I am an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) bigot. I admit it without shame. If ECM had a color, I would bleed it. If ECM had a flag, I would salute it. I was there when the term “ECM” was invented  and remember how we struggled with the term because we knew it wasn’t about the technology it was always about the solutions. ECM was forced into becoming a “platform” because it proved to be one of the very best ways to deliver real business solutions especially when combined with Business Process Management – and because I know these solutions help customers make remarkable improvements in their businesses, improve customer service and save millions of dollars I will defend our birthright to the death…….. Or at least until someone proves me wrong!

You must be wondering: “What has got this guy in such a lather?” Well, since you asked, I’ll tell you.  It is because other technologies are encroaching on ECM’s sovereign territory as a solutions platform that can scale across a wide variety of business needs and provide scalable and reusable technology assets. The problem is we’re simply not defending our ground as fervently and passionately as we should and we’re allowing less compelling technologies to take the high ground in digital content and associated customer experience management processes. Did you ever see anyone say they increased customer service 100% with Dropbox, or achieve $20mn in cost savings with Yammer . This is why I am in a bit of a lather!

I just finished reading a series of interesting articles from McKinsey that deliver a very compelling case for companies to focus technology investment today on the Digital Customer Experience (the articles cover more ground than this, so I might suggest that you read them yourselves if you want the whole story). For my purpose, it’s the tremendous opportunity for business transformation enable by digitization that McKinsey is calling out that simply screams “ECM” at me.

My concern comes from the perspective that I believe I’m part of a dwindling number of ECM subject matter experts and that this knowledge and skill is going to be needed more in the future than ever before. The fact that the average business executive will not read those McKinsey articles and say to themselves “I think ECM will help me solve these problems” is as much a marketing problem for our industry as anything else. McKinsey doesn’t use the articles to tell you what technology to buy, and as such they don’t make a case for or against ECM – but we all know ECM vendors across the world are abdicating the digital content and customer experience solutions market to technology providers who know a lot less about customer business problem, sell products that are not as flexible or configurable and frankly don’t have the war wounds and scars needed to be able to implement best practice solutions that will help re-engineer business processes for a new digital age! In my opinion the ECM industry needs to step up and position itself as a critical technology platform in the transformation of a customer’s digital experience. And frankly I am thinking it doesn’t matter if we call these technologies ECM or even Information Management any more – I am more worried that we are focused at being crystal clear in helping customers digitize their critical business moments to help transform their processes for the future  – and in my opinion we are collectively doing a poor job!.

It seems to me that the voice of the ECM industry is ceding the high ground of delivering complete high value solutions.  We all know ECM is more than just an easy to deploy and use scalable repository in the Cloud – that’s the easy bit – and as we as an industry rush to address our long standing Achilles heel of deployment and usability challenges while also catching the Cloud wave we should not cede the ground of delivering real business solutions, especially in the growing market of transforming the digital customer experience as described by McKinsey.  And yes, I’m fully lathered up now and I hope a few of you other ECMers are as well!

Brent Bussell – Managing Partner at UNDRSTND Group   

Docville 2016 – June 6th 2016 – Brussels, Belgium

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending Michael Ziegler’s Docville 2016 event here in Brussels. I attended this same event 2 years ago and was pleasantly surprised at the size and quality of the attendance. Not your “normal” trade/vendor event, Michael focuses heavily on networking, collaboration in roundtable sessions on tough topics and issues and attracts over 100 of Europe’s best and brightest ECM ISV’s and channel partners.

The event was themed around the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation and how the ECM community should respond and engage to the changes in market dynamics brought about by Cloud, SaaS and Mobile innovations.

I was fortunate the share the keynote session with Michael (request a copy of presentation here) and then attended a number of the roundtable sessions – as the day drew to a close the session leaders reported back to all the attendees their findings and conclusions…..and that is where I got to thinking about how you can create an early morning caffeine-like kick start to an industry that has been around since the mid 80’s and despite surviving and thriving during prior technology transitions just looks a bit tired and hung over… so here is my Double Espresso for the European ECM Community…

Digital Transformation has been underway for years already, companies like Box and Dropbox have already ridden the wave of Cloud based File Sync & Share for digital content, Kodak disappeared under the waves to be replaced by the new Goddess of photographic images – Instagram! The journey has been underway for some time but frankly some of the attendees at this event seemed like they hadn’t even been given a map yet and some looked pretty lost in my opinion.

