Econsultancy caught up with him to find out about a day in his life, his favourite things about his role, how he came to specialise in search, and his advice to any other marketers looking to follow a similar path.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I am the VP Product at Searchmetrics, a 250-people strong software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that’s focused on enabling ever increasing transparency into SEO and content optimisation for the modern marketer. We have offices in Germany, the US, the UK and Croatia and customers all over the world.
In my department one of our main priorities is keeping on top of the rapidly evolving world of search and content optimisation and ensuring our customers have the tools and technologies within our products to maximise the available opportunities.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Together with the VP Engineering I am responsible for building and running our products. We both report directly to the CEO.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
I am a huge fan of the servant leadership model. So, I see my leadership role mainly as that of an enabler. In that role, the most important skills are empathy and diplomacy.
Of course, I am also an individual contributor and sometimes a project manager. In those roles the required skills are: being organised; having a detail orientation; a ruthless prioritisation to maximising customer value; saying no sometimes (yes this is a skill); logical thinking; data analysis; and domain knowledge.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I normally get up at seven and I am in the office by nine. By then I have already read emails, chat messages, calendar invites and had a look at my schedule for the day. Since we have a presence in the US, it is not uncommon for a bunch of messages to have come over during the night.
Some days I spend from 9am till 7pm just with communication, assigning tasks, getting status updates, attending meetings, and answering questions. Other days I only have one or two 30-minute meetings and spend many hours immersed in Excel sheets, in CRM data, or in front of white boards.
I try not to stay too late in the office, normally leaving around 7pm − I only stay longer if I have calls with colleagues or customers on the US East Coast (or if I need the quiet of an empty office to work on a complex task).
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
The days that are just about communication and alignment sometimes feel like I got nothing done. Of course, I realise that by enabling others to get their jobs done, I actually get my job done. But there’s a feeling of personal accomplishment that is missing when you spend a whole day in meetings and Outlook.
What I love about my job is that there’s always a new challenge. I am an 80/20 guy and I am most happy if there is a new question every week for which I can find a “good enough” answer quickly and then move on immediately. I absolutely suck at repetitive work. Especially if it must be done properly and neatly. So, having a team to take care of that is kinda nice 🙂
I also love to share insights. That’s why I am always happy to give a conference presentation or contribute to a webinar.
All in all, I think I’ve found what the Japanese call “ikigai”: a combination of something I love (SEO, data), something I am good at (seeing the big picture in SEO and Content Marketing and explaining it to others), something the world needs (Product Marketing & Product Management), and something I can be paid for (leading a product team).
In other words, I have been able to turn my hobby into a job.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
The goal of my team is to create customer value through the products we develop and by educating others (internally and externally) on how to best use them. My personal goal is to enable my team to do this and help them to prioritise their ideas.
There are two sets of KPIs to measure success as a VP Product.
- The typical SaaS business KPIs such as monthly and annual recurring revenue as well as net renewal rate (the rate at which customers are renewing and expanding) and customer churn
- The product KPIs, like daily and monthly active users, length of visits, etc.
But value is not created by tracking all these numbers. Value is created by mapping the company goals (normally expressed in those SaaS KPIs) to the product KPIs. This allows us to create value for our clients in alignment with the overall company vision.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Tools in terms of software:
- MS Teams for ad-hoc communication (chat & video)
- Jira for the day to day collaboration with development
- Confluence for process documentation and meeting notes
- ProductPlan to visualise roadmaps
- Whatever software stack is available for CRM, Customer Support ticketing, Customer Engagement tracking, and contracts management. I normally need bulk data from these systems to perform my own analysis.
- Office 360 for collaboration on documents.
- Excel to run ad-hoc analyses
- PowerPoint to present ideas to larger audiences or high-level audiences
- Trello-style boards (can live in Trello, Airtable, Jira, or MS Planner) to manage tasks.
Apart from that I believe there are three important tools:
- Building good rapport with my direct reports
- Finding the right number of meetings with the right structure for my team
- Making the company goals visible and transparent for everyone in my team – including how they can personally contribute to those goals.
If I get those last three things right, I have already succeeded in my role. Because, let’s face it, in the end it is my team doing all the important work, not me.
How did you end up at Searchmetrics, and where might you go from here?
While still in high school I taught myself how to be an SEO (and webmaster and blogger and affiliate and content marketer and social media manager and community manager and really really bad web designer and web developer). I then studied computer science with a focus on maths, algorithms, web crawling, and data analytics.
After abandoning my PhD, I spent a little over a year in a management consultancy for digital topics. And in between I founded an SEO agency with five co-founders and was privileged to have had the opportunity to speak at many SEO conferences in Germany, run 50+ websites, and run 100+ social media accounts.
Because of my obsession with data and habit of sharing interesting data insights about search and related technologies on Facebook and Twitter, people in the German SEO scene were always telling me I’d end up working at an SEO software provider some day. And funnily enough that’s exactly what happened. I spoke to Marcus Tober, the founder of Searchmetrics, at an SEO conference. A few weeks later I was working for his company.
Where might I go from here? Currently I’m happy where I am.
But if we are talking about the next five to 20 years, I could consider developing a role as an SVP of Product and Marketing (since both product and marketing are about understanding the needs and problems of your customers and combining them makes a lot of sense). Or I could look to becoming an EVP of Product Development or stepping up to Chief Product Officer.
I could also imagine shifting to something completely different. Like running innovation and solution architecture at a large agency, being the CMO of a digital consultancy, or automating customer support and customer services with technology like chatbots and mass-personalisation of emails.
Which search trends are you keeping an eye on in 2019?
I see one trend for the next one to three years that will dwarf all other trends: Edge SEO.
Edge SEO involves using serverless technologies to perform a variety of technical SEO tasks within the core systems running your website or ecommerce site – tasks that would otherwise have to be implemented by your IT and development team.
These serverless technologies live on the outermost edge of your IT infrastructure. Often, they are not even in your own data centers but reside with external providers such as Cloudflare.
Do you have any advice for marketers thinking of specialising in search?
This might sound controversial coming from someone who loves and has built a career in search, but think carefully before you decide to build a marketing career specialising in search in 2019.
Why am I not bullish on search as a specialisation for marketers? Simply because I see a lot of automation coming to the field. And a lot of built-in SEO capabilities in all major content management systems. The more accessible SEO becomes, the more it can be handled by online marketing or product management departments. Search will not go away or become less important. But looking ahead it will transition from being a specialisation to a skill.
If you truly want to specialise in search, please become T-shaped with a focus on search – but also make sure you have a good understanding of how all the other marketing channels work and how search interacts with them. You need to try and future-proof your career as search evolves.