Kevin Garber: [00:00] This week on "It's a Monkey" podcast.

Joelle Kaufman: [00:03] If, as a leader, I make the decisions for all of my people, I'm exhausted. I'm only getting the benefit of my own judgment.

[00:11] If you hire really good people, they understand what the goals are and what's expected of them, then they need to run. They need to make choices and act. If they do, you get the benefit of their great thinking, and their learning. As an organization, you're 10 times better.

[00:31] [background music]

Kevin: [00:42] Thanks for joining us on this week's It's a Monkey Podcast. This week, we will be replaying an interview that I did with Joelle Kaufman, who is the CMO of BloomReach.

[00:52] I chatted to Joelle about big data's impact on e-commerce and online marketing, and how Joelle gets the most out of her team.

[01:00] This interview was originally broadcast in September 2014. Enjoy.

[01:03] You're back with It's a Monkey Podcast. It's the podcast put together by the ManageFlitter team, ManageFlitter allowing you to work faster and smarter with Twitter.

[01:16] Now, e-commerce is one of the oldest activities on the Internet. Amazon's been around forever. Probably some of you listening to this podcast don't even know a world without Amazon. How much has e-commerce changed? Is it changing or is there something behind the scenes that is happening?

[01:34] E-commerce is a topic that we don't really talk about much. Maybe because it's on the unsexy end of what goes on in our industry with social media, with video, with all sorts of mobile apps, mobile phones, wearables, etc.

[01:51] I listened to a webinar the other day that touched on some of these issues and I'm happy to say at the end of my Skype line, from the Bay Area, I have Joelle Kaufman who's the head of marketing and partnerships at BloomReach.

[02:06] BloomReach specialize in all sorts of big data systems that enhance your e-commerce experience. I probably over-summarized that, Joelle. Do you want to give us a quick elevator pitch of what BloomReach does?

Joelle: [02:18] BloomReach is about ensuring no matter what site you go to or where you try to do it. What you are seeking, what you want is the products and content that is presented to you.

[02:32] This is a very big data problem. You mentioned Amazon. Amazon because so many consumers do all of their shopping or a huge amount of their shopping on Amazon, has enough to actually understand demand and trends and act on it.

[02:48] There are no other e-commerce sites that have anywhere near that much data, nor do they have the $4 billion a year to invest in infrastructure and technology in order to make sense of that data, make it actionable and continuously improve their experience so that consumers get what they want, so consumers feel understood.

Kevin: [03:10] Let me start with the real world problem, retargeting. You search for something on the web, for instance, my brother moved into a new apartment a few months ago. I bought him a Vitamix, I actually bought it for the grand total of nearly $1,000, very expensive product.

[03:28] For the next two weeks, I'm seeing ads for Vitamix. Now, I was sitting there thinking wow, we've come all this way and the web is so stupid not to realize that I actually did buy the Vitamix.

[03:40] I'm now not in the market for a Vitamix anymore. I might be in the market for something related, but I'm certainly not in the market for another Vitamix so soon.

Joelle: [03:50] I think you're exactly right. There are a lot of different tools like retargeting that marketers are using, but you have to use them intelligently. The problem with your situation was the retargeting cookie did not register that a conversion event had been completed, and as a consequence, it chased you around the web, which is not a good use of their money or your time.

[04:15] In the BloomReach world, we're not a retargeting company but we would say, for the consumer, that's just a bad experience. You don't feel understood or known. In fact, you feel harassed.

Kevin: [04:28] Harassed is definitely the right word. Joelle, let's summarize in a way e-commerce since whatever 1996 and 1997, how has it changed or how should it be different to today benefiting from the right platforms tools, data etc.?

Joelle: [04:49] That's a great question because some things have changed a ton and some things haven't changed at all. Let's talk about what's changed a ton and then we'll talk about what hasn't changed.

[04:57] What's changed a ton is the consumer is at the center of the universe. The consumer has infinite choice.

[05:05] You can take your business anywhere you want and because of the power of the search engines, you're able to find people who have the product you want or the service of the content wherever it might be on the web anywhere in the world. That's a very powerful and a huge change in terms of who has what information.

[05:26] Now, the other things that have changed is the places where consumers are engaging with content have fragmented dramatically. If you talk about 1996, '97, we were still all ruminating about, "Wow, cable has got 150 channels and that's a lot of fragmentation."

[05:44] Think about it now. Where you get your content and where I get my content is really different. Even if, let's say, we both are using a social network like Facebook, because our communities are different, we're getting dramatically different content.

[05:58] The ability to reach the consumer who is now at the center of the universe across so many fragmented channels that can be almost hyper-segmented has gotten considerably more difficult. Also, there's more tools, so you can do considerably more targeting if you can manage the tools like you just talked about with retargeting.

