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Cloud9 is all about Dynamic Pipeline Management and how it helps organizations just like yours win more deals. That's a very good thing in these tough economic times. We have a lot to say. Our customers have a lot to say. And we're sure you have a lot to say. Join the discussion!

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LucidEra: Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Posted in: Cloud9 by Swayne Hill on June 25, 2009

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The fallout over LucidEra ceasing operations has done nothing but fuel confusion. It’s not  surprising, I suppose, as the next wave of on-demand BI players jockey for position. On one hand, headlines declare the end is near for SaaS BI; on the other, vendors are falling over themselves to offer “rescue” or “safe-harbor” programs for LucidEra customers.  Both sides of the debate miss the point:  while selling hosted BI tool subscriptions might sound seductive to a ‘data junkie’, this does nothing to solve business problems.  And in the SaaS world, there are hundreds of business users for every one data junkie.  LucidEra didn’t fail because they focused too narrowly in the market; rather their assumptions about what drives adoption in the SaaS world were flawed.

The target consumers of SaaS BI - LOB management - continue to evaluate BI solutions not on technology, breadth of offerings, or ease of use, but the value they deliver.  Vendors that “get it” have almost universally eschewed the term “BI” to describe their service offerings and have instead focused on creating out-of-the-box, configurable solutions that deliver measurable business value.  The challenge for up-and-coming vendors is to create a scalable business that provides business users with the experience they’ve come to expect in the application world - plug and play.

But even that’s not enough. Industry best practices are essential to help LOB managers ask the right questions in the right order. If they don’t know what they NEED to know then the best tools, technologies, reports, and dashboards are useless.

Marrying automation and best practices as part of a total offering works. We’ve experienced record growth for the past three quarters, just closed our ‘B’ funding round and our solutions are generating a great deal of momentum at large, global customers like Siemens, Beckman Coulter, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

This is the perfect storm SaaS BI vendors are up against:

  • LOBs that use SaaS transactional apps like Salesforce want to consume their ‘analytics’ in a like manner: easy-to-use, business-controlled, and rapid time to value.
  • IT is rarely part of the equation and if it is, there is rarely rapid time to value
  • LOBs don’t want to become BI experts; they want to focus on their business
  • IT is skeptical of SaaS BI for many well-understood reasons.

So it’s no wonder why some Sales VPs don’t see the value in SaaS BI Erector Sets that vendors throw into their laps without any understanding of how the business really works. Why? Because these vendors are good at BI, not any particular LOB operational management.  Those that don’t “get it” will continue to fall by the wayside.

So I have to shake my head when I see SaaS BI vendors charming the data junkies among the LucidEra customer base while ignoring the business users. To me, they are offering more of the same and, unfortunately, “more of the same” will also mean more failure and frustration for SaaS BI vendors and more trusting customers left high and dry.


Operational Performance Management for the Rest of Us

Posted in: Cloud9 by Swayne Hill on June 16, 2009

As a long-time sales executive, I’ve struggled first-hand with the profound lack of tools  available that actually contribute to more effective management. CRM systems are good at record keeping, and more recently they’ve even done a better job supporting more of the selling process.  Indeed, these systems help my reps, but they don’t make me a better manager. And they remain woefully underleveraged as a source for real front-line enterprise learning.  I know how successful companies run their sales processes, but key to a successful sales team is a manager engaged in a productive management process.

The CFO has Corporate Performance Management systems to automate the annual planning process, but the rest of the company needs management systems that are far more nimble to drive quarterly, monthly, and even weekly operating cycles. IT is stretched, infrastructure costs too much and takes way too long to get in place - most managers default to Excel as it’s the only thing they can control.  Managing the operations of a business is like helming a sailing yacht: the minute you’ve got everything running smoothly, something changes and you have to react immediately.  If you don’t have the controls you need to detect that change coming, you’ll be too late… every time.  No one has solved this problem yet for the average operating executive, not even the BI (Business Intelligence) vendors.

It might have been on one of those long flights to Australia when the light bulb went on. It wasn’t so much that BI vendors didn’t want to solve the problem, they didn’t know how to solve it with the technology they had. And it became clear to me that it was going to take completely new technology to deliver “performance management for the rest of us” at a price point and with ease-of-use that an operating executive with no control over IT could readily embrace. It was at that moment I traded in my corporate gig for the life of an entrepreneur.

Fast-forward three years. Now, in April 2009, our first instantiation of this new breed of Operational Performance Management applications for front-line executives, the Cloud9 Dynamic Pipeline Management Suite, has been thoroughly embraced by customers all over the globe. They are seeing things in their CRM data now they never thought possible. And they’re able to get ahead of change in their pipelines - and their business - far more effectively. Sales leaders are engaged. CRM adoption is strong. Win rates are up.

