In it’s more than 30 years existence Exact always has been an ambitious company creating solutions for small and medium-sized companies. About 10 years ago we started with Exact Online, our subscription based software-as-a-service offering, which at that moment was quite unique and innovative. Today we add about 1.000 companies per week to our business software platform in 7 different countries. Our on-premise brother within Exact is even operating in more countries. The attitude of having courage and being ambitious never changed, we are even in our next wave towards exponential.
About a year ago our CEO Erik van der Meijden started the discussion by distributing the book ‘Exponential Organizations’ within the management teams. There were plenty of ideas and thoughts of making next steps within the Exact organization but something tangible is needed to really create a movement. Looking back that was the starting point of the movement we are just making in becoming an exponential organization (ExO). There won’t be any marketing in 5 years from now.At the end, I think that many of us have such an ambition, want to become the disrupter of their industry. But it is a huge step from that thinking towards a true movement. It takes time, doesn’t happen overnight but it is pretty exciting I can tell you. Everybody within the company is thinking of how to contribute to this ambition so am I coming from a marketing perspective. In a couple of blog posts, I will provide you with some insights how we started the ExO movement, the challenges and the proof points we already achieved.
Massive transformative purpose
The book ‘Exponential Organizations‘ is talking about a so-called MTP: massive transformative purpose. Your reason why, why do you as a company exist, what is your ultimate dream. Exact defined her MTP which is: We empower SMEs to be the driving force of the global economy. That’s how it started 30 years ago empowering small companies to run complex financial applications on simple personal computers. PC’s at that time were upcoming and not common sense. We empower SMEs to be the driving force of the global economy.The road towards this MTP included lots of discussions but also many decisions which are underneath it. We make a firm statement saying we want to become and remain relevant for SMEs and especially the small business owners themselves. This means quite a lot looking tot our customer base of 300.000 companies right now. Many (public) accountants and bookkeepers and less small business owners. So in order to live our MTP we need to enable accountants and bookkeepers to support those small business owners and we need to become relevant for those small business owners.
System of engagement
That last point is a big one, it means that we want to become a system of engagement rather than a system of record. So we don’t want to end up as a back-end system, we truly want to play a valuable role in the daily life of a small business owner. That is a major step looking at where we are today. The main question for myself: how is marketing going to contribute to this ambition and have an impact? There are three areas where I think we can and will contribute:
- further optimize our demand generation engine
- integrate with other ecosystems and platforms
- develop new products and services
I wrote many blog items about our demand generation engine. How we build of this engine driving our growth with thousands of leads this engine is generating each and every month. Ongoing optimizations leads to lower Cost per Leads and Customer Acquisition Costs. As of January 1st this year we started to fully adopt scrum/agile within marketing as a new way of working. I will write a separate blog about this interesting journey. Soon I will expand from 4 to 6 scrum teams working on a specific product vision with product owners and scrum masters doing daily stand-ups and sprint reviews. Supported by our own Google Analytics 360 and Google DoubleClick suite we will make some huge steps in terms of optimization.
I see lots of opportunities taking the next step in integrating with other ecosystems. Today we have our own AppCenter with more than 300 software vendors integrating with the Exact Online business software platform. Most of these vendors add certain functionality to our solutions. Functionality is the starting point rather than the value for the customer. Here we will step up thinking about the value a combination of our platforms and another can provide to the customer. These Uber taxi drivers, how can we make their lives much more easier?There are many platforms where large volumes of our target audiences are active on. Take Uber as an example. These taxi drivers are in fact all small companies running their business. How can we make their lives much more easier? What if we would integrate with their platform, can we optimize their experience in terms of them running their business by automating stuff or providing them with additional insights? New go-to-market models will emerge exploring these opportunities.
Our first adventure: Sparks
Supporting small business owners in their daily lives requires new products and services on top of what we offer today. The one that comes close is the Exact Online mobile app very closely related and integrated with our accounting, CRM and industry solutions. But maybe this is already too much and we should challenge ourselves whether this app truly supports small business owners in their daily lives. Or is it a nice top have app that they check once a while. Our MTP is very clear, we WANT to play a valuable role in their daily lives which means we had to search for new ways to enter these people’s lives rather than the solutions we deliver today. Today there are multiple initiatives covering this challenge and I will pick out one that actually started 3 years ago under the code name Sparks.
Sparks was born coming from the believe that with all the data customers are storing in the cloud we should be able to come up with smart suggestions helping them to grow their business. Out of the box thinking regardless the limitations from a legal perspective if we are allowed to access this data and how to use it. At that time with a small group of people coming from multiple departments we were introduced to methodologies like lean startup, design thinking and customer development. That project ended up with a first concept and powerpoint based mock-up. After a year we decided to pivot the idea and work on it in a second round.Many customer interviews and validations were part of the process. Sparks was a truly out of the box concept which also required lots of explanation and attention within Exact to gain support and traction. After a year we decided to pivot the idea and work on it in a second round. This ended up in a more specific concept with a clickable mock-up on a mobile device. Quite abstract and high level but with a business case and model behind it. After it fell off the budget for 2015 we decided that in 2016 we had to start with it. The urge to start exploring new products and services was there.
