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Season 12 Episode 3
May 31, 2023

[STEP BY STEP] What Does “Fully-Integrated” Mean in the DXP Era?

This season on Step by Step, we are asking what does “seamless” mean to my eCommerce business and how do I demystify that in a way that helps me select the right solutions and softwares that make a seamless experience come to life? Joining us on the podcast in this episode are Rebecca Hall, Director of Digital Solutions Consulting at Blue Acorn ICI, and Doug Hatcher, her counterpart on the sales side of the business, a solutions consultant. And they're going to answer this question, "What does fully-integrated mean in the DXP era?” Listen now!

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This season on Step by Step, we are asking what does “seamless” mean to my eCommerce business and how do I demystify that in a way that helps me select the right solutions and softwares that make a seamless experience come to life? Joining us on the podcast in this episode is Rebecca Hall, Director of Digital Solutions Consulting at Blue Acorn ICI, and Doug Hatcher, her counterpart on the sales side of the business,  a solutions consultant. And they're going to answer this question, "What does fully-integrated mean in the DXP era?” Listen now!

In this episode:

  • {0:11:32} - “DXPs provide: a very good way to visualize and analyze how people are interacting with the brand so you can customize it and better personalize the experience people are getting to it.” - Doug
  • {0:14:46} - “The beauty of composable architecture and personalization is that you're really hitting those specific customers, really hitting those specific audiences, and you're serving up a unique experience almost per person. So it's not just per brand, it's per customer as well that we can really dig in and create a unique experience.” - Rebecca
  • {0:24:57} - “The team and the tool have to be mutually aligned. it becomes much more impactful when you're making software decisions because all of them are interdependent. Future-proofing to some degree is just buying more durable software that's capable of doing more and growing over time without you having to completely rip and replace.” - Phillip
  • {0:28:55} - “We're able to deliver, like immediately deliver, relevant experiences to your customers that may help them find what they're looking for and reduce some of the noise, as well as help you target immediately somebody who is actually looking for something specific.” - Rebecca
  • {0:37:51} - “There are things that these platforms can't necessarily predict or just have a capability for out of the box. So there's always going to be a need to do custom development. More and more though, the customization that we're doing isn't on the front end, isn't trying to build the customer experience in a new and unique way. We try to focus that on a custom configurator piece or one thing that we can compose into the broader solution.” - Doug
  • {0:44:47} - “ If we know what we have, we're able to use that data better and we can actually make better suggestions as we go along as well. It's all about data.” - Rebecca

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Phillip: [00:00:37] Hello and welcome to Step by Step, a podcast by Future Commerce, presented by Adobe Commerce Services. We're asking the question this season on Season 12 of Step by Step, "What does seamless mean to my eCommerce business?" No matter your size or scale, maybe you're a small direct to consumer business looking to grow up, maybe you're range and you're looking to consolidate some technology, or maybe you're in the enterprise and you're just fatigued by trying to navigate what's next for your business in becoming more omnichannel. This is the podcast series for you because we're going to examine in detail a lot of industry buzzwords and demystify them, but also define them in a way that helps you make decisions about how you buy software and what software to prioritize and how you create processes in your business to purchase software. Well, that seamlessness is not just for customers and customer experience. Today in 2023, the word seamless extends to every part of your organization, from buying software to employee experience and beyond. So today on the podcast, we're going to demystify this industry buzz term DXP: Digital Experience Platform. And we're going to dive into why you might need it, how you might select one, and what are some of the reasons that might point to your necessity of having a big software suite in your business and what type of team it might take to put that to use. So who is this podcast for? If you are a leader of a team that selects software for your customer experience and your eCommerce operations and you don't know where to start and you don't know who to talk to, this is for you. Hey, maybe you are confused by acronyms just like me. Well, along with this podcast, we have also created the definitive eCommerce acronym guide, and that's available over at right now. We put together a guide of 150 eCommerce acronyms for popular business and retail abbreviations. We've listed them, we've defined them, and we've even made it an easily downloadable and copyable clonable Google sheet for you and your company so you can add to it and build it out for yourself. But some of those demystifications require long and detailed explanations and sort of putting yourself in that seat of the person who selects software. So if you have lots of investments in point solutions in the enterprise, this is the podcast for you. Today, joining us on the podcast is Rebecca Hall. She is the Director of Digital Solutions Consulting at Blue Acorn ICI. And Doug Hatcher, her counterpart on the sales side of the business. He is a solutions consultant. And they're going to answer this question, "What does fully-integrated mean in the DXP era?" And they're going to do that for us today Step by Step. Today we are continuing our 12th season of Step by Step and talking about demystifying some of these concepts and the way that software is bought and sold in the world and how we build our businesses online and beyond. And today we are sitting with some of the foremost experts in the world in building the future. It's a company that I myself have a lot of experience on the other side of a sale. Once upon a time, I spent time competing with these guys over at Blue Acorn. I have a ton of respect for them. Blue Acorn ICI, of course, has decades of experience in building some of the most recognizable digital experiences and omnichannel experiences for some of the world's most recognizable brands. And today we have with us Rebecca Hall, who is the Director of Digital Solutions Consulting over at Blue Acorn ICI. Welcome to the show, Rebecca.

