Canaan Schladale-Zink of Quartile: Five Things You Need To Know To Run A Very Successful Amazon Business
Build and leverage community — Online marketplaces are extremely competitive, and successful operators in the space are fierce. But the business communities that have formed over the last decade are very inclusive and helpful for those that participate and help to build them. From reddit communities to conferences to podcasts, it’s almost shocking to see how freely business leaders in the space share advice on what works and what doesn’t, and help each other solve problems. If you work to find the right community for your business, you’ll have a free advisory board that is likely more valuable than one you’d have to give shares out to.
As a part of my interview series about “Five non-intuitive things you need to know to run a very successful Amazon business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Canaan Schladale-Zink.
Canaan Schladale-Zink is the Chief Revenue Officer at Quartile. With more than fifteen years of experience, he brings a passion and deep understanding of the digital media and creative landscape across display, mobile, video, data, and programmatic media sales. Canaan has a wealth of experience in the Amazon advertising space having worked directly with thousands of ecommerce brands helping optimize both their advertising and sales. Prior to Quartile, he served as SVP of Sales and Partnerships at Cardlytics, SVP of Global Revenue at Beeswax, and General Manager and VP Sales at Sizmek.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
In college I started out as a photography major. By my second semester I was working at the local sports paper, and picking up freelance work with the big Gannett owned paper in town. All of the older photographers would tell me to change my major to business because they said that would help more than a degree in photojournalism. I couldn’t quite stomach business school, so I tried a few advertising classes and I loved it. I guess you could say I had a breakthrough moment when one of my professors said one day “If you want to make money in advertising, you better be on the sales side.” For him it was just an aside to some larger lecture, but that was my big takeaway and from that moment on I focused on finding internships and getting a job in ad sales and never looked back.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about selling on Amazon.com?
I head up all sales and growth functions at Quartile, where we’re focused on optimizing advertising and sales for about 4,000 brands and sellers in 26 countries. We manage over a billion dollars in ad spend for our customers and drive over ten billion dollars in sales on their behalf. If anyone knows how to do it, it’s us.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I wouldn’t say it’s a singular story, but what I find so interesting about the advertising business is how the more things progress and evolve, they also converge and consolidate, and many of the basic decades old principles remain the strongest. For example I started my career in TV in the early 2000’s and it seemed like a stale and tired business — and print and radio were even worse. Everyone was desperate to get into digital — the new and exciting channel. Now the big growth areas in digital continue to be display, CTV/Video, and audio — essentially the next iterations of print, TV, and radio. A lot of the mechanics and capabilities have changed, but the fundamentals that make the best storytelling and resonate the most with consumers remain consistent.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting in this industry? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is embarrassing, but If I’m being honest, this has to be it. It wasn’t so early in my career, not sure if that makes it better or worse but I certainly learned a lesson. This was about 2014 and at that time I was working at Sizmek, the adserver that Amazon later acquired. I had been running the sales team for North America, and that spring I took over responsibilities for the Latin American market as well. My first trip to our Mexico City office with a few other execs was shortly thereafter, and it happened to be on May 5th. You might see where this is going. I excitedly emailed our country manager asking if we should plan on doing anything special with the office or with clients for what I assumed would be a big cinco de mayo celebration. She politely but firmly emailed me back, educating me to the fact that this was not a real holiday or celebration, but a fake event that American beer companies had invented to sell more beer. So I’d say I learned the big lesson that you need to educate yourself about every market you operate in if you want to be successful, or else be exposed in a bad way as an ugly American. And I learned the smaller lesson that advertising clearly does work to sell things, but maybe isn’t something you should rely on to learn about other countries and cultures.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people? Lots of them. I think you can distill our approach for our customers to two basic tracks: Where can we help brands and sellers reach more customers, and how can we scale them as efficiently as possible.
For the former we’re looking at expanding our capabilities to help reach consumers directly and inside the big marketplaces as well as our geographic footprint — specifically the APAC market, Brazil, and Mexico. As for the latter, we’re working on some really interesting capabilities around margin-based ad optimization. By helping to define and aggregate cost data across the business, we can now optimize and scale ad spend against a specific margin target at the SKU level. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of marketing, and helps our customers manage growth and maintain profitability.
Ok. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. You are a seasoned Amazon expert. Can you share with our readers five, non intuitive, insider tips, in order to be as successful as possible on Amazon? Please share a story or example for each.
- Build and leverage community — Online marketplaces are extremely competitive, and successful operators in the space are fierce. But the business communities that have formed over the last decade are very inclusive and helpful for those that participate and help to build them. From reddit communities to conferences to podcasts, it’s almost shocking to see how freely business leaders in the space share advice on what works and what doesn’t, and help each other solve problems. If you work to find the right community for your business, you’ll have a free advisory board that is likely more valuable than one you’d have to give shares out to.
- Look to understand historical trends as well as future trends. Good businesses get on future trends early, great ones also exploit the knowledge of what has come before. Ecommerce is at its core the next iteration of modern retail, and there are tremendously valuable lessons and expertise available if you look to historical case studies from retailers and brands from the last few generations. This applies to all aspects of the business, but on the marketing side we most acutely see parallels to the digital transformation of advertising over the last 25 years.
- Make sure your marketing is informed by the domain experts across your entire business. Because marketing plays such an outsized role in the success of an online storefront, it’s vital that your marketing team has a deep understanding of the entire business. From sourcing and manufacturing to shipping and fulfillment, to pricing and packaging, a marketer that understands how these areas complement and impact each other makes a massive difference in the success and profitability of the business.
- From logistics to marketing, Technology partners are critical but are not a replacement for strategy. As the ecommerce industry matures, the technology and services ecosystem supporting it grows larger and can be overwhelming. Understand that the best tech solutions are those that inform strategy and accelerate execution. Failing to leverage the best tech to scale your business is bad, but assuming that software can replace your strategy can be worse.
- Never stop thinking about consumer experience. You hear this a lot so it should already be intuitive, but it’s still worth emphasizing. Ecomm is a rare industry in that every operator is likely also a heavy consumer. Anyone working in the space is going through the customer journey themselves several times a week or even daily — from awareness through to purchase and product satisfaction. Be mindful of your own experiences as a consumer, look to replicate the great and eliminate the bad for your own customers.
Amazon sellers have a reputation for being great guerilla marketers. Do you recommend any clever and innovative marketing/advertising strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
An amazing thing about digital commerce is the ability to test and learn so quickly. Even if you’re testing on a really small scale, if it works you can scale that success very quickly. Big legacy marketers are some of the most clever and creative out there, but they don’t really act small. So I think the best thing they can be doing is looking at what these smaller brands and marketers are doing more closely, copy what works, and in many cases, hire and acquire the best and the brightest out there. You’re seeing that happen already, as Unilever and others have started buying a lot of interesting brands that started out as amazon sellers and you’re seeing the marketing folks from those brands come in and bring that expertise to the more traditional brands there.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I think instituting even the most basic level of ethics, accountability, and social responsibility across social media platforms. I think if we fix that, which to me seems quite achievable, a lot of our other societal issues get easier to organize around and solve.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s not a quote, but I got a piece of advice in college from a friend’s mother who had taught high school for a long time. I was going through a patch where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself after school. She said that the students she saw go on to be the most successful and happy in life were those who made decisions, acted on them, and then if things didn’t work out they were equally decisive about changing directions. So in brief, act decisively and course correct as necessary. Singularly the best advice I have ever received.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Bill Belechick, after he retires, and make it beers not breakfast. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have an internet connection, so I won’t get my hopes up.
Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!