendors aren't nailed every day, trouble is right around the corner.

I've worked with hundreds of brands over the past 20 years-- many of them wildly successful, but just as many that didn't survive past the two-year mark. Check out these two things that most great brands get right, every single day.

Communication

If you don't have a steady flow of information between your team and your partners, something important will inevitably get lost in the shuffle, and won't be realized until it becomes a problem. While communication cadence may vary based on program size and business maturity, these are the key communication touch points that you should work towards establishing in every partnership.

  • The daily update: This communication can often be automated and sent in the form of an email or text message that highlights the events of the day, calling out things that didn't go as planned and, ideally, the corrective course of action that will be taken. 

  • The weekly planning overview: This is a collaborative conversation to set the action plan for the coming week. In my own partnerships with growing e-commerce brands, this is where goals for the week are discussed and agreed upon by all parties. Tasks could include updates to product receiving schedules, new ways that products might be packed and shipped, and the impact of any upcoming promotions business operations.

  • The monthly health check: This call looks into the rearview mirror to see how everyone performed. The health check looks at internal performance and vendor performance. This communication highlights what each party can do differently to make the coming month even better.  

  • The all-hands strategy session: While C-level executives may not be involved in daily, weekly, and monthly updates, this session discusses bigger changes that may be approaching. For example, product launches, additional fulfillment locations, and new shipping partners may all be discussed. Whether this meeting happens quarterly, biannually, or annually, the goal of this meeting is to identify opportunities for efficiency and get ahead of any new initiatives that may require new resources, planning, or project management. 

Forecasting

As the old adage goes, you won't know where you're headed if you don't know where you've been. Good forecasting provides visibility for all partners and is key to planning.

Start with sharing your forecast internally and externally. Make sure all stakeholders understand the forecast and its impact to customers, the supply chain, and the business. This will help your partners use labor efficiently. It will also help you set customer expectations for product deliveries during normal business and during spikes in demand.

If your vendor partners have been in business for a while, they know what to expect during a demand spike. They have plans in place to handle these situations, and can guide you based on their experience. 

Also, start early. You can't plan for everything, but you should start planning as early as possible for known spikes and dips in demand. For example, as an e-commerce business, your holiday order volume can multiply 10x non-peak volumes between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Therefore, the planning for a successful holiday season actually starts much earlier. B2B brands, for example, load their product into fulfillment centers as early as August to get them out to wholesale partners by October. In other words, brands are filling up Santa's sleigh well before the weather starts to cool and it takes a lot of elf collaboration to get it right. 

When you're a new company, forecasts will be educated guesses, and that's okay. Forecasting accurately is a challenge for brands after receiving venture funding or as they  break into a new channel. Keep in mind, forecasts are always wrong. They are predictions at best.

The important thing to do here is to put a plan on paper, communicate with all stakeholders, and understand that adjustments are inevitable. If you're not yet comfortable with building your own forecasts, communicate that with your vendors and let them help you with the process. A good indicator of what your sales forecasts should be, should be based around your inventory-- you can't sell what you don't have. 

Forecasting and communication both start with a plan and become more accurate and effective over time. Implementing these best practices will open and sustain good communication channels and drive real results based on real data.

Published on: Jun 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.