The narrative used by the ECM community to explain why it is relevant in this digital transformation landscape is still pretty weak and needs a major upgrade – even the term “Enterprise Content Management” which was dropped by most customers a few years ago remains central to the discussion when frankly it should be consigned to a discussion of heritage and history not vision and innovation. Slack, one of the new leaders in the world of digital transformation and content collaboration has spent more in two years on marketing their solutions that are content and task centric than probably IBM/FileNet and EMC/Documentum put together!

The pace of change in our digitally content challenged sector is simply too slow – in Silicon Valley the pace is relentless, fueled by VC investments and private equity funding, the lights burn bright into the night and Stanford grads create new ideas, build a product, deploy it on the AppStore and then trash it and move onto the next opportunity in a matter of weeks. I am not saying this is the best way to innovate but certainly seems like Europe is lagging in terms of vision and the investment needed to move the ECM solutions market to the next level.

Take a simple challenge like defining the use cases for capturing images on a mobile device and moving them into the document recognition and classification steps of a workflow process – aka Mobile Capture. I sat through 2 round tables where frankly the thinking hadn’t moved on much from 3 years ago where an auto accident claims demo using mobile capture was show cased at Kofax’s user event in Las Vegas – surely with all the challenges in digital transformation and capturing information effectively at or near the point of its origination there must be 100’s of potential uses case to be solved – what about just looking at healthcare, at home health diagnosis, medication prescriptions etc?

For me the missing element here falls into two related camps. Firstly, ECM vendors interested in driving digital transformation need to engage more proactively with new potential customers and not just keep rolling back into existing clients who have invested millions $ in massive ECM infrastructures – let the support guys look after the big implementation but sales and marketing guys need to be looking for new use cases, new solutions opportunities, talking to prospective customer who don’t care about “ECM” but do care about managing digital content inside and outside their businesses using mobile devices and slick, smart processes. Speaking to the same people will get you the same answer – go speak to some new people and you’ll get a different and potentially better answer that will help fuel your growth.

Secondly, I would focus every single ounce/gram of effort on exploring the Customer Experience Management space for solutions and opportunities that need a strong digital content capability. Organizations will always find it hard to control the flow of information coming into their business from their customers, even with mobile apps pre-packaged to accept certain types of data and information customers are still going to take a photo of a document, a car accident, their prescription, their dog(!) and send it in as proof of something or other. Forrester have done some great research in this space over the years and continue to do so – I would start but gaining as much knowledge and expertise about CxM type problems and opportunities and then go sell solutions that solve those problems.

Basically it’s time to wake up, get a big, strong pot of coffee and start to think hard about where the growth and opportunity is for this great ECM community and market…. It’s either that or go back to bed and pull the covers over your head and make out nothing changed!

MC

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If you are the owner of a small software business, I’m sure that you have paid particular attention as the news hits of another peer company selling at a very high valuation in relation to their revenue and profit. And after you roll your eyes or shake your head with envy, you quickly do the math on the potential sale price for your business at the same multipliers. Following that is the brief daydream about what that sale would mean for you, your family and other stake-holders. And of course, that luxury purchase you have always denied yourself that would also be enabled by the sale.

You probably wouldn’t be human, if you didn’t take part in this ritual. But alas, the daydream is brief and you are quickly brought back to reality. And reality might include asking the question, once again, of what your company is currently worth and what would warrant a higher valuation. The easy answer, as always, is sustainable revenue growth and related profit. And of course those are worthy goals for all enterprises, but there are other factors that could be worth exploring.

Some thoughtful brainstorming about what would earn (yes, I said earn) your company a higher valuation multiplier would be the most constructive and possibly lucrative thing to do. So, let’s consider four steps, or questions, that we could ask and explore the answers that might lead to a breakthrough value creation strategy for your business:

1. What are the companies that would likely benefit most by owning your business and what are their strategic initiatives? If you find some commonality here, the plan might include moving your company in a direction where it could add more value to the achievement of the business goals of your possible suitors.

2. What is driving growth in your industry and how is your business positioned to leverage those drivers? So, for example, Cloud and SaaS are big growth drivers in many segments of the software industry. And smaller software companies whose expertise and offerings would enable larger companies to move more quickly into Cloud and SaaS, would surely garner higher valuations in today’s market.

3. What would possible suitors not like about your business? To truthfully answer this question might require a qualified third party analysis. But such an effort might reveal some relatively easy fixes that could make your business more compelling and valuable to possible acquisition partners in a short period of time.

