Season 12 Episode 4
June 1, 2023

[STEP BY STEP] What is the Importance of Consolidating my Technology?

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? Join us as we hear from Michael Chen, Director of eCommerce Operations at Sugarfina, to break down the term “single handshake” and look more closely at consolidation of operations in your eCommerce business. 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? Join us as we hear from Michael Chen, Director of eCommerce Operations at Sugarfina, to break down the term “single handshake” and look more closely at consolidation of operations in your eCommerce business. Listen now!

In this episode:

  • {0:08:20} - “From the backend side, there are a lot of softwares we have to use to eliminate all the friction points from the time {consumers} find the website and go on the website to check out and pay. That should be really, really smooth.” - Michael
  • {0:14:32} - “Right now everything is in Magento. We have Adobe Live Search, we have Product Recommendations, and everything is working in one place. So I don't have to go to different places, which save a lot of time and headache.” - Michael
  • {0:16:01} - “Saving money is an important thing, but I would look at it as is the software actually better. If you're going to consolidate, is it actually better for the business? There are a lot of factors, so I wouldn't say saving money is the most important thing. There's a lot of research you have to do.” - Michael
  • {0:18:32} - “To extract the most amount of value from any piece of software requires an intimate understanding and time spent in using the software, and the hard things become easy over time. So you grow into these capabilities. You don't just turn it on on day one.” - Phillip
  • {0:23:51} - “You have to be focused on forward progress and continual improvement because your competitors are, and if they're doing it, you have to be more efficient and more optimized.” - Michael

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Have any questions or comments about the show? Let us know on Futurecommerce.com, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We love hearing from our listeners!

Phillip: [00:00:37] Hello and welcome to Step by Step, a podcast by Future Commerce, presented by Adobe Commerce Services. I'm Phillip, and today we are continuing our five part series in season 12 of Step by Step. This is Episode 4, and we are joined by Michael Chen. Michael Chen is the Director of eCommerce Operations over there at one of my favorite brands, Sugarfina. I can't think of a greeting card holiday or one of those holidays, like a Mother's Day that has gone by where Sugarfina didn't accompany some gift that we have given, and it's always an incredible elevated experience for having candy and having gifts that mean something and just deliver a smile to the face of a loved one that you may have. But Sugarfina, as it's been growing, has an important job. And Michael Chen's job is to consolidate technology and select the right technology for various teams in their organization. Today on the podcast, we are demystifying and continuing to demystify what this concept of seamlessness means in the enterprise. And today we're specifically diving into one industry buzz term, "single handshake," and this one-hand-to-shake mentality of consolidation of software is something that I think plagues a lot of businesses that are in that growth from mid-market up into enterprise. And we're talking to a business that has already done this. Sugarfina, of course, has an incredible B2B business, but they also sell direct to consumer and they do a tremendous amount of marketing that powers all of that from SMS and email to the way that data feeds feed those punch-out experiences in other platforms. So today on the podcast, we're going to demystify this term of "single handshake," and this podcast is for you. Maybe you are in a smaller company and you're looking to consolidate operations and you're working with various teams who have different needs and you're trying to orchestrate or instrument a guide to purchasing software better. You're looking to maybe partner with people from outside your organization that have expertise to help you purchase software better. Just hearing it from Michael himself might help you decide how you might go about it. Maybe you have a number of investments in these point solutions, and you're a leader of a team that selects the software. Maybe you are seeing yourself in Michael's shoes here today as we demystify the idea of a single handshake, one hand to shake, and consolidating operations in your eCommerce business Step by Step. Today we continue our 12th season of Step by Step as we dive into this concept of what seamless means and how we can define it and what it might mean for your business in building seamless next-generation, elevated commerce and customer experience. Today joining us on the show is the Associate Director of eCommerce Development at one of my favorite brands, Sugarfina. Welcome to the show. Michael Chen.

Michael: [00:03:34] Thank you, Phillip.