Rebecca: [00:04:10] Great to be here. Thanks so much for having us.

Phillip: [00:04:12] Yeah, great to have you. Doug Hatcher is also with us. He is a Senior Solution Consultant at Blue Acorn ICI and Infosys. And Doug, welcome to the show.

Doug: [00:04:23] Thanks for having me.

Phillip: [00:04:25] Both of you are in solution consulting, something I'm very familiar with. Let's kind of start and look at the elephant in the room. You both are sort of helping to sell and deliver software. Rebecca, what is the hardest part of your job today?

Rebecca: [00:04:45] Well, I will actually be referencing some of Doug's job in this as well. One of our hardest parts is really realizing the vision that Doug's team puts into place. So we have all of these wonderful consultants pre-sale that put together these absolutely beautiful architectural solutions. And then when it gets to me post-sale, me and my team are putting those into effect. We're making them real. And that is probably where that sticky point happens because we want to make sure that we're realizing what we've sold, as well as the reality of what our clients are able to achieve on their end because we're always dealing with people, so we have this wonderful solution. We have this beautiful architecture, and when it gets to us, we're working with those people, those project managers, those product owners, and we can only do as much as we can get from the team. We can only do as much as they can get from their team, and we can only do as much as their processes allow. So our biggest area there is supporting and ensuring that we're actually creating a realistic solution and it's something that can be used and it actually can be interacted with in meaningful and valuable ways. So post-sale, just looking into what that architecture looks like and making sure that day to day it's something that we can achieve.

Phillip: [00:06:00] And Rebecca, you have in your bio, you said you like to solve puzzles. And I think that that's really what your role is or I would guess what your role is, is really just trying to take this vision that your team and your client's team, someone on the brand side of trying to bring a new digital experience into being. You're trying to make that reality and that does require a lot of problem-solving.

Rebecca: [00:06:29] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. No, I love puzzles and I think most of the people in my team are avid puzzle solvers. We actually have a really interesting makeup of the team. Not everyone comes from the same background. We have a lot of different people coming from different backgrounds. Myself, I actually have a degree in chemistry, so everybody's a little bit different. Nobody's coming from the same place. But the one thing that we have in common is that we love to solve puzzles and that's something that we bring every day, is our different ways of approaching those problems and finding those solutions and how we approach each problem and how do we even match up the right person with the right client or the right project to solve those problems efficiently?

Phillip: [00:07:11] Doug, we kind of had this conversation just before we started recording about the nature of an integrator or an agency. I think a lot of folks, if you've bought software for any amount of time, you've probably gotten used to the process. How many people that you see these days come in with absolutely nothing built and they're starting from zero? Is that even happening anymore in 2023?

Doug: [00:07:37] I honestly couldn't name a single time that's ever happened. Everyone always has a business or something already established. And typically what I see is that they'll have a good idea or they'll have some success and they know they need to do something more with it. And that's typically where we come in, or at least that's where we've historically come in.

Phillip: [00:07:59] Yeah. And when you're looking at that, so you create the problems that Rebecca has to solve. You create the puzzles, or at least you try not to create puzzles. What does that look like for you when someone comes to you, let's say it's a storied retailer or a global brand, and they're looking to make a software investment, what is a typical ask these days? Are they trying to solve a specific type of problem? What are you seeing?

Doug: [00:08:29] Yeah. So usually they'll come in and they'll say, "We have a deficit somewhere. Maybe right now we're on a platform that only targets a desktop channel, and we'd like it to be more omnichannel, and be able to focus to responsive to mobile." Or we see a lot of "We have something from a previous vendor that we thought was a good idea and we still think it might be a good idea. We just think it's poorly implemented, so we need to clean it up." We see a lot of things. We even see, "We have what we feel is an outstanding world-class solution in the commerce channel, but we haven't digitized it. We're not getting analytics from it. We'd like to build a kind of customer profiles." I mean, everything comes through the door.

Phillip: [00:09:13] Wow. One thing I'm going to assume, and this is an assumption, so I want you to correct me if I'm wrong. I'm sure very few people are coming through the door saying, "I need a DXP. And I know what that means." Is that happening? {laughter}

Doug: [00:09:32] In fact, I had to ask around, and even get an idea of what a DXP actually is. It turns out I'm an expert in them.

Phillip: [00:09:38] {laughter} Of course Digital Experience Platform, and so a DXP because it doesn't actually have like... It's not a shopping cart necessarily. It doesn't solve one part of the solution. I'm making an assumption again that what a DXP solves is very broad in scope. Maybe you could help define it for us and what a DXP does.

Doug: [00:10:02] Sure. So a DXP is a class of applications that help you kind of measure and define a customer experience, a digital customer experience. So this can be anything from, say, a content system like AEM or a commerce engine like Adobe Commerce or Magento. And it can also be something like Adobe Launch, which is kind of a tag management system or analytics or a CDP platform, or you can build customer profiles. Really, kind of depending on the definition, it can be the world and everything in it.

Phillip: [00:10:37] And that represents a new type or an emergent type of business class software, a suite of solutions that theoretically solve a couple of problems. What might those problems be that get solved, Doug?

