CONTRIBUTOR
General Manager and Editorial Director,
Techstrong Group

Synopsis

In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights series video, Mike Vizard speaks with Zenatta Consulting CEO Brett Martin about how CRM applications have become core to digital business transformation initiatives.

 

Transcript

Mike Vizard: Hey guys, welcome to the latest Digital CxO podcast. I’m your host Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Brett Martin, CEO for Zenada. They are a consulting firm that works a lot in the area of CRM. And we’re going to be talking about the role of CRM in digital business transformation. Brett, welcome to the show.

Brett Martin: Mike, thanks so much for having me. It’s been a while. Good to see you.

Mike Vizard: Good to see you. We hear a lot about business transformation. And of course, people are investing heavily in CRM and there’s a notion that their customer relationship is now driven through these applications more so than anything else. Finance apps have fallen on the back end of that transition. What is your sense of how much is this notion of digital transformation driving interest in CRM and what is the role of CRM in that process?

Brett Martin: Wow. That’s a good question. I think there’s a lot going on. You hit the nail on the head there with Zenatta. All we do really is we are mostly a Zoho partner. If people aren’t familiar with Zoho, think of salesforce.com and then bolt on 50 other applications to run a business. That’s kind of Zoho’s marketplace there. But the core thing, even though Salesforce keeps buying up company after company after company, their core product is CRM. Everybody comes back to CRM.

And one of the things we’ve noticed, it’s been really interesting during the pandemic, certain industries took a hit, certain industries did not. CRM was not one of those. CRM had just absolutely exponential growth. I think it was one of those times where companies needed to sit back and look at it and say, okay, wow, as we’re transforming our business here, what are we doing? We’re making this move. We’re going from basically where we had everybody in the office and now more people are out of the office.

And the CRM was, and oftentimes, it’s just a case where it’s nothing more than an address book, and that’s all really people were using it, the little contact manager where they could do that. Maybe they manage some deal flow. But as companies really, truly embraced, I want to say remote working or digital transformation, as you were saying, it became something where they realized it was more than that.

And it was basically the foundation that they could run their business, not just track their customer relationships, but all their vendor relationships, their partner relationships, what products are sold, who’s been sold to what, and then giving them the data that they needed to get their whole marketing departments to continue to drive that. So, I don’t know, we’re seeing a convergence, I guess also in the fact that you’re seeing CRM tie into so many different products now and all of the companies seem to be going in the same way.

So, if you look at Microsoft Teams, which ties into Microsoft Dynamics, everybody poo-pooed the fact that Salesforce bought Slack, but they’re just integral, right? Because everything that’s happening in the organization, everything that’s happening with sales marketing; yes, you’ve got CRM, but also you have that real time communication going with Slack. Soho does it with a product called Click. It’s the same thing.

You’re seeing the real-time communication and the real-time engagement with kind of the overall database of how is our company doing? Who are we engaging with? What are we doing? What are our activities? And tracking all of that. That’s a long answer. I hope I got your question there.

Mike Vizard: I think you’re spot on. Do you think that part of the interest in CRM was driven post-COVID pandemic where people were like, we may not get many new customers, so we need to figure out how to drive more revenue out of our existing customers, and for that they needed to know more about what their customers had and when they bought what and why?

Brett Martin: Yeah. I think it was a little bit of both. I think companies that had CRM, they knew they needed it and they were using it. And I think there were two things that happened. We talked about companies that really benefited from the pandemic and companies that were hurt by the pandemic or their business slowed down considerably. And what we saw was both of those companies deciding that they needed to up their investment.

I think the thing that helped was these EIDL loans, the PPP, all of that money that was flowing in, it gave them a little breathing room and they had some money, a good chunk of it had to be spent on investment in the company and companies were looking at what are the main things we need to invest this money in to ensure our growth post-pandemic or during the pandemic? And it all came down to remote work, CRM, all of those kinds of tools that would allow them to grow the business and automate it to the best level they could. So, a little bit of both.

I know there were a lot of companies that said, well, we’re doing nothing right now. We’ve always talked for the last year and a half that, wow, we’re going to get our CRM in order. We’re going to get our marketing in order. We’re going to take care of all these things, but they never did. They never had time. And now all of a sudden, they had the time to sit back, take a look at their organizations and figure out what they needed to do. And they had money because of the stimulus.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that the processes are changing? It used to be sales and marketing are somewhat separate. And as we look at these integrations and the technologies coming together, are those sales and marketing motions becoming tighter or are they becoming one department or what do you think the relationship between sales and marketing is going to be going forward?

