"My Interest in Tech Came out of Frustration" – Interview with Annika Rabenstein
This time, we sat with Annika Rabenstein, Senior CRM Manager, at Kaia Health to talk about how frustration led her to diving into the tech world.
- Working closely with the product team, and not marketing staff, surprisingly, can be a better fit for a CRM Manager.
- Failures are a bread and butter of every CRM Manager – the key is to learn from them and continue to push harder.
- Even though, developer sometimes seem grumpy, they appreciate if a tech newbie is trying to get the hang of things and learn how the product works from the back-end perspective.
- Python is a fantastic tool for any aspiring CRM pro – with it in your toolkit, you'll be able to do much more on your own, without relying on developers for everything.
How did you get into the CRM world?
Coincidence. After my studies, I came to Berlin and started internships. One was at myphotobook where I did some email marketing and I found it interesting. After 6 months, I applied for Rocket Internet, a startup accelerator, as a junior email marketer/CRM specialist.
The actual company was Helpling. In hindsight, I think I was really lucky with the people I met there. They gave me a lot of autonomy which translated into massive learning possibilities.
I started doing SEO stuff, then switched to email marketing. In this space, I learned that I can do much more than just email. CRM is somehow unique. I like analytics, tech and the creative part and I think there’s hardly any other job that gives you all these things.
Now you’re a Senior CRM manager at Kaia Health, what are your day-to-day tasks?
I work with two product teams, a B2B communication team, for Germany and the US, so I serve four teams in total. In between, I’m trying to actually push CRM things forward. And this includes everything, from copywriting, design, HTML to actually sending the messages. Also, I need to find some time to strategize, come up with when to engage customers and how. So my job is mostly about customer retention.
Day-to-day business at Kaia is a bit different than other startups I’ve been a part of so far, because it has a B2B flavour too. Another thing, which is new to me, is that I’m not a marketer, I sit with the product team which I think is a better place for a CRM manager.
What’s Kaia all about in one sentence?
Digital Therapeutics to Manage Chronic Diseases. We offer a multi-model therapy approach to help coping with pain. The cool thing is that in Germany, we’re a medical product already. In general, we focus on chronic diseases like back pain. We create workouts with physiotherapists and doctors in office, but also include the psychological aspect and educational aspect. We want chronic disease patients around the world to have access to affordable and effective relief.
At Voucherify, we had a training on ergonomy with a physiotherapist. It was a pretty big discovery when we learned that it’s actually not about how you sit in front of your desk and the desk itself, but how you move along the day! Where can I check out Kaia?
What’s the most successful engagement campaign in your career?
I think the most successful one was when I was at Delivery Hero. We teamed up for Valentines Day with Amorelie. It’s food and this… We wanted to have a really nice Valentine’s Day campaign but without being intrusive and this combination worked out really, really well. Everybody says “sex sells” and I think it’s true, even for food industry (laughing).
What about failures then?
Many, many of them. To get somewhere in the CRM space you have to fail often to learn what’s good and bad. I can't really pick a particular one but I had some oversights in the message itself and then HTML or URLs broke at the customer’s end. But I guess that’s inevitable.
In one campaign, I sent 500 SMS to people who shouldn’t have received them, so I know what you mean.
Speaking of SMS, I set it up in Kaia for the US and it worked really well. It seems that the US market is crazy about SMS. We see better activation with SMS during the sign up phase. Especially when the user didn’t or couldn’t opt in to push notifications. It's a big, underestimated channel in my opinion..
That’s an interesting observation. Recently I talked to Nick Allen and he shared that they use SMS all the time and it proved to be efficient.
Yeah, it really helped us onboard and activate customers who have not been active at all. It’s really worth it if you have phone numbers.
Let’s move to skills, how did you learn how to navigate the CRM technology?
Before my studies, I passed university entrance for computer sciences. I was always interested in it, but I didn’t think I would want to do this my whole life, that’s why I switched to international business.
I had a general interest in tech before, but it really came out of frustration to be honest. You know, from a marketer’s point of view, developers don’t seem to be happy to work with you.
They seem ”grumpy”?
Exactly! (laughing) It’s because you don’t have skills to explain to them what you want to achieve, you can’t find the right words or you don’t understand how their business works. As a result, you request something thinking it’s fast and they say: “No, it will take 5 days.”