[06:20] The last thing that has been different, and it's actually been accelerating, is the different devices consumers are using to engage with brands and e-commerce is growing dramatically. In fact, the rate of adoption for smartphones and its impact on e-commerce is breathtaking.

[06:39] We have many, many clients who are seeing 50 percent, 5-0of their traffic is coming from a mobile device and not including a tablet. It's coming from a smartphone. That is a huge amount of time on a smartphone, looking for what you need in 30 second bursts. These are things that have changed.

[07:01] What hasn't changed? People still want to have an emotional reaction. They want to feel like they got what they wanted and they got it in a way they wanted it.

[07:10] What hasn't changed is the vast majority of e-commerce sites are still using technologies that require a person to tell the computer, "This is what this product is and is about, and could you please group it into a directory and into categories so that someone could find it through my navigation," which if you remember 1996 and '97, that's exactly how the Yahoo Search Directory worked.

[07:39] Then came Google, and we all know how that story played out.

Kevin: [07:46] What should be the ideal best practice e-commerce experience? Most of my online e-commerce experiences are still definitely 1997, a little moment pop stores where you go through the different categories, go through the shopping cart. Yesterday, I went through it with a couple of products.

[08:10] I can't envisage having many different experiences. I have to even say Amazon lately, for me at least, even seem to be getting it wrong. They seem to be sending me email recommendation for books that are really quite far removed from what I'd be interested in.

Joelle: [08:29] This is why it's really a big data problem and it's a need for what we consider to be a new platform that sits between the e-commerce infrastructure, your shopping cart, your catalog, and the presentation layer, your web server, your campaign management.

[08:50] What that new layer does is understands Kevin's intent at this moment -- why are you here now? -- understands the content of that site so well that it can present and select from all that content, what is the content that best matches Kevin's intent right now?

[09:14] That's incredibly powerful because when you give somebody what it is they wanted, they're happier, they feel much more allegiance to the brand, they are much more likely to return. What I think shopping is going to become, it's going to have to catch up but it's going to become as customer centric, as consumer centric as Google.

[09:37] Google's search experience is continuously trying to improve to get you the most relevant personal results every time you search. That's their stated mission.

[09:53] Amazon is experimenting as well. Again, if you don't know what signals in all of the cacophony of data noise that's out there, what signals constitute the intent of the consumer in that moment, you're highly likely to get it wrong.

[10:13] Frankly, it is a very hard problem. It takes a great deal of data and a great deal of algorithmic expertise to get that right.

[10:26] The way we look at is we've focused very much on e-commerce to get it right for the e-commerce experience and for the things adjacent to the e-commerce experience.

[10:36] If you said to me, "Joelle, how can you help me find the right healthcare?" We have not learned. Our technology has not learned enough about content and intent in healthcare for me to say, "Well, this platform is going to give you a great experience."

[10:53] It won't. It's going to have to learn. We have five years times a billion consumer interactions a week of learning to inform this.

Kevin: [11:07] You're smart. You're secret sauce is finding the right data points and apply the algorithms to work at as best you can the intent of the visitor to the sight of the product.

Joelle: [11:22] Exactly. Our secret sauce is our technology understands content like you understand content and understands demand and consumer intent in the same way.

[11:39] By watching that and learning from it over years and years and years, the algorithms have become very smart about understanding, "Well, when Kevin shows up on this page from this referrer, what is it that he's probably looking for?"

Kevin: [11:56] I think about this problem, a similar type of problem in food. If you'll just bear with me for a moment, that apparently 50 percent of all foods grown in the world is actually wasted, thrown out, which is an incredible statistic.

[12:13] I look at my fridge a lot of the time and how hard it is for me to just get the ingredients in the fridge just for one person right without throwing it out.

[12:25] In theory, big data would be able to solve that problem with all the different data points. A lot more complex than it seems on the face of it because if I go out more one week than another week, the recommendations to purchase will be totally different.

[12:40] It's totally possible that with big data, an algorithm or recommendations, and maybe even tied in with automatic ordering could be plugged in in that type of situation.

[12:53] I guess that's slightly analogous to at least understand the complexity of the big data problem as it applies to e-commerce. On the face of it quite easy, but when you get down to it, really quite difficult.

Joelle: [13:05] It is. If you think about all the sources of data that you'd need to collect just to optimize one product, one page of content for all the different types of consumer interest that may exist for it and all the different ways that interest could be manifesting, it's a mind boggling amount of data. That's not what people are good at.

[13:32] That's just for one page of content or one product. Now complicate that by saying you have a few thousand.

[13:40] By the way, on your food thing, if we're going to be all futurist, imagine if you had a wearable and it was monitoring you and saying, "OK, what you need in your diet for your health is to have more protein today, so here's what you should have for dinner. We'll order it. We'll order the ingredients that you don't have in your smart refrigerator so that it can be made when you get home."