Brett Martin: Well, you know me. We’ve had this conversation for years and I’ve always said that every company should have a person who heads up both sales and marketing. I think there are different divisions, but the head of sales and the head of marketing need to report to the head of sales and marketing, where there could be these coordinations between the two. And depending on the size of the company, and I think depending on the success of that company, the closer melded they are, the better they do.

I know for us, we’re dealing with a lot of what I would call SMB SME, right? That whole little space, let’s say anywhere from that 25 to 500 space. And when you look at these companies, they don’t necessarily have the, I don’t know, what’s the word I’m looking for? They don’t have the ability to have just huge silos. They’re not big enough to have these silos, and they need to have those walls a little bit broken down.

And I find most with those companies when we’re sitting down and we’re doing a review of, hey, let’s take a look at your CRM. What’s your marketing plan? How are you actually executing things? Do you have drip? What are your channels? What are your social look like? You have not only the CEO, but you have everybody on the call. They’ll have four or five people on the call, the leaders of each department all working together. Very rarely do I see this siloed.

This is sales, this is what we wanna do kind of thing. And it’s only when you go, it seems when you get to the bigger companies, you get that kind of divisiveness between the departments where they should be communicating and they’re not. But I don’t see that much in the whole SME space at all.

Mike Vizard: Do you think those guys are more agile than the big guys and has technology kind of leveled the playing field for them where they can compete more effectively against the big guys?

Brett Martin: I would think so. If you go back to, nobody needs a mainframe sitting in their closet anymore and they don’t have to have the big IT staff department. SaaS has basically leveled the playing field for everybody. The same software that basically big fortune 100 companies run on, mostly salesforce.com is what those guys run on the CRM side of things, anybody can have. They’re running the exact same platform with the exact same plugins and the exact same metrics and the availability to all of the tools that are out there available to anybody now. So, I think it really does level that playing field.

Now I think the only place where it gets a little different is the big budget ERP systems for companies that are doing big manufacturing, those kinds of things. There’s no leveling playing field for that because a small little company that’s doing manufacturing, they can’t go out and spend that money on the big ERP systems to drive their overall manufacturing process. But other than that, from what you’re talking about, general sales, general marketing, I think the playing field is absolutely level.

Mike Vizard: As we go forward, do you think that it’s getting harder for people to make a decision because more people are involved or is it becoming easier for them to pick a platform or something to standardize on because the company is operating in unison for a change?

Brett Martin: That’s a great question. I think what I see a lot of is there are a lot of choices out there. SaaS makes it real easy to spin up a product and whether it’s a good product or not, that’s another story, but you see companies that are, there seem to be two things that are going on. I think they want to make a decision, but they’re looking at so many different choices out there. And then you have many companies now that are saying, hey, we’re going to offer you the unified platform.

And then you have a lot of companies that say, no, we’re the specialist in this, but then we integrate with everything. And what that comes down to at the end of the day is you do get these little battles internally where maybe marketing wants HubSpot because that’s what they want to run. They’ve heard about HubSpot. They like it. Marketing wants to do that. Sales doesn’t want HubSpot because they don’t think it gives them the thing that they want. Are they going to do an integration there or are they just going to go with a platform where the CRM and the marketing are all integrated?

And those are the kinds of discussions we seem to be having with a lot of companies. When you’re working with Zoho, for those that aren’t familiar, it’s an integrated platform. Pretty much every single type of application that you want is in that one platform. So, when people are coming to us, they’re at that crossroads. Okay. Are we going to go with this all-in-one platform? Are we going to integrate it? Or we go in with these separate pieces?

And believe it or not, sometimes they end up working with us and it’s both, they get the best of both worlds. We’ll integrate some pieces and do it. But I don’t know if that answered the question. There was just a lot. It totally depends on the company and what they’re what they’re looking for. I do think it’s a tougher decision. It’s not so easy just to say, this is what we’re going to do, ‘cause there’s just too many choices out there across every single platform.

