B2B brands are expected to be experts in what they do, but Jean de Villiers knows that customers are experts in what they truly need – especially when they’re investing in technologies such as enterprise resource planning.
De Villiers recently became chief customer officer for Unit4, whose ERP and other cloud-based applications are positioned towards “people-centric organizations.” That means De Villiers – who is responsible for Unit4’s professional services, product support and customer success functions, among others – wants to do as much listening as possible.
“I think particularly in software companies, we’re sort of guilty of looking at problems from the perspective of, ‘We know what the customers’ challenges are, so this is how we will fix it,’” De Villiers told 360 Magazine. “But we never go to the customer and say, ‘Hey, is this actually your challenge? And if we were to propose this, is this the right way of solving your challenge for you?’”
Having worked at BMC and several other B2B tech firms, De Villiers feels ready to shift the conversation with customers in the right direction. This interview has been edited and condensed.
What made this the right time to become a chief customer officer, and why Unit4?
You know, most of my roles over the last part of my career – certainly over the last five to 10 years – have been about driving change and engaging to either solve a set of challenges or elevate the performance of a team or a function to something greater than it was. What I saw at Unit4 was an amazing company with a really long track record of innovation. It’s just at that point where it’s either going to really ramp and accelerate, or not. And I wanted to be part of helping it to get to that place.
How would you characterise the customer needs and expectations for ERP in the mid-market, where Unit4 is focusing, versus those of a traditional large enterprise?
There’s different scales for what we call mid market across the continents. Most of the organizations that you’re dealing with, range between 200 to 1000 people in the U.S. and perhaps 50 to 500 in Europe. The thing that I see as a consistent theme within those customers is this need for a complete suite of tools and products that’s easily deployed. That doesn’t cost me a lot to manage, but that is integrated. What they would need to do ordinarily is buy an ERP system and then buy an FP&A system, and then buy a human capital management system. Enterprises love doing that stuff – they’re very good at taking the best of breed and plugging them together and building a great bespoke solution for themselves. Mid-market customers do not have that capacity financially, or the appetite to go through the change journey and the staffing to maintain that kind of complexity. So what they want is simplicity. They want it all in the box.
B2B products like ERPs are typically purchased through buying committees that can be comprised of half a dozen people or more. How does that influence the way you think of “the customer” as you’re developing experiences?
It’s a really interesting question. And one of the culture changes we’re driving for is this concept that the customer is actually a person. The account might be ABC. Inc., but the customer is an individual, and that individual has their specific focus, their specific KPIs, their specific career objectives.
To a large extent these sorts of programs can be materially impactful positively or negatively to their career. It’s really about identifying what are the needs of the CFO? What are the needs of the payroll team? What are the needs of the HR team? What are the needs of, you know, the financial management team that are providing CEO-level reporting and so on? What are the needs of the professional services leader? And the trick is to try – in automated and relatively industrial-strength way – to create personalization.
The other tricky part is that ERP projects have a horrible reputation for taking forever and then not working very well. How do you address those potentially negative preconceptions about what the experience will be like.
That’s exactly right. You’d deploy over 18 months, and at the end of that the customer would say, “We ordered a Maserati and we go the Prius. What happened?”
Within our professional services organization we’re breaking that process down into bite-sized chunks that we can then offer on a subscription basis. So, as opposed to having to write these horrible legal contracts that dictate terms for the duration of an 18-month deployment where no one knows what it’s going to look like in the end, you’re just really making it super commoditized and giving the customer the ability to draw on pieces of professional services as they needed it their journey.
Our objective is to shift the mindset from deployment to, “We’re onboarding you onto our platform.” And that’s done in three months and you’re going to be able to use the platform in these ways. And then slowly but surely, over time, we’re going to take some of the legacy stuff you’re doing and replace it with cooler, more modern stuff that is going to allow you to have more time to do the things that are important for your organization.
And what will be some of the most essential CX metrics you’ll use to assess your progress as you spent more time in this role?
We’ve got a lot of the good basics in place, right. We do quite extensive Net Promoter soring, both transactional and relational. We don’t yet do enough on product-based NPS, so that’s something that we’re looking to introduce. Obviously we track all of our average rate of return and financial metrics that are important for a cloud-based business.
What I often see in the industry is that you’ve got customer success metrics, and then you’ve got professional services as something separate. What we’ve chosen to do – and this is my strong philosophy around this – is to see everything post-sale as part of customer success. Therefore professional services, access management, education, support – these should all be integrated processes and integrated functions. So we’re expending energy on building KPIs that demonstrate the integration. If support tickets are being tracked by professional service consultants, for example, what is their turnaround rates? Are we resolving those defects? Is that impacting project performance?
Ultimately, what I’m looking to do is tie the entire organization to one particular metric which is net revenue retention. It’s the cleanest financial metric when you’re talking about bonuses to say, “If we all do our jobs, right, the company prospers, and our customers prosper.” That is going to be a big focus as we move into 2023.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.