Kevin: [14:06] Of course, factoring in, as well, your tastes, your food preferences, your history about food you've previously eaten, and as well, your diary to see how often you're going to be home over the next week. Perhaps looking at your Foursquare check-ins to see all your previous patterns and your exercise patterns as well.

[14:30] I'd love that problem actually, by the way. I'd love to try to solve that problem. I think that's fascinating.

Joelle: [14:37] Well, you have to make sure, though, and this is a big thing with big data that we all have to be very conscientious of, is if we're helping you at your request, it's wonderful, but there's a line that's very easy to cross where it gets creepy and you're invasive.

[14:53] You found the Vitamix experience to be harassing. You found it invasive. That's where people start saying, "I want to keep data from getting into the world," so that we wouldn't understand things about the food because you don't want to be chased around by the three restaurants down the street because you walked by.

[15:15] We have to, as marketers, as leaders in this new world, really understand what is best for the consumer. If we continuously optimize to what is best for the consumer, we will do what is best for our business in the long run and we will avoid being creepy and harassing, which I think we have to do.

Kevin: [15:38] Because otherwise, there'll be a huge backlash and it will set us back in a way if there is not buy-in from the people, that will actually benefit from it done correctly.

Joelle: [15:51] That's right. When we talk about it, it's be intentional not creepy. Be subtle, be useful to the consumer, and the consumer will appreciate it.

Kevin: [16:07] Joelle, I recently listened to a webinar that you did with Wrike about building high performance marketing teams. I would imagine you manage a team on your end there. It's, obviously, as a CEO, I'm very interested in high performance teams.

[16:29] One of the points that you make I really, really like that I'd like you to expand on, what is a high performance marketing team, and this can apply to any team, show high levels of collaboration and innovation that produce superior results?

[16:47] As a leader in a cutting edge industry, give us a little bit of insights, the collaboration within your organization, how do you approach trying to maximize collaboration?

Joelle: [17:02] I think part of that is what we talked about on the webinar. The first is you've got to make sure everyone's aiming at the same target. It's very hard to get collaboration among people who are optimizing for different goals.

[17:17] It is the job of the leader of the team of the executive to not necessarily come up with the goal, the team can be active part of that, but to insure that everybody has aligned around, "This is the goal. This is a product we want to increase sales velocity. Everything we do is going to optimize for how do we increase sales velocity."

[17:43] That then becomes a criteria against which people can choose what to do. When they're discussing differences of approach and of opinion, they can put that goal up there and present a logical argument about why approach A will increase velocity more than approach B, and vice versa.

[18:08] What this does is it makes the healthy conflict that you need in a high performance team because high performance teams do not yes each other to death. They do not say "Of course, whatever you want." That's a group think team. That's going to be a mediocre to low performance team.

[18:23] High performance teams disagree but they don't disagree on what the goal is because they don't even start to run until they know where the finish line is. When they're running, they know where that finish line is.

[18:36] They also have a very good understanding of what is each person's role on this team to get us over the finish line by understanding what I can expect of each other as we move to the goal and how I can help my colleagues.

[18:56] Again, if you will biologically engineer instincts that fall in line, people like to win, people like people to like them, people want to help other people. If you can align those and turbocharge them, you can get a high performance team for any function or project that you're running.

Kevin: [19:20] How do you get the balance between structure and chaos? I've in my experience, you need to get the balance just right. Some of our biggest gems have been the fact that we haven't put too much process into the workday, into the teams.

[19:40] We haven't put two stringent goals. Everything's got an exit door out if need be. In your experience, how do you allow for a little bit of play in the system? There's too much play and too much chaos.

Joelle: [19:58] Did you read...I think it was Daniel Pink's book, "Drive."

Kevin: [20:03] I've read parts of it, yes.

Joelle: [20:04] He researches what motivates people because at the end of the day, all high performance team is aligning people's motivations to do extraordinary things, to do the same extraordinary thing. When you get to the essence, my opinion, on the essence of that book is what drives people is autonomy, is ownership.

[20:30] Process about how you do what you do, it can be stifling to creativity. There are situations where it's a highly repetitive, optimized process and it has to be, but in most cases, how you do your part of the team should be completely within your control. What your goal is for your contribution should be within your control.

[20:57] In fact, that's why I involved the team in setting the overall goal because they're much more invested in what they have personally come up with and committed to do which makes sense.

[21:10] You have to live with a certain amount of chaos that people work in different styles, different ways but the structure is we all share the goal. By the way, if along the way, we think that's the wrong goal, we should pause and discuss that.

[21:28] If it's the wrong goal, be flexible enough to say, "Don't want to run off that cliff. Let's go over here," and make a change.