If you just look at marketing automation, it used to be, what do we have, Marketo and Parta. And now just go down the road, 50 different companies you can choose from just for email marketing and drip campaigns. What’d you have, you had Act and Goldmine that got crushed by Salesforce. And then all of a sudden now there’s 50 CRM companies out there that you can choose from. It just goes on and on and on. So, I think a lot of companies sit there and they’re looking at what’s going to be a good fit for them. Budget is a big deal too.

The thing about Saas as we all know is that, wow, it’s great, but you don’t own the software anymore. It used to be, hey, I’m going to pay $500.00 bucks a seat and I own this stuff and it’s good for life. Now you’ve got these ongoing contracts. Some of them get rather onerous as you drive, as you keep adding in other products in other seats and other services. Next thing you know, you’re a 100-person company and you’re dropping $1,000.00 per year per employee on your overall SaaS. You’ve got $100,000.00 software tab for your employees.

Is it better? Well, you don’t have to have servers anymore. You’re not doing RDP. You’re not doing that, but people start to look at, they get budget conscious around things. So, I’ll tell you what I do see coming. I see a price war among all of these guys, ‘cause I think it’s going to tighten up. We’re not quite to the commodity point yet, but it’s getting there, kind of what happened with antivirus.

Mike Vizard: Do you think we’re going to be in for something that feels like a SaaS hangover with post-digital transformation and post-COVID? People are going to wake up one morning and go, oh my god, I got 30 of these platforms and 15 of them do the same thing or at least half of the same thing.

Brett Martin: I don’t know. Speaking for myself, I’ve got one. I’m a geek. I love trying out all these new platforms. I used to all the time. I love AppSumo. If you ever go there, it’s like they run the deal of the century on SaaS app after SaaS app after SaaS app. And now I just look at it, I’m like, oh, I don’t have time.

I don’t have time to look at something else because it’s very easy to spin stuff up and then you wonder, are these even going to be around anymore? But the other advantage is it’s a server. It’s running in the cloud. As long as they can afford to keep their server up, they should be able to stay in business for a while because it’s low overhead.

Mike Vizard: We hear a lot about low-code tools these days and no-code tools and citizen developers and people are going to be able to build their own workflows and their own applications, and this is going to be their brave new world that we’re all going to live in. And I have to wonder if that’s going to be a reality, because last time I checked, the average individual was going to build an application and the high probability it would be ugly. High probability it would be insecure, and high probability it won’t scale. So, what is the reality of low-code and citizen developers versus professional developers these days?

Brett Martin: It’s interesting. I know I can only speak from our own experience, I don’t think citizen developers, I don’t think low-code, really, if you really want to do anything, you have to code. So, even if you’re doing low-code, perhaps to make it really do the magic you want, you’re going to need to know some JavaScript, right? You’re going to be able to make some API calls to pull things in. You’re going to have to do those kinds of things.

And you’re not going to want to do it through like, oh, it’s super low-code and I’m using Zapier and you’re kind of toggling together a bunch of things. So, in most cases, I think you’re going to need a developer to make it happen. I do see though, a big trend where developers are using low code platforms because they actually can make them pretty, make sure they’re secure, and do the things that are there. And they can spin out an app much, much faster than they could just building it up from scratch.

We do a lot of that. Zoho has got a platform called Zoho Creator and it is a low code environment. And we are spinning up these are the simplest of apps, the most complicated of apps out of that all the time. And also, you have to be careful when you’re using a low-code environment. You talked about security. Where are those servers? What is the backbone behind this look?

‘Cause most of these low-code environments are hosted remotely, and it depends on the provider you’re building it on or how you’re doing it, so you want to make sure that that’s the case because a lot of these, you can spin them up, put them on AWS, and it’s only secure as the server you have. A lot of them are hosted again, a SAS model. Build your low-code app. We’ll host it for you on our platform that you’re doing. So, a whole bunch of different ways to go there. I can tell you though, the speed, the time for professional developers to spin up an application using low-code, it cuts it by 80 percent.

Mike Vizard: What’s your best advice to digital CXOs? You encounter a lot of different executives out there. What do you see as kind of patterns of behavior that you wish might change?

Brett Martin: In the CXO world?

Mike Vizard: Yep.

Brett Martin: I actually think they get it, Mike. I think that SaaS has helped them. I think we’ve demystified IT. You no longer have to have, something breaks on your computer. You don’t have to have the IT guy come fix it and you say, “What’d you do?” And he’d say, “Oh, it’s over your head.” That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s like my printer won’t print. The printer gets fixed, old metaphors, but they still apply. People see the power of IT now.