Doug: [00:10:53] So understanding how people use the software that a brand is putting out. So if you have, say, a website, like a traditional channel, you might want to be able to increase order value or be able to know how people are using the site so you can better optimize it. And that's just kind of a web channel play. However, nowadays DXPs are also starting to kind of expand into retail space and brick and mortar. So it wouldn't be crazy to expect a CDP software to track people coming into a building or something like that. So really it's [00:11:32] a very good way to visualize and analyze how people are interacting with the brand so you can customize it and better personalize the experience people are getting to it. [00:11:43]

Phillip: [00:11:43] Yeah, it's such an interesting thing. I think of the meme that kind of looks like a bell curve where at the two extremes you arrive at the same idea, and it's that early on in your digital journey, maybe for some companies this is 15, 20 years ago, you wanted one platform that did everything. And then we went through an era or you go through part of your sort of maturity as a business where you want best-in-class solutions that all kind of work in concert. And it sounds to me like the next phase of evolution is, well, I just want one well-integrated piece of software, one hand to shake that does it all for me. Rebecca, if you have a number of different types of companies that are all buying the same thing, how do you wind up in a different place with each one of them? How do you craft something that's very specific for them?

Rebecca: [00:12:28] Absolutely. So one of the things that we talked about a lot as well is actually DXP as a methodology rather than as a suite of tools. Because if I say, "I'm going to sell you a DXP," again, it doesn't mean very much to a lot of people. They kind of look at that and they say, "So what's the value?" And so we look at it as a little bit like a methodology as well or an ideology. So it's not just a suite of tools because it's not a specific company's DXP. It's a specific company's suite of tools that work together and are composable within that architecture. And so the ideology is what's going to set them apart and what our recommendations are going to set apart. And that is based in the customer-driven experience and customer data that we can get from each of the companies. There may be a potential where brands may feel maybe some FOMO or may feel that they want the best of everything. They want every single feature, every single offering that a DXP may have to offer. And that's where we look at it from more of a customer experience perspective. And we look at it from a place of can your current setup really sustain 25 different composable elements that will output just a really wonderful experience, but do you need that kind of experience or what's the specific experience you need and what is the specific experience your customers need? Because every single brand that we have comes in, they need something different. They're looking for something different. Obviously, the end goal is conversion. Obviously, the end goal is customer experience. But they all are hitting different markets, they're hitting different targets. So that's kind of where that methodology comes in that we're not looking, at least from an agency perspective like us, we're not looking at the whole, you know, we're not giving you everything and saying, "Here, have fun with your five customer experience employees." We're saying, "How can we create something specific to you?" And on top of that, just in terms of customer experience, these are the modules and the composable elements for the solution, but it's not what you're looking at at the end of the day. We still have that customer experience, UI interface, we still have all of that. It's not just coming off of one template. It's kind of [00:14:40] the beauty of composable architecture and personalization is that you're really hitting those specific customers, really hitting those specific audiences, and you're serving up a unique experience almost per person. So it's not just per brand, it's per customer as well that we can really dig in and create a unique experience. [00:15:03]

Phillip: [00:15:03] Maybe we say more about that because one of the things I used to theorize and then sort of evangelize was I sensed that depending on the buyer, depending on your client, who again, works at a retailer or a brand, the buyer themselves have a level of maturity that is based on their time in the industry and the number of times that they have been able to build something from 0 to 1. And so the maturity of the team and the maturity of the operator and your stakeholder has a lot to do with the solution that you're proposing. How do you measure that maturity? And this is kind of a jump ball question to whoever could grab it first.

Doug: [00:15:49] How do you measure the maturity of an incoming prospect before you decide to work with them? We really it starts a lot with conversations. You know, when we first get into one of these kind of sales conversations, we'll have a kind of an open discussion where it's kind of questions back and forth. Typically, sometimes it's an RFP and it's very formal, but not oftentimes. Sometimes they just want to talk to somebody and kind of get a general sense and you throw questions at them. What is your data architecture? What is your technical stack like? Do you have any PHP developers? What languages are you building this stuff in? And then you kind of get a sense of how they answer it. And typically you're talking to a business person who doesn't have a deep understanding of it, but they've heard kind of the terms a little bit and they can say, "Well, I can refer you to X and I can refer you to Y." And along the way, that's what you want to do. You want to try to find kind of the technical mastermind in their band and you want to kind of have a little interview with them. And typically what I've found is even in implementation, if you kind of look at what a brand has in play on the field, they might not be very technical, but typically they're hiring people who are very smart and are forward-thinking. And you can find people in the org who really get it and are trying to do something with it. And then you get a download from them and you kind of use that to inform your approach.

Rebecca: [00:17:11] Yeah. And on our end, on the other side, we perform gap analysis and capabilities matrix. I'm looking at what the site currently looks like, where are the gaps that we're filling? And we can usually get a really good sense by what they're using, what specific features they're using, what modules they're using, all of that we can really understand a little bit better about not just their maturity, but also where those biases may lie, where they may be interested in a certain company or a certain vendor because of their previous experience with those. So it's both the maturity that we can find as well as a potential for what we can lead them to that would be really palatable for everybody involved.

