Do you consider yourself an Amazon leader? Whether you realize it or not, if you sell through the Amazon FBA program, you ought to consider yourself someone with a position of leadership.
A while back, Stephen and I took a tour of an Amazon FBA warehouse in our local area. One of the many things we learned on the tour is just how seriously Amazon as a company takes their team culture. We saw many references to “Amazon’s Peculiar Ways” posted on the wall around the warehouse, and our tour leader made mention several times of how Amazon’s leadership principles and team culture directly impact the work being done in each department throughout the warehouse.
Now, I know the topic of Amazon as a corporation can cause some divisiveness, even among FBA sellers, so I’m not going to go down that path in this blog post. All opinions about Amazon as a corporation aside, we as FBA sellers have a lot we can learn from Amazon’s stated leadership principles.
You may be thinking, “I’m not really a leader. I’m just trying to make a few bucks and earn some income at FBA.” But I beg to differ!
Even if you’re a one-man-show when it comes to your Amazon FBA business, you are a leader. You are leading your business, and you are leading yourself. If you work with your spouse as an equal partner, you are both leading each other. If you hire someone to come to your house and help you prep inventory, you are leading them in your business. If you hire a virtual assistant (VA) to help you with online tasks related to your FBA business, you are a leader. I hope you’re getting the picture – all of us are leading someone in some capacity in the world of FBA.
So let’s take a look at Amazon’s leadership principles, as they are stated publicly and emphasized within their organization. I will copy Amazon’s publicized leadership principles below, and I will annotate them in italics with my own thoughts about how they relate to running a successful FBA business.
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
Every decision in your FBA business needs to center on how it will benefit the customer. Yes, we want to make profits through FBA – but without our customers’ trust, we’re just peddling goods and destined to burn out over the long run.
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”.
A customer reaches out to you with a question about a purchase? Help them! Yes, outsourced customer service is a huge aspect of why we choose to do FBA rather than fulfill our own merchandise, but our business is still our responsibility. We can’t be looking to make a quick buck today at the expense of solid results over the long term. This might mean issuing a refund on an item even when you question the legitimacy of the request – sometimes it’s better for your business in the long run.
Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here”. As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
With the folks we work with (whether it’s in person or online), we are constantly asking them for ways they suggest we could improve upon the systems we have in place. We also routinely ask our peers (again, either in person or online) how they set up their processes and how they run certain aspects of their business. We love finding ways we can streamline and learn from what’s already working for others.
Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
Part of this principle goes back to the previous one. We set out to run our business with confidence, but we look to others who are at a similar level or just beyond us to see how they’re doing things differently from us. If we find differences in others’ businesses, we ask ourselves 1) would our business benefit from that type of change? Or 2) what is our justification for staying with what we’re already doing?
Learn and Be Curious
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Readers are leaders, and learners are earners. Your business will grow as much as you personally are willing to grow in your education, whether through reading, taking courses, listening to podcasts, etc.
Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
If you want to build your FBA business to a full-time level at only part-time hours, you are going to have to build a team of some sort. Make sure you are seeking out quality team members from the beginning.
Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
Your FBA team members will take a cue from your behavior. If you settle for “good enough,” so will they. This includes sourcers, preppers, VAs, or whoever you may have helping you in your business.
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
Always be on the lookout for needs you could be meeting or gaps you could be filling in the market. Think beyond this week, this month, this quarter, so that you have a long-term plan for how you want to serve customers for years to come in your FBA business.
Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
Stephen often talks about analysis paralysis. Sometimes you need to take a first step in a new direction to see how it works, rather than sitting and thinking some more on the topic. Your FBA business will grow as you step out of your comfort zone.
Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.
Know your numbers! Know your sales, your profits, your buy costs, your costs of monthly subscriptions, your FBA fees. Find ways to trim costs without losing your business’s momentum.
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
Humility goes a long way in how much you can learn in any business, including FBA. If you are active in the Facebook community of FBA sellers, these are good words to live by as you interact with your peers: listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully.
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
Again, I need to say it: Know your numbers. Know your systems. Know your processes. Know your people. Be aware of how your business is running; don’t just put it on autopilot and never check back in.
Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
This one is a tough one as you are building a team to run your FBA business. But it is possible, and necessary, to respectfully disagree and challenge your team, while maintaining the humility we mentioned earlier.
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
Running a full-time FBA business is a long-term adventure. You will have ups and downs, and your sales will ebb and flow. Part of your long-term success at FBA will come from being able to pivot and adjust when changes come to your business (either from within or from without) and from being able to keep your eyes on your long-term goals, not the setbacks from today or this week or this month.
I know that’s a lot to think about, but I hope you can take away a clear mindset from these leadership principles. If Amazon runs their business this way, it’s safe to assume that success on their selling platform will come to your FBA business in a similar fashion.
Have you read through Amazon’s leadership principles before now? Have you seen any of these principles in action, either in the FBA program as a whole or in your FBA business in particular? We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!
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