We just talked about low-code. The great thing about most of the sales and marketing tools that are out there is they are highly customizable just from a drag and drop. Oh, I need to add fields. I need to get extra information. I need to make a relation between this group of people and that group of people. It’s just dead simple to do. You’re not talking to a database person. It’s just, I’m going to add a field and just create that relation, and there’s nothing for anybody to do this.

So, I think the power of these tools is very self-evident to the whole CXO world. I think they understand them, and they’re making those buying decisions now. IT is out. The VP of marketing, the VP of sales, the VP of operations, they’re the ones saying, “This is the BI tool I want. This is what I need it to do. And this is the marketing tools that we need, and these are the sales tools we need.”

Really, they’re hiring consultants to put it all together, which is the big trend now are these consultancies that come in and over the top of whatever IT there was and say, “Hey, here’s all the things you’ve chosen. Let’s make them work together for you.”

Mike Vizard: So, what is the role of IT people going forward? Where do you see them in this equation?

Brett Martin: I don’t know. Traditional IT, that’s servers, networks, desktops, making sure that all the plumbing works and spinning off basically cookie cutter systems and taking care of the security inside companies and all of those kinds of things. If you spin out remotely, I don’t know, how many, I haven’t talked to anybody in a very long time that has to use a VPN to log into their company to do anything. Because that was those days of having a VPN going into your own server farm, there are there companies that do that.

I would say they’re fading fast, though. There aren’t a lot of them. So, I don’t know. I think that traditional IT role it’s, hey, big offices, you always need the IT people to go around ‘cause things are always gonna break. But when people are at home, it’s remote. Does IT just become remote support, and do those remote management tools then come into play? That seems to be the big thing, right?

Just the old day where you’d go to my PC using all of those tools you can to basically go in and take a look, fix the person’s PC, remote monitoring tools. Those were a big thing right now. And I would also say remote device management is a big one as well. So, where IT is gonna be, I still think there’s a big place for MSPs. I think it gets bigger as the world goes remote, ‘cause you can be a managed service provider that is managing all the people remotely, too. So, maybe that’s where it goes, but my crystal ball is a little hazy on that one, Mike.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that with the shift to SaaS and the fact that everybody is remotely working, that those two things go hand in hand and a lot of organizations as we go along here are going to be increasingly virtual. There’s going to be employees all over the place. They’re all going to be logging into some centralized SaaS set of applications somewhere, but do we need to get to some point where we just recognize that this is the new normal, and we’re not going to have this notion of let’s drive to work and go hang out in an office somewhere because I got 30 guys that may be all over the place. And yeah, I may have an office somewhere, but there’s only two people in it.

Brett Martin: Yeah, I think it is a new normal, and I think we need to get used to it. And look, there are certain businesses, people have to come into the office. But I would argue that’s less than half the businesses where people have to go into the office historically. You just don’t need to. You’re a longtime journalist, and when you first started out, you guys had to schlep into the office, right? It’s kind of crazy. You don’t see that much anymore. I don’t know. I know you still have the big newspapers, but why anybody would go into those offices, it’s beyond my comprehension to me.

There are a lot of businesses that don’t need that. Hey, manufacturing, they need it. R&D I think you need it. You’re going to have to, all of these big, those kinds of things, yes. But real estate, why do they come into an office? If you look at all of the bulk of, what percentage of businesses in the U.S. for small businesses? It’s a big number, I don’t know what it is, but it’s well more than half. And for most of those, yeah, unless you’re a storefront, you’ve got to really ask yourself, what kind of office do I need? Do I need to have a big office? Those kinds of things.

But service companies, sure. They have to have offices. But I don’t know. I think we’re moving away from it. I think businesses that can be centralized will. They’ll love the fact that they save all that money on office space and they can put that into other things, and we’re seeing that as well. There are a lot of companies that are not coming back. I’ve got a lot of companies that, we have over 600 companies we work with and a good chunk of those, they’re not opening their offices again. No need for them.

Mike Vizard: Cool. Hey buddy, thanks for being on the show as always.

Brett Martin: Absolute pleasure, Mike. Congratulations with everything you’re doing and best luck with this podcast. I like the format.

