I recently sat down with Marc Kiefer, and we talked about career growth, new projects and life at Contentful. He has some especially good advice for people interested in joining Contentful!
Supportive teammates, career progression and exciting projects
What originally interested you in Contentful?
I was very excited about the company from the very beginning. It has great prospects, the company culture is great and the future looks bright. The only concern I had was that the office is in Berlin. I live in Cologne with my family, and I didn’t want to move them. After some discussion, the recruiter said I didn't have to move at all — that’s when Contentful got my full attention.
What convinced me to join was my first visit to the Berlin office. I was walking through the halls, looking for my interview room and got lost, as one does. While looking around I came across a wall. It had the core values of the company written in a large typeface, which reminded me of my early days at another startup. When I realized that I was late, I walked into a random room to ask for help. Someone immediately stood up. We had a nice chat as he led me to my room.
Everyone was so friendly, welcoming me with open arms before and after I joined. It really created a sense of community. Those experiences, combined with the core values that everyone in the company lives and breathes by, is what really convinced me. That’s the day I decided I wanted to be a part of this. So, I joined Contentful February 2020.
What role did you start in and how has your career progressed?
I started at Contentful as a strategic account executive, specializing in the automotive sector. Although the year was unpredictable, it was also very successful for me. My team helped me ramp up quickly. Within a month I was able to start talking with customers. With their support I managed to achieve more than 200% of my yearly quota.
Then, I got a promotion. Now I am the senior named account executive for the DACH region. This means I handle a number of large accounts including automotive accounts in the Austria, Germany and Switzerland region.
You mentioned working with a team. What does that look like?
As an account executive, I work with a team composed of a solutions engineer, sales development representative and a customer success manager. This is the team that I always have with me on a sales call. But, of course, there are many more who support us. There’s always revenue operations, partnerships, marketing, developers and so many other people with whom I interact.
What’s amazing is that all of these people are always open and kind. I think this is caused by two things. People are walking in the same direction. Everyone at the company has the company’s core values at heart. Everyone wants to do what’s best for the customer. This makes my job so much easier. When I talk with a teammate, no matter how complicated the situation is, we find a solution. There is always a suggestion to make things more efficient but also satisfy the customer's needs. It’s the byproduct of having such a cohesive vision.
Secondly, the people I work with are extremely talented. The solutions engineer that I work with regularly is one of the most impressive solutions engineers I have ever worked with — and I have a long track record of working in tech companies with very talented people.
Overcoming challenges: online communication, balancing priorities and trying new strategies
How have you handled the challenges of 2020?
The biggest challenge has been communicating during the pandemic. Contentful pivoted to working remotely really quickly. I started in February 2020, which is right around the time the lockdowns began.
This means that I spent very little time in the Berlin office and couldn't meet people in person. It’s easier to meet people in the office. It's easier to have a quick chat with someone down the hall if you need to. You don’t easily get that when you’re online.
Still, we manage. I have been using Zoom for 30-minute one-on-one meetings with people. These are mostly chats about random things like football or hobbies. It helps get to know each other, build a community and form bonds in the team. I encourage new account executives to do it as well. I even had a chat with Sascha Konietzkze, our CSO, the other day. I wanted to get to know him and learn about his vision for the company. You don’t get to do that everywhere.
How do you maintain your work-life balance while working online in a global company?
This is something that I figured out early on. I have a daily blocker in my calendar for lunch with my wife and kids, and in the evenings. This is the time when I do not answer any emails, calls or Slack messages. Instead, I cook for my family or just spend time with my kids. It’s been very helpful in keeping my life balanced. This is encouraged by Contentful. Managers will make sure that you get enough time to yourself and don’t burn out.
Sometimes there are moments when I have late calls with people in San Francisco, which means I don’t get to put my little ones to sleep. But, because I have a lunch blocker and a time blocker before the call, I’ve made sure to have spent time with them on that day.
Still, there are challenges with kids and home offices. There have been times that my own kids burst into my calls, or I’ve seen other people’s kids do the same for them. The kids are just part of our work lives for now, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Everybody understands this, so nobody gives you a hard time. It’s just something we live with and laugh about until the kindergartens are back in session.
Advice for those interested in joining the Contentful sales team
There are two things I’d like to say: be humble and be open. We value both of these qualities at Contentful. If you’re able to talk about your achievements without sounding arrogant and are willing to give and share credit, we are much more likely to like you. You are also more likely to be successful in your sales.
Also, be open to feedback. When I first started at Contentful, I constantly tried to do things as I always did them. I really only became successful when I started taking feedback from my teammates to heart. It was a good lesson. If you keep doing the things you’ve always been doing, you might do okay, but you’ll never grow. Without growth, you’ll never be able to keep being good at what you do. Being successful is about improving up your skills every once in a while. Being open to new knowledge, processes and ways of doing things is the only way to improve.
Contentful is looking for talented people to join Marc’s team, along with a host of other teams. You can learn more and apply on our careers page.