FinancialForce signs another hot shot, appoints Fred Studer as CMO

SUMMARY:

Fred Studer brings a refreshing and enthusiastic approach to marketing in a product segment that has not been known for marketing innovation. He has grand plans and a focus on customer storytelling. This aligns closely with our view of 21st century technology marketing.

Fred Studer
Fred Studer

In what counts as one of the worst kept secrets in Silicon Valley, FinancialForce has appointed Fred Studer as CMO. Under normal circumstances, a change in CMO would barely be noteworthy but we make an exception in Studer’s case for a variety of reasons.

As Phil Wainewright noted in January, FinancialForce started 2017 by ringing in the changes, appointing veteran Tod Nielson as CEO to replace founding CEO Jeremy Roche who has moved to a role within the Unit4 group of which FinancialForce is a part. Wainewright said:

Nielsen wasn’t saying much about market strategy in our conversation yesterday beyond talking about brand-building. I suspect it will be a few months before we start to understand the full impact of his arrival on future strategy. But whatever choices he makes, he will have his work cut out. Cloud ERP may be about to surge, but there are plenty of contenders out there looking to grab a slice of the market. It’s a tough one to take on.

Now we have the start of the answer to that marketing question.

Studer arrives with stints at Microsoft, NetSuite, Oracle and Gigamon under his belt. In one sense, this is something of a sideways move but one with which he feels wholly comfortable:

The last few years I’d been thinking, where would I go to work with an amazing and innovative company that is a modern cloud solution for a modern era? FinancialForce is that place. Early on, Todd called me up and said, ‘I have a dream job for you. Together, we can create a great company; this is a once in a lifetime business opportunity.’ And you know, this takes me back to my roots as an accountant, which means focus.

My knowledge of Studer goes back to his days at JD Edwards in the period 1998-2000. He has always fallen on the side of being a creative and often entertaining marketer rather than someone who is in the execution weeds. That may well be what FinancialForce needs right now. He explains his vision this way:

People in security and finance don’t believe the vendors. For them marketing around cloud topics has become too fluffy; they want to hear from people they can trust. So really this is about story telling in the words of the customer. The beauty with FinancialForce is that we can be laser focused on a function where innovation has often been hard to see and we can make the case that accounting in the cloud doesn’t have to be hard. It can be simple to implement and operate. Viewed that way, we can be very personalized in our approach to both existing and prospective customers.

This is a departure from traditional marketing. While there was nothing wrong in the past – you don’t get to an annual run rate of $100 million by getting it wrong – I can understand why a change in thinking around how you market to hard nosed finance types makes sense in the context of a crowded and highly competitive market.

In turn that requires a differentiated approach:

Personalization is one part so for example account based marketing will turn into single person marketing. We’re rethinking many things including stuff like ‘click to chat’ and because we use both Salesforce and Marketo, we have an opportunity to rethink marketing that is based upon modern practices and technology, not legacy.

Studer brings a strong focus on brand to the FinancialForce table so I was keen to understand his thoughts in that area.

It is early so there’s not too much to say but there won’t be a name change any time soon. Having ‘Finance’ in the name helps I think because we’ve got something that we can express as part of what CFOs need to do these days and that’s focus on revenue and not just cost. We’re here to help innovative companies get value out of their accounting, not just keep the back office record and I think that’s central to the brand value of being a modern product for a modern set of problems.

FinancialForce has been associated with the smaller enterprise. Again, Studer wants to change that.

The sweet spot is companies with something around 1,000 employees but I think we should be comfortable playing in the 1,000 to 5,000 employee range but we’re really looking for companies pivoted for high growth. If you look at the portfolio, we have Cisco and Adobe, both of which are looking to grow rapidly with new business models where revenue recognition is fundamentally different. We can accommodate those situations very easily.

Speaking to the technology, Studer said that he feels very comfortable with the fact FinancialForce is built upon the Salesforce Force.com platform, but equally, he sees opportunity to take advantage of recent Salesforce acquisitions and recent work on the user experience.

My take

Studer arrives at an inflection point for FinancialForce. He brings an infectious energy that will encourage the kind of creativity one doesn’t normally expect to see among accounting vendors. Is that a good thing? I think so. The fundamentals of accounting have remained static for 700 years but the business of accounting is undergoing rapid change. In that sense, Studer is right to think in terms of supporting top line initiatives while keeping an eye on cost management in the finance function.

Back office compliance remains a top of mind topic in an age where the sands of regulation are shifting as geo-political changes come into view among FinancialForce’s key markets. The emergence of the ‘_as a Service economy’ changes the manner in which business models are constructed and at the heart of that lies complexity among the weeds of freshly minted accounting rules. FinancialForce is keen to promote the safety it offers to those who are faced with hairy revenue recognition problems by an emphasis on simplicity. That always has to be carefully balanced with functional depth but I like the thinking on this.

Studer’s focus on story telling is something with which we can firmly get behind as it is central to how we successfully communicate customer stories across different media for all our partners. As we violently agreed on the call, customers buy from customers. Marketing’s job in the 21st century then must be to find attractive ways through which to express those customer conversations such that they are laden with authenticity. For our part, we have seen significant success when that happens.

As always with fresh approaches, change is inevitable and the success with which Studer manages that otherwise tricky process while keeping the current team on board will factor heavily into the overall outcomes for both the company and its people. As will the extent to which sales and marketing are aligned under this new approach.

We wish Studer well and look forward to tracking progress.

Image credit - via FinancialForce

Disclosure - Salesforce and FinancialForce are premier partners at time of writing.

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