First Movers: Kurt Vogel

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KURT VOGEL has been working in eCommerce for almost 10 years. Originally working for a small janitorial retail site, Kurt focused on building their own D2C site, ran the Amazon 3P Seller Central account and was the brand manager for their private labels. Kurt joined WellPet where he managed both eCommerce and Omni-channel accounts, looking to grow with key customers like Amazon & Chewy.

With his experience at both WellPet & LEDVANCE, he has been responsible for managing the retailer partnership, negotiations, advertising, P&L management, forecasting, and budgeting. This also included educating the internal team about eCommerce, implementing and expanding MAP policies, and helping create the long-term strategy of the companies.

Now as a member of the Edge by Ascential Insights team, he provides clients with actionable plans and strategic opportunities to help teams remain at the forefront of the ever-changing digital landscape. Utilizing the data provided by the tools at Edge, he now manages the Insights teams for the Americas, making sure clients get consistent, actionable next steps to stay ahead of the competition and position themselves as Best-in-Class throughout the different retailer digital channels.

Why did you choose to pursue eCommerce in your career? eCommerce found me at the right stage in my life where I had all the education to be impactful, all the drive to be impactful, but not enough of the experience. But when it came to eCommerce at the time, no body did, so it was my chance to test & learn without biases, past experiences, or “We’ve always done it this way”. Since then, I have stuck with eCommerce because there is something amazing about a growing area of our lives that is still so counter intuitive to how we used to do business. It gives everyone an opportunity to be leaders by just being nimble, agile, and willing to learn. Not many opportunities in life like that.

What is your biggest strength, and how have you used it for your success in eCommerce? Empathy. Putting yourself in the place of others is the ultimate way to get your end results. This could be having better empathy for what your end consumers want, and adjusting content based on that, rather than the assumed values you internally discuss. There is being empathetic to your internal stakeholders, which helps you better frame any position you are trying to pose. There is empathy for your vendor partners, knowing what makes a good partner. You may not always be able to make others happy, but you can do a better job understanding the “why” behind their actions and make decisions that are always thoughtful.

What is the weirdest skill or talent to come in handy in your eCommerce experience? Natural sense of humor. One, at times all you can do is laugh. But also, it leads to better communication and relationship building, it makes the day more enjoyable, and if you are really funny (Which I am not), you can make content that not only stands out more, but is easier to retain and help convert.

How have you most successfully influenced change within your organization (or with your clients)? I would like to think that my team would feel that all I did was empower them more to succeed as a group. I am always awestruck by how amazing my team is, the things they come up with, their work ethic, passionate, creativity and expertise. Most of the changes I have implemented were intended to give more room to grow those talents, more resources to expand upon, and collaboration to bring the best together. 

What was your most “valuable” career failure, and why? Getting a bad review from my internship in college. It taught me to better understand the difference between expectations and reality, communicate better, and make sure that I am constantly on the same page with all of my employees. There should never be surprises when it comes to reviews, and waiting until the end to point out issues doesn’t help a person grow in the moment. I had a learning opportunity taken away by not being able to adjust on the things my managers didn’t like, and I won’t let anyone on my team not get a fair chance to improve.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life? That SEO is one of the most overated things we focus on in eCommerce. Many of the largest ecommerce sites are focusing so much on paid search, or having sponsorship in the top, adding banner ads, video ads, editorial recommendations, etc. that there is only 3-5 organic spots above the fold. So unless you can get there, which most products can’t, then you have to buy your way to the front page, and SEO helps, but sales and conversion help more. We need to focus more on Conversion Optimization. While both should intertwine, there are times they don’t, and the industry trends more towards keyword stuffing, altering titles, etc. They focus less on if the content meets the needs of the end consumer, and will get them to convert.

What are you learning right now? I am learning how to better gauge impact of changes, beyond just sales. While Sales is often the ultimate measurement, there are so many moving pieces within eCommerce, and so much data we never get to see as practitioners, that it is vital to find new ways to measure success, and understand impact quicker and with more accuracy.

What are the 1-3 songs that would make up your career soundtrack today?

  • Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley – Because I never give up on a client, and am also of the age where this answer is tongue-in-cheek, which is my favorite kind of answer.

What are the 1-3 books you’ve gifted the most or that have greatly influenced your life, and why?

  • How to Make Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie: It may be cliché, but things become cliché because they are popular enough to be used a lot.
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman andTerry Pratchett: Because I really like the book, so I gift it a bunch. 

If you could have a gigantic billboard for the world to see with anything on it, what would it say, and why? You can’t reason someone out of an argument they didn’t reason themselves into.

Why? Because that single quote has helped me change how I deal with people, and how I look at my own views. I don’t think people understand how often they have a stance on something because of emotions more than logic. Recognizing that within ourselves and when dealing with others can help with shaping your case to be the most impactful.

What are the worst recommendations or advice you have heard related to eCommerce? Amazon needs us more than we need them. 

What advice would you give to a future leader of change about to enter business, or specifically the eCommerce field?  There are no right answers, but there are wrong answers. Learn what those are, learn why, and learn what compels otherwise smart and successful people to make those wrong choices. eCommerce is so different from brick & mortar that it can be difficult to convince leaders whose abilities got them to where they are today that they may be wrong, so be mindful of that when trying to get away from those wrong answers.

What specific, industry-related change do you believe will happen that few others seem to see? As more data becomes available, the ability to get actionable data will decrease. There will be a ton of data sources, very few will actually be impactful, and most will be lagging statistics like sales. So the need for controlled testing and strategically thought out KPI’s beyond sales will be more important to testing and learning than ever before.

Also, automation and robotics will replace many more jobs and skills than we expect.

What is the last thing you bought online, and why? Bedroom furniture.

First Movers is a change leader interview series featuring select industry pioneers who are boldly driving the evolution of digital commerce, the consumer and everything in between.

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