Mike Vizard: All right, guys. And thank you all for listening to our podcast. We’ll see you all next time on the digital CXO website. Please check it out. And most importantly, stay safe.

Show Notes

Mike Vizard: Hey guys, welcome to the latest Digital CXO podcast. I’m your host Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Brett Martin, CEO for Zenatta. They are a consulting firm that works a lot in the area of CRM. And we’re going to be talking about the role of CRM in digital business transformation. Brett, welcome to the show.

Brett Martin: Mike, thanks so much for having me. It’s been a while. Good to see you.

Mike Vizard: Good to see you. We hear a lot about business transformation. And of course, people are investing heavily in CRM and there’s a notion that their customer relationship is now driven through these applications more so than anything else. Finance apps have fallen on the back end of that transition. What is your sense of how much is this notion of digital transformation driving interest in CRM and what is the role of CRM in that process?

Brett Martin: Wow. That’s a good question. I think there’s a lot going on. You hit the nail on the head there with Zenada. All we do really is we are mostly a Zoho partner. If people aren’t familiar with Zoho, think of salesforce.com and then bolt on 50 other applications to run a business. That’s kind of Zoho’s marketplace there. But the core thing, even though Salesforce keeps buying up company after company after company, their core product is CRM. Everybody comes back to CRM.

And one of the things we’ve noticed, it’s been really interesting during the pandemic, certain industries took a hit, certain industries did not. CRM was not one of those. CRM had just absolutely exponential growth. I think it was one of those times where companies needed to sit back and look at it and say, okay, wow, as we’re transforming our business here, what are we doing? We’re making this move. We’re going from basically where we had everybody in the office and now more people are out of the office.

And the CRM was, and oftentimes, it’s just a case where it’s nothing more than an address book, and that’s all really people were using it, the little contact manager where they could do that. Maybe they manage some deal flow. But as companies really, truly embraced, I want to say remote working or digital transformation, as you were saying, it became something where they realized it was more than that.

And it was basically the foundation that they could run their business, not just track their customer relationships, but all their vendor relationships, their partner relationships, what products are sold, who’s been sold to what, and then giving them the data that they needed to get their whole marketing departments to continue to drive that. So, I don’t know, we’re seeing a convergence, I guess also in the fact that you’re seeing CRM tie into so many different products now and all of the companies seem to be going in the same way.

So, if you look at Microsoft Teams, which ties into Microsoft Dynamics, everybody poo-pooed the fact that Salesforce bought Slack, but they’re just integral, right? Because everything that’s happening in the organization, everything that’s happening with sales marketing. Yes, you’ve got CRM, but also you have that real time communication going with Slack. Soho does it with a product called Click? It’s the same thing.

You’re seeing the real-time communication and the real-time engagement with kind of the overall database of how is our company doing? Who are we engaging with? What are we doing? What are our activities? And tracking all of that. That’s a long answer. I hope I got your question there.

Interviewer: I think you’re spot on. Do you think that part of the interest in CRM was driven post-COVID pandemic where people were like, we may not get many new customers, so we need to figure out how to drive more revenue out of our existing customers, and for that they needed to know more about what their customers had and when they bought what and why?

Brett: Yeah. I think it was a little bit of both. I think companies that had CRM, they knew they needed it and they were using it. And I think there were two things that happened. We talked about companies that really benefited from the pandemic and companies that were hurt by the pandemic or their business slowed down considerably. And what we saw was both of those companies deciding that they needed to up their investment.

I think the thing that helped these EIDL loans, the PPP, all of that money that was flowing in, it gave them a little breathing room and they had some money, a good chunk of it had to be spent on investment in the company and companies were looking at what are the main things we need to invest this money in to ensure our growth post-pandemic or during the pandemic? And it all came down to remote work, CRM, all of those kinds of tools that would allow them to grow the business and automate it to the best level they could. So, a little bit of both.

I know there were a lot of companies that said, well, we’re doing nothing right now. We’ve always talked for the last year and a half that, wow, we’re going to get our CRM in order. We’re going to get our marketing in order. We’re going to take care of all these things, but they never did. They never had time. And now all of a sudden, they had the time to sit back, take a look at their organizations and figure out what they needed to do. And they had money because of the stimulus.