Phillip: [00:18:36] How often are you hearing language that's sort of the associative memory of "I'm familiar with Salesforce, so I'm going to try to understand this through my lens of experience with a prior piece of software?" How often does that come up?

Doug: [00:18:52] All the time. People only know what they've learned about in the past, so everyone's always just speaking from experience, and that can be difficult. Well, it can be difficult in both ways. You know, our practice has some of the best Adobe experts I've ever met in my life. However, the way they became experts is through their experience of implementations. It's very hard to get some of these experts to poke their heads up and look around sometimes. Finding a Ferris Bueller in the bunch can be kind of difficult. And it's the same with brands. These guys are so strategic and laser-focused on their goals that they only know what they know and they kind of hope that we can teach them the ways of the world outside of that.

Phillip: [00:19:35] How long are you spending on the sort of qualification and in the sales process? And as it leads to you're putting together a solution for them before you've really engaged with them and contracted with them. So you have to learn a lot, right? You're coming in cold. What does that process look like? How long does that take? Is that a quick thing?

Doug: [00:19:57] It depends on the brand. Sometimes brands know exactly what they want. They just send an RFP, they get a couple of quotes, and we do our best to live up to it and then they pick us and that can be pretty rapid. That could happen in a couple of months. I would say, though, that it's not unlike dating though generally. Yeah, they'll meet in a bar, so to speak, usually at like one of these events or something. They'll kind of meet the account director, they'll talk back and forth. And once that relationship gets to a point to where they feel like they kind of know each other a little bit, they'll bring someone like me in to kind of help qualify it and kind of help define it. And then I'll usually join several calls and usually the first one is very just non-formal or just kind of having a discussion. Then I'll try to form a perspective generally and I'll take that back to my team and we'll kick the tires on it pretty hard. And then we'll typically have kind of a series of calls where we'll kind of say, "Well, this is what we're thinking. What do you think about that?" And they'll reject it generally, and then we'll go back and forth and eventually usually takes a month or two, maybe a little bit longer, but we'll kind of align. And then yeah, so it can take... I've never seen it take weeks, but I would say months in the short term. And I've heard it's taken years, but just keep in mind that I'm usually only brought in whenever there's actually something to talk about and there are account directors and stuff that have to play the long game, really.

Phillip: [00:21:27] I've lived the long game. God bless. When you're... Let's extend the analogy. I love analogies by the way. It's like my favorite thing on planet Earth. I used to say that Doug, in your role, Rebecca in your role, it's kind of like wedding planning. Hopefully, you haven't gotten married enough that you're good at wedding planning. Hopefully, you only do it once or twice, God forbid, three times, right? You want to go to someone that does this for a living because they know all of the rough spots to avoid and they have a whole process. And that's what you're really buying. And maybe this is something you can talk about, Rebecca, is it's less about the software and more about the roadmap to get the full use out of it because I don't know can you just the day you cut over and you flip the switch, you're getting the maximum value out of this piece of software that you bought on day one. Is that how it works?

Rebecca: [00:22:23] No, exactly. No, I mean...

Doug: [00:22:25] Don't say that, Rebecca. {laughter}

Rebecca: [00:22:26] I'm sure someone out there has. I'm sure there's someone who has. And they're the person we're looking for. But I was actually going to say, to extend on Doug's dating analogy. Once you move in together, you're still learning so much, so you're like, "Oh, which way do you put the toilet paper?" So when the clients get to my team and we're working with them and we're implementing and even post-implementation, we stick with them and we continue to refine. And that's a really, really common practice here. So even from the point of, okay, we've sold it, we hand it off to Rebecca's team and the project managers and all of our technical architects, and they're going to actually implement the solution. We are learning little sticky bits all the time. We're learning that when they send over their maybe product data or something like that and we look at the spreadsheet that they sent us and Doug's already taken a look and Doug said, "Yeah, this looks pretty good." And we start looking at it and we're saying, "Oh, wait, hang on a second. There's this other feature that we've already talked about that isn't actually going to implement perfectly or it's not going to integrate perfectly. How do we get through that?" There are those little bits here and there where we just have to adjust and we have to refine our approach. But even post-implementation, you're not going to get everything from the solution, especially a larger composable solution like this. We need time to collect the data that we're getting from just users on the site, specifically around things like personalization, like analytics, even some marketing areas. We're trying to learn more about the customer. You had the same customers on your old site. You're going to have new customers now. So we still need time to build up some of that base of what we're actually looking at and what's actually present on the new site and how people use it. And maybe there's some A/B testing that's happening to ensure that your checkout is the right checkout. Maybe there's some friction where a client asked us for something and we said, "Well, industry standards, not really what we would recommend," but we can do some A/B testing because it might be something that is a really core tenant to them. So you're not going to have all the value right away, but you're going to be collecting the value right away, so you'll be able to analyze it as you go along. But the first day that you launch a site, you're definitely not going to see everything all at once. Because if that happened, I think we'd all probably faint. There'd be so much information to process.

