As Product Owner of Brand Solutions at Zalando, Daniel Eicke is responsible for building services and products for the company’s “fashion partners” – suppliers, retailers, fashion brands and others, all of whom are involved in the sale of fashion-related items.
This is separate and apart from the company’s primary focus as an international online retailer. Zalando has built a “fashion platform” and Daniel’s role is the development of products and services for a broad range of businesses across any number of functions, including delivery, payment, branding, promotion, etc.
As you might guess, he knows a lot about what it takes to build a robust platform that meets customers needs. Here is what he told me…
Create a collaborative environment
We’ve been working with 2,000 – 3,000 brands for many years. But it was on a simple, contractual level … we didn’t have such a close relationship. As a retailer, brands worked to convince us to sell their stuff in our shop. We wanted to change the kind of relationship we had with them, and instead, focus on creating a win-win situation with our partners.
So three years ago, we developed a new initiative with a simple slogan: “Help brands win online.” We invited 100 of our most important partners for a “strategic partner day.” The goal was to spread the message about our fashion platform and sketch some ideas in an environment where we all worked together.
Yes, we were concerned, initially, about bringing competitors together to work on shared problems. We didn’t know what would happen. But thanks to emphasizing the problems, and making sure we were working towards mutual solutions, the participants were able to put aside the competitive elements and give us the insights we needed to develop the necessary platform and tools. They saw it the same way we did, as part of an effort to elevate the industry as a whole.
Develop solutions for a wide range of audiences.
When we set up that first strategic partner day, we reached out to a handful of brands with the goal of connecting with them closely. We were looking for the early adopters – the people who were eager to participate and move forward.
But we were also careful to get a mix of partners based on several criteria: small/big, consumer/commercially driven, etc. We set up intensive brainstorming sessions which gave us lots of insights regarding their plans with Zalando, as well as what they were trying to achieve more broadly. Overall, we wanted to make sure that whatever we developed was applicable to many audiences and situations.
We also learned that it’s important to keep things fresh. At some point (we have done this for three years now), the energy can begin to fade away with a particular group. It took us a while to understand that with each new focus or discipline that we were building, we should bring fresh brand partners into the mix.
Decouple research from the sales team.
As a product owner, of course my team collaborates with sales. But product management is connected to technology. If you are too tied to the sales function your inputs will be sales driven. For example, we don’t want to select a test partner based on who is the biggest – or shouting the loudest – just to satisfy a sales need. We wanted all kinds of partners and circumstances. Otherwise, you are in danger of building features that are only of value to your top customers.
We have our own research team and base of contact for our partners. This allows us to ask the right questions and stay focused on the problems that need solving.
Thanks so much, Daniel. I found the idea of bringing competitors together to work on shared problems to be particularly insightful!
Speaking of competitors (see what I did there?), what’s your preference, Captain Kirk or Captain Picard?
“Picard, of course. Captain Kirk is so 60s! Also the old Star Trek stories were less complex. Next Generation had much deeper plots with social topics behind them.”
Bonus: Get a look behind the scenes of Zalando’s Techblock.