A final keynote is always a tough gig. As people slowly start to fill the conference hall, suffering from long working days and a late night at the end of conference party, the mood is typically pretty sombre. However, NetSuite CMO Fred Studer was intent on keeping the energy levels high today – music was pumping, t-shirts were being shot into the crowd and huge inflatable balls and dinosaurs were seen floating across the room.
And while this might sound all a bit over the top, Studer managed to keep the crowd engaged for a full hour. And the content matched the atmosphere, with a string of interesting customers and spokespeople brought on stage to share their stories about 'disruption', which as we know is key to Studer's strategy. He has spoken to diginomica before about how important it is to NetSuite's sales cycle for customers to be sharing their own success stories - always good to hear.
Studer was appointed as CMO at the end of last year and I can confidently say that if this year's event is anything to go buy, he's making some rather big changes internally. SuiteWorld was almost unrecognisable this year compared to last year. I remember that in 2014 I walked out the keynotes not really sure what my main takeaways were supposed to be and that the way that the information was presented to the audience wasn't particularly engaging.
However, you can tell that this year Studer has put a lot effort into making the keynotes and the conference itself a memorable experience. On stage this morning, he himself highlighted that this was one of his priorities. Studer said:
I do want to stop for one second and talk about getting creative, we might call it innovation, we might call it re-imagination, we might call it disruption. But the fact is that we have to continue to create and re-imagine everything. And I will tell you, as we got ready for this event, I hope you have noticed the new creative style.
Not a tonne of PowerPoints with lots of words on them, but really an ability for us to use an experience to tell that story that's meaningful. Do you guys think that that worked better than a bunch of PowerPoints?
The answer from the crowd was a huge round of applause.
And from my perspective, he's done a good job. I've spoken to a few people here, colleagues and customers, that agree that the event this year has been far more effective and convincing.
That's not to say that I think everything was perfect, I still think some work needs to be done refining NetSuite's positioning message. And not all of this is NetSuite's fault, given the diverse capabilities of the company's platform, but I do think, despite the significant improvement on last year, it could possibly give us an even clearer idea of its future roadmap. More on that later.
But let's first take a look at what Studer sees as the most pressing issues facing companies at the moment and how he believes that NetSuite is “bringing sexy back” to ERP. He believes that NetSuite is a convincing option for businesses needing to address the rapid digital change happening in the market because the platform puts financials, order management, sales, marketing, past sales history all in one place – online or in-store. Studer said:
Everything is being disrupted, we kind of acronym-ed you guys to death with everything that's happening in the world; we didn't do that to freak you out. But we wanted to have a reality check with what we are seeing with at least 24,000 organisations and what's really happening. It comes down to innovating in absolutely everything that you do. Around your business model, your people and around the technology and the platform that you have to deliver on that.
One of things that I spoke with a lot of you about is this notion for the platform for disruption. And I think we have really hit something there. If we are really able to take advantage of all that unbelievable technology that Evan's team has been building over the years, we can and we will be able to adapt and change to whatever change is happening.
We reinvented ERP. Again. We are bringing sexy back.
Studer said that the buying experience has completely changed, where customers want everything personalised and businesses need to figure out different ways to engage with them. He identified four key areas that he said customers should be thinking about right now, if they aren't already.
Business models adapting daily
Business models, because of the technology that is innovating so quickly, it's not just about changing your business model yearly or weekly, but on a daily basis. Being able to land new pricing models, growing new channels, add new partners, driving new ecosystems – these are all important things.
Customer profiles mimicking social profiles
To deliver on these experiences to your customers, you have to know everything about them. This notion of 360 is almost over, because now we need a three dimensional view of these guys that's going to look a lot like their social profile. It will be organic, we will have to have people validate it, come into scenarios where even customers have to really maintain it over time.
Data driven everything
When Evan [Goldberg – NetSuite CTO] talked about some of the data, analytics and insights that
we are bringing out of NetSuite and bringing that out of the data systems you have, those are going to be key to making good decisions.
Smart devices driving smart experiences
One of the ones that I think is really exciting is the devices world. The world has changed so dramatically that none of us can go through the day without doing a self-frisk. It's not just a new device, it's a new appendage. And when we don't have it we go through a very bizarre neurological withdrawals.
From speaking to customers, listening to the keynotes and attending some sessions, it's pretty clear that NetSuite is in a good position to help businesses tackle some of these problems with its platform. And it's good to see that its not just solving this problem for the mid-market – it is increasingly gaining traction with large enterprises, including the likes of T.G.I Fridays and Billabong, which were announced this week.
However, as I noted earlier, from my perspective NetSuite has some challenges positioning itself. This week CEO Zach Nelson was right to ask the question during his keynote, “Is it ERP or is it a website?”, because the lines between the two are increasingly blurred in the NetSuite world. But that creates some interesting problems.
From the customer discussions I've had this week, I don't think many of them view their NetSuite implementation as 'ERP in the cloud'. Sure, financials and planning are a part of it, but they reach out all the way to the customer touch points, which brings us into the CRM and marketing arena.
Nelson talks about an “omni-channel” solution, whilst we have been told that NetSuite is a 'disruptive platform', it's also a 'business solution'. All of which are true, and its clear that NetSuite is heavily invested in the retail industry – where integrating these different systems gives you a clear advantage, helping you understand your internal business processes as well as your customer.
I think Studer came the closest to getting this message across and I particularly like his pitch around the 'disruptive platform'. I would like to see this taken further. NetSuite is a platform for companies that want to
understand everything from their financials all the way through to their customer profiles. There are still some gaps to be filled, obviously, but NetSuite is making good progress towards achieving that.
The comments above aren't meant to be a criticism of this week, as the event itself was great and I have learned a lot from the company and its attendees. There have been so many improvements on last year and if I was a customer I would be walking away from San Jose feeling pretty excited about the direction of the company. Kudos to Studer and the rest of the executive team.
Disclosure: NetSuite is a premier partners at time of writing.