Interviewer: Do you think that the processes are changing? It used to be sales and marketing are somewhat separate. And as we look at these integrations and the technologies coming together, are those sales and marketing motions becoming tighter or are they becoming one department or what do you think the relationship between sales and marketing is going to be going forward?

Brett: Well, you know me. We’ve had this conversation for years and I’ve always said that every company should have a person who heads up both sales and marketing. I think there are different divisions, but the head of sales and the head of marketing need to report to the head of sales and marketing, where there could be these coordinations between the two. And depending on the size of the company, and I think depending on the success of that company, the closer melded they are, the better they do.

I know for us, we’re dealing with a lot of what I would call SMB SME, right? That whole little space, let’s say anywhere from that 25 to 500 space. And when you look at these companies, they don’t necessarily have the, I don’t know, what’s the word I’m looking for? They don’t have the ability to have just huge silos. They’re not big enough to have these silos, and they need to have those walls a little bit broken down.

And I find most with those companies when we’re sitting down and we’re doing a review of, hey, let’s take a look at your CRM. What’s your marketing plan? How are you actually executing things? Do you have drip? What are your channels? What are your social look like? You have not only the CEO, but you have everybody on the call. They’ll have four or five people on the call, the leaders of each department all working together. Very rarely do I see this siloed.

This is sales, this is what we wanna do kind of thing. And it’s only when you go, it seems when you get to the bigger companies, you get that kind of divisiveness between the departments where they should be communicating and they’re not. But I don’t see that much in the whole SME space at all.

Interviewer: Do you think those guys are more agile than the big guys and has technology kind of leveled the playing field for them where they can compete more effectively against the big guys?

Brett: I would think so. If you go back to, nobody needs a mainframe sitting in their closet anymore and they don’t have to have the big IT staff department. SAS has basically leveled the playing field for everybody. The same software that basically big fortune 100 companies run on, mostly salesforce.com is what those guys run on the CRM side of things, anybody can have. They’re running the exact same platform with the exact same plugins and the exact same metrics and the availability to all of the tools that are out there available to anybody now. So, I think it really does level that playing field.

Now I think the only place where it gets a little different is the big budget ERP systems for companies that are doing big manufacturing, those kinds of things. There’s no leveling playing field for that because a small little company that’s doing manufacturing, they can’t go out and spend that money on the big ERP systems to drive their overall manufacturing process. But other than that, from what you’re talking about, general sales, general marketing, I think the playing field is absolutely level.

Interviewer: As we go forward, do you think that it’s getting harder for people to make a decision because more people are involved or is it becoming easier for them to pick a platform or something to standardize on because the company is operating in unison for a change?

Brett: That’s a great question. I think what I see a lot of is there are a lot of choices out there. SAS makes it real easy to spin up a product and whether it’s a good product or not, that’s another story, but you see companies that are, there seem to be two things that are going on. I think they want to make a decision, but they’re looking at so many different choices out there. And then you have many companies now that are saying, hey, we’re going to offer you the unified platform.

And then you have a lot of companies that say, no, we’re the specialist in this, but then we integrate with everything. And what that comes down to at the end of the day is you do get these little battles internally where maybe marketing wants HubSpot because that’s what they want to run. They’ve heard about HubSpot. They like it. Marketing wants to do that. Sales doesn’t want HubSpot because they don’t think it gives them the thing that they want. Are they going to do an integration there or are they just going to go with a platform where the CRM and the marketing are all integrated?

And those are the kinds of discussions we seem to be having with a lot of companies. When you’re working with Zoho, for those that aren’t familiar, it’s an integrated platform. Pretty much every single type of application that you want is in that one platform. So, when people are coming to us, they’re at that crossroads. Okay. Are we going to go with this all-in-one platform? Are we going to integrate it? Or we go in with these separate pieces?

And believe it or not, sometimes they end up working with us and it’s both, they get the best of both worlds. We’ll integrate some pieces and do it. But I don’t know if that answered the question. There was just a lot. It totally depends on the company and what they’re what they’re looking for. I do think it’s a tougher decision. It’s not so easy just to say, this is what we’re going to do, ‘cause there’s just too many choices out there across every single platform.