Phillip: [00:03:35] We're a big fan here in my house, in the Jackson house. Can't think of a greeting card holiday that goes by where Sugarfina isn't part of the gift-giving. Tell us a little bit about the brand and your role there.

Michael: [00:03:46] Sure. Well, the brand is an elevated experience basically for Candy. So it's kind of like I compare it to Godiva and other brands. So my role is the Associate Director of eCommerce Development. So I developed the MarTech stack here. So anything from Listrak ESP to Attentive SMS, GoDataFeed, you know, whatever it is, the MarTech stack. I built the whole infrastructure. So yeah.

Phillip: [00:04:15] It's important, right? You're making the trains run on time to keep the demand engine of the business running. SMS and email. How integral are those to the online growth of the business, would you say?

Michael: [00:04:27] I'd say it's a big chunk, a big chunk of the business. Listrak generates quite a lot of revenue for us and Attentive as well. So those are really important parts of the business.

Phillip: [00:04:38] In your role these days, you're really responsible for operating all of these pieces of software. Tell us a little bit about some of the challenges in 2023 that you've overcome or you've had to face in having multiple software investments and how you grow a team that's capable and working in concert and across all of them.

Michael: [00:04:57] Yeah, a good thing that you asked about ESP and SMS because right now it's not really integrated with each other, talking to each other. So basically, you know, we'll have an email sent out and maybe we'll have an SMS, a day or two later, or sometimes we might overcommunicate to the customer. So having everything in one system would probably help out a lot more than just having two separate systems, so I know Attentive and Listrak, you can build out journeys and just have an email fire out and you'll have an SMS right after just to always be front facing with the customer. So I think that's one of our challenges with using two different systems.

Phillip: [00:05:44] What is the current sort of strategy around evaluating software that you have in the business today? And what does that role look like when evaluating new pieces of MarTech software at Sugarfina?

Michael: [00:05:58] I think evaluating... You have to really ask other people that use the software, so ask around to other people that might have used whatever it is we're going to use. So like if we're going to integrate xTool, I'll ask people that have used that. And also I'd ask for a demo, usually they have a pretty good deck, and we go through every part of the software and also just using the software, just maybe like a trial period. And you kind of really get to know if the software is right for you or not. But one last important thing I think is the service. Account managers make a huge difference. So a lot of times you don't know how to use the software in the beginning. So if you have that help to do that, you can have a point of contact and ask them questions. That's really important. So like a white glove service.

Phillip: [00:06:55] And it's important too, in today's day and age. What is the makeup of your team? I would love to believe that you're a solo operator doing it all yourself and sort of in the engine room pulling all the levers. But what does a team like yours consist of? And how do you sort of focus on building that team and maintaining that team?

Michael: [00:07:22] Well, my team is kind of like I kind of sit in the center of supporting marketing, supporting eCommerce, supporting customer service. So I kind of touch almost every part of the business, but we all work together to make it happen.

Phillip: [00:07:37] And so software selection and software fitness determination of the right type of software that you need at this point in your business is a team decision, right?

Michael: [00:07:50] It's a team decision. I usually do the research and all the stuff up front, the filtering of the top softwares, and we go from there. So I'll pick the top 2 or 3, and we'll figure out which ones are best.

Phillip: [00:08:02] So, yeah, let's define this term that we keep hearing, which I said at the beginning of the episode. I've heard for a number of years now that the goal is to have a seamless experience, especially in customer experience. How do you define seamless and what does that mean to Sugarfina?

Michael: [00:08:20]  [00:08:20]Eliminating all the friction points from the time they find the website, and they go on the website to check out and pay for the item that should be like really, really smooth. There's a UI/UX that we do to lessen that friction and make that journey a lot faster. From the backend side, there are a lot of softwares we have to use to make that experience a lot better too. [00:08:45] We talked about ESP and SMS, and we have a bunch of different other software in the tech stack just making that experience a lot better for us because we have to log on to different websites, SaaS software. And we have to remember where the analytics are. We have to remember how to do different things within the software. So I think making that part easier for us would be beneficial because you save a lot of time and effort.

