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The Future of Digital Experience Platforms: An EMEA Perspective by Sebastian Stang of Magnolia

In today's digital experience platform industry, it's paramount to foster a culture of innovation. Our approach is unique: instead of chasing every new trend, we emphasize long-term value, diving deep to understand our market's rapid shifts. Ultimately, our vision is not just about being technologically advanced but ensuring that the technologies we integrate provide genuine, long-lasting value to our clients.

Sebastian Stang


General Manager EMEA

Leadership in tech is about navigating change with vision and adaptability. It requires both technical acumen and emotional intelligence. Key qualities include visionary thinking, adaptability to the ever-evolving tech landscape, emotional connectivity with the team, decisiveness in challenging times, and the ability to communicate complex ideas simply. The goal is to lead with authenticity and trust, fostering an environment where innovation thrives.

In an industry as dynamic as digital experience platforms, how do you foster a culture of innovation within Magnolia?

In today’s digital experience platform industry, it’s paramount to foster a culture of innovation. This is something we passionately believe in. Our approach is unique: instead of chasing every new trend, we emphasize long-term value, diving deep to understand our market’s rapid shifts. By doing this, we can focus on our core strengths and select technologies and strategies that truly resonate with our clients’ needs.

For instance, while AI has made significant strides in recent years, it’s essential to implement it in ways that are both meaningful and valuable. Instead of adopting AI for the sake of being cutting-edge, we consider how it can genuinely enhance user experiences and meet client objectives. This philosophy extends to other emerging technologies as well.

Ultimately, our vision is not just about being technologically advanced but ensuring that the technologies we integrate provide genuine, long-lasting value to our clients. By maintaining this balance, we stay ahead in the industry, delivering solutions that truly matter.

Can you share a recent example of an innovative solution or feature that Magnolia has developed, and how it originated from an idea to execution?

Certainly! We recently integrated AI into our software to enhance user experience. The idea was not just to add a feature but to have it seamlessly fit into the users’ processes. When users work with our tool, they might not even realize they’re being assisted by AI, but it’s there, making things more efficient. The journey from conception to implementation was swift. In just a few weeks, our team built a small MVP, tested the concept, and had the first module ready. This quick turnaround was possible due to our dedicated team who delved deep into the project, balancing their daily tasks. The AI integrations have now expanded to multiple versions, emphasizing the importance of understanding users’ needs and constantly innovating. AI isn’t just about automation; for us, it’s a tool that amplifies human capabilities, enabling faster and more efficient processes, especially in areas like sales and marketing.

With so many technological advancements taking place, how do you decide which trends to adopt and integrate into Magnolia’s offerings?

Regarding technological trends, it’s essential to adopt a customer-centric approach. While monitoring industry leaders like Salesforce, Microsoft, and Apple provides insights, our primary guidance comes from our clients. Their needs shape our long-term roadmap. It’s crucial to observe the industry’s shifts, but always prioritize our customers’ feedback and requirements.

How do you see the digital experience platform industry evolving over the next 5 years, and what role do you envision Magnolia playing in this transformation?

In the coming five years, I foresee significant evolution in the digital experience platform industry, with AI playing a pivotal role in enhancing productivity, especially in content creation. The market will experience a surge in companies leveraging digital channels across various industries, signaling a shift towards direct-to-consumer models. There’s an emerging focus on composability, allowing businesses to select the best tools tailored to their needs. This will lead to more streamlined tech stacks and efficient investments in innovation. The key will be choosing tools that offer real value and integrating them seamlessly for an optimal customer experience.

How has the shift to remote work and increased digital reliance influenced the way companies approach content management and digital experience?

The shift to remote work and heightened digital dependence has drastically changed how companies view content management and digital experience. In the B2B sector, there’s been a significant transition from traditional sales to digital sales channels. Both B2B and B2C consumers now expect a seamless online experience. If businesses provide outdated websites or non-intuitive platforms, they risk losing customers. Just as in B2C, where ease of purchase is paramount, B2B consumers demand a smooth online experience. Companies are realizing that their websites are not just informational but directly linked to sales, and any inefficiencies can equate to financial losses.

What emerging digital trends do you believe will have the most significant impact on businesses in EMEA over the next few years?