This blog is about the journey Cloud9, our customers, and the industry is taking to transform front-line leadership effectiveness with Operational Performance Management for the rest of us. We’ll have conversations about pipeline management because that’s a huge pain point for so many organizations. But we’ll also have conversations about how marrying performance management best practices with automation can make operating teams more effective. We’ll talk about how cloud computing is helping to make these solutions real.

The world of possibility is changing fast and it’s going to be a fantastic ride. Hang on.


Sales managers worry about two things: this month’s forecast and next quarter’s plan. The problem… plans and forecasts are fixed but the sales pipeline is dynamic. It’s a navigation challenge - just like the Volvo Ocean Racing yacht skipper needs to know how conditions change hour by hour in order to arrive at the finish line, a sales manager needs to know what’s changing if she’s to have any hope of hitting either of these targets.

Dynamic Pipeline Management” is about navigating pipeline variables as conditions change - hence the term “dynamic” - in order to meet a fixed target.

Those conditions are:

  • New opportunities
  • Deferred deals
  • Closed/won
  • Closed/lost
  • Adjustments and
  • Sales rep activities.

Yet whereas the yacht skipper really only has to deal with wind, waves, and crew, a sales manager is constantly adjusting to changing conditions across many deals - an order of magnitude greater complexity, mostly generated by an often unpredictable customer.

Fortunately for the yacht skipper, GPS, radar and weather instruments keep him well informed. Today’s sales manager however, is often left with a static transactional CRM system and their gut instinct. Even though the pipeline levers - growth, velocity, and rep activities are commonly within the sales manager’s control, pulling the levers at the right time remains mostly a happy coincidence. That’s where Dynamic Pipeline Management comes in.


Forecasting Accuracy, Part 2

Posted in: Cloud9 by Swayne Hill on April 29, 2009

This month’s Cloud9 Expert, Scott Roose from inContact, Inc., had some insightful things to say about forecast accuracy – a topic that I discussed here in a post last week. Scott, who is Director of Business Analytics, said they recently improved forecasting accuracy by more than 60%. Cloud9 would certainly like to take all the credit for that, but if you go back and read my post on ‘Why Does My Sales Forecasting Suck?’, you’ll see that forecasting accuracy is not a math problem and can’t be solved with a magic pill. It is a management problem that starts by applying best pipeline management practices. In the Meet The Expert Forum, Scott fielded questions after the Webinar and said this about forecasting accuracy:

Our forecast accuracy has gone from being off as much as 50% to less than 20%. It used to be said that the sales forecast was unreliable, now our executive committee uses it every month and quarter. Not all of this is due to Cloud9; like every other data analytics / reporting tool your forecast is only as good as your data. If you have bad data then you have bad forecasts. Therefore, you have to commit to a standardized process and regular rep / manager reviews to get better data.

Cloud9 helps us dramatically increase the pipeline forecast visibility which helps apply the right focus and pressure to drive accurate data.

I really couldn’t have said it better myself.

Scott is a great example of what’s happening in sales operations today. In the same way they’ve harnessed Salesforce to improve sales team efficiencies, they’re leveraging Cloud9’s on-demand performance management solutions to improve management effectiveness.



Why Does My Sales Forecasting Suck?

Posted in: Cloud9 by Swayne Hill on April 23, 2009

My sales forecasts suck!

Pardon my French, but that’s something we hear from our customers every day. The frustration they face with forecast accuracy is of course compounded by today’s economic environment, placing a big executive-level bull’s-eye on their performance.

Even in good times, big companies spend a lot of energy triangulating their sales forecasts - and with good reason: if you don’t have clear visibility into where your revenue will come from, effective resource allocation is often nothing more than a happy (or lucky) accident. The problem is that clear visibility is a pipe dream for most sales organizations these days. Sophisticated analytic models require heavy IT involvement and support and that’s just not in the cards; IT shops are hunkering down just so they can deliver the core compliance systems enterprises must have. Extra IT bandwidth and capital budget? No.

One of the trends we’re seeing is a focus on improving pipeline management practices. With better visibility into day-to-day changes, sales teams become more proactively engaged in managing risks and exploiting opportunities, the drivers for forecast accuracy. A quick check of the rep and managers forecasts against historical stage-conversions trends and off-pipe revenue trends adds to confidence in the numbers, but it’s the up-stream practices that really drive results.

To improve your forecasting accuracy, follow these three steps:

  • Proactively engage in pipeline management, detecting change and taking early corrective action
  • Compare rep-level rollups on amounts by forecast category (commit, likely, best case, up-side) with manager override
  • Verify these two data points against your historical sales-stage-based conversion rates and trend the gaps to increase accuracy over time

All of this is within your control - no IT required. The key takeaway is forecast accuracy is really a pipeline management challenge. Sure, use data to arrive at a verifiable patterns. Triangulation, however, is a management process, not a CRM process nor a math problem. Accurate sales forecasts are an outcome of good pipeline management practices.


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