Phillip: [00:09:20] So we've talked about this idea of seamless. It sort of hints at the fact that there are seams and that you have to accommodate for those seams, meaning that we're transitioning from one piece of software to the next. And a great example there that I've always used is, well, due to security reasons and for privacy reasons, I don't think that most customers understand that when they're checking out on a website that the credit card form that they're filling out is a window to another website. It's the bank. Like you're dealing with the bank directly. And the brand is a portal into the bank. That is its own form of seamlessness. But we don't seem to make the same sort of affordances for the backend business operator. If you had to venture a guess, how many software do you think your backend team at Sugarfina have to live in to make the customer's journey as seamless as possible?

Michael: [00:10:20] Oh man, I'd say at least probably 7 or 8 different.

Phillip: [00:10:25] Wow.

Michael: [00:10:25] Yeah. And we're adding more. {laughter} So yeah, it's quite a bit.

Phillip: [00:10:31] Do you think that a function of having those pieces of software are sort of the growth trajectory of the business and the age of the business and the maturity of the business, or is there a real thought process around single point solution best in class solution, each team chooses its own piece of software? How do you think that that has come to be?

Michael: [00:10:55] I think right now, it's like ever since I started it's part of my job to figure out which softwares we need that will generate the most revenue. So just, for example, we're looking into a software called xTool for friends referral, and we spent a lot of time evaluating that software. And so I'll bring that up to our VP and then our CEO, and then we kind of decide from there. I think once that happens, then we bring it down to the marketing and eCommerce teams and get their feel of it too. And we make a final decision.

Phillip: [00:12:14] I'm curious, in this particular round of software procurement, once there is a decision maker there, what's the actual process? Do you use an RFP? What is the instrument that you use to help qualify various vendors?

Michael: [00:12:33] Well, from my years of experience, I've been doing this for quite a bit. You kind of have a feel of once you go through that process of filtering it out, going through the demo, talking to the sales reps, and using the software, you kind of know in asking other people what they feel about it, whether or not it's something that they like or not. Once you go through those steps, I think you come to a good decision.

Phillip: [00:13:05] Let's kind of get into some the meat of this particular episode's topic, which broadly we were talking about seamlessness. Another term I've heard over and over again is this idea of single handshake, which is something I think a lot of software salespeople say but don't know that they could easily define. {laughter} If I had to define it, I think it comes down to this concept that over time you wind up amassing a number of software contracts from a number of different vendors and there are a lot of hands to shake. It seems that when you get to a certain growth in your business or a certain level of maturity in your business, you start to wonder if there's friction in managing all of those different pieces of software. Let's talk a little bit about how you think about consolidation. What could you tell me about how your thought process works around consolidating software and how you would come to the decision, whether you've done it or not, but whether you would come to the decision and how you might come to the decision when it's time to consolidate?

Michael: [00:14:11] I can give you an example. We use this search tool, search engine tool, Celebros, and we moved off of that to Adobe Live Search. With Celebros, we kind of had a login to a separate SaaS software, like a URL, and you have a dashboard and things like that. So you kind of have to go off of a Magento site. So [00:14:32] right now everything is in Magento. We have Adobe Live Search, we have Product Recommendations, and everything is working in one place. So I don't have to go to different places and try to figure out... [00:14:43]

Phillip: [00:14:43] Another suite of software, right?

Michael: [00:14:45] Yeah. Yeah. And it [00:14:46] saves a lot of time and headache. [00:14:48]

Phillip: [00:14:48] One more dashboard to have to consolidate into a report at some point.

Michael: [00:14:51] {laughter} Exactly.

Phillip: [00:14:52] You mentioned one earlier, which is the email and SMS journey and this potential future opportunity for consolidating there. What are some others in your sphere of influence today? It sounds like the website and the shopping cart are one and the same. You're on Adobe's stack.

