CommLive19 - FinancialForce makes ready to walk the customer-centric talk

Michelle Swan Profile picture for user Michelle Swan May 10, 2019
At its annual Community Live event this week, cloud ERP and PSA vendor FinancialForce introduced a new customer-centric initiative to speed time-to-value

Dan Brown CPO FinancialForce speaks at CommLive19
Dan Brown, FinancialForce

FinancialForce often talks about customer focus, going so far as to rebrand its flagship product not just ERP, but "customer-centric ERP." At its annual Community Live event this week in Las Vegas, the vendor was keen to demonstrate that putting the customer first is more than just a product feature - it is walking the talk in how it delivers its products to customers. 

Nearly every session at the show has showcased customer success metrics, while product announcements for ERP and PSA (professional services automation) have highlighted more than a dozen customer-requested updates in its Spring 2019 releases. The big proof point, though, was the introduction of Accelerate, a new "connected product and services experience framework" that aims to help customers get more out of their FinancialForce implementation, along with a Customer Lifecycle Experience (CLX) Hub expected to be available this Fall.

FinancialForce's Community Live event has a decidedly more homely feel than the giant, slickly produced shows like Dreamforce or SAPPHIRENow. There are no keynote drummers, girl bands, or monks blessing the spirit of the show. There are no grandiose statements of how the company is going to save the world, not even a safe harbor statement in sight. Instead, the FinancialForce keynotes featured a meme of an executive doing a go-live dance, a Tinder-inspired product demo, and slides listing all the features promised at last year's event so attendees could hold the company accountable. The event lives up to its name with an approachable, community spirit. 

Introducing Accelerate

CEO Tod Nielsen and Chief Product and Strategy Officer Dan Brown unveiled Accelerate during their opening keynotes at Community Live, each sporting an Accelerate t-shirt underneath their suit jackets. When there's a branded swag in the equation, you know the company thinks they're on to something.

FinancialForce describes Accelerate as "a long-term company initiative to deliver a connected product and services experience to accelerate customer value across all stages of the customer lifecycle." Similar to NetSuite's SuiteSuccess program, the goal of Accelerate is to get customers up and running on products faster, to lower adoption barriers, and to offer added value to customers so they stick around longer and buy more. 

Accelerate is a combination of tools, content and services that are wrapped around business process best practices. It is offered to both PSA and ERP customers to support them across their relationship with the company. Here are some highlights of how the company says Accelerate will support customers across the lifecycle:

  • Evaluation - example solution architectures, value propositions for the outcomes customers should expect with products.
  • Implementation - Pre-configured, fixed scope implementation packages known as SmartStarts, and tools to help with Master Data Management (MDM), performance management and testing.
  • New customer and adoption - Onboarding services and user training, a community portal and premier support services
  • Seasoned customers - Health checks and collaborative workspaces to better manage and environment, and vertical business process modeling.

Some of these components exist today, some are simply being repackaged to make them more accessible, and some are new. During the keynote Brown showed off a new Admin workspace, which FinancialForce admins can use to easily see what's happening across their environment and take action on new features, issues, etc.  The workspace displays new features that are now available, along with a simple in-app explanation of what those features do. Admins can easily select and deploy what features they want, and pass on deploying the features they don't.

John Bergman, who leads Product Management for the Customer Lifecycle and is also Head of ISV Alliances, explains this kind of support is important for customers:

Software moves fast. If you're not updating your software, you're not taking full advantage.

FinancialForce issues four releases a year, two major and two minor. This frequent release cadence is one of the most valuable aspects of Software as a Service but it can be challenging for customers, especially when dealing with mission-critical business processes. No one wants to disrupt quarter close with a feature update. Offering customers a way to take advantage of new features in a controlled, non-disruptive way is a great example of customer centricity. Bergman explains: 

Consuming features should be customer-centric, not app-centric. Customers should be able to easily turn on the features they need, and ignore those they don't. It's about incremental change, putting the customers in control so they can make updates sooner. 

Vital to the company's future

Nielsen explains why Accelerate is so important to FinancialForce and the success of its products.

Before it would take 80 days to get to that first success milestone. We have cut that in half, but our goal is to get that to 20 or even 10 days. Customers need to see those quick wins. 

Nielsen said he visited 367 unique customers over the last 12 months and change management was a constant theme across these visits.

Change management is a huge issue. Customers said don't just sell us the product, help us see the whole solution. Accelerate isn't something that you buy. We want to make it core to your FinancialForce journey. 

ERP and PSA are not simple apps that can be deployed at the drop of a hat. These are fairly intrusive applications, deeply entrenched in a customers' business operations, and change does not come easily. FinancialForce needs to do everything it can to make the implementation process faster, but do it in a responsible way so customers are successful and eager to add more functionality to their portfolio. 

The formula and focus has been successful for NetSuite, which credits the introduction of SuiteSuccess nearly four years ago as a turning point for the company, claiming it helped increase customer NPS scores by 30-40%. FinancialForce already claims high customer satisfaction with a reported 9.01 customer sat score for support calls, a 3 point jump in NPS scores and a 92% renewal rate, but there's always room for improvement as the company grows and expands into new areas.

Bergman believes it the new program is also a great way to work with the FinancialForce partner community. Once the CLX Hub is available, which utilizes the Salesforce User Engagement Platform underneath, partners will be able to add to the tools and content within Accelerate and even extend on them with vertical specific support.

My take

If FinancialForce can deliver on, and stick with, the vision it laid out this week for Accelerate, it has to potential to indeed accelerate adoption and usage of its products. The company has already made significant progress improving customer retention rates, now it needs to focus on expanding its footprint within customer accounts. Accelerate could give the company a great framework to do that, and a way to engage partners in a whole new way.

The challenge with these cross-company initiatives is that they rally the troops for a while, but it's easy for them to peter out once people go back to their day jobs and focus on other more urgent crises. While seen as strategic, such initiatives can become an afterthought unless they have the right level of executive attention, ownership and investment. It's a change management exercise within the company to make them stick.

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