Phillip: [00:24:54] And I think that that comes back to this question around  [00:24:57]the team and the tool have to be mutually aligned. [00:25:02] I think gone are the days where your eCommerce investment is a 2 to 3 year lifespan and then you're over and done with it. And so especially as we're selling in more channels now, the way that you make a commitment to a channel, if you're Amazon, you sell through a mobile app, you're on various marketplaces. These are all also vital parts of your business that all have to continue to run. And [00:25:33] it becomes much more impactful when you're making software decisions because all of them are interdependent. And that's where making one change, future-proofing to some degree is just buying more durable software that's capable of doing more and growing over time without you having to completely rip and replace. [00:25:51] So maybe we've sort of, along the way here, accidentally defined what a DXP does and we've defined who might be looking for it. How does it actually improve the customer experience? So we've talked a lot about the business operators. What does it do to make it better for the customer? Because in the end, that's what we're supposed to be doing theoretically.

Doug: [00:26:13] Well, a lot of these tools are kind of built around developing a customer experience. So if you take like a DXP and look at it like content management systems or say commerce engines, that is the suite the customer is interacting with in order to make the purchase, in order to kind of make the decision. So depending on the tool you use, the customer's experience could vary wildly. And talking with some of the thought leaders in my org, we really kind of feel that our goal is to make beautiful customer experiences that through the ultimate expression of a customer experience, that's what drives sales. So we don't necessarily feel that our goal is to choose the right digital tool per se. Our goal is beyond that and making sure that the customer experience is really nailed and whatever kind of tool or suite of tools play into that, we think that's what we want to use. We're really kind of focused on the customer first.

Rebecca: [00:27:16] Yeah. And specifically we do talk a lot about CDP, which is Customer Data Platform and how we can personalize experiences for individual customers. So when we're looking at a fully-integrated solution and we're talking about fully-integrated. And I think the goalposts for what fully integrated means is constantly moving because we get so used to so many things as consumers. And I'm a consumer first, right? I am one of the easiest people to market to. If something looks vaguely relevant, I'm like, "Yes, add to cart 100%." So I know this because I'm such an easy customer to have, but we're really looking at how our experiences and how our expectations have changed. And I even remember, you know, ten years ago or just over ten years ago, I was in university and I would order something to the store. I couldn't even order it to my dorm room at that point. There was no way for me to do that in Canada. And I know that Canadian commerce is a little bit different and that's a whole different topic altogether I could talk about for an hour, but Canadian commerce is a little different and now I expect my deliveries to show me where they are exactly at all times. So looking at what fully-integrated means for a customer, it just keeps expanding. And one of these areas I mean, I've talked about shipping, I'll talk about marketing, but is in personalization on the site itself. And we are gathering more data about how an individual customer might shop. And if you're shopping at like a sports store, we've determined that you're a snowboarder. We've determined that because we can see what your activity looks like and we've assigned that to your session. And so when you look around, snowboarding deals are coming up, snowboarding ads are coming up. [00:28:55] We're able to deliver, like immediately deliver, relevant experiences to your customers that may help them find what they're looking for and reduce some of the noise, as well as help you target immediately somebody who is actually looking for something specific. [00:29:11] So that's an interesting benefit. And obviously, personalization will continue to improve and that's going to be huge for people like me who are interested in only specific things on certain sites. Well, me and everyone else. {laughter}

Doug: [00:29:25] So if you think about personalization a couple of years ago, it might only be kind of upsells and cross-sells. I have something in my cart, my commerce engine can look at the cart and say, "Well, if you have a laptop in your cart, you might want a bag." Now we're getting out of that and the whole notion of composable commerce, getting this stuff into cloud, this whole personalization at scale strategy, we're getting to the point where all these data points are getting fed into CDPs that other systems are able to read. And if you have a live chat with someone and say, "Hey, I have a problem with my laptop," and they say, "All right, we're going to send someone out to look at it. Would you also like to have us verify your extended warranty?" Or something. That interaction in that live chat goes into a CDP. Then down the line, someone could be out in the field, they can get that, and they can action on it. So it's no longer siloed to just one system. There are a lot of advantages to that, and I think this is still kind of a budding technology. We always kind of talk about analytics and data capture and that type of stuff in the context of like the web channel or now maybe it's kind of mobile, maybe it's an app. We're starting to understand that it needs to be everywhere, and that we need to have a full picture of how people interact with these brands. So kind of like what Rebecca is saying, it just keeps growing and growing.

Phillip: [00:30:57] This comes back to what we were just talking about, about the maturity of the team. It sounds like there are a lot of areas for specialization in operating a DXP. I'm sure it changes from organization to organization, but are there team structures that work best for operating DXPs? What do the roles look like to a team that's ready for a DXP? And it doesn't have to be by head count, but what are some of the folks that title-wise are helping to operate that system on a weekly basis?