Michael: [00:15:15] Yeah, we're using Magento.

Phillip: [00:15:17] Okay. Are there other parts of the Adobe stack that you're also taking use of today besides Live Search?

Michael: [00:15:22] Live search and Product Recommendations. Those two right now.

Phillip: [00:15:26] How much of a factor is cost consideration in the way that you think about consolidation? So one factor might be fewer hands to shake, if you will. One might be that having this friction, like you said, on your side of having to live in multiple pieces of software to have one unified experience. But another might be saving money. What are some potential benefits that listeners might be able to think through around the ways that they may find some ways to consolidate and save money over time?

Michael: [00:16:01]  [00:16:01]I understand every business wants to save money. You have to save money in a business because otherwise you just go out of budget, and bad things happen. So I think saving money is an important thing, but I would look at it as is the software actually better. If you're going to consolidate, is it actually better for the business? Is the functionality the same? Because there are a lot of times you may switch over from a Listrak to something else and you're consolidating and you're saving money. You're saving like 5 or $10,000 a month. But are you really getting the most value in the new software? Is it easy to use? Are you getting the support? So there are a lot of factors, so I wouldn't say saving money is the most important thing. There's a lot of research you have to do. [00:16:54]

Phillip: [00:16:54] Wow, that's such a profound idea here where the dollar amount may equate to a level of service that might result in more friction and account management on your side in solving problems. What does your wealth of experience tell you in how you qualify that account management level from vendor to vendor? Is it sort of just the devil you know, like you know what to get if you reach for a certain vendor in a certain instance because you've worked with them before?

Michael: [00:17:25] Well, during the initial phase of evaluating different softwares, you kind of know whether you're getting white glove service or not. And sometimes you can just ask, "Are we getting white glove service?" For example, Attentive. They'll just say, "We give you white glove service." And they do. So I think that part is really important having that account manager, somebody to go to when you have issues because you're going to have a ton of issues, in the beginning, and once that's resolved things kind of smooth out a little bit. But that initial part is really important.

Phillip: [00:18:02] Yeah, the initial integration.

Michael: [00:18:04] Absolutely.

Phillip: [00:18:05] Always takes some time.

Michael: [00:18:08] Yeah. The first three months of getting used to the new software, it takes a little bit of time. There's a learning curve.

Phillip: [00:18:13] A learning curve, a ramp up. There are definitely factors there. One of our other episodes in this series that we recorded, one of our guests, a pair of brilliant people that are in solution consulting, they had a really interesting perspective on that in that it's not just the learning curve or the ramp up. It's that [00:18:32] to extract the most amount of value from any piece of software requires an intimate understanding and time spent in using the software, and the hard things become easy over time. So you grow into these capabilities. You don't just turn it on on day one. [00:18:52] Is that your experience, too?

Michael: [00:18:54] Yeah, absolutely. There's always a learning curve, and it's like after you use the software for a while, you kind of know what it does and what it doesn't do. And so that part you can't really know in the beginning. You kind of learn that a little bit later.

Phillip: [00:19:14] Sounds like it's a relationship. There are levels of trust.

Michael: [00:19:18] Yeah, absolutely.

Phillip: [00:19:19] And you're developing a relationship over time. Yeah, for sure. Let's think about some of the common pitfalls. One of the challenges and one of the roadblocks in consolidating pieces of business software is this idea that, well, the consolidation theoretically would maybe be cross-functional. It takes place across multiple teams, and that means multiple teams have to evaluate software in order to qualify that this one vendor that consolidates multiple pieces of point solutions would be valuable for the enterprise. But everybody has a day job. How do you marshal support in the organization from various other teams to give time enough to qualify that this thing that Michael is working towards is valuable for the business and would be useful for the team?

Michael: [00:20:17] We get feedback. So once we integrate a new software, they have no problem letting us know what they think. {laughter} So we get that pretty quickly.