One significant emerging digital trend in the EMEA region is the shift towards composability and lightweight solutions. A decade ago, digital projects were resource-heavy, requiring significant budget, backend, and frontend development. Now, the focus is on agile and scalable approaches, such as starting with a minimum viable product (MVP) and iteratively expanding upon it based on proof of concept. The trend is leaning towards enhanced collaboration in the digital world, without the need for massive initial projects or investments. Furthermore, the rise of low-code and no-code technologies is revolutionizing the industry, enabling even non-developers to craft customized solutions. This democratization of technology is poised to have a profound impact on businesses in the coming years.

Sustainability and responsible tech have been at the forefront in recent years. How is Magnolia addressing these concerns, both in its operations and its platform?

We prioritize sustainability, adhering to strict ESG guidelines often sought by our clients. Internally, we’re taking initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint, such as re-evaluating travel methods and cutting down energy consumption. Technologically, there are challenges as we rely on major cloud providers, but we actively collaborate to ensure they align with our sustainability goals. We’re also exploring ways to optimize our platform, reducing database queries to consume less energy. Although quantifying the impact in real-time can be challenging, our commitment remains strong, ensuring that our practices and our platform promote responsible tech.

In the context of data privacy regulations, especially in the EMEA, how do you see the balance between delivering personalized experiences and ensuring user data protection?

In the context of data privacy regulations, particularly in the EMEA region, I believe it’s essential to strike a balance between providing personalized experiences and ensuring user data protection. Coming from Germany, I’m well-acquainted with stringent data privacy rules. While personalization enhances user experience, it’s crucial that users have control over their data. Technologies and tools today allow users to decide how much data they wish to share, like using private modes in browsers. But the onus is also on users to be aware and give explicit permissions. It’s a mutual responsibility: companies should transparently communicate their data practices, and users should be informed and cautious. Fortunately, in the EU, regulations are robust, ensuring companies prioritize data protection.

How do you define leadership, and what qualities do you believe are essential for effective leadership in the tech industry?

Defining leadership, especially in the dynamic realm of the tech industry, is an introspective process. Leadership, at its core, is about taking responsibility, being authentic, and believing in oneself. The right direction often entails making tough decisions, and when they go awry, it’s essential to acknowledge the mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.

A genuine leader is someone who stays true to themselves, grounding their actions in authenticity. Being a leader doesn’t mean imposing one’s beliefs on others but rather guiding them based on collective insights and experiences. It’s about understanding that leadership doesn’t always mean having all the answers; it’s about being open to new ideas and being adaptable.

Effective leadership also means trusting and empowering one’s team. Providing them with autonomy and treating them as equals fosters an environment of mutual respect. It’s crucial to offer guidance when necessary but also to step back and let the team navigate challenges, much like a game where they have the freedom and trust to make decisions.

The “servant leadership” approach is integral to this perspective. Instead of ruling from above, servant leaders facilitate growth by supporting their teams, enabling them, and sometimes stepping in based on experience to guide the decision-making process. However, it’s also about striking a balance, knowing when to lead and when to let the team lead. The end goal is to create a harmonious environment where everyone feels valued and encouraged to deliver their best.

In essence, leadership in the tech industry is about merging technical acumen with emotional intelligence, enabling teams, fostering trust, and promoting an environment of growth and collaboration.

Can you share a challenge you faced as the General Manager in EMEA and the strategy you employed to overcome it?

One of the primary challenges I faced as the General Manager in EMEA was transitioning into the leadership role of a growing team without prior training. Initially, it was just me and two other members. Over the course of three years, the team expanded to 17. The real task was not just in expanding the team, but in structuring it efficiently for future growth. This meant identifying and securing the right resources that aligned perfectly with specific roles. Occasionally, unforeseen roles would emerge, necessitating swift decision-making to allocate resources appropriately.

