The rapid adoption of cloud applications and the demand by customers for increasingly agile technology solutions has forced technology companies to compete in the subscription-based SaaS commercial model. This massive transition, however, is driving complexity in the customer purchasing process and forcing traditional sales and marketing leaders to rethink their practices. To build a competitive advantage in the subscription economy, Marketers must proactively drive both the acquisition of new logos and the expansion of usage volumes and renewals from current customers.
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Todd Wells, Chief Marketing Officer at Acumatica, the fastest-growing Cloud ERP vendor for the last six years. As a part of our ongoing research into marketing best practices in the subscription economy, we wanted to understand the headwinds and tailwinds the cloud-native, enterprise resource planning software (ERP) market leader is facing in a changing economy. How was his team pivoting their tactics to engage customers, enable their channel partners, and drive long-term loyalty in a time of increasing SaaS competition?
Our insightful discussion covered four main topic areas:
- The Migration to as-a-Service—Current State
- The Stretching Expectations of Marketing’s Role—Navigating the Full Customer Journey
- Redefining the Metrics and Analytics Programs for Marketing Success
- Closing Thoughts and Go-Forward Actions
1. The Migration to as-a-Service—Current State
What advantages do you see in the marketplace given that Acumatica is a cloud-native provider, and what are some of the disadvantages?
Wells: There are a number of inherent challenges being a cloud provider period—whether it be reliability, scalability, mobility, etc. Frankly, the recent pandemic played an interesting role in highlighting those benefits to the market. Our customers were able to be agile, flexible, and as uninterrupted in their businesses as possible.
The fact that we are cloud-native in my mind is another layer to that benefit. Our platform takes advantage of all of those benefits. We aren’t rebuilding our technology to the cloud like some of our competitors. We can focus engineering on net new features and functionality.
What has the learning curve been like for your firm as you have continued to grow, and how has your marketing focus changed over time in light of that rapid growth?
Wells: Certainly growing at the rate that Acumatica is is exciting and rewarding—but to your question, it can be challenging as well. I think that the most important thing for us is to look at everything through the lens of scalability. Whether it is our technology, our processes, and arguably, especially our people. We are fortunate to have an executive team that has experience in larger tech companies and can dig in to get the work done, but also always position us for scalability and growth.
What do you think has been the biggest tailwind that’s helped you achieve success or specific CEO goals in this area?
Wells: The easiest answer is the product of course. With a great product, everything is easier. But I think that the most unique tailwind is the positivity that we have with our partners and customers. As a channel-only model, we don’t experience channel and partner conflict like all of our competitors do. With a great product and an always accessible team, we have a great relationship with our customers—and the highest CSAT in the industry.
I tell people that I have one of the best marketing jobs out there because I have that baseline of positivity and genuineness that I can use to communicate to the market.
2. The Stretching Expectations of Marketing’s Role—Navigating the Full Customer Journey
As our research shows, the pressure is on Marketing to achieve new objectives—not just acquisition, but in the middle and later stages of the journey—adoption, expansion of usage, and renewals. Acumatica started as a cloud native firm but has the expectation of marketing’s role changed, and if so, to what?
Wells: Yes, all of those are persistent objectives and a part of what we do and have done. But I do think that the relative focus of each can evolve and change as the company grows. In our case, we were obviously very focused on demand generation initiatives, and as we have grown we have also focused progressively on awareness. We are a challenger in the market and need to ensure that we have the awareness to be on consideration lists. The middle and later stages of the journey—as you put it—are what I consider the prospect and customer experience. How aligned and consistent is their journey from an initial form completion or other all the way through advocacy. The adoption and expansion of usage to your question is just a part of that larger overall experience with Acumatica that we want to best manage.
How has your competitor landscape changed, and how have you been marketing against them, with your positioning as a cloud native firm?
Wells: The biggest change as we have grown is our competitors taking notice of us—and progressively campaigning against us, creating FUD in their selling motion, etc. We actually see a lot of what they have published and hear what they are saying from our partners and prospects. While we obviously don’t agree with their tactics and don’t return in kind, we choose to take it as a bit of a compliment that they are so much larger and still so concerned.
I choose to keep our marketing very positive. We focus on the product, our genuine and positive relationships with our partners and customers, and our efforts in sustainability through our AcumatiCares program. I tend to believe that tech buyers are savvy enough nowadays to see through negativity and fear tactics.
