Maximize 2021 - ServiceMax CEO Neil Barua on supporting the field service sector through an inspirational year

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan March 16, 2021
ServiceMax CEO Neil Barua reflects on a busy 12 months as customers on the frontline of the COVID crisis looked to the field service management firm for the tools to help them fulfil their critical roles.

Image of Neil Barua ServiceMax CEO

The last time I caught up with Neil Barua, CEO of ServiceMax, was back in September last year, some eight months after the field service management specialist had entered a new era of detente with its former ‘frenemy’ Salesforce. At that time, the two had just announced a November launch date for ServiceMax Asset 360 for Salesforce, the first productized fruit of their redefined alliance.

Today, as ServiceMax kicks off a virtual version of its Maximize annual conference, the two firms have taken another step with the release of ServiceMax Engage, a mobile application to connect field service organizations with their end customers to increase service visibility, elevate the customer experience and ensure asset data quality. According to the pitch, this addresses two major pain points for service outfits:

The desire for greater visibility into and involvement with the service process by end customers; and the challenge of maintaining complete and accurate asset data.

I took the chance to talk Barua last week, as Maximize preparations reached their peak, to get an update on how things have moved along generally over the past six months. It’s safe to say the CEO is upbeat, despite the obvious macro-pressures of the past 12 months, citing the “the best Q4 we’ve had in a very long time” and “some of the highest add-on bookings from our existing customers”. It’s been a busy time, he said:

All the things that have happened [with ServiceMax] over the last couple years, in addition to what happened last year with the world going through what it's gone through, in addition to us introducing a brand new product with a previous competitor, now collaborator - all those things and we had our highest Net Promotor Score (NPS) scores in the history of the company. We're really proud [of that] from our perspective and all the things where we're creating value to the end user, the field technicians and engineers.

Customer renewal

The knock-on effect of such approval is the highest renewal rate the firm has seen, with multiple three year contracts being re-signed, he added. That’s interesting as one of the comments coming out of our September conversation had centered on expectations for take-up of the new Asset 360 offering compared to the existing Core product. At the time, there was no assumption being made that Core customers would be rushing to migrate overnight. That’s been the case, it seems:

It might seem trite, but it's really important to us that our customers continue to want to use us…One of the things we've learned on the renewal rates for our Core customers is that the customer base, like the Philips Healthcares of the world, is growing at a really fast pace, given the demands that the world is putting on companies like that, particularly around service transformation and needing to have asset visibility. Our existing customer base wants to expand more of its usage of field service using ServiceMax and they want the solution to accelerate and augment what they've been using. So we saw a lot of traction [for the Core offering], despite having Asset 360 out in the marketplace for our new logos. Our existing Core customers are really strong.

The detente with Salesforce has also been a contributor to overall customer sentiment among the installed base, suggested Barua:

Our existing base really liked the fact that we weren't going to create a tension point with Salesforce. Asset 360 for our existing customers made them feel comfortable that we weren't going to change into what we did four or five years ago [in terms of] dislocating ourselves from that partnership. I think that sense of comfort allowed them to move more aggressively with some of the deployments that we see within our existing base.

In practical terms, the Salesforce/ServiceMax double act involves a lot of regular contact, with senior management on both sides getting on calls every couple of weeks or so to discuss what’s been happening and what needs to happen. At sales level, such interactions happen every 48 hours or so. It’s a considerable ramp up, said Barua:

I mentioned a year ago that we would be much more closely linked in terms of the interaction, starting with the execs and then to the sales leadership team underneath that. Every three days, we have lunch-and-learn. Last week we had a lunch-and-learn that we provided and within Salesforce 380 people showed up to that.

The future world

Salesforce will also be keynoting at today’s Maximize event, which as noted above is online this year as a result of the COVID crisis. Barua sounds as though he misses the ‘old world’ of physical interaction, while appreciative of what ServiceMax personnel have managed to achieve working remotely and online for the past 12 months, including major infrastructure go-lives at clients such as Roche Diagnostics:

One of the positives is we were able to do this and be successful in this sort of environment where it's remote. However, I do think for a company of our size, having a balance is going to be important. One of the strengths of ServiceMax is our customer intimacy as one of the core differentiators. [Medical tech provider] Becton Dickinson, a big Salesforce customer and a very big ServiceMax customer, articulated, ‘We really like that you're partnering with these guys in Salesforce, but we also really like that you care deeply and spend some time doing ride alongs with our field techs and engineers. We like the fact that last year you did surveys directly with field engineers and technicians to figure out what actually goes in your roadmap'.

Over time - and I'm speaking in the next six to 12 months - I think we're gonna have more of a balance...where we're actually going to be more in front of customers and doing what actually builds relationships. I think that's going to be a real value to this partnership, that you have us at the tip of the spear, really diving deep into customers and building relationships. At the end of the day, I think we're all craving that. It's something I think customers will want to see,  despite things working from a virtual perspective now.

Of course, given the nature of the market into which ServiceMax sells, working from home hasn’t been an option for many of its customers, on the front line of keeping the world up-and-running during the pandemic. Barua acknowledged:

Our customers don't have that luxury in many cases, when they send a field engineer to go to service an MRI or a CAT scanner…Over this past year, if we weren't already inspired, when we go outside where I live here in Northern California and see the folks that are out there on the frontlines, actually servicing hospitals, and you see the names of our customers on these trucks while we're sheltering in place, we're thinking about arming these people. That has inspired us - there's no other way to say it - inspired us to go out there and help keep the world running.

The reason why our customers are doing so much more than I expected at this point last year [as COVID lockdowns began] is because they want to do more for their end users. They want to give more remote assistance capabilities. They want to get tools like Zinc in their field techs hands. Becton Dickinson, is one of them, Thermo Fisher's another - big prominent companies that have been doing a lot this past year. They want to put Engage in their field technicians hands so that they can have more efficiencies, so that they can be safer as they do their jobs.

I think this is a pivotal moment for us as a company - to keep doing more for these users. There’s been no better inspiration than the past year to do more.

More from Maximize during the week.

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