Podcast: Thinking Like Amazon To Grow Your Brand Today with John Rossman of Rossman Partners

January 9, 2020

John Rossman

John Rossman

Partner at Buy Box Experts

Listen to the podcast

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [02:09] Why many executives are fascinated with Amazon
  • [05:42] Biggest challenges brand companies have & how John helps them
  • [09:33] How John got started in executive mentoring & coaching
  • [11:23] John’s take on selling through Amazon vs other retail channels 
  • [14:56] What brands can do to adjust to selling on Amazon
  • [16:01] John’s mistakes & lessons learned about being an effective advisor and coach
  • [19:44] John’s proudest moments & achievements
  • [21:23] Best advice John received from mentors
  • [22:48] How to leverage best practices from Amazon

Resources Mentioned on this episode

Sponsor for this episode

Buy Box Experts applies decades of e-commerce experience to successfully manage clients’ marketplace accounts. The Buy Box account managers specialize in combining an understanding of clients’ business fundamentals and an in-depth expertise in the Amazon Marketplace.

The team works with marketplace technicians using a system of processes, proprietary software, and extensive channel experience to ensure your Amazon presence captures the opportunity on the marketplace, not only producing greater revenue and profits, but also reducing or eliminating your business’ workload.

Buy Box Experts prides itself on being one of the few agencies with an SMB (small to medium-sized business) division and an Enterprise division. Buy Box does not commingle clients among divisions as each has unique needs and requirements for proper account management.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:17
Welcome to the Buy Box Experts podcast with your host, Joseph Hansen. We bring to light the unique opportunities brands face and today’s e commerce world. And now here’s your host, Joseph Hansen.

James Thomson 0:39
Hi, I’m James Thompson, one of the hosts of the Buy Box Experts Podcast. I’m a partner with Buy Box Experts and formerly the business head of selling on Amazon team at Amazon, as well as the first account manager for the Fulfillment by Amazon program. And the co-author of the book The Amazon Marketplace Dilemma and co-founder of The Prosper Show, one of the largest continuing education conferences for Amazon sellers in North America. Today’s episode is brought to you by Buy Box Experts. Buy Box Experts takes ambitious brands and makes them unbeatable. When you hire by box experts you receive the strategy optimization and marketing performance to succeed on Amazon. Buy Box Experts is the only agency that combines executive-level advisory services, the expert performance management and execution of your Amazon channel strategy. Put a buy box experts.com to learn more. Our guest today is John Rossman, partner of Rosman partners, and one of the co founders of the Amazon Marketplace several years ago. John is an advisor, coach and mentor to senior executives around the world. John is also the author of several best selling books on Amazon, including the most recent book, think like Amazon 50 and a half digital ideas to become a digital leader. So John, thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts podcast

John Rossman 2:00
James, thanks for having me. And I will also say longtime James Thompson, friend, and fan. So yes, thanks for having me.

James Thomson 2:07
Thanks, John. Let’s begin our discussion today. There are many successful technology organizations out there. But Amazon gets more than its fair share of attention. Why are so many executives fascinated with what happens at Amazon?

John Rossman 2:22
Well, that’s a big question. I think one of the reasons why executives are so interested in the Amazon story and the Amazon playbook is because they don’t play by conventional rules when they when they say we are going to lead with customer obsession, and we are going to invent simplified and we are going to deliver hard results. They mean it in a very meaningful way. And I think that, you know, really becoming digital is about evolving business models and Amazon and been the most consistent to always be evolving their own business model. And I think the other thing that executives admire is is that Amazon is not a pure digital company like Google or Facebook. You know, Amazon understands logistics, and Amazon understands vendors on Amazon understands customer service. And so they have these real world processes and components to the business. And everybody loves them, right. And so it’s hard for somebody to not have a personal experience of personal connection with Amazon. And so it’s easy to see like these things they’re talking about, you’re reading about, along with your own personal experiences, and to both admire as well as be concerned about Amazon in your space.