One observation we have seen with many transitioning firms is that when they engage an existing on-prem customer about migration to a cloud solution it often triggers a competitive bid situation. Has this been a good source of opportunity for you?
Wells: Yes, this is one of our core scenarios. There are a couple of scenarios through which we win new customers. One is prospects that are growing in size and sophistication and need to graduate from QuickBooks or other to a true ERP solution. A second scenario is the prospects that are needing to evolve, modernize and realize the benefits of a cloud solution beyond their legacy solution, typically a Sage customer or other industry niche player. Your question is correct in that it triggers a competitive situation, but we are fine with that. We are confident that we can win the deal—whether it be through our product, our pricing model, industry functionality, or our licensing model.
Many tech firms rely heavily on channel partners to succeed. Transitioning legacy partners to cloud solutions and subscription business models has been a real challenge. Given that Acumatica is 100% channel-based and cloud native, can you talk a bit about how you identify, recruit, enable, incent, and measure a set of partners that are able to drive Acumatica growth and retention?
Wells: Yes—but we could spend hours on this topic alone. I will constrain my answer to only the marketing enablement piece. Essentially, we have a partner marketing enablement program that is comprised of a number of solutions and programs that ultimately assist partners in driving their own demand generation and awareness. There are a number of pieces to it. In short, we provide free access to what I consider a distributed marketing automation solution. This gives partners that don’t have their own solution access to one—and we also use it for all content distribution—including everything from HTML email templates for campaigns to product marketing content. Other solutions include a social syndication tool, an end-to-end lunch & learn program, etc. We also have had great success with a concierge program to assist partners in not only leveraging these solutions but fundamentally assisting them with their own marketing capability.
I have worked in large companies with partners as well as on the consulting side. I have never seen anything close in those companies relative to what we have been able to achieve with our partners here in adopting these solutions.
3. Redefining the Metrics and Analytics Programs for Marketing Success
Our research indicates that analytics and insight are critical to success in a SaaS marketing model. Many marketers are increasing their investment in data, measurement, and analytics. Can you talk a bit about the role and importance of data and analytics in your marketing efforts?
Wells: Certainly—and I think that nowadays no one would underestimate the criticality of data across marketing. The most interesting part of data and measurement in Acumatica is that we have a very clean line of sight to our impact – most notably MQLs, opportunities, and marketing-driven wins. In larger, more complex companies there are so many variables, other groups with a marketing budget, etc that it can be difficult if not impossible to truly understand the direct impact—and other methods like media mix modeling are leveraged. In contrast, we have clean accountability and a singular mandate. Thus, we have clean measurement and associated accountability. My team is accountable for weekly forecasted MQLs and opportunities and quarterly marketing-driven wins.
And of course, I haven’t touched on the ubiquitous criticality of data and measurement across the entire prospect and customer lifecycle for experience and outcome optimization.
How do you manage that effectively? How do you enable your partners with analytics and insight?
Wells: Earlier, I mentioned the distributed marketing automation solution that we deploy free of charge to all of our partners. Inherent in that capability is the ability to measure and optimize campaigns. As well, the concierge service is able to help partners collect data and optimize partner marketing efforts.
4. Closing Thoughts and Go-Forward Actions
Todd, thanks for your time and insights. Given your unique perspective, having worked with both on-prem businesses transitioning to the cloud and now cloud native Acumatica, what are some of the best practices in your experience?
Wells: At Acumatica, I think that we are very good at internal alignment and partnership. Every Friday morning, I and others from my team meet with the CFO, CRO, VP Sales, Sales Ops lead, etc. to review the weekly MQL, opportunity and win results, discuss upcoming initiatives, events, etc. This marketing-sales connection is critical to accountability and alignment. I think it helps everyone to remember that we are all rowing in the same direction.
We are also very focused on sustainability in Acumatica—across ESG—and I am actually the lead for the company. I truly think that this will become more and more critical in the future—and will transition from a nice-to-do to a corporate necessity and expectation. Regardless, I cherish my role in driving sustainability at the company and encourage all others to pursue it with the same fervor.
In closing, from your perspective, what is the single most important thing for marketing leaders to focus on?
Wells: At some level in my mind, everything we do boils down to customer experience—across our prospects and customers. I am always asking myself and the team about the experience and how we make it seamless, logical, and positive. Whether it’s an online form on Acumatica.com, or at our annual Summit at the Wynn in Las Vegas, it’s all the experience.
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