UM College of Business Pioneers Cutting Edge Class on Pillars of Profitable E-Commerce

June 2, 2020

 

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MISSOULA – A select group of students at the University of Montana College of Business spent the weekend immersed in learning the secrets of running profitable e-commerce businesses from subject-matter experts Jacob and Eulalie Cook, Ph.D., owners of Tadpull in Bozeman, Montana which builds artificial intelligence tools for e-commerce companies. Based on years of scaling direct-to-consumer businesses, the team shared how businesses find revenues tanking when a favorite item is out of stock, or worse, they don’t understand that customer retention is critical to avoid the hamster wheel of paying to acquire customers. Students also learned that businesses must have a strategy for using the power of data and machine learning when trying to compete with goliaths of industry, such as Amazon.

“We work with faculty from NYU and Stanford while supporting e-commerce clients globally,” Eulalie Cook said. “To our knowledge, there are no universities offering classes that focus on the sweet spot of customer lifetime value, digital marketing campaigns, and inventory/operations. The opportunity to offer this cutting-edge course at UM is so exciting. As employers, we’ve hired UM’s MSBA graduates because the program does an exceptional job preparing students to compete in today’s modern data-driven economy.”

What motivated these students to sacrifice a sunny spring weekend for 15 hours in class? Alexis Campestre, graduate student in the Master’s of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program in UM’s College of Business, was looking to hone his skills for his e-commerce site and his digital marketing consulting business. “As an entrepreneur and a graduate student, I'm always considering my return on investment. Jake and Lee provided exceptional value and insight.”

With a strong focus on understanding the customer journey and user personas by pulling online data including Facebook Insights and Google Trends, Tadpull opened the session on Friday night by introducing its three pillars: customers, campaigns and inventory. 

Saturday, the team delved into the proprietary framework of four key digital channels to drive traffic: search, paid, social/referrals and email. Saturday continued with a deep dive into customer lifetime value and costs of customer acquisition, which highlighted the metrics behind profitable business models. Digging into Google Analytics allowed students to marry these metrics with product inventory and sales trends over time.

Sunday found the students building dashboards in Google’s Data Visualization Studio.  Leveraging the popular game Mad Libs as a template for the weekend, students did a Mad Libs treasure hunt to build out a data-based strategy to grow e-commerce revenue over time for a hypothetical company.

Student Aspen Runkel expressed her appreciation for connecting traditional and modern concepts. “The idea of the funnel, an age-old marketing tool, and connecting it to modern concepts and practices by integrating channels, Google Analytics, user personas, and inventory was very exciting.”

A key feature of the weekend was the Cooks’ interview with Eric Bandholz, founder of Austin, Texas-based Beardbrand.com. Bandholz reinforced the hard work required to build awareness, create interest, and drive sales in the noisy online environment.

Outdoor lifestyle product manufacturer YETI also provided a live case-study to showcase the importance of the three pillars.

“Inventory is arguably the most important but often neglected piece when it comes to profitable e-commerce,” Runkle said. I appreciated the various examples used to bring this pillar to light.” This was echoed by student Ezra Moore who “liked how the three pillars included inventory. I didn't know it [inventory] would play such a big part.”

Professor Jakki Mohr, a faculty member teaching in the MSBA, was wowed by the weekend experience.  “The dynamics of the classroom environment that Lee and Jake created invited engagement and reflection. They embodied that sense of empathy, a key part of the weekend learning.”

MSBA student Taylor Toepke appreciated the experience. “Such an amazing class taught by very experienced and awesome people. They challenged us to think out of the box and taught us some great skills in a short weekend.”

For more information and to learn how you can earn an MSBA in-person or online, visit www.business.umt.edu/gradprograms.  

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The University of Montana is the flagship university of the state. The College of Business at UM is nationally renowned and has been named the top business school in the Big Sky Conference by U.S. News and World Report for four consecutive years.