You can gauge the success and financial health of almost any company by looking at revenues. At least this is true in the short term. Since revenue is a lagging indicator — with the exception of monthly recurring revenue (MRR) that subscription companies measure — it only tells you where you’ve been not where you are going.
We could very profitably spend our time discussing various other metrics that can also give us an incomplete picture of how well a company is doing. For example, increases in MRR. While tracking increases is valid though it is incomplete without churn and new bookings. Nonetheless, when I started I was looking for something more macro, which is my tendency, and eventually it dawned on me that one of the better metrics of long-term viability and not simply revenue might be the size and growth characteristics of the partner community or ecosystem.
The ecosystem presents the possibility of multiplier effects that you see in the economy at large unless you are a Neoclassicist, but generally purchases drive other purchases in a virtuous circle that helps ensure the health of all in the ecosystem.
For another good but crude analogy think about baleen whales. Strange to contemplate whales in a piece on the CRM industry but consider this. Baleen whales are a whole class of very large animals that feed on some of the tiniest creatures in the sea, plankton. Baleen is a structure in the mouth that acts as a filter that the animal uses to remove the little critters from a mouthful of seawater. Since the whale depends on plankton, which might be at the bottom of many other food chains, you can infer a direct relationship between the health of the ecosystem at the lowest level by observing the largest predator.
At any rate, that’s my hypothesis and it brings me to the health of such companies as Salesforce.com and many others. But let’s just stay on Salesforce for this. Salesforce has an estimated 30,000 company customers, more than 1.1 million installs, 3,000 partners and thousands of products in the AppExchange. All are growing and in each case, because this is an ecosystem, each has found a way to make a living in Salesforce’s shadow.
The partners provide what Salesforce might not provide or might not wish to, or they provide specialized products and services that form stand-alone businesses. There are numerous examples. Zuora provides a subscription billing and payments system, a business Salesforce has stayed out of. Cloud9 provides an analytics driven sales forecasting solution that takes significant complexity and makes it simple for sales people. Marketo and others provide marketing automation that generates leads — the lifeblood of any enterprise. Xactly does sales compensation, another complex task that Salesforce has decided is not in its wheelhouse. The list is long and it grows whenever the core offering grows and opens up new niches.
Yesterday, a couple of companies announced a merger that will add to the ecosystem. Cloud Sherpas and GlobalOne joined up, retained the Cloud Sherpas name and raised an additional $20 million in funding. The combo fits nicely into the ecosystem. Cloud Sherpas was the Google Enterprise 2011 Partner of the Year and GlobalOne is a Salesforce platinum consulting partner.
Google products run a gamut from word processing to analytics to social networks to who knows what. While Salesforce has been friendly to integration with Google Apps in the past some companies, especially large ones with complex requirements, have sought help in accomplishing it. Having Google and Salesforce services under one roof seems to make sense for large customers with complex requirements.
To be sure, Cloud Sherpas is not the largest implementation partner in the ecosystem but the company’s exclusive orientation on cloud computing and its expertise in Google’s cloud applications should be appealing to many new and existing Salesforce customers.
Cloud Sherpas also bring experience in integrating cloud with conventional applications and you can certainly expect that the company’s customers will have an eclectic combination of conventional, cloud and legacy applications to deal with. To me it’s fairly obvious that for cloud computing to continue to grow more integrations among all types of computing will be needed.
So, even if you don’t know much about software, I think it would still be evident that healthy companies like Salesforce or SugarCRM, with its large open source community or Microsoft and Sage, with their significant partner communities, are likely to endure simply because their ecosystems are so strong.
Companies like Cloud Sherpas need to think and choose wisely because many subsequent decisions hang on whose ecosystem you join. The new funding suggests that other wise people have faith in this pairing.
The long recession and the rise of social CRM were not simply co-incidental. I believe they happened together. That’s not to say that social CRM happened for some cosmic reason, I neither subscribe to the belief that all things happen for a reason nor do I believe I am qualified to hold forth beyond what I’ve just written. I think social CRM — whose roots precede the recession — became important during the recession because it represents a good and inexpensive way to keep tabs on existing customers and possibly capture some new ones at low cost.
That’s recession 101 in my book. Manage the installed base, capture the business that’s available, keep the maintenance stream coming in and, whatever you do, don’t give a customer a reason to leave you. In the process you can promote your thought leadership and that’s valuable too. Social is perfect for that and a good deal more. But now that the recession is giving way and job growth — a frustratingly lagging indicator — is making tentative gains, many companies that I speak with are turning their attention to revenue and how to accelerate it.
Just as managing the customer base is recession 101, accelerating revenue is recovery 101. Some of us may not have made the psychic switch yet but that’s coming. Lots of people I speak with, especially vendors and VC’s, have the revenue idea firmly in place and, just as social predates the recession, revenue performance management (RPM) predates the recovery.