Phillip: [00:20:29] Does that take developing a relationship and a rapport with them? What does that look like on your side in order to get everybody aligned that we are doing this, we're doing this in this period of time, and this is the project, and here's the project plan? What does that look like specifically for you?

Michael: [00:20:47] Once we finish integrating the software and it's pushed to production and we train the teams on it and they start using it, we have weekly meetings and we have quite a few touch bases, and we get feedback weekly.

Phillip: [00:21:00] The businesses I've worked in, nobody can get on the same page. Don't look at my LinkedIn, but having alignment that there is a direction of the business, does that come from the top down? Is there a vision that's been set into motion by a CTO or somebody who's sort of giving you the direction? How do you align around those initiatives?

Michael: [00:21:22] When we evaluate the software, we filter out the best ones and then go from me to the VP to the CEO, and then we kind of decide, and from there I guess we align that way and then we bring it down to the marketing team and eCommerce team. Whether they're really aligned or not, it's another story. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:21:47] In my experience, it's been one of those everybody has an opinion. And I think sometimes software can be like a security blanket. You're comfortable with something because you've had it for a long time. You know it really well. Yes, it has its flaws. But we feel secure with it because generally, it's working. Changing that can be kind of scary. Have you ever had to deal with sort of that friction and objections about the amount of time it takes to qualify new software? And how do you overcome some of those objections to get the team excited about it? Or is it just you're in the candy business? Maybe that's not even a problem.

Michael: [00:22:33] Last year, we were kind of in the process of thinking if we're wanting to switch over to Attentive because they're having an ESP as well, they're building one. So we're in this process right now of evaluating that.

Phillip: [00:22:48] If you had to think about some of the potential risks that others might face, what are ways that you have advice for other people? You have so much experience here, others that might be listening that are in your role, what are some pieces of advice that you might have for them in thinking through how you stitch these experiences together and how you consolidate them into one seamless experience?

Michael: [00:23:14] Well, like you said, this takes a lot of time, so I've been in eCom for quite a long time, over ten plus years. And it is just really a lot of trial and error. For me, it was a lot of trial and error. And I kind of learned the hard way because I used some really bad ESPs before and moved my way up to the better ones. And just the same thing with other software. A lot of times just getting other people's opinions on what they think, if they're using a particular thing.

Phillip: [00:23:44] What is your opinion? You have opinions, I'm sure, right? Is your mindset around forward progress and continual improvement?

Michael: [00:23:51] I think we kind of [00:23:52] have to because your competitors are, and if they're doing it, you have to be more efficient and more optimized.  [00:24:01]Throughout my career, it's just the way the train has been moving. It's just constant improvement every day.

Phillip: [00:24:10] What do your customers say? Do your customers also challenge you to improve?

Michael: [00:24:14] I don't really work with the customers. The CX team does, so they get a lot of the feedback from the customers directly. But from what I've heard, like you said, it's making the experience a lot more seamless. It's really important. And just remove all the friction points as much as you can. It won't be perfect, but as long as it's better than before.

Phillip: [00:24:35] Yeah, That's all you can hope for is better today than last.

Michael: [00:24:37] Yeah. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:24:39] Love that. Appreciate that. I always end the show by asking what is the future of commerce for you?

Michael: [00:24:47] Everybody's saying AI this and AI that, generative AI where all your jobs like merchandising, graphic design, maybe will be taking over my job. It might be taken over in ten years.

Phillip: [00:24:59] What a great time. Thank you so much. Michael Chen, the Associate Director of eCommerce Development at Sugarfina. Again, one of my favorite brands. Really appreciate you taking time to come on the show.

Michael: [00:25:07] Thanks, Phillip.

Phillip: [00:25:10] Thank you for listening to this episode of Step by Step. This season was brought to you by Adobe Commerce 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 FutureCommerce.com. 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 FutureCommerce.com/Subscribe. 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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