4. What would a potential buyers perception be of the health and growth of your business if they simply visited your web site? Many companies who have an acquisition strategy start their evaluation process with simple steps like reviewing your web site and how you talk about solutions and customers, looking at your social media presence and how others talk about you, and assessing your financial viability via tools like Crunchbase. An agreed set of messaging that is consistently executed across all these platforms means a potential buyer gets the message you would want them to hear – loud and clear.

So, the next time a peer company sells at a high valuation, let’s raise a glass in congratulations to the owners of that business. Then think about the questions they may have asked themselves on the valuation front a year or two ago and the actions they likely took to earn a higher valuation. Finally, and most importantly, let’s then role up our sleeves and get to work on our valuation. And of course, it is okay to also spend a minute dreaming about that luxury purchase we will make when we are the ones making the news of another high valuation sale.

Background-196

A man walks into a home improvement store and heads for the power tools section. A few minutes later, an eager young store clerk sees the man in front of the drills looking perplexed. The clerk rushes over and starts explaining the speeds and feeds of the various drills for sale. But the man seems to only get more frustrated and eventually he shouts out “But I just want to buy a 1/4” hole!”

Go ahead and give me a big eye roll or shake of the head. I deserve it for dusting off this corny, old and overused sales training story. But I think it is more applicable than ever for the new world of solution sales and Apps that we live in today. So please give me a chance to connect the dots.

Companies large and small and across all industries are clamoring for cloud based SaaS solutions today. They see less and less value in investing in long development cycles so that they can own bespoke in-house solutions. They just want the desired business outcome and benefits. Kind of like the man who only wants to buy a 1/4” hole and could care less about owning a drill to hang on the peg board in his garage.

Okay, I connected those dots, but what does this mean for sales messaging? Well let’s recall the lesson that the old story was meant to teach: it is all about the business result that the customer is seeking. The point being that it is more important than ever that our sales messaging be customer centric, outcome oriented and value focused.

So, in this environment, it makes sense to inspect our sales messaging to make sure we’re selling holes, not drills. In that vein, I think there are four quick checks we can conduct on our sales messaging to see if we’re on target:

  1. Establishing a Business Challenge/Opportunity – all good sales messaging starts by finding a business pain worth solving or in some cases a business opportunity worth exploiting. If you don’t create a compelling desire in your customer to take action, then the rest of your story will fall on deaf ears.
  2. Features/Functions Only Value is in Context of Solving the Problem – it is easy to get excited to tell your customer about all of the great capabilities of your solution. But today, customers see talk about a ton of features as a sign that your solution is complicated, probably expensive and hard to use. So, any detailed talk about features/functions should be tied directly to proving that your solution will solve the business problem.
  3. Communicating the Value – we’re talking discrete business value, with hard financial savings or demonstrable improvements in customer service and engagement being the most preferable. Companies are very sensitive to avoiding investment in automation for automation’s sake. No hard ROI, no increase in customer loyalty, no deal.
  4. Don’t Oversell Your Company – we all love to talk about our company and how great we are, but to a customer it can be like looking at pictures from your vacation. Talk about your company should be the last thing you do and should be brief. The key points to convey are that your company is credible, has the expertise to deliver the solution and the staying power to continue to innovate and support them as a customer in the future.

A quick review of your key sales messaging using these four tests followed by tweaks where dictated by the effort should help you make sure that your team is selling holes … not drills. And with that, I think I’ll put that old story back in the box where it belongs and not test my luck with your patience again too soon.

echochamber

The opening keynote at #AIIM16 here in New Orleans was a thought provoking experience for me and I suspect the other 1000 or so people in the audience. John Mancini, President of AIIM, presented an interesting retrospective on the last 20 years of the ECM market, drawing comparisons between 1996 and today. Some absolutely magical memories such as Microsoft Office 95 being installed from a fancy new CD Drive or more likely using 45 floppy disks to account for the 88Mb needed!

But it wasn’t so much the journey and how we got here as the future and what happens next that really asked the hard questions. As businesses all around the world struggle to cope with the consumerization of IT, the impact of cloud and mobile and the emerging Internet of Things, it is clear much has to change in terms of the corporate mindset, investment strategies and execution if companies are going to thrive, or even just survive, in this new world.

Mancini did an excellent job laying out the cultural and technological challenges that face both vendors and buyers in the audience but it wasn’t until he started sharing some financial data that it really hit home. Did you know that the combined valuations of Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google surpass the entire GDP of South Korea? And did you know that the valuation of UBER at an amazing $68bn is bigger than General Motors at $50bn!