Rebecca: [00:31:38] That's a great question and something that we know just by experience. But I don't think I've ever really sat down and written anything out. So that's great. I would definitely say a dedicated product owner is extremely important. One of the issues that we can come up with and one of the things that does come up regularly is having a number of immediate contacts and we get a lot of different information from those immediate contacts. And that's something that we spend a lot of time chasing down teams that have different opinions person to person. And that's obviously no matter what kind of implementation you're doing, it's really important to have a product owner who's dedicated to the project and able to talk on their side, on the client side, ensure that they're all aligned before coming to us and having those bigger discussions, because we'll be talking to a technical architect from a client's perspective and they'll be saying, "Well, we can do this type of data integration." And then you talk to the product owner or the project manager and they're saying, "Oh, we don't want that kind of integration. We don't understand it fully, so we don't really care about it." So we might have differing opinions coming in. And so it's really important to have that product owner. And then it's also super important, as always, if you're doing a fully integrated experience, to have people who are experts in the areas that you're integrating. So experts in marketing, knowing what the core value is in marketing, not just sending us someone who knows the day to day, but knowing someone who knows the strategy long term. Same thing with technical architects and the development side and more technical people. Having somebody who knows long term what they want the structure to look like, what they can support as well, understanding who they have on their team and how they can support things going forward over building a solution is a huge issue and kind of something that we always try and gauge for. So understanding that. So understanding that we have those leads who are able to speak to not just the immediate need, but also potential future proofing and potential issues that might come up with their team. And then having that one point person who can really deliver that information to us on touch base calls and on those types of discovery calls as well. So that's kind of what I see is we need those strategy thinkers, we need those high level solution thinkers as well as somebody who can really distill it down for us and make sure that all of the opinions are the same. Because, yeah, we definitely spend a lot of time on meetings where the client is having conversations that likely could have happened on their end and we're like, "We're billing for this call," and we don't really want to be doing that because we're happy to help and support you and we're here to answer those questions. But a lot of the questions are being answered by your own team.

Phillip: [00:34:23] I have so many thoughts about that. But I guess we could save it for an after-dark episode. Client therapy, I have a whole thesis around we hire companies like you to help us have our therapy. That's really what it is like.

Doug: [00:34:41] It's true. Yeah. I would add on to Rebecca's point, though. I would say that usually the differentiator for me, if I know a client, if I go in and I don't know anything, if I talk to a data architect who really cleans my clock, who really understands from top to bottom their data model, what their products look like, how they're structured, the attribute tree in them, the strategy on why they're that way, all the channels that those datas are going into and how it's being worked. If you can talk to someone who really has a strong understanding of that, they typically know... That's usually a good omen. I can just say that. That's usually a very good sign, and from there you can almost always have the conversation of, "Okay, well from how you've orchestrated your data now what can we add to it? How can we manipulate it? What systems can we also add to this mix to kind of get you where you want to go?" And then it goes from more of a 101 discussion to a highly tactical discussion about what you want to get. When we can get there and we can actually have a tactical conversation about what you really want to get out of it, what the KPIs that are going to drive it are, to me, that's the recipe for success.

Phillip: [00:36:03] How much customization is required these days, or do you feel like there's a... This is called leading the witness. I'm going to tell you what I think you're going to say. How much are we really innovating in these customer digital experiences anymore? I think it used to be that everyone would come in with their own harebrained idea of how they wanted to engage a customer online. Now there are very, very concrete accepted user patterns for shopping. We're talking mostly about shopping. It's extraneous to that. There are a lot of things that customers do online. There are support requests. There are a million things, but they all have their own, what I call a lingua franca. It's like it is a universal language for communication. Are we really departing from that a lot? Does it really require a ton of customization these days to integrate and build these things? Or is it more about just the process? I guess, yeah, I sense that we probably don't do a lot of that, but I'd love to hear your perspective from your side.

Doug: [00:37:15] We do a little bit of customization. I personally try to stay away from it. It's my view that you should try to use these systems almost as vanilla as you can. That way, whenever upgrades come, whenever new capabilities come out, you can kind of leverage those really quickly. Having said that, though, we're always talking to clients who have kind of special needs, like subscription clients or clients that have these kind of microservice APIs that drive a concern that they need to be able to show to a customer [00:37:51]. These are things that these platforms can't necessarily kind of predict or just have a capability for out of the box. So there's always going to be a need to do custom development. More and more though I would say, the customization that we're doing isn't on the front end, isn't trying to build the customer experience in a new and unique way. There's usually a bit of that, but we try to kind of focus that on a custom configurator piece or one thing that we can kind of compose into the broader solution. For [00:38:25] the most part, the customizations that we see these days are these heady kind of integration solutions. So we have to pipe data from one place to another. We have to make sure that it looks a certain way. We have to consider this one channel that there's not a really good platform that already services that type of stuff. However, the clients sometimes just come in and they want. One client wants a 3D configurator that can drag and drop stuff in a nice way. If that's what they want, we'll build it for them.