James Thomson 3:49
It’s such a large organization with so many areas of involvement, some of which they certainly have expertise and do you see certain parts of Amazon drawing more attention For people who are trying to gain those best practices,

John Rossman 4:03
I think it really depends on what space you’re coming from. You mentioned technology organization. So I think a lot of technology organizations, really look at AWS and the way that AWS you know, architects capabilities in the tools and then reuse as those tools. And they do that both as a dog food exercise, meaning they they use their own tools, but then they turn inside out to that platform strategy is really relevant to some types of companies. I think other types of companies really respect how Amazon has reset the standard in in both big ways in small ways relative to what the customer experience is, and doing always putting forward like what’s best in the customer interest. Yeah. First, sometimes in very counterintuitive ways to traditional business thinking like I always think of search engine The book, which when it launched in 2001, you know, publishers hated it. hated it. Everybody thought, well, you’ll sell less books that people can read inside the book. But the counterintuitive truth was, was that if customers trusted that they would like a book, they actually buy a lot more books. And so I think that those types of counterintuitive moves resonate with other types of executives. And then I think, you know, just their obsession to you know, world class operations and the things that really impact customers or impact scale. I think that that is that operational excellence is a story that kind of relates it.

James Thomson 5:42
As you discussed in your book, think like Amazon, part of your role as being an advisor for brand companies. What are the biggest challenges you find brand companies looking to you for advice today?

John Rossman 5:54
Well, the the biggest challenges there is their heritage of success. Right. And so until everybody says, like, Oh, you know, we want to innovate, we want to change. We want to adapt. We want to build legacy brands and legacy businesses, but they’re not willing to do some of the things that it takes to do that, right? How to envision with clarity how to commit time and resources to work in the future, how to be willing to sacrifice short term profits, and sometimes short term revenues for long term growth and long term brand value. But you know, it’s always the case of kind of the things that made us successful in the past can limit you in the future. And I think that tends to be the hardest thing is everybody wants to demonstrate like, Oh, you know, we’re in it for the long term and we’re for legacy, but they’re really operating on a very short term basis. Right, right.

James Thomson 6:58
And given a company like Amazon that has been consistent in its willingness to look long term. It’s hard for public companies, we’ve always done things one way to be able to say, forget about the next six months, we’ve got to look at a year, two years, five years, but that that’s understandably very hard.

John Rossman 7:15
It’s a real competitive advantage for Amazon, right to be able to look at five, eight, sometimes more years out on an endeavor.

It lets them do things that other companies just can’t do.

James Thomson 7:29
Right, right. So So how do you separate the need for silver bullet solutions, from desire to buckle down and make the necessary investments to change the way that company runs itself? You’re a consultant coming in. People listen to you. And they say, Yeah, that’s great. But But isn’t there a shortcut? Is there a way I can make this happen faster? Take all those Amazon insights and just boil it down to do 123. How do you help companies think through moving beyond those silver bullets?

John Rossman 7:57
Yeah, well, you know, there are no easy answers. You know, I always talk about it like it’s a playbook. Right? And, you know, I outline 15 and a half lessons that you can learn from Amazon and apply in your business like, kind of molecule size techniques that you can take. But it really takes wisdom to know which two or three, in your circumstance does it take. But if there is one place that I know, like, I’ll always be able to make progress on this topic. It’s always around metrics, right? Nobody thinks about metrics and turns metrics into a verb, meaning like, we use metrics to make action. Nobody makes metrics into a verb like Amazon does. And so if I need to make quick progress, and come to understand an organization better, I always start with like, hey, how do you measure daily success, right? And just a question like that just blossoms into a plethora of Dirty Laundry and, and sloppiness and lack of attention to detail and an operational issues that you can clean up and make progress. And I think that Amazon’s innovation headline, you know, gets a lot of press, but they they they truly when they commit to something they are truly world class operators and and they use metrics the way I’ve never seen any other organization use metrics to drive accountability, drive quick action, right and try to get things right.

James Thomson 9:33
How did you get started in this executive mentoring and coaching business, John?

John Rossman 9:38
Well, that’s a great question. So I was at Amazon from early 2002 through late 2000 2005. helped launch marketplace business ran Enterprise Services. When I left Amazon, I was a partner in a in a big national consulting firm, really fun firm called Alvarez Marcel. I was a partner with a&m for 12 years and it was Really with one of my clients at the Gates Foundation, who just said, you know, John, you got a story to tell, you know, let’s do a book. And I was very lucky that the guy was just like the right guy for me to do how to do the book business, and really, from the books, has opened up this opportunity to just interact with leadership and with senior executives, instead of taking a project and running with it really being a thought partner to them, right. And, and I really liked that, that model of, you know, not so much being a coach, but being a thought partner, somebody who sees doesn’t have the expertise. I never had the expertise in the industry or the topic that my clients do, but I’ve got a common denominator across, you know, 10s, if not hundreds of different types of businesses, different techniques, and the ability to challenge the status quo without being too close to it. Like that’s always a good comment. To add into an existing leadership conversation, and so that’s really how I got into the I call it advisory business you talked about is coaching. Some, sometimes it really is more one on one, like personal style coaching or advice, but I see it much more as an advisory like, you know, what do we do to change, Tony?

