BL&T No. 126: Narrowing Our E-Commerce Stack & Partnerships

Agency Leadership

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"High-tech and internet companies are notorious for a “NIH” attitude (Not Invented Here). The underlying belief is that we can only sell products to our customers that we personally create. But why? Once you have an established, trusted relationship with a customer, you can sell all kinds of third-party products and services to them. There’s no need to be restricted to only those products and services your engineering team can produce."

From "Extreme Revenue Growth" by Victor Cheng [Book]


A recent initiative I'm excited about is narrowing our e-commerce stack to a short list of preferred partners and solutions (think: Klaviyo for email or Recharge for subscription). We're keen on the opportunity to go deeper with our partners, strengthen relationships, and improve client outcomes.

Our aim with this initiative is not to force all of our clients to use our preferred partners.

  • In cases where clients come to us with partners in place or have strong preferences for their e-commerce stack, we'll be sure we understand the client's needs before making any suggestions. If we feel that making a transition will positively impact their business, we'll share our POV and ask the client about chatting with the relevant partner.
  • In cases where a client is looking to move away from or avoid a preferred partner, we'll find out if they've had conversations with the right folks and get them in touch with our partner team. I recently connected an existing client with a preferred partner who they were avoiding due to a past negative experience. The client was open to having a chat with our partner team. In the end, the client was impressed. As of last week, they've decided to move forward with our preferred partner.
  • In cases where a client is looking to us for recommendations, we'll start with our preferred partners and solutions.

Why are we doing this?

Looking back, our approach to selecting partners often involved vetting several options based on the client's needs and requirements. We'd let factors like a client stakeholder's experience with a partner at their last company or what's trending on Twitter dictate our decision-making. We told ourselves we were doing what was best for the client, but ultimately, this approach required a lot of unnecessary time for everyone involved. It also gave some clients the impression that we didn't have the know-how to make thoughtful recommendations.

Additionally, the Barrel Partners and Team Leads have had a recurring conversation about improving knowledge-share of all the different apps and solutions we use. With so many options, keeping up-to-date and educating the team has been difficult. Narrowing our focus will make this easier and open the doors for other process improvements.


We see several positive outcomes of narrowing our e-commerce stack.

Deep expertise: Rather than getting familiar with several partners and solutions, we'll go deeper on a select few, getting comfortable with the ins and outs. Going deeper might look like prototyping with beta features, attending partner events, or working with partner teams to create custom solutions.

Strengthened collaboration: The mindset shift here is thinking about our partners as an extension of our team rather than a third party. I recently started managing many of our partner relationships. In doing so, I'm helping facilitate conversations between our internal and partner teams. In recent weeks, this has resulted in dialogues between folks like our Director of Client Services, Kate, and a client's Merchant Success Manager. We're learning about upcoming feature releases and discussing opportunities to workshop unique client requirements together. Also, let's be real — it's more fun to work with the folks we get to know personally!

Marketing Opportunities: We've done some co-marketing with partners in the past. However, by narrowing our e-commerce stack, we'll have more in-depth case studies to share. We also see future opportunities for collaboration blog posts, social, podcasts, and events.

Feedback loop: Treating our partners like an extension of our team means being dedicated to giving and receiving feedback. A couple of weeks ago, we learned that a prospective client was having issues with a preferred partner and looking at alternatives. We got them in touch with the right folks. Now, they're working on solutions together. On the flip side, I recently reached out to a partner rep for feedback and received helpful notes I wouldn't have otherwise been able to address.

Tighter scoping: By getting in more reps with the same partners, we can better gauge the effort needed to meet a client's requirements when scoping new work.

Client success: In the end, we share the same mission with our partners: to drive results for merchants. With the above outcomes in mind, we're excited about the opportunity to level up what we deliver for our clients and how our partners support them in achieving their goals.

New Business Synergy: Narrowing our e-commerce stack means sending more leads to fewer partners. As we grow our expertise, strengthen our collaboration, and help clients succeed with our preferred partners, we'll be well-positioned as an expert for partner account executives selling in new opportunities.

What's next?

Looking ahead, simplicity is key. Barrel CEO Peter and I are working to refine the Barrel E-commerce Stack before we roll it out to the team. While we'll continue to keep our eye out and learn about new partners and solutions, we won't be eager to swap out a preferred partner. However, here are some of the reasons we might:

  • Partner is repeatedly unable to meet the requirements of our clients
  • Partner is not growing and evolving with the industry
  • Partner repeatedly fails to deliver for our clients
  • Partner has done a poor job of addressing feedback and issues
  • Partner's service is no longer relevant or better served by another partner

Thought Starter

In what aspects of my company might my team, clients, and business benefit from narrowing focus?


The E-Commerce Corner

Shopify Online Store 2.0 continues to be a hot topic among new and existing clients. We're currently transitioning a client from a headless setup (Prismic/Shopify) and are in talks with several clients looking to upgrade to their store to 2.0.

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