E-commerce in focus ‒ 7thSENSE
The e-commerce agency 7thSENSE has specialised in the creation and implementation of e-commerce solutions for over ten years. Its clients include well-known companies such as Kärcher, WMF and VAUDE.
For these and many other clients, the agency from Reutlingen develops user-friendly and technically sophisticated online shops. Blasius Damaschek, Managing Director at 7thSENSE, and Robin Schnaidt, Sales Manager, tell us in an interview what they consider to be the recipe for success for long-term partnerships and successful online shops.
Please introduce 7thSENSE briefly
Our agency was founded in 1998 as an internet agency and has increasingly focused on e-commerce since the mid-2000s. Today, you can say that we deal 100% with e-commerce projects. Our focus is on Shopware and Magento, that's where we feel at home. This is definitely also due to the fact that we are optimally positioned in these areas, both in terms of personnel and structure. E-commerce requires special interfaces and connections, structuring of processes, integration into existing system landscapes and so on. It is important to have specialists who know exactly how e-commerce works. And our forty employees are such specialists, so that we can provide our customers with optimal support.
On your website you talk about the 360° approach. What is that?
This approach has its roots in the beginnings of our agency. Back then - though still today to some extent - a client always wanted everything from a single source: advisory, creative and technical expertise across all online areas and channels. In the meantime, however, you simply have to be a little more realistic: If I want to cover everything as an agency, with everything that belongs to this incredibly broad area, then I need 500, if not rather 1,000 employees.
We are not that good and, as I said, we "only" have forty employees. But they are good, in the area we specialise in: E-commerce. That's why we have now set a sharper focus for ourselves: "360° in e-commerce". But that still includes everything: knowledge of different shop systems, B2B/B2C/D2C, screen design, user experience and, of course, all the highly complex topics associated with it.
What can a client expect from your system audit?
For customers with an existing e-commerce solution, we offer a system audit as a kind of introduction to the 360° view for companies when taking over the shop system. The customer can then have their system checked by us in order to uncover weak points and, if necessary, potential for improvement. We have extensive checklists for this, but of course we do not pass them on. We simply use them to check everything: Code quality, implementation, programming, data storage, data origin, interfaces, but also things like on-page SEO and usability. In these two to three days of testing, we really dissect everything and then the client receives the results, with clear indications of where things could become critical. Of course, we also estimate how much it would cost us to fix the problem, but we leave it up to the client to decide whether they want our help.
Do you see a trend towards advising on "basics", such as user experience or digitalisation?
Yes, we see a clear trend here. Quite often, we start consulting far before the technical questions. How should a purchasing process work? How do I implement digitalisation across all departments? Who is my target group and how do I find them? These are all questions whose answers we work out with the customers if they are not yet available. We are happy to provide support, because for us this information is also the basis for the decision regarding the technology used.
But we don't see ourselves as a service provider who simply gets a large number of requirements and then knits a code from them. For us, the process starts with the concept - key words: access concepts, digital branding, etc.. And then, of course, it's about finding the right technical solution for the concept.
Sometimes we are also surprised how "new" the topics of "digitalisation" and "e-commerce" are in some companies. Many companies simply don't have it on their radar yet, perhaps also because the need for it has been lacking up to now. Many corporations come from very traditional structures whose hundreds of salespeople packed with bags and co. have always been on the road. And that has always worked for them, everything was fine and dandy. And then a pandemic comes along and also a new zeitgeist and suddenly everyone has to rethink. Then you realise that knowledge about e-commerce is virtually non-existent - and that in companies with 5,000 employees. Of course, they always have a few experts in the marketing department for whom the topic is not new territory, but they have to assert themselves against everyone else and push the topic alone, because for the company as such, the topic is completely new. It's a bit like "green field", but we find it very exciting and are happy to support the first steps into the world of e-commerce.
On the other hand, there are of course companies that really know their stuff. They have their own e-commerce departments, they have the technology and a system of functioning processes. We work with them mainly on optimising processes and technology, because they don't necessarily want to break up their old, but well-functioning processes.
Who makes the first contact with you?
This actually varies from company to company. Sometimes it's IT staff, then the focus is usually on process issues that can be discussed quickly and easily. In these discussions, however, the user perspective is sometimes missing, i.e. whether certain processes also work for the consumer.
And then there is the other area, marketing. The focus is then more on the visual appearance, less on the technology - often according to the motto "technically you'll get it right".
For us, that is usually the challenge: to find a solution that works well for both areas. And for us it is very important that we involve all the departments concerned in finding a solution. If only one department is involved, experience shows that the project will fail because the overall picture is simply missing.
Of course, we are also called upon to act as moderators and sometimes translators between the departments. Essential for good cooperation are the workshops that we hold together with the clients. Here, the different departments meet and develop a common vision, taking into account their own point of view. After that, we often start the project on two tracks and initiate a conceptual and a technical part.
How do you set up your project teams?
What's special about our agency: we work agilely across the agency. And as strange as it may sound, we never provide the client with a "static" project team. That simply doesn't make any sense for us. With us, almost everyone works across all projects. This is not only great for the team, but we also prevent project blindness and support the transfer of know-how. Our employees always see something different, which helps them to get ahead and learn more.
And the customer then benefits from this knowledge and also from the synergy effects, because of course good solutions often result across projects.