Yes we all know that the world is under-going a “digital transformation” as a result of the mobile revolution and the ability to “appify” almost any business or consumer facing process these days but translating this to the reality of our business strategy and plans appears to be a real challenge. In my meetings here at #AIIM16 the biggest issue seems to be the lack of detailed research and planning on how this “digital transformation” is going to affect the business of existing ECM vendors. Surely if the impact is going to be so big and so transformative then every CEO of every software company and ISV in the ECM industry would be spending lots of time figuring out what are the strategy implications and what it means to transition to this digital world (versus being “born digital” like Google, Facebook etc)…. but apparently not, which brings me to the Echo Chamber analogy.

An Echo Chamber (according to Wikipedia – the born digital Free Encyclopedia) is a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system. At the end of Mancini’s keynote, a very wise audience member asked the question “Are we all just in the Echo Chamber or are we doing something about this challenge?” I think we may just be sitting in the Echo Chamber because despite numerous examples and reminders the ECM industry doesn’t seem to be taking the situation seriously. One example – an AIIM member said that Dropbox and cloud based content sharing solutions are banned in his company… but 20,000 Dropbox accounts are registered to his employees using their company email addresses! Another example – SLACK, a provider of “Team Communication” apps founded just over 3 years ago that shares documents and messages in a weirdly Lotus Notes like solution, has raised $540mn already and was cited as the sort of vendor AIIM would like to attract. I suspect sadly they don’t know what AIIM is and why it would be important to them because they are too busy spending their $540mn building a truly digital business. If Dropbox, SLACK and many other examples of “born digital” content management offerings are so prolific and growing so fast how could anyone running an ECM solutions business not be thinking very, very hard about what it means for them and their business…. unless they are living in the Echo Chamber I guess!

At UNDRSTND Group we are working with clients where we are challenging their thinking by reviewing their strategic positioning, their growth initiatives and how they believe they will grow value in their business as the world around them undergoes this digital transformation – I just hope I don’t have to go into the Echo Chamber to have the conversation, I may never come out!

Martyn

saas

In a world where SaaS is the panacea to all IT problems it was interesting to meet up today at AIIM16 with Alan Pelz-Sharpe of Digital Clarity Group. Alan is a long time digital content watcher having spent time on the client side implementing ECM systems, followed by time as an analyst at Ovum and 451 Group among other roles.

Alan was extremely excited about his new role at Digital Clarity Group and especially because he feels it has a new and somewhat unique view on providing insight focused at system integrators and professional services vendors. He started our conversation by stating that 70% of IT projects fail and there is a lot of research to support his view!

The challenge is that, even though the actual deployment of software has become easier with SaaS, IT projects continue to run over budget, are delivered late and sometimes just flat out fail to deliver what they promised.

Even proven SaaS solutions like Salesforce.com are gaining a reputation for being hard to configure and failing to deliver against expected benefits. I personally went through a very painful experience of replacing an underperforming and frustrating SFDC implementation with Microsoft Dynamics CRM not that long ago and frankly as a user I was never satisfied with either. So why is it that SaaS solutions appear to be no better in meeting customer expectations than their forerunners?

In the ECM space I think we all know the answer because we have all had our own experience of failed deployments of our own technologies. It is nearly always the services and solution delivery and not software that causes the problem. The quality of skills, knowledge and best practice has always been lacking, and that is in a segment of the market that has been trying to perfect its implementation methodology for 25+ years! So what would be the risk factor if you want to deliver a new digital content transformation solution to support an eCommerce initiative to your client – higher than an Accounts Payable Automation solution I assume?

There would seem to be an opportunity here for service providers who have learnt their lessons the hard way in the ECM solutions space which often combines a high degree of process improvement, metadata schema design and end user adoption best practices. Why not take all those skills and apply them to a new generation of digital transformation solutions, often content centric and nearly always demanding process redesign. Selecting the product , SaaS or otherwise, is the easy bit, delivering a complete solution on time that works is a rare commodity – for ECM ISV’s this could be a big opportunity as the arrival of Cloud and SaaS solutions hollows out the margins available in software licenses. Certainly worth a thought and for UNDRSTND Group’s clients in the services space I will certainly be asking the question……

I arrived at the AIIM ’16 Conference here in New Orleans to be met by a bit of a storm (possibly in a tea cup but not sure just yet). John Mancini, long time President of AIIM, spokesperson for at least 2 full blown product/market lifecycles in the document related technologies world and one could argue maybe 5 or 6, has a new role. In transition from his role as leader of the industry’s long standing community organizer, John has established a new venture – www.johnmancini.org – apparently focused on sharing his deep knowledge of what it takes to communicate with an audience effectively through content marketing, public speaking and advisory type consulting.  John is a true Subject Matter Expert and someone I have had the pleasure of working with over my many years in and around the Enterprise Content Management space. I have probably had as many conversations with John about the future of the digital content market as anyone and one thing I know for sure is that the absolute biggest problem is that it has a serious issue  explaining to people what the heck it is that all the technology and solutions do! As a long time CMO in the ECM industry it has been a frustration for years that collectively we can’t do a better job of explaining what our value proposition is. As Ted Smith, founder of FileNet Corporation and the father of the whole industry, once said “We are product rich and marketing poor”, sadly  that became a mantra for a whole industry for almost a generation.