Rebecca: [00:38:53] Yeah, there's definitely... I agree with Doug. I try and stay away from customization as much as possible, but it does go back to client processes as well and how they are currently set up. Take for example, a payment method. We've worked with a couple of pretty large clients who have payment methods set up in a certain way, and we can't just say, "Hey, do you want to go with PayPal instead?" We can't do that. It's not what they do. It's not how they've been. For ten years now they've had different payment methods. They're not going to change everything over to PayPal just because we don't see customization as, you know, as important. So there's definitely that. Exactly what Doug said. It's mostly in the back end. It's mostly things that help with the organization. It's not so much, "Hey, your clients or your customers are going to really enjoy this new feature." You know, most of those features are already taken into consideration. We know we have data on what works. We have industry standards on that. But it's much more from a company organization standpoint and how do we get data in and out and how do we pull that. So definitely on the same page there. {laughter}

Doug: [00:39:58] But once we have kind of a working solution and it's out and we're getting analytics and metrics from it, that's not to say that we won't say, "Look, we think we can improve your conversion by making this change," be it like a different color button, or maybe we structure in a different way. Once the platform is live, once the implementation is done, that's when the hard work starts. That's the optimization, figuring out how to squeeze the most out of it. And that's always a long term thing and our strategy is to do this data driven approach where we look at the analytics, we try to build a hypothesis on it and then we try to execute it and measure it. And if you can do that a lot, you can really turn a little into a lot.

Phillip: [00:40:43] This is very enlightening. What does a... I don't know if a model client exists, but if one did, what do they have ready to go from a team and a spec or a brief? What do they have walking in the door? Is it a comp like, "Oh, my competitor is doing X. I want to do that," or "Other people are doing Y and I feel like they're zigging. We need to zag." What does a really great engagement look like and what are they ready to express to you and how much are they leading you versus the other way around?

Doug: [00:41:24] I guess it comes in all shapes and sizes. My ideal would be that they had a pretty good idea, but they didn't have the details to it and they were coming to us to kind of flesh it out. I really enjoy the process of our discovery and our UX workshops and how we ideate what the customer experience should be. I find it to be a very rewarding experience where people in the brand who are deeply involved in this stuff and have an idea, and then typically people like me who have an awareness of the brand from the conversations, but I really kind of come in as a layman, just someone who uses the Internet. And we all kind of get together and we really feel out what a customer journey should look like, how it should work, if there is any kind of bespoke pieces to it that we should really kind of focus on, or should we just let this be kind of the vanilla kind of primary thing that always comes out of the box? I think it's, not only does it foster kind of a deep alignment, it's so hard to get into the mind of a customer. People come to you and they say, "Look, I want X," and there's really a million different ways you can interpret it. It can mean anything. Even if they write a book to describe it. So actually being in a room with them or on a chat with them and really being able to kind of flesh it out and have them shoot down your ideas that they're bad and kind of vibe with them if they're good. I think it goes a really long way to building a really strong not only brand but a web presence. And that's what we're trying to do. So I really enjoy being in the room with these guys.

Rebecca: [00:43:01] Yeah, I think from our perspective, it's data. We are always looking for data, so once the solution is in set, it's not ever set in stone, but once there's a solution in place or an architecture in place and it comes to us, it's all about data. So it's being ready with your customer data, it's being ready, or even just the template. What does that look like? What does your data look like right now? How is that data being used, your analytics being used, your individual customer data being used? What are you doing for personalization right now? How are you analyzing that data? And that's really important to us as well because we can also identify if something was missed or if there's information that's important to us that may not be so important to the grand scheme of things, but maybe for a specific feature or a specific group of features. So data is very important. We've had a few clients come in and kind of be like, "Here's our site, have fun, get what you need, and figure it out." And you know, that's not always the worst either because we have access, we can find it. But data is so important for us and it may seem a little bit dry, maybe a little bit boring. I personally love data, but even bringing what it looks like, even bringing how your tables are structured really, really helpful once we're actually hitting the ground because that can help us inform what we can do. You may not think that product data can help inform other features. You may think, "Oh, you just need product data to show products." Okay, sure. But that kind of information can help us in other areas as well with other features and know what we can actually pull. If we're creating something from a CMS perspective, we can pull product data out into that CMS. We can create widgets that people can use to further show their products on more content, heavy pages. [00:44:47] If we know what we have, we're able to use that data better and we can actually make better suggestions as we go along as well. So for me, it's all about data. [00:44:55]

Doug: [00:44:57] I would also add to that that, you know, we're pretty lucky that we deal behind the scenes with many brands. So the strategy that we use for one brand, we typically just kind of steal from the aggregate. We've done this a lot of times and we kind of take the strategy that works the most and we kind of apply it, which gives us a bit of insight that I think a lot of people wouldn't have if you're just staring at the numbers straight. So we typically know where we can go with things a little bit better than I think just a customer would just by themselves.

Phillip: [00:45:31] This has been so enlightening. Thank you so much. When we're thinking about so technology just keeps progressing and we sort of started out by this idea of like, well, personalization sort of evolved. And what it means now is very different to maybe what it meant a few years ago, even. What is easier now than it used to be and what's still hard?

Doug: [00:45:53] Well, I would say probably starting off as easier now than it's ever been. The beauty of our composable era is that it's all cloud first. You can kick it off pretty easily. You can kind of get started with a low barrier for entry generally. So that's kind of nice. But what's hard though is there's nothing I mean, I guess some things have gotten easier, some things have gotten low/no code and have turned into kind of a WYSISYG interface, but the hard problems are still the hard problems. And when you start thinking about how do I want to introduce some of these next level concepts, like AI, AR/VR, or anything that's kind of on the fringe or on the edge? That is not very well explored. And if you want to be there, you're going to have to be a technical expert to do it. So I would say that anything that's existed for the last 5 to 10 years is just inherently easier. But any of the new frontiers is still a new frontier.