At first, this approach is often a little irritating for the client, because we have to tell him that we can't introduce him to the project team, because that consists of the whole agency :-). But of course he has one main contact person, the project manager, who does not sit hierarchically above his colleagues, but who coordinates them and acts as a kind of central office for all of them. But when it comes to special topics, it's not him who is in the front line, but the corresponding specialist.
By the way, we also see this agility as an advantage in that it allows the size of the project team to be scaled in both directions. If you want to pick up speed, you can, and if you want to slow down, you can do so without the project team being out of work for a while.
How do you differ from other agencies?
On the one hand, this is certainly due to our focus on e-commerce, but on the other hand it is also due to our long-standing partnerships with customers (and also suppliers), which is not necessarily a matter of course at this time. We have many customers that we have been working with for years and also major customers, such as WMF, with whom we will soon be entering our tenth year. Our goal is not to be error-free - that's almost impossible - but to always find a way to solve problems that arise and thus show a special reliability. "Okay, so you can also deal with problems" is what we actually want to achieve. A nice result of this is that we are often recommended by our clients. In Switzerland, for example, almost all of our new customers have come to us through word of mouth, which makes us very happy and is of enormous importance to us.
We are sure that our clients notice that not only a new project is a good project for us, but that we also value existing projects very much and that we always want to push them further and optimise them. This relationship of trust and mutual appreciation is what makes our work fun and easier. And for the client, of course, this long-standing relationship also has advantages, because in some companies we are more or less like a small sub-department or even a profit centre. Often we are the only ones who know the projects from the very beginning and this often gives us a speed advantage, because we know where the pitfalls are, what has already been tried and discarded and which screws are best turned. Especially with technology, trial and error can have unpleasant consequences and the more prior knowledge there is, the better you can prevent them.
We have already talked about our system audit above and that is certainly also a distinguishing factor. For us, the evaluation is often the starting point for cooperation, because during the audit we often discover that not so much needs to be tweaked in order to put the existing system back on a solid, sustainable footing. In this way, we have already been able to prevent online shops from being completely moved to new systems, even though small adjustments were enough to operate a high-performance shop that met all internal and external requirements.
By the way, so that the customer knows what to expect from the very beginning and is always up to date during the project, we don't just conduct a sales talk, but offer them comprehensive budget planning. This information is then transferred to Jira, continuously evaluated and updated. So the customer always knows where the project is in the process, both in terms of time and budget. He receives his personal login and access to all information. By the way, he also receives his tasks here, because with us the customer "has" to work with us so that the project is successful.
These highly automated processes help us to look after the large number of qualitatively demanding shops with this relatively small number of employees. However, it is also important for us to emphasise that we not only look after large online shops, but also have many smaller customers. For us, this mixture is super interesting, because the requirements are sometimes so different that finding solutions is always exciting.
Which shop systems do you prefer to use?
We have currently analysed this and have found that we are quite balanced when it comes to the use of Shopware and Magento. But we are not set in our ways and as an agency we have no preference for one of the shop systems. But of course everyone - both on the client and agency side - has their own personal preference. Especially among our developers: one prefers Magento (Commerce), the second only allows Shopware on his computer and a third moves effortlessly between both shop systems.
Our approach, however, is to look at what best fits the client's requirements, but also the setup, the company and the structures. We ask questions like:
- What does the customer demand?
- Are there any special requirements?
- What are the concrete goals?
- What needs to be replaced?
- How international should the portal be?
- Are there in-house developers who can look after the shop?
- What budget is available?
And from there we go on to use the right shop system for the customer. We present the systems to the customer and explain the advantages and disadvantages, because we want them to share the decision. Often they tend in one direction themselves, because they have understood what the strengths and weaknesses of the individual systems are.
But of course we don't just look at Shopware and Magento - we also keep our eyes open for "new" promising systems. OroCommerce, for example, is one such candidate. It is very interesting, especially for the B2B sector, because it can be natively linked with CRM functionality, among other things. However, the whole thing is still a bit in its infancy and has not really been able to establish itself on the European market. But we are curious to see what will be offered in the future.
Why do you rely on maxcluster for hosting?
We have made the experience that customers often think that their application is in good hands in a data centre and that everything is already running somehow. When we then ask who will take care of it if a server fails or who will update the operating system and so on, there is often silence at first. And if we then emphasise that we as an agency take care of the application and are not available 24/7 for such problems, the "seriousness of the situation" becomes clearer.
We therefore looked for someone who could fill this gap. And to whom we can say: Here, this is our customer and their shop has to be fail-safe around the clock. And the one who fills the gap for us is maxcluster. Because for us, maxcluster's managed hosting makes the decisive difference! It is really managed, because there is always someone I can call and ask. And he not only really looks into the machine, but also knows his way around and supports with expert knowledge at eye level. We can always rely on the fact that there is someone at the other end of the phone who will help us, even when things are going really badly. Someone who takes care of the problem and supports us when the customer is just "flattening" us. That's just cool and works very well.
And we also appreciate the clear Managed Centre with the overviews of the individual clusters, the respective performance, etc. It helps a lot to keep track of our shops. It helps a lot to keep track of our managed shops.
We also appreciate the reliability and predictability, such as the Central Update Day on the first Tuesday of every month. We always know when something is going to happen, which gives us a good basis for planning. And the fact that the customer's interest is in the foreground can also be seen in things like the replacement of hardware in the middle of the night, so that the customer's shop is affected as little as possible.
All this saves us a lot of time and nerves and we can concentrate on our actual job - developing successful e-commerce shops for our customers.
Published on 14.04.2021 | NM
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