But before even getting there the Sparks concept and project was already under high pressure.
A Sparks team was founded which was about to go live in March 2016. But before even getting there the Sparks concept and project was already under high pressure. Many questions, unclarity and at the end not having the broad support to make it happen. Which made us decide to pivot the concept again because the believe that it had huge potential was broadly supported. Also with the movement that was started around becoming an exponential organization gave the project new energy and traction. So a new multidisciplinary team was formed with discovery and delivery skills. New research was conducted and many ideation and customer validation sessions followed. Finally this pivoting 3rd round ended up with three concepts around the main challenges experienced by small business owners in the context of growing their business:
- find new customers
- find funding
- find knowledge
With this Sparks was divided into three new concepts: Connect, Finance and Share. This 3rd round accelerated the project. Connect was picked up immediately and resulted in the official announcement in front of an audience of 5.000 customers and partners at ExactLive last week. On 3 booths Exact Connect was being demoed as a digital platform that helps small business owners find new customers. We expect to officially release Exact Connect in Q1 2017.
Digital business platform
While Connect is being further developed full speed ahead we are preparing Finance and Share to get into the next phase. All these new concepts are falling together in our Digital Business Platform strategy where we want to become of value for the small business owner supporting them to cope with the challenges mentioned earlier related to finding customers, financing their business and having access to knowledge. This will help Exact to become a system of engagement rather than a system of record. But what does that mean with regards to our positioning? We want to empower small business owners with our Digital Business Platform. This means supporting and facilitating them in their daily lives of doing business by equipping or supply them with an ability to cope the challenges they are facing.
In terms of positioning what we deliver today and what Exact delivers tomorrow you can break that down into the following parts:
- Share: have access and find knowledge from people or business that might be of interest for you based on who you are, what you do and your behavior
- Connect: find new customers and create valuable connections between supply and demand
- Single purpose apps: once people and businesses found each other facilitate them in completing a transaction e.g. create a quote, approve, register activities, invoice and collect
- Filing the transaction what is basically what we currently do with Exact Online business software
- Finance: pro-actively come up with smart suggestions across webapp and mobile apps towards small business owners to finance their business with services like short-term lending, accelerated payments or factoring.
The total package as described above should be considered as the Digital Business Platform that empowers small business owners to grow their business.
Exact Connect: find new customers
Exact Connect as described is still pretty broad facilitating matching between demand and supply. You can make further distinction between goods, white collar and blue collar services. In order to make it concrete and keep it close to our current knitting, we decided to focus first on small business owners who are looking for accountancy and bookkeeping services.
With a multi-disciplinary team, new ideation and customer validation sessions were initiated. What became pretty obvious during these interviews is that a mutual personal click between the small business owner and accountant is crucial to create a successful match. With this is some more insights the team started to work on both a web platform and a mobile app. With a multi-disciplinary team, new ideation and customer validation sessions were initiated.Through the web platform, we capture traffic of small business owners who are searching for these services with paid and organic campaigns.
Once redirected to the Exact Connect website based on some data and some questions answered the algorithm creates a match with an accountant. The small business owner instantly sees if this accountant is online and can set-up a chat session asking some questions. Within the Exact Connect app the accountant is notified with a pop-up message and can engage with this contact immediately. The start of a valuable relationship has just been incepted.
First of all what all these new initiatives have in common is that multi disciplinary teams are working on it.
Today we start with accountancy and bookkeeping services but later on we will expand towards marketing services, legal services, HR services etc. By delivering these kind of services we enter the lives of many entrepreneurs in a completely different way compared what we do today. But what is the role of marketing in these initiatives? First of all what all these new initiatives have in common is that multi disciplinary teams are working on it. Both discovery and delivery skills are represented where marketing, UX and technical people are working as from the start in a joined effort on the concept. Before even one single line of code has been created, the team makes sure they are 100% aligned from a customer experience perspective.
On a very detailed level from the very first touchpoint until a fully engaged user of a web app or mobile app things are described, validated and tested. Engagement with the customer is leading which is achieved by being utmost relevant in every single touch point created. This is a combination of design, technology, marketing and UX that creates a unique experience.
Marketing, the next step
I strongly belief that the product and services delivered by a company will include marketing in itself. Marketing needs to become integral part of it. This means that we marketing people need to get actively involved in a number of new initiatives that will lead into new products and services. As from the very start it is about engagement and that game we are currently playing on a daily basis. Big difference is that looking at the Exact Online products we deliver today our content (a white paper, infographic, video, ebook etc.) is the main mean to get into the lives of our target audiences as early as possible. You could consider our new services like Exact Connect in a mobile app format as our new means going beyond marketing as we know it today.But the nature of these means is volatile. We deliver value with such a piece of content but the attention span is quite short. The exchange of contact details allows us to nurture this contact into a lead with new content. You could consider our new services like Exact Connect in a mobile app format as our new means going beyond marketing as we know it today. It is about creating value as from the start, continuously in a joined effort with other disciplines. Exact Connect is the very first example and result of this new approach and many will follow in the course of next year. I believe this is THE way how marketing can contribute to become an exponential organization.