If John Mancini, or anyone else for that matter, can help our industry explain itself better to each and every potential buyer in the market then good luck to him and anyone else who tries because I think we all know that is the biggest problem our industry has always faced.

In our early client engagements at UNDRSTND Group we have certainly found that understanding the intrinsic value proposition of the technology and then applying that effectively to drive growth is absolutely the #1 issue our clients face in building value in their businesses. I welcome John to the world of consultancy with open arms but I would also encourage AIIM and its Board of Directors not to be distracted by the perceived “competitiveness” of John’s new venture, there is lots to be done and it is going to take more than a few good men and women to drive the continued growth of the ECM industry as it takes account of the digital transformation opportunity that confronts it. We need AIIM to continue its good work of prior years and keep the community moving in the right direction!

A couple of smart sales consultants first raised this question to me some years back. And, my initial response was to get defensive and assure them that this was not an issue for our company. But it made me curious and over the following months I sat in on more base level sales presentations as they were delivered to early cycle prospects (something management personnel can get out of the habit of doing, especially if you have a seasoned sales force). And boy was I surprised … and not in a good way.

Unfortunately, the sale consultants’ concern was valid. Our sales message was not being delivered as designed. In some cases the variances were minor and probably didn’t impact the result much. But in too many cases, the variance was enough to significantly distort the message and decrease the effectiveness of our sales efforts.

Now, your first thought could be that this is easy to diagnose: bad sales team, bad sales messaging or a combination of the two. This of course could be the cause of such a problem and if so, should obviously be addressed post haste. But what I found was a more nuanced set of cause and effect scenarios that lead to the problem, including:

1) Key Points Fail Challenges – points in your messaging get challenged in unexpected ways or with unexpected veracity. Your sales reps fail to defeat the challenge when their response goes off book and both the rep and presentation lose credibility. Next time out, the sales rep softens or all together deletes the point from the message to avoid a repeat occurrence. This happens a few times and the overall message is substantively changed.

2) Sales Entrepreneurship/In My Own Words – Many sales reps are entrepreneurs at heart. In addition, it is human nature to be more comfortable presenting material that is more in our own words. Thus, the sales rep modifies the presentation and likely does a better job presenting, but just not the message you want delivered.

3) Opportunity Dynamics – you built a 30 minute sales presentation (maybe with particular industries or company size in mind) for a half business/half technical audience. But your sales team rarely encounters that exact scenario. The sellers then feel compelled to modify the material to try and fit their specific opportunity and inadvertently change the message in the process.

You might encounter other reasons for this challenge. I did as well, as this was just my top three list. But the good news from my experience is that a few key changes in your business process will catch and fix the vast majority of causes and in our case we figured out the needed fixes by considering this list. The most important of those being:

1) Marketing/Sales Collaboration – typically marketing builds the messaging and presentations and sales delivers them. If you are figuratively throwing your messaging and presentations over the wall from marketing to sales, you create significant risk of message modification. Building a small sales review team to work with marketing and fostering an environment of marketing and sales collaboration on this front will go a long way towards mitigating the risk.

2) Modular Messaging/Presentations With Guidance – it is a bit more work but highly valuable to build messaging and presentations with opportunity dynamics in mind. Core content, business and technical audience content, key industry content and guidance on how to select content for different scenarios including shorter and longer periods of time to present the message.

3) Training and Oversight – even with a seasoned sales force it is risky to assume that sellers can teach themselves how to deliver new sales messaging. In addition, some in the office or in the field review (even if spot checks) is needed to make sure that the messaging is working and that the sellers are delivering it as designed.

Let’s put this in perspective. Your organization has worked hard to build offerings that add true value in your target markets. But if that value is not effectively communicated to prospective clients, what does it matter? Taking the time to understand the challenges related to accurate and effective sales message delivery and making the investment in a few straight forward and relatively inexpensive fixes could ultimately be the difference between failure and success for your business.

Brent Bussell
UNDRSTND Group
Managing Partner