VC’s like Bruce Cleveland, a former high-ranking executive at Siebel, have been writing about RPM for a couple of years and today I can speak with him and people like Phil Fernandez, Founder and CEO of Marketo, or Swayne Hill, CEO of Cloud9 Analytics and many others about RPM and have good discussions. The talks aren’t simply about revenue and how nice it is but more substantively, they’re about accurately identifying opportunities and bringing them to fruition not just in a reasonable time but like clockwork.
Unlike other trends that we’ve seen over the years, RPM is unique in that it focuses on end-to-end business processes and quite possibly the overlap of responsibilities and systems to manage those processes. One of my favorite examples of a sales manager and a company that “gets it” is Dave Fitzgerald an EVP at Brainshark who has a constellation of SaaS applications covering the end-to-end spectrum. From lead nurturing to forecasting to compensation, Fitzgerald has RPM covered and he could be its poster child.
Every recession has an end and there’s always an idea or technology that leads us out. Often, what leads us is a tacit agreement to do things better and at less cost than we did prior to the meltdown. The idea makes sense and it spreads virally and no one wants to be left behind with a business practice that is outdated and relatively expensive. On-demand computing was one of those drivers from the last recession, so was the on-line meeting. Companies like Salesforce.com and WebEx became big players in the process.
You might say that those companies were too small to have a concrete effect on the economy at large. But keep in mind that they weren’t alone and in any case, no trend has to carry the economy on its back, the trend need only be leveragable and contribute to the growth rate, which is a more doable thing.
Revenue performance management fits the current need. It is a blanket term that can easily apply to managing anything in your SG&A line as it can apply to revenue generation. Its orientation is growth, not simply maintaining a hunkered down pose waiting for things to get better. The economy is shifting; everywhere I look experts are showing us how to do more with a little less.
Anneke Seley of Sales 2.0 fame is telling us to look at hybrid Web-phone-and field selling. Analytics vendors are showing us how to mine our social data to find the customers and prospects and customers who really need our attention. And experts like Thor Johnson are telling marketers to get more quantitative in discussions with the C-level both to justify their budgets and to have greater impact on a company’s direction.
When you boil that ocean down one of the surprising things you are left with is that the distance between sales and marketing is shrinking and that might be the biggest thing to come out of this recession. Sales and marketing each have their jobs to do and each is different from the other. But what’s clear is that if there was ever an either/or discussion about sales vs. marketing, the conjunction is changing from “or” to “and”.
As that change takes place we are already seeing the emergence of a new job title, the Chief Revenue Officer or CRO. I’ll admit CRO doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but I am old enough to remember when CIO didn’t roll off the tongue either. I am also seasoned enough to recall other gems like vice president of first impressions, proof that some trends are fads. But CRO looks to have some staying power, most importantly because of that “R” word. Who doesn’t love “R”?
The CRO is the person who will need to understand both sales and marketing and most importantly also know that the two need to be mutually reinforcing. It does no good for one to be the servant of the other. CRO is a status to which both the VPs of sales and marketing can aspire. Does this mean that CMO and CSO go away? I don’t know. Does the CFO report to the CEO? The Board? Or work with the CEO? It matters.
What’s certain, as I look at the landscape is that marketing and sales are a lot different today. Customers are in control and many people recognize that the sales process is rapidly giving way to the buying process and that sets the stage for some interesting realignments.
Happy Groundhog Day!
Using emerging technologies to foster more sustainable front office business processes.
Sustainability might be the next big thing in CRM. I’m betting it is and Beagle Research is initiating an award for sustainability in CRM. Today. Now.
Everywhere we look we see not just an industry but also a civilization straining under the demands of growth. Now, growth is generally a good thing for an economy but one of its hidden characteristics is that it periodically forces us to change the way we do things. What is affordable and practical one day can become expensive and cumbersome overnight. We’re living in one of those times. The solution to such challenges is to find ways to make what we do more sustainable, to substitute, change and innovate new and better ways of doing things. In business that means our processes and then some.
The things we take for granted in our business dealings are becoming less constant. Customers are tapped out, the new product engine has stalled and travel is becoming so expensive that it may soon squeeze margins and affect our ability to meet with people. Some of this is blowback from the recession but other aspects may be a long-term trend forming. Regardless of the causes, as business people we need to discover and develop solutions that mitigate these influences so that we can continue doing business.
We’ve given these issues considerable thought and in response, today, Beagle Research introduces a new award and report focusing on sustainability and the things that CRM can do to help every business to become more sustainable.
The award and report are called ThinkForwardä. We borrowed the idea of “think” from Thomas Watson, Sr. of IBM fame and from Steve Jobs each of whom asked us to think and then think differently at critical points in the evolution of our industry.