If you just look at marketing automation, it used to be, what do we have, Marketo and Parta. And now just go down the road, 50 different companies you can choose from just for email marketing and drip campaigns. What’d you have, you had Act and Goldmine that got crushed by Salesforce. And then all of a sudden now there’s 50 CRM companies out there that you can choose from. It just goes on and on and on. So, I think a lot of companies sit there and they’re looking at what’s going to be a good fit for them. Budget is a big deal too.

The thing about SAS as we all know is that, wow, it’s great, but you don’t own the software anymore. It used to be, hey, I’m going to pay $500.00 bucks a seat and I own this stuff and it’s good for life. Now you’ve got these ongoing contracts. Some of them get rather onerous as you drive, as you keep adding in other products in other seats and other services. Next thing you know, you’re a 100-person company and you’re dropping $1,000.00 per year per employee on your overall SAS. You’ve got $100,000.00 software tab for your employees.

Is it better? Well, you don’t have to have servers anymore. You’re not doing RDP. You’re not doing that, but people start to look at, they get budget conscious around things. So, I’ll tell you what I do see coming. I see a price war among all of these guys, ‘cause I think it’s going to tighten up. We’re not quite to the commodity point yet, but it’s getting there, kind of what happened with antivirus.

Interviewer: Do you think we’re going to be in for something that feels like a SAS hangover with post-digital transformation and post-COVID? People are going to wake up one morning and go, oh my god, I got 30 of these platforms and 15 of them do the same thing or at least half of the same thing.

Brett: I don’t know. Speaking for myself, I’ve got one. I’m a geek. I love trying out all these new platforms. I used to all the time. I love AppSumo. If you ever go there, it’s like they run the deal of the century on SAS app after SAS app after SAS app. And now I just look at it, I’m like, oh, I don’t have time.

I don’t have time to look at something else because it’s very easy to spin stuff up and then you wonder, are these even going to be around anymore? But the other advantage is it’s a server. It’s running in the cloud. As long as they can afford to keep their server up, they should be able to stay in business for a while because it’s low overhead.

Interviewer: We hear a lot about low code tools these days and no-code tools and citizen developers and people are going to be able to build their own workflows and their own applications, and this is going to be their brave new world that we’re all going to live in. And I have to wonder if that’s going to be a reality, because last time I checked, the average individual was going to build an application and the high probability it would be ugly. High probability it would be insecure, and high probability it won’t scale. So, what is the reality of low code and citizen developers versus professional developers these days?

Brett: It’s interesting. I know I can only speak from our own experience, I don’t think citizen developers, I don’t think low code, really, if you really want to do anything, you have to code. So, even if you’re doing low code, perhaps to make it really do the magic you want, you’re going to need to know some JavaScript, right? You’re going to be able to make some API calls to pull things in. You’re going to have to do those kinds of things.

And you’re not going to want to do it through like, oh, it’s super low code and I’m using Zapier and you’re kind of toggling together a bunch of things. So, in most cases, I think you’re going to need a developer to make it happen. I do see though, a big trend where developers are using low code platforms because they actually can make them pretty, make sure they’re secure, and do the things that are there. And they can spin out an app much, much faster than they could just building it up from scratch.

We do a lot of that. Zoho has got a platform called Zoho Creator and it is a low code environment. And we are spinning up these are the simplest of apps, the most complicated of apps out of that all the time. And also, you have to be careful when you’re using a low code environment. You talked about security. Where are those servers? What is the backbone behind this look?

‘Cause most of these low code environments are hosted remotely, and it depends on the provider you’re building it on or how you’re doing it, so you want to make sure that that’s the case because a lot of these, you can spin them up, put them on AWS, and it’s only secure as the server you have. A lot of them are hosted again, a SAS model. Build your low code app. We’ll host it for you on our platform that you’re doing. So, a whole bunch of different ways to go there. I can tell you though, the speed, the time for professional developers to spin up an application using low code, it cuts it by 80 percent.

Interviewer: What’s your best advice to digital CXOs? You encounter a lot of different executives out there. What do you see as kind of patterns of behavior that you wish might change?

Brett: In the CXO world?

Interviewer: Yep.

Brett: I actually think they get it, Mike. I think that SAS has helped them. I think we’ve demystified IT. You no longer have to have, something breaks on your computer. You don’t have to have the IT guy come fix it and you say, “What’d you do?” And he’d say, “Oh, it’s over your head.” That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s like my printer won’t print. The printer gets fixed, old metaphors, but they still apply. People see the power of IT now.

