IU’s Sebastian Bernhardt on Best Approaches and the fun of connecting with the Experimentation Community

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Rommil from Experiment Nation: Hi Sebastian! Thanks for chatting today. Let’s start with a bit about yourself, where you work, and where you are from.

Sebastian: Hi folks, I’m Sebastian, a conversion optimization specialist from Hamburg, Germany. After working on the agency side for 6 years at Trakken, I started a new adventure in summer 2021 joining IU – International University of Applied Sciences. Together with my colleagues I’m mostly optimizing the landing pages of our international markets. But I’m also responsible for pushing the idea of optimization within the company as well as developing new ways and ideas of how to reach the next level.

Ooh. International optimization – very cool. How did you end up in Experimentation and doing such a cool job?

I finished my studies of media economics somewhere in 2009, which was a good foundation of knowledge regarding of how businesses work in general. But, on the other hand, my studies contained only very few parts of online business in it, which I was already very interested in at that time. I was starting in Affiliate Marketing after my time at university, and passed different stations in Online Marketing afterwards. So I got a broader understanding of the user journey and the steps involved. Finally in early 2014 I got in touch with Conversion Optimization for the first time – that’s were all the pink colored love started. I realized very quick that I had to take the next step to dig deeper into everything. That’s how I landed at Trakken as an agency, helping clients with Digital Analytics and Conversion Optimization full service solutions. And this was fantastic! I met so many talented colleagues over the years and got connected with a lot of brilliant people out there… time flies, when you are having fun! 🙂

This summer I made the decision to challenge myself a bit again. And here I am with IU now. A lot of dynamic things going on here. Exciting!

Exciting indeed! You recently posted about a project about CRO “Best Approaches”. Could you tell us a bit about it?

It’s like a lot of things I do – it starts with a small idea in the shower.. Haha.

That’s funny. My ideas come to me while walking to the kitchen haha! Sorry, please continue =)

Basically it is about something I was already interested in over all of the years: exchanging thoughts and ideas with other CO people. I was part of the afterwork series A/B Insights at Trakken for years – seeing people like you and me having the same questions and challenges in their daily work. And they were developing very interesting solutions to deal with it.

As said, next chapter for me since summer, so there was no A/B Insights for me anymore, but a lot of interesting (and heavily experienced) people have connected with me on LinkedIn over time. “Best Approaches” is a test if the exchange via a social platform can also be an option for me. And it’s starting very well indeed.

That’s what we do in the end, test and learn. You can take that as a “Best Approach” for lot of things in life, I guess.

I love it. What a great way to engage the community! So, we’ve chatted about Best Approaches – do you have any “Worst” Approaches?

Haha, that’s an interesting one. And I hope you don’t expect and kind of list from me (“10 worst approaches so far” – won’t do any clickbaiting here…). I mean, we as optimizers should be open minded for everything. As said, test and learn, that’s how we do it, right?

I think that you shouldn’t reject most ideas before you haven’t done any deeper research about it. But I think still there is a big challenge dealing with people that are not data driven and user research oriented enough. I’ve often the feeling that the final question of being successful with CO really depends on the people you are dealing with. But in my opinion. that’s not how it should be – should be more a general idea of how to do your business right. Best case would be that it is taught in every university at the moment you are learning about business in general. So that no one can go on with that gut feeling decisions anymore.

Changing gears. Based on my conversations over the years with Experimenters, CRO is different in every country. I was wondering what your thoughts are about how Germany is unique in Conversion Optimization?

During my time at Trakken I got the feeling that I have to connect to people around the globe to get a better view on how they do conversion optimization practically. I also know a lot of people in the German market.

Maybe you can confirm that, but I think that generally Germany is seen as a country with a high technical standard, a huge amount of people dealing with brilliant engineering stuff. But I think, looking at CO, we are not at this point yet. I mean, there are a lot of very good people around here, doing great work. But no one knows them yet, because they are barely visible to the world. Reason may be that it’s a young generation, people that are still growing in what they do. But if you search for big CO voices you are definitely more looking to the US, GB, the Netherlands, etc. – feels like we can do way more regarding that in Germany. On the other hand, I think there is a lot of development to do when it comes to general data driven thinking of companies in Germany, like I said before. That might also still be slowing us down a bit here actually.

Well, maybe we should do something about that. Germany definitely deserves a voice in this field.

Speaking of regional differences, in your opinion, how hard is it to hire CRO talent in Germany? It’s always a challenge for me in Canada.

I was very much involved in finding talents for my own team on the German market in the last years and I can tell that it is getting harder and harder every day. Maybe it is just a thing of the German labour market, but apart from some single people finishing university, I’ve got the feeling that today it is all about headhunting people already working in optimization in other companies. At least if you would like to hire people that are already experienced.

From my perspective the best solution is to educate people on your own. People with a broader online marketing knowledge are often interested in optimization topics – all we have to do is show them the right way to develop their skills and help them with our own experiences.
Having the right team is so important when it comes to establish a successful testing process – that’s one of my basic learnings from the last 7 years.

I’m finding that as well. I think finding the raw talent and coaching is one of the best ways to grow the local talent base.

You’re involved with a series called A/B Insights. Could you tell us what that’s about? It sounds pretty awesome.

It’s an event of my old employer Trakken, which originally started as an offline afterwork event, taking place on 4 big cities (Berlin, Cologne, Munich and Hamburg) in Germany regularly.  At the beginning of 2020 we were already planning some new events, when Covid destroyed our plans, so we took a moment and decided that we would test out to do this event as a full online version: two talks of CO experts and a virtual get together afterwards. It turned out that it really worked well and we could also reach people across the german borders, now that we were not limited to that any longer. I’m sure they will continue this format in the next year – there’s a great team behind this and it was a lot of fun doing this. Kudos to my former colleagues Alexander Pavenstedt and Björn Buhay for supporting this event so much!

What is one of the most interesting things you’ve learned from A/B Insights?

Nearly everyone doing the job that we are doing is so happy to connect and exchange ideas and thoughts. That’s a great gift when you are working in this area. You just have to take it. For me personally, A/B Insights gave me the chance to talk to so many interesting people and expanding my contacts throughout the whole CO world. I’m really thankful for that. Apart from learning that I (and hopefully everyone) should not waste your time with doing button testing for your whole life… hehe.

I can relate 😉

Changing gears a bit now. It’s time for the Lightning Round!

Describe yourself in 5 words or less.

Having fun while doing work.

Frequentist or Bayesian?

I see that there is a place for both – but I guess I’m more the Bayesian guy practically.

Courtesy of CRO Memes

If you couldn’t work in Experimentation, what would you be doing today?

A life without experimentation doesn’t mean that there is nothing to optimize. I would be optimizing in another way then probably.

What do you have going on that you feel our audience should know about?

It’s not that I have ten side projects going on, to be honest. But I’m always thinking a lot about how to connect people more and exchange CO knowledge – same as you do, I guess. If you’ve got no expectations, you can only be surprised positively… so keep your eyes open for upcoming things. In the meantime, feel free to follow and comment the “Best Approach” series on LinkedIn.

And finally, who should we interview next and why?

You should talk to Linda Lejina, a former colleague of mine, as she is one of the most interesting and talented upcoming CO persons I know (and maybe from whole Latvia).

Awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today!

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