We believe it’s time to think again but this time we need to think ahead about a world that will be resource constrained in many dimensions. The conditions we watch and write about in the report show slower growth and rising transportation costs coupled with a customer-base that is growing less interested in absorbing more goods.
Just in time, we also see a market brimming with front office technologies that help vendors and customers to identify opportunities and satisfy them with maximum efficiency, using resources wisely. We think sustainability provides the organizing principle for the next phase of CRM, a phase filled with opportunity if we focus on crowdsourcing, social media and strategies for substituting intelligent technologies for travel.
We see numerous front office software companies bringing products to market that by themselves may not garner a great deal of attention from the mainstream market but we also see these solutions as keys to a more sustainable business environment.
The ThinkForward report identifies seven companies whose solutions typify the kinds of solutions that, in some cases, may not be core to CRM today but which will be essential in the future. In one way or another these companies evidence solutions that help vendors better understand and target opportunities, marshal resources and engage customers in new and more sustainable ways.
The award winners include Brainshark, Cloud9 Analytics, Communispace, iCentera, Kadient, Salesforce.com, Unisfair and Zuora. As our report documents, each of these vendors offers solutions that help their customers to do business in more sustainable ways either by treating customers more like renewable resources, reducing the travel and energy requirements of many front office processes, or by capturing and leveraging crowd wisdom to enable companies to better hone products and messages.
We salute these pioneers and encourage you to consider how making your businesses more sustainable can help drive new revenues and profits as the world continues to change around us.
I was a guest in the audience yesterday when Cloud9 Analytics came to Boston to meet with customers and talk about the releases that will be part of their offerings later this year. The presentation lasted a bit over an hour and included presentation of new sales management data by Jim Dickey of CSO Insights and a customer testimonial from Brainshark, EVP, Dave Fitzgerald.
Cloud9 CEO Swayne Hill spoke about the future releases and current status of the company. The company must be doing a few things right because Hill said they have more than 90 customers now and a 50% revenue increase quarter over quarter. That’s good news given that it’s so expensive to launch a SaaS company and capital is not exactly overflowing.
Last year was the worst year for VC investments since 1997, if you want to know. And the industry actually raised less money than it invested and I don’t know how long it’s been since that happened. Last year was also the year a competitor, LucidEra — another SaaS sales analytics startup — went to the boneyard. So, long story short, Cloud9’s advances in such a market speak volumes.
We also know that if last year had been terrible it would have been an improvement in most companies. Jim Dickey, whose company performs an enormous survey of sales and sales management professionals each year was there to talk about his most recent survey and analysis, which is due out shortly. Without giving away all of Jim’s IP (which I can’t do simply because it is so voluminous) some numbers that blew me away: Last year the win rate on forecasted deals was 44 percent. Forty-four percent makes picking red or black look like genius work. Forty-four percent makes a mockery of the whole forecasting process. It means you’re better off not forecasting.
But there is more. In the same year, in the face of an economic tsunami, 86% of the companies studied raised sales quotas. That’s right, they raised their expectations in the face of overwhelming odds against. I’m sorry but Tennyson is screaming in my ear about the Light Brigade,
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Eighty-six percent is just about everybody. Now I can understand if the rise in quota had something to do with layoffs and consolidation of territories but you can’t have it both ways. If you jettison the underperformers in the face of the tsunami, you can’t simply put their quotas on the backs of others. If you have a realistic expectation that the quota can be attained, why get rid of some staff to begin with?
But I digress. Dickey’s big point, which I think is very good, is that too often management flips coins when it comes to forecasting and you can’t completely blame them. The sheer number of deals in a pipeline and forecast make it impossible to know much about any of them. That’s why Cloud9 Analytics makes so much sense.
The Cloud9 approach is to manage the exceptions. If nothing changes in a deal then it is assumed to be on track. When something does change notifications go out to relevant parties like managers and others who subscribe to a forecast’s or even a deal’s feed. The whole subscription and feed idea is very Sales 2.0-ish and a good thing to have.
But what Hill spoke of and Dickey gave numerical support for, is the next piece in a sales analytics maturity model that I see evolving. Hill’s contention is that we already use performance management tools in the back office for things like manufacturing. For instance, we don’t use spreadsheets to monitor quality or relationships with vendors in the supply chain but too often we do the equivalent in the front office.
Hill’s goal is to make sales performance management as rigorous as other performance management and his road map for additions and enhancements to the Cloud9 SaaS service point in that direction. All this reminds me of Davenport and Harris’s very good book, “Competing on Analytics” which discusses an organization’s need for an analytics maturity model ranging from tactical to strategic use of analytics to improve performance. Cloud9 appears to be on an interesting track to help customers do this and their further announcements for this year will be interesting to dissect.
I owe you an analysis of Dave Fitzgerald’s testimonial about how Brainshark is using Cloud9 as well as a broader constellation of tools but that will have to wait.