Who doesn’t love a good story, one that passes on insightful knowledge gained through years of hard earned experience? We recently sat down and spoke with Greg McLaughlin, Senior Director of Business Automation Solutions at AppNexus, about his illustrious career managing CRM technologies in a variety of industries over the years. Entering the CRM space in its infancy, Greg has developed a unique perspective from working with a wide range of CRM systems throughout a distinctively dramatic time in the history of technology. Below you will find questions concerning everything from how Greg got involved with CRM technology and how he has seen the technology change over the years, to where he feels CRM software will progress in the future.
Q: Did you expect to wind up in the role of business automation solutions when you were in college, or did it just happen to find you?
A: I absolutely did not expect myself to be in this career back then, mostly because CRM technology didn’t even exist when I started university! I wandered into it in a progression.
I was a creative writing major in college and afterwards I got a job as a sports writer and worked my way up to news editor. I thought I would be a writer forever. As it turned out, being a good writer translated well into a communications career, which then broadened my horizons to include business communications. I didn’t make enough money as a news editor, so I got a job at an office furniture company, interviewing customers and writing their stories. This was in 1994, so as you can imagine, technology was quite a bit different than it is now. I remember trying email and the Microsoft Office suite for the first time at that point.
The progression towards CRM management continued, I was basically taking reports & customer stories and posting them onto the company’s digital bulletin board. My managers saw that I was good at PowerPoint and posting files onto the web, so they gave me the job of hosting the company’s first intranet site. This creative work on the computer led to managing technology projects. By 1995, I was running sales force automation at Pitney Bowes.
Then my jump to CRM management occurred. I remember going to the executives at Pitney Bowes and sharing a vision of how our sales force automation (SFA) could be improved, so they put me in charge of the company’s first true CRM application, Saleslogix. This was very early CRM technology, and of course in ’95 the concept of “cloud technology” didn’t exist. Since then I have gathered experience managing Siebel and now Salesforce, which as a cloud platform includes all their associated applications and partners.
Q: You’ve built a career managing CRM platforms, how has the changing technology impacted the idea of a CRM system?
A: The biggest change is during implementations and enhancements. The concept of a cloud ecosystem has given so much more flexibility and speed to development teams. With Siebel, I remember we would collect requirements first and spend 6-8 months deploying or cycling through the simplest of changes to our system. God forbid we missed a business requirement early in the process, because after half a year building, that would be simply devastating to any development team. With Salesforce and cloud CRM, we are now able to be much more agile during the build phase and incorporate new or missed requirements faster and easier.
The changing technology has also impacted how departments interact during projects. In the past, the IT team would manage the implementation, and the business team would focus on the translation of requirements, training and ultimately usage. Cloud technology has flipped that on its head; now fewer technical resources can be brought into the project during the implementation and the business can be given more power to make decisions and implement changes. There are, of course, still very technical aspects to the implementations, but it has given so much more power to the business and ultimately helps make the deployment faster and smoother.
Q: Changing gears now to your current role at AppNexus, how do you see the CRM Platform fitting into your bigger vision of success in AppNexus’ business operations?
A: One thing I love about AppNexus is that we are a young and ambitious company. We are an aggressive, technology-oriented organization and we are willing to make investments in new technology and processes to be successful in the modern marketplace. Being part of a smaller, more agile company is nice because we can make changes and adapt to the needs of the market quickly without having to cut through red tape.
We believe that the CRM platform and program should be a completely connected ecosystem, where the customer profile exists once and only once, where every process that we conduct is just a component plugged into the CRM ecosystem, allowing people to interact with just the one customer record. They can edit, view analyze and digest the information from a singular environment with no heed for which data is from the “customer master list,” because there is only one place to find the customer data.
We’ve designed our customer life cycle around this concept and it is helping deliver what we call “overwhelming benefit” for our customers, where the individual customer receives more than what they expected for the price they paid and cannot help but return when it comes time to renew. Not many of the bigger companies have the ability to execute this vision, simply by nature of being older and more established; they have too many disparate systems and processes to easily create as cohesive an ecosystem as the one we are implementing.
Q: What do you see as the next big development in CRM platform technology? Or perhaps we have hit the plateau and it won’t change at all from here?
A: CRM technology is constantly changing and evolving and we are a long way away from hitting any sort of plateau. From our perspective, this is exciting because AppNexus is constantly changing as well to meet the demands of our very dynamic industry. The cloud concept allows us to do that effectively and keep up with the shifting marketplace. With each new technology added and changed, that is one more opportunity for AppNexus to adapt. That is very exciting for me and my team too, and it keeps us excited about work in that every day is different. It’s never stale.
Some exciting developments that have emerged within the CRM space and specifically within the Salesforce ecosystem include:
1. Quote-to-Cash (QTC): This as a major initiative where many companies are looking at connecting traditionally disconnected processes like Contract Lifecycle Management, Quoting, Proposing, Ordering and Billing into one holistic process to streamline their overall operations, speed up their ability to smoothly on-board customers and improve the overall customer experience.
2. Customer Success and Strategic Account Planning: Innovative customer-centric companies are recognizing that they need to put the customer in the center of their Customer Life Cycle and revolve all of their processes and technology around supporting the ability for their customers to achieve their objectives through exceptional service, support and value-creation.
3. Customer Community: Many companies are getting closer to their customers by delivering whole interactive social experiences, not only between their service and support teams and their customers, but between their customers and between their customers and partners. They are creating forums for sharing knowledge, exchanging best practices and generating insight into how to work seamlessly together for mutual benefit and success.
4. 360-Degree Customer Visibility: Companies are looking across all of their systems and realizing the importance of pulling their institutional customer knowledge into the ecosystem to maximize access to the total, holistic relationship. This includes looking at the ERP environment and exploring how they can bring more of their financial processes into the CRM ecosystem. The more processes that can be incorporated into one ecosystem, the more data a company can leverage to run a smarter and more flexible business.
5. Behavioral Improvements: Process automation and improvement is just the first step to impacting, changing and focusing the behavior of a company’s employees around the success of their customers. Companies that take a truly integrated approach to connecting their customer processes through the Salesforce ecosystem, are focused on strategies and applications that incent and reward the most customer-centric behaviors through systems like Incentive Compensation Management (ICM) and Predictive Analytics that show the impact of their behavior on both the success of their customers and their own personal compensation success.
At AppNexus, we’ve partnered with Apttus to develop and deliver many of these programs from Contract Lifecycle Management to Incentive Compensation and even Predictive Analytics. We have also implemented a robust Customer Community and focused on driving Strategic Account Planning and Customer Success. We see many of these trends within the cloud environment as being important to our future plans.
What better source for amazing insights concerning the CRM and sales process automation space than Greg McLaughlin, Senior Director of Business Automation Solutions at AppNexus and a veteran who has been living with the technology since the beginning. If you are interested in learning more about how AppNexus is using Apttus, visit their customer web page. Or for more perspectives from other Apttus customers, be sure to be on the lookout for the next instalment of the QTC Masters blog series.