A distinct strategy I employed was merging the roles of sales and partner management, a move not commonly seen in the software industry. Typically, you’d find separate roles for sales and partner management, but I believed in integrating the two. This innovative approach, in my opinion, bolstered our go-to-market strategy. Initially, I was uncertain about the effectiveness of this merged role, but its success over the past five years has been evident. The strategy was so effective that other regions began to adopt it, recognizing its potential. I firmly believed in the approach, and seeing it come to fruition has been rewarding

Leading a team spread across multiple countries and cultures in EMEA must come with its unique set of challenges. How do you ensure cohesion and a shared vision? How do you prioritize continuous learning and professional development within your team, ensuring they stay abreast of the latest industry knowledge?

Leading a team that spans multiple countries and cultures in EMEA certainly presents its own unique challenges. One of the primary challenges is acknowledging and respecting the vast differences in cultures, from understanding differing market dynamics to even simple practices like lunch timings in Spain versus Switzerland.
To ensure cohesion and a shared vision, several strategies have been implemented:

  1. Trust & Listen: Trust is foundational. It’s crucial to trust the insights and experiences of team members in their respective markets. By actively listening to them, you can gain a better understanding of the nuances of each market.
  2. Recognize Market Differences: It’s essential to understand that each market functions differently and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The key is to comprehend the uniqueness of each market.
  3. Frequent Team Gatherings: Having the entire team come together regularly, such as on a quarterly basis, facilitates knowledge transfer and ensures everyone is aligned. These gatherings act as a platform to share experiences, insights, and challenges.
  4. Open Communication: Encouraging open communication within the team is vital. Ensuring that everyone feels comfortable asking questions or seeking advice fosters a supportive environment.
  5. Embrace Cultural Differences: Recognizing and appreciating the cultural nuances, like understanding local customs or working hours, can lead to better cooperation. It’s about understanding, accepting, and leveraging these differences for a more harmonious team dynamic.
  6. Continuous Learning: Emphasis on continuous learning and professional development ensures that the team is always up-to-date with the latest industry knowledge. This can be achieved through regular internal webinars, sharing knowledge via internal tools, and even external training sessions to hone skills.

By incorporating these strategies, it becomes possible to create a united team that respects cultural differences, shares a common vision, and works effectively towards shared goals.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders in the tech space, especially in the EMEA region?

For up-and-coming leaders in the tech space, especially in the EMEA region, I have several pieces of advice to share:

  1. Dedication is Key: Be fully committed to what you do and remain steadfast in your beliefs and values.
  2. Believe in Your Offerings: Whether it’s a product you’re selling or a project you’re working on, having genuine belief in its potential is crucial.
  3. Balance is Important: While dedication is essential, remember not to take things too seriously. Find joy in what you do, and always ensure that the journey is fun.
  4. Self-Reflection: If the fun and passion start to fade, take a moment to reevaluate. Time is valuable, and it’s important to spend it on things that bring joy and fulfillment.
  5. Empower Your Team: Enable and support your team in every way possible. Their success is your success.
  6. Trust is Fundamental: Trusting your team fosters a positive and productive environment, which can significantly impact the overall growth and innovation of your venture.

In essence, leadership in the tech space is about balancing dedication with enjoyment, believing in your work, and fostering a trust-filled environment with your team.

Reflecting on your journey, is there a particular moment or decision that you believe was pivotal in shaping Magnolia’s trajectory in EMEA?

Reflecting on my journey, there were a couple of pivotal moments and decisions that were instrumental in shaping the trajectory in the EMEA region. The initial challenge was transitioning from the world of online marketing to enterprise DXP content management, which involved handling large-scale projects for prominent companies. Admittedly, the shift was substantial, and there was a period of adjustment.

The first significant moment was the realization that our success was deeply intertwined with our partners. Given our position as a software vendor, it was the System Integrators (SIs) who were spearheading projects. Recognizing this, I took the initiative to visit, collaborate with, and empower our partners, emphasizing building a robust partner ecosystem. This approach was groundbreaking at the time, and it was instrumental in fostering the expansive partner network we have today.

Another defining phase was when I took on the role of General Manager. The structure of the team, as well as the people I chose to bring on board, were crucial in determining our path forward. The choices made during that period turned out to be beneficial for our journey.

In essence, the emphasis on strengthening partner relations and the strategic decisions made during the early days as a General Manager played a significant role in our trajectory in the region. I’m immensely proud of these milestones, which set the foundation for our present-day accomplishments.

Efi Heart

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