Rebecca: [00:46:57] I'm actually going to say that some of the things that have become easier are also sometimes harder. So bear with me. I have two examples. So the first one is just talking about something like content. Content has become easier. Like Doug said, there's WYSIWYG. We can now, especially with headless implementations, there are much easier ways for people who are not technical to create content and they can put whatever they want there and they can make little pictures and they can make it all nice and all that great stuff. But then also just generally content strategy has become more competitive. We're looking at ways to, from a marketing perspective, creating content and really making your content meaningful and actually grabbing attention and being able to stand out in a crowd. That is harder now because it's become an easier concept. And the other thing is something like personalization has become easier, especially with the introduction of AI, which is a whole nother conversation altogether. But personalization and being able to provide really clear or really relevant experiences for people, it's really quite a bit easier. But it's also introducing more complexity. So with personalization, there are a lot of people who don't want their information being stored online. There are a lot of people who don't want their information and who are a little bit nervous about their information being stored, even if it's not technically specific information about that person, people who are talking near their friend about something that they like and then all of a sudden they have an ad on their phone saying, "Hey, do you want this thing?" And they're thinking, oh my gosh, something's listened to me. And it's not just picking up on trends, it's listening to me. So that has become more complex as well. The conversation about privacy and how personalization can both help somebody like me. I love it personally because I know how it happens, but if somebody doesn't have the insight and they're not seeing it all the time, is there a potential that people could get really angry about that? So it's easier from an application perspective, but it can create more ripples in the community and in the industry itself and with people who aren't as involved as we are. So that's something to keep in mind as well as a brand is even trying to be really clear and really transparent about how that information is coming to you and allowing people to opt out if needed and allowing that just creates additional complexities and things to think about.

Doug: [00:49:22] The data retention thing you touched on is kind of a big topic. Right now the way that kind of the legislation is going, it seems that there's going to be a so like if you think about like GDPR, they want you to have a cookie consent before you store any information. And that information that's stored if a customer wants it removed, you need to have a system to remove it. The way that you interpret that could have some pretty broad ramifications. Our data isn't siloed in one system, of course. So we're talking about these DXPs that are kind of this suite of services. It's all spread across. And so one could say that depending on how you kind of quantify what a hit is or this data that we're tracking, it can have ramifications into what data you're keeping your analytics and your CDP, the type of profiles you're having, how you manage segmentation. If a customer wants that data removed, what does that look like?

Rebecca: [00:50:21] Yup. See. More complex. {laughteer}

Doug: [00:50:22] Yeah. And we get into these enterprise engagements where people are even scared to use one platform or the other. We'll have to negotiate on where the server's actually stored before we can even move forward. And there's no telling. For all we know, the EU tomorrow could say, "Well, you have to be able to pull it out within 24 hours." What does that mean? These are very complicated issues.

Phillip: [00:50:45] And it only gets more complicated. There's a new Illinois law around biometric data storage that is coming around. It's like keeping on top of this, keeping abreast of it. Again, this is a function of maturity of the business that is very concerned about its customers' privacy and data, and that tends to favor enterprises who it's incumbent upon them to do right by their customer because of the prestige of the business, the scale of the business, the trust of the business, and potentially the capital structure of the business. If they're a public company, they have a lot to be concerned with. And that's what, leading us back to how we started this conversation, that's when it seems like it becomes very obvious at one end of the spectrum of where you start to put investments from a software perspective in a suite of tools that work in concert together, that reduce the amount of friction that you have in the software buying and management process. And so if you're like me and you kind of started this whole thing about why would I buy more software or bigger software, I think we've teased out a lot of the why along the way. This has been so incredible. I appreciate it. So good to meet you both there.

Doug: [00:52:10] Yeah, you too.

Rebecca: [00:52:10] You too.

Phillip: [00:52:11] I know why I lost over and over again to Blue Acorn now. I'm just kidding. I think that you have really built a lot of prestige and you've built an incredible organization. And it's been wonderful to have you on the show.

Doug: [00:52:23] Well, thank you. We appreciate it.

Rebecca: [00:52:25] Absolutely. Thank you. Yeah, Thanks for having us. Anytime.

Phillip: [00:52:27] And thank you for listening to Future Commerce. You can find more episodes of this podcast at and subscribe so you never miss another piece of content. We have our Visions Summit coming up in Chicago, June 15th. Join us, and be our special guest as we talk about what the future looks like and the ways of seeing commerce, and how that is changing. Some special guests. Find more out about that at Thank you for listening to Future Commerce. Thank you for listening to this episode of Step By Step. This season was brought to you by Adobe eCommerce Services. We're so glad for their continued support and partnership. If you want to find more episodes of this podcast and other podcasts, other seasons of Step by Step, as well as our other podcast properties, including Visions and Archetypes and the Infinite Shelf podcast, and of course none other than the Future Commerce podcast, you can find all of that at We provide insights in your inbox too twice a week. That's on Wednesday and Friday. The best of what you need to know in predicting the future of retail and eCommerce. You can find that at We're so proud to have partnered with Adobe. Thank you so much to Adobe for their support and thank you so much for listening to this season of Step by Step.

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