[21:36] Do it deliberately. Do it by pausing, understanding why we want to do it and then making the shift. Otherwise, when you're running a team, you'll give them whiplash, back and forth, back and forth. You got to be deliberate but absolutely be flexible and be listening -- what are we learning?

[21:55] Sometimes, you'll set a goal. In the very beginning, it's, "Hey, we have to validate a whole bunch of assumptions about whether or not that's possible." When you validate some of the assumptions, you'll find out, "Yeah, we have to shift the goal because these assumptions are no longer valid."

[22:12] You got to change. If you're going to do a startup, if you're going to live in the digital economy, you're going to have to be comfortable with changing course and doing it with limited information but quickly.

[22:26] That doesn't mean you can change course and only tell two of the 10 people on your team that you're changing course because now your team's going to work across purposes, eight of them don't know that the course just changed.

Kevin: [22:40] Joelle, you, Head of Marketing and Partnerships at BloomReach, I'm not sure...What's the size of your team there that you manage?

Joelle: [22:47] About 17 people.

Kevin: [22:49] It's pretty sizable in the industry that's trying to revolutionize in a way, a cold behavior. What's the most difficult part of your day-to-day job in managing a team in a cutting edge, digital business?

Joelle: [23:06] I think the most difficult part is giving the people the confidence that they can make their own decisions. Even if the decision isn't the one I would make and maybe isn't even the most right one, they have the ability to make it and to correct if it was not right.

[23:26] That's very scary for people. They want someone else to make the decision. If as a leader, I make the decisions for all of my people, I'm exhausted. I'm only getting the benefit of my own judgment.

[23:38] If you hire really good people, they understand what the goals are and what's expected of them, then they need to run. They need to make choices and act.

[23:49] If they do, you get the benefit of their great thinking and their learning. As an organization, you're 10 times better.

Kevin: [23:59] I think you really nail it on the head there where you said you got a higher right. It's such a cliché but it really comes down to that one factor. Your successes and your failure is just really a total product of your team.

[24:15] What I find quite interesting is when I go away, I go off the grid every now and then just for a week, here or there. It's a little bit intimidating sometimes that the team does a better job when I'm not there. I always have mixed feelings because I think that's fantastic.

[24:34] Maybe I'm getting in the way a little bit too much, but I also then go, "Wow." I've got to really always reflect where I add value as the leader. That's always a good test.

Joelle: [24:46] It is. It is funny. I also go away. I go completely dark when I go on vacation.

[24:53] I believe a vacation should be just that. I insist that when you go away and you're on my team, then you get off email, don't call people. We'll be fine.

[25:05] I've been at BloomReach for about nine months. I had planned before I joined the company, a three-week vacation with my children overseas.

[25:13] I said to my team, "The first week..." because I was going halfway around the world, "...I will be available at night for two to three hours, just touch base if you need anything. The second two weeks, I'm going to be gone completely. You guys are going to be fine."

[25:32] Half the team had worked with me before and half the team hadn't. The ones who hadn't said, "There's no way she'll go dark. She's always keeping connected and always keeping things moving." The team, people who had worked with me, said, "No, she's going to go dark and she's going to expect that everything kept moving."

[25:49] Lo and behold, just like you had, Kevin. I came back, they did awesome. I said, "That's a whole bunch of things I don't have to continue doing." I can stop. They can handle it. I'm going to do other things.

Kevin: [26:02] I think that's where you can really scale the business and scale the team. This year, I've been looking at a lot of my tasks and realizing that there's actually a lot of my tasks that I'm not the best person for the job.

[26:16] I still hang on a little bit too much to tasks, whether it's back office or any other activity, as the leader, it's about putting the team together and getting people that are all a lot better than me.

[26:34] I still never get over the fact that I do have a team because I started out as a one-man band for many years. It was a struggle for me to take holidays.

[26:42] I would go in camping trips in the middle of nowhere in Australia. I would have to find a little hill that I could walk up to, that I could get a little bit of cellphone signal and check in with the clients.

[26:55] [laughter]

Kevin: [26:56] I'm just happy that I've got a competent team. As Jay-Z of all people said, "How far from your past can you ever be?" I still remember my one-man band days -- very fun.

[27:13] Joelle, I've taken up a lot of your time. Head of Marketing and Partnerships at BloomReach, we're going to put your Twitter details up on the show notes. People can connect with you there. Hope we can stay in touch.

[27:25] Certainly, an area of interest, the big data, e-commerce, etc., they will certainly keep an eye on, and appreciate your time.

Joelle: [27:34] Thank you, Kevin. Thanks for making the time for me.

[27:36] [background music]

Kevin: [27:37] Thanks. Bye-bye.

Joelle: [27:51] Bye-bye.