James Thomson 11:23
Yes. Some of your clients have sold product on Amazon as a coach and advisor. How do you look at the Amazon channel differently than other retail channels that your brand clients might be selling through?

John Rossman 11:36
Well, I’ve learned a lot of this from you, James. And you know, like when I get somebody who really wants equities I like, my only piece of advice is called James Thompson. And that’s the truth. Right? But I think that that the thing you highlight and that I believe is absolutely true, which is which is you have to look at it holistically you can everybody, you know, just looks at orders Or maybe a customer lifetime value, but you really have to look at your channels and your overall brand representation and understand like what am I trying to accomplish both short and long term growth in those channels and basically if you don’t have control of it, somebody else does it. And so I think that that’s that’s always the topic is is being thoughtful about what are your goals and how can Amazon as a channel help you attain those those those goals and just being careful that if you know if it feels too easy, it probably is too easy right? Like Like there’s nothing comes for free. So just be thinking about the the alternatives and always building balance and a balanced portfolio within your business. I I never liked to see my clients get over dependent with anyone, either channel or vendor, right? And that really is straight from Amazon’s playbook right which is which Never let anybody have more leverage on you that that you have on them. And I think that is just one of those those not just business lessons, but life lessons of, you know, making sure that you know, you’ve got a degree in independence.

James Thomson 13:16
So let’s talk about that leverage for a minute. One of the biggest challenges that we have by box experts, when faced with prospective brand clients is the lack of willingness by senior management to evolve the way they go to market. And now that online marketplaces add unique pricing and distribution control pressures, how do you see leadership teams coming to grips that online marketplaces need to be managed more assertively, more actively, more aggressively?

John Rossman 13:44
You know, like any kind of niche topic, I think you have to be thoughtful about how you lay out the story and education path forum relative to that, and if you think you can do that, in one conversation, you can’t and so I always Think about like, you know, what’s the learning journey we need to go to on any topic like as big as that topic and and that’s how I see the best teams being able to tackle something is a concerted executive team learning path on a topic and then at the end of it be able to have a have a have a real value added conversation about like okay, you know what’s on both are short term long term goals and strategies to attain those goals and then mechanisms we need to put in place to achieve those objectives. And what happens all too often is people are ill informed, they don’t understand the entire picture or how these things interconnect and then be they immediately lead to the mechanisms that things are going to do without understanding their their strategies, their objectives first.

James Thomson 14:56
So is ecommerce becomes more important inside brand organisations, what have you seen brands do to adjust to this new way of selling?

John Rossman 15:07
Well, I get asked a lot. How do we compete with Amazon? Right? And and the thing I was thinking about is, you know, Amazon, its strength is scale, and its weakness to scale. And so I always think about how do you serve a customer in a way that that just isn’t inherently Amazon, right? And so things around service, personalization, customization, experience experiences beyond the product. I think that’s the winning formula, especially in retail but it goes beyond retail for brands to compete against Amazon so so that’s like, to me some of the the best offense you can go on is that just isn’t in Amazon’s DNA. That’s not how that’s not those aren’t the strategies that they’ve

James Thomson 16:01
let’s shift gears here for a little bit, I’d love to hear from you a story of a major pitfall or mistake that you made at some point that really helped you learn a lot more about what it means to be an effective advisor and effective coach to executives.

John Rossman 16:17
Well, I’ll pull one from from Amazon. And it was, it’s in, it’s in one of my books, and it was really a lecture I got from basis. And it was really this whole notion of Don’t let Easy, easy things that inherently should be easy. Don’t let those become the complex things in your business only, like truly complex things be complex. And and oftentimes what that really gets to is that, you know, for a variety of reasons, you’re not willing to tackle the uncomfortable, unstated untouchable topic that’s in the room, right? Whether it’s doing the hard work of consolidating operations or consolidating processes or oftentimes holding others accountable, even if they don’t report to you. And I got a great conversation from Jeff one time in front of the entire team about how this how I got Neil Rosen and Neil Roseman and I had to let the simple things in our business become really complex things in the business and you get this great lecture about how you optimize around the expensive capital equipment. You don’t let a little bit of wasted labor around it. That’s okay. Because you’re trying to optimize the capital piece of equipment and that Neil and I had basically optimize labor while we seen this expensive piece of capital and we had like the easy things. But but but it occurs to me because I so often see were like, you know, okay, we know we need to do, but sometimes there’s just the lack of will to make change happen. And that is an example of not letting you know of letting the things that should be simple become hard things can Because at the end of the day, you end up doing those things but but you, you, you don’t do it quick. You don’t do it fast, you don’t do it decisively. And you allow the organization to maintain its brittleness versus becoming more organization.