We just talked about low code. The great thing about most of the sales and marketing tools that are out there is they are highly customizable just from a drag and drop. Oh, I need to add fields. I need to get extra information. I need to make a relation between this group of people and that group of people. It’s just dead simple to do. You’re not talking to a database person. It’s just, I’m going to add a field and just create that relation, and there’s nothing for anybody to do this.

So, I think the power of these tools is very self-evident to the whole CXO world. I think they understand them, and they’re making those buying decisions now. IT is out. The VP of marketing, the VP of sales, the VP of operations, they’re the ones saying, “This is the BI tool I want. This is what I need it to do. And this is the marketing tools that we need, and these are the sales tools we need.”

Really, they’re hiring consultants to put it all together, which is the big trend now are these consultancies that come in and over the top of whatever IT there was and say, “Hey, here’s all the things you’ve chosen. Let’s make them work together for you.”

Interviewer: So, what is the role of IT people going forward? Where do you see them in this equation?

Brett: I don’t know. Traditional IT, that’s servers, networks, desktops, making sure that all the plumbing works and spinning off basically cookie cutter systems and taking care of the security inside companies and all of those kinds of things. If you spin out remotely, I don’t know, how many, I haven’t talked to anybody in a very long time that has to use a VPN to log into their company to do anything. Because that was those days of having a VPN going into your own server farm, there are there companies that do that.

I would say they’re fading fast, though. There aren’t a lot of them. So, I don’t know. I think that traditional IT role it’s, hey, big offices, you always need the IT people to go around ‘cause things are always gonna break. But when people are at home, it’s remote. Does IT just become remote support, and do those remote management tools then come into play? That seems to be the big thing, right?

Just the old day where you’d go to my PC using all of those tools you can to basically go in and take a look, fix the person’s PC, remote monitoring tools. Those were a big thing right now. And I would also say remote device management is a big one as well. So, where IT is gonna be, I still think there’s a big place for MSPs. I think it gets bigger as the world goes remote, ‘cause you can be a managed service provider that is managing all the people remotely, too. So, maybe that’s where it goes, but my crystal ball is a little hazy on that one, Mike.

Interviewer: Do you think that with the shift to SAS and the fact that everybody is remotely working, that those two things go hand in hand and a lot of organizations as we go along here are going to be increasingly virtual. There’s going to be employees all over the place. They’re all going to be logging into some centralized SAS set of applications somewhere, but do we need to get to some point where we just recognize that this is the new normal, and we’re not going to have this notion of let’s drive to work and go hang out in an office somewhere because I got 30 guys that may be all over the place. And yeah, I may have an office somewhere, but there’s only two people in it.

Brett: Yeah, I think it is a new normal, and I think we need to get used to it. And look, there are certain businesses, people have to come into the office. But I would argue that’s less than half the businesses where people have to go into the office historically. You just don’t need to. You’re a longtime journalist, and when you first started out, you guys had to schlep into the office, right? It’s kind of crazy. You don’t see that much anymore. I don’t know. I know you still have the big newspapers, but why anybody would go into those offices, it’s beyond my comprehension to me.

There are a lot of businesses that don’t need that. Hey, manufacturing, they need it. R&D I think you need it. You’re going to have to, all of these big, those kinds of things, yes. But real estate, why do they come into an office? If you look at all of the bulk of, what percentage of businesses in the U.S. for small businesses? It’s a big number, I don’t know what it is, but it’s well more than half. And for most of those, yeah, unless you’re a storefront, you’ve got to really ask yourself, what kind of office do I need? Do I need to have a big office? Those kinds of things.

But service companies, sure. They have to have offices. But I don’t know. I think we’re moving away from it. I think businesses that can be centralized will. They’ll love the fact that they save all that money on office space and they can put that into other things, and we’re seeing that as well. There are a lot of companies that are not coming back. I’ve got a lot of companies that, we have over 600 companies we work with and a good chunk of those, they’re not opening their offices again. No need for them.

Interviewer: Cool. Hey buddy, thanks for being on the show as always.

Brett: Absolute pleasure, Mike. Congratulations with everything you’re doing and best luck with this podcast. I like the format.

Interviewer: All right, guys. And thank you all for listening to our podcast. We’ll see you all next time on the digital CXO website. Please check it out. And most importantly, stay safe.