There is power in numbers, and a spirit of positive collaboration and support creates benefits for both individuals and the group as a whole.
Putting this concept into practice is Operating Partner Chris Wilson, who has created an E-Commerce Best Practices Group made up of executives and team members from the portfolio companies he supports. The group’s monthly agenda consists of collaboration and idea sharing as Wilson provides insights from his 25+ years of direct-to-consumer marketing experience. We chatted with him to hear about how he supports portfolio companies to help them flourish.
Tell us a bit about your role as an Operating Partner at Blackford Capital.
We have five Operating Partners that all focus in different disciplines and have different experiences that we’re able to utilize to support the portfolio companies. I focus on a few different areas, specifically the D2C [direct-to-consumer] and digital spaces, helping family-owned, founder-run companies as they look to take their business to the next level.
Operating Partners get to share their knowledge and expertise, as well as their network of collaborators and connectors to support the portfolio companies in various capacities. This creates a multiplier effect that amplifies the resources that our portfolio companies can tap into.
What does your relationship look like in supporting the portfolio companies?
As an Operating Partner, I’m in the trenches with our portfolio companies to help them grow. In addition to regular 1:1 meetings with executives, we’ve created a Digital Best Practices group that meets monthly to collaborate and share ideas.
CEOs, marketing team members, and other members of leadership from each portfolio company gather monthly for a 90-minute call to discuss areas of strength and opportunities as well as learn from one other. This allows us to build skill sets, align technologies and processes, and share resources across entities – increasing both the efficiency and effectiveness of the portfolio companies.
What do these monthly meetings consist of?
We begin each meeting with a roundtable where each company shares one piece of recent good news. Marketing Directors, CMOs or CEOs on the call will also share their current top priority and a test they’d like to run. These tests could seek to evaluate the company’s website, digital marketing, or vendors – anything related to digital marketing, ecommerce or D2C is fair game for discussion.
Then, we move on to that month’s topic and have a 30-minute in-depth conversation. These topics cover a wide range of themes – currently, we’re focusing on D2C marketing best practices. Each of these companies has its own strengths and opportunities for growth, so we’re trying to elevate everyone in specific ways to best support their business.
What are some of the “wins” that portfolio companies have had as a result of being in the E-Comm Best Practices group?
First, they’re getting to hear firsthand from other D2C companies about what’s working for them and, sometimes more importantly, what isn’t. In a recent meeting, one company discussed their need to upgrade their email service provider (ESP) to improve the customer experience and drive more sales through email marketing. It turned out that another portfolio company had recently gone through that process, and they were able to give the first company a significant head start to their process.
Through our group, we have also been able to help companies share resources for mutual benefit. In another email-related example, three of our companies needed stronger internal capabilities in planning and executing email marketing campaigns, but none of the three were in a position to hire someone sufficiently senior to achieve the goals. We facilitated a conversation for these companies and developed a plan where they would each pay for a portion of one highly skilled email marketer who would work across all three companies, developing strategy and providing guidance to the existing teams. This will result in a huge advantage for all three portfolio companies, efficiently driving growth in a critical marketing channel.
Finally, we’ve broken down some common misconceptions in the industry and defined true “best practices”. We recently reviewed the importance of focusing on Return on Investment (ROI) over Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS). This means marketing decisions are made based on their impact on operating profit rather than just top-line revenue. This is critical in an EBITDA-driven PE environment, and we’re giving teams the tools to be confident that they’re creating equity value in every marketing-related decision they make.
We’ve had great turnout at these meetings and our portfolio companies are engaged and eager to participate in the discussions. What we’ve seen so far supports our fundamental premise in starting this group: that everyone has things they can learn and things they teach. We’re also seeing that the impact of these companies working together – sharing the work and sharing their progress – is incredibly powerful.
Chris Wilson is an Operating Partner at Blackford Capital. Chris is a deeply-experienced direct-to-consumer marketing expert who assists Blackford PCs to overcome challenges in digital transformation, product management, data science and customer experience. He has been at the forefront of Direct-to-Consumer marketing for nearly 30 years and spent the majority of his career at L.L.Bean where, as SVP of Customer Marketing & Technologies, he conceived and led the company’s digital transformation.