James Thomson 18:16
One of the challenges that we run into regularly with brands is this, this inertia around status quo and unwillingness to fire distributors they’ve worked with for 20 years who might be cheating the blind or getting rid of a mid level manager who is a self proclaimed expert on something where quite frankly, that person really doesn’t know what they’re doing. So getting what I’ll call you know, boring old companies to realize that their their lunches being eaten by those who are not evolving faster than they are. That’s that’s a constant challenge for any any type of company that we work with you.

John Rossman 18:55
Another example that’s right in that line is p amp. l on ownership, right? where companies do really short sighted things because of how pnls are drawn up. And and that’s where I think, you know, Amazon’s as a leadership principle about ownership. And one of the aspects of ownership is you never sub optimize the big enterprise in order to optimize a component of it. You see that going on all the time, right? And that’s where an external advisor can can really just help challenge like, why are we sub optimizing the enterprise to optimize this? Those are the types of things short sighted, you know, letting simple things become the hard things of the business types of examples. Yeah.

James Thomson 19:44
So tell me about one of your proudest moments, in terms of creating big success somewhere in your career. Something that you look back and you say, I did that. Can’t believe I did it, but I did that. That was really cool.

John Rossman 19:58
Well, yeah. No for for a guy who’s an engineer and never really had a creative aspect of their work and was kind of dumbed down to doing just PowerPoint, everything. I’m really proud of the books that I’ve written and it’s and because I think that I know their their quality, like their authentic stories, but I really enjoyed the process of writing like I didn’t expect that as much and everything so I’ve really developed to see the value of writing things out. Yes, even if they only go to yourself writing out your plans, your log. It’s part therapy and but it just helps you think through things and that’s, you know, actually one of the ideas and things like Amazon borrowing from Amazon six pager technique is I see the power of writing, combined with the power of storytelling, and especially if your world is like How do we innovate? I think people really short change the ability to envision and tell that story. And then work backwards to will, the things we need to do in order to get it. But just pressing every day to get to that, that big vision, so I become a big storyteller. And I really enjoy that creative aspect of the work I get to.

James Thomson 21:23
in your professional career. You’ve I’m sure had met many different mentors. What what are some of the pieces of advice they’ve given you that that sticks with you today and makes you part of who you are? Well, one of

John Rossman 21:36
the hard lessons I’ve had to learn was, I had a guy who’s a partner with me before Amazon and Arthur Andersen is a partner with Alvarez. So and Steve always, you know, and and, you know, this was a time when you know, as a partner, I had two young boys at home. You know, you’re always just oversubscribed, you’re too busy, right? So you would just try to make you try to make everything super efficient. And there are some things that shouldn’t be super efficient. And Steve would always encouraged me to have to have more ineffective effective moments. And what he meant by that was recognizing those moments like, you know, when you’re recruiting or when you’re counseling somebody, or, you know, certain types of conversations where, you know, you just need to allow it to be a little messy and to not be as tightly scripted as you know, you want your tight little day to be and stuff so that’s, that’s one that I’ve really had to incorporate and, and I see the value in that.

James Thomson 22:48
Final question for you. Many brands listening today, I’d love to get your single piece of advice that you would give those that are trying to leverage best practices from Amazon. Where do you start what What matters most?

John Rossman 23:02
Well, I think one of the topics and I’m not an expert on this, but I know it when it’s when it’s going on versus when it’s not going on is really around balancing your metrics with a customer lifetime component along with, you know, order and item economics. Amazon, by far, I saw always have the best item order economics, but they were always trying to optimize for what was essentially customer lifetime value, right. And I think that that balance of like, you know, always the time of how do we, you know, achieve today’s results while not compromising but actually growing for tomorrow’s results. I think that’s something that having a customer lifetime value, approach or formula can help bring. And so I think that you know, understanding you know, how to how to reduce customer churn how to create loyalty. He had to put a moat around your business. I think that those are things that having a customer lifetime value.

James Thomson 24:09
That’s great. Thank you. For those of you interested in learning more about John’s advisory consulting company, please visit Rossman partners. com. John, thank you so much for joining us today. We very much appreciate your time and your insights. Thanks.

Outro 24:25
Thanks for listening to the Buy Box Experts Podcast. Be sure to click subscribe, check us out on the web, and we’ll see you next time.