So it really frustrated me. At some point, I needed a new event and I had to ask for it every time. Then, you face push back again and again and you’re blocked.
This is how I have decided to learn it myself. I began with React Native at 8fit to actually implement events and attributes myself. Once I started, developers became more willing to help. They showed me around the github code repository and taught me how to do a pull request. In hindsight, I think they were really open — it isn’t something you find everywhere. I am still really grateful to all the folks for their patience.
So it seems like developers appreciated your openness and courage to try coding.
Yeah, I was really lucky with them, some of them sat down with me to explain stuff to me, even the backend code.
With their help, I figured out that I can automate more stuff when I understand how it works. Let’s take SMS campaigns for example. We’re using Braze but their SMS component turned out to be too expensive for our case. I realized I can use AWS SNS service to make it more cost-effective.
I started writing a python script, consulting it with our tech team along the way. They were super happy to look over it and suggested how to improve it. Now, I have a running script under a lambda function that I can invoke with an API endpoint that works fine and I don’t need to bother devs all the time.
That really gives me confidence and more possibilities. But there’s another benefit of doing that. I better understand how much time developers need to complete tasks I want to assign them. Our talks are really fast now because I can talk their language. A typical discussion goes like this: I suggest how to achieve something, a prototype of a solution, and they reply: “Hey Annika, that’s nice but maybe we can do it this way as well” and I go: “yeah, that’s the smart idea, let’s try it!”
You’ve built an impressive skill set, scripts in Python are actually coding! What other tech skills are important in the CRM space?
Webhooks for sure. There’s more and more processes working on top of tools integrated with each other. The more you understand it the better. Same goes for universal markup languages like CSS/HTML.
In general, reading developer documentation doesn’t hurt. It’s true that it’s horrible sometimes, really boring and annoying. I like to get to the point fast but you have to take your time to read docs first.
Basic understanding of how A/B testing works behind the scenes is also beneficial, especially if you can use Looker or Tableau to look at numbers yourself. The more skills you have there, the easier it becomes, because you have fewer dependencies. For instance, you can build a dashboard without BI people who are always overloaded, no need to wait for them for 2 weeks.
Speaking of data crunching, do you think SQL is relevant?
I did some SQL in the past. Things like joining tables and more advanced queries but this resulted from a specific setup. Now, I don’t need to do this anymore because our data pipeline is built the right way. And even if I need to do something custom, I can use Python — it’s a super universal tool!
Talking to developers is one way to learn tech, anything else? Google?
Yes, Googling is an option. Developers do this too: looking up code snippets on Stack Overflow and putting them together, right? (laughing). Besides Stack Overflow, I find answers on Github and reddit.
But at the beginning of my career I also signed up for Code Academy to learn basics. Today, I find Udemy classes useful as I’m going through my AWS certification. They offer classes on understanding cloud computing. I like them the most because you can interactively try things, run the code inside the browser.
What are the top resources you would share with a newcomer in your team?
I believe that the most important thing is to learn the product. For this reason, I write my own documentation in Confluence, a lot of it. It also explains the technical background of what we have built and why we built it this way, especially essential topics like segmentation and the like, so that newcomers can quickly read through them and be up-to-date. So all in all, a lot of self-written resources. Then there’s a list of tools we use on a daily basis so they can get familiar with their docs too.
Speaking of tools, what’s your current tech stack?
Braze, Looker, JIRA, Confluence, Litmus from time to time, Figma. Sometimes I use Charles which is, I guess, a pretty extraordinary tool for my role. It’s an HTTP proxy that I use for checking if events and attributes coming from the app to Braze are actually working and have the correct format. Other tools from this category are Postman which helps me test the API and Visual Code Studio and PyCharm for scripting.
My last question is about books you can recommend, industry and non-industry.
I don’t think there’s a good book in the CRM industry. But I believe CRM is not a job you study, it’s something that you do. CRM also means something different from company to company. What I like to read is about user behaviour and general psychology stuff, neurological stuff. Everything that helps me understand how people react. Sometimes I go down the rabbit hole like now as I’m reading the book about the history of neurosurgery (laughing).
Thank you for your time.
Thanks for having me!