UCStrategies' Jim Burton is joined by Joe Staples, CMO of Interactive Intelligence, in this Executive Insights podcast. They discuss the rise of the Interactive Intelligence brand, the Cloud and hosted provider services, how the company has connected with its customers, and its third party relationships.
Transcript for Catching up with Joe Staples of Interactive Intelligence
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton, and I am joined today by Joe Staples, CMO of Interactive Intelligence. Joe and I have done a number of podcasts over the years, and we have known each other for quite a while. But one of the things that Joe probably does not know is that in 2005 I was privy to a market research study looking at brand identity. And at that time, Joe, Interactive Intelligence only had about a six percent brand identity. And I know you have spent a lot of time and effort working on that. I know your product portfolio has evolved. Could you give us a little background on how you may have improved on that six percent since nine years ago?
Joe Staples: Jim, it’s interesting that you bring that up. As you can imagine, as a marketer, joining a company that has a six percent brand recognition is actually a good thing because there is nowhere to go but up. So we put together a pretty good plan, started advertising, started promoting our brand, and nine months later, at the end of 2005, early 2006, we went out and did that brand audit again. And it was still at six percent…
Jim: You must have been very proud.
Joe: Yes, that part was not good. The nice thing is that as a company we believed in the fact that when we got into deals we did extremely well. Our challenge was we were not in enough deals because our brand was not well enough known. And so we stayed the course and kind of kept at it. Now I have got even better metrics to know how long advertising takes to impact a brand, because it was a couple years after that that we started seeing the brand recognition go up. Now it runs roughly in the 70 percent range. So certainly a big step up from six percent.
Jim: Wow – that’s incredible. As somebody that has been in the industry for a long time, of course I have known who Interactive Intelligence has been since you started. And so to me it was a little bit surprising to hear it was that low. But certainly a big compliment that it is as high as it is today. But you are winning a lot of deals and that has got to help a lot, too. I know that your business, we talked about that, has grown significantly.
Joe: It does, and the challenge we have is people like you knew who we were, people inside the industry knew who we were, but IT directors kind of around the world, which was our target at the time, people who ran contact centers, they did not know who we were. No offense, but you do not buy a lot of software, at least in our space. So that was really the challenge for us was we went to shows and inside the relatively small community we did OK. But we needed—if we were going to grow our business the way we wanted to—we needed a lot broader exposure to the market.
Jim: Good, well, let’s talk about contact centers more specifically. Where are people spending their money? What is their focus today in the contact center market? Because I know it has dramatically changed in the last 10 years.
Joe: Yes, that has certainly been one of the things that has helped our brand to grow is the relevancy of the contact center inside of a business, has grown. I think go back 10 years ago, I think contact centers were at that point in time probably 20 years old. It was kind of viewed as the non-sexy part of what we do. Unified communications was coming in vogue and people were kind of looking at the contact center and saying, “I don’t know, how important is it? How relevant is it?” I think if you look at that today, (it’s) very, very different. Now companies have realized that the experience that they deliver to their customers is extremely relevant to their growth and to their profitability. And so they have placed a lot more emphasis on it.
And so now where contact centers used to be a little bit of an afterthought, now I think contact center is part of the core. People look at how do we communicate with our customers? How do we service our customers? How do our customers interact with us? How do our customers want to interact with us? And they always seem to come back to what is the role of the contact center there. So with that I think that that has been one of the things that has helped companies like us and specifically us to increase that brand recognition.
Jim: Well the other thing that I know we have had conversations in the past about your cloud or your hosted provider services. And I remember starting off, you thought it was going after the low end of the market and you had a little bit of success but very good success for the first year. And that was about five years ago. And as I recall it was about five percent of the business at that time. Can you give us a little bit of information about the journey along the way and where you are today particularly against overall product share, inside your portfolio?
Joe: A very valid point from the standpoint that we were surprised at who bought cloud contact centers. We thought certainly going to be applicable to the low end of the market, people that do not have IT staffs; they want to offload this stuff. And the reality was exactly the opposite. We have sold large contact centers, cloud offerings, much more than we have succeeded down at the low end. I think that large companies have said we want to focus on what we do as a business. If we are a financial services organization or in the healthcare space instead of building out these large IT infrastructures. And so the cloud has been very, very attractive to them.
So yes, back in 2005, cloud was five percent of our sales volume and in 2013 it crossed to 50 percent. So in a five-year period of time that is huge growth. And I think part of it is us getting in the game early on. I mean, we had a couple of years there where certainly for the contact center space, we were almost running alone. And our primary competitors were either taking a wait-and-see attitude about the cloud, or did not believe in the cloud or were frantically getting programmers to develop solutions that worked in the cloud. That has changed. I think you would find very few people who would debate the fact that the cloud is real, that it is here to stay. But I think what it did for us is it gave us a lead. I mean, it gave us some mind share, certainly some great recognized brand name customers like Intuit, Phillips Medical, Kohl’s Department Store, I mean, companies that run hundreds if not thousands of agents that are looking for the ability to flex up and down based on things like tax season, in the case of Intuit. And the cloud just offers a really great alternative for them.
Jim: Well, that had to help with brand recognition for sure. I mean, people had to recognize as you were growing. The other thing that I find, just looking at it from an industry perspective, your success with the cloud with very large companies, and when I think about a contact center how important it is to most of those companies, that they are willing to outsource it or have a cloud or hosted solution means that a lot of these vendors who are moving towards the cloud really have some great opportunities in front of them. I still have people ask me, well, do you think large companies will use cloud services for their voice communications? And boy, if they are going to use their contact center for that, why wouldn’t they? And so I think there is a lot to your story about that.
Joe: Yes, I agree and I think early on when we started to get into the cloud, I was doing a presentation and I was talking about the value of the cloud, the benefits of the cloud. And I made the statement that it takes the responsibility away from the IT group and hands it off to a third party. And I talked about how that was beneficial to the organization. I was all done and somebody came up afterward and he said, “You are wrong.” He said, “I’m the IT guy, I still have responsibility for this. So I haven’t passed off the responsibility. I’ve passed off to a vendor like you the management. So instead of me running around fixing servers, I get to focus on bigger, more important IT projects. But the buck still stops here. I’m still the guy that has responsibility for it.” I remember that. I remember his face and I remember looking at him and saying you know what? You’re right.
Jim: Yes, yes, that is really interesting. Well so we have talked a little bit about how clearly cloud has helped you with your brand relevance. What else have you done? What else has helped you become more successful and more of a relevant brand?
Joe: I think one of the things that we have done well is we have tried to be very practical and pragmatic in the way we have communicated with customers. So companies are, in their contact center, they face real challenges today and they are looking for somebody to help them fix that. Not looking for a bunch of words or kind of “here is what I am going to do three years from now.” And so we have developed a ton of content, I think more than any of our competitors around practical guides for deploying a remote workforce. Or practical guides to adding multiple channels to what used to be “the call center.” And it has been information that is very digestible, that people can use, that is tangible, that is actionable on their part. And then we have syndicated the heck out of it. I think we will end up last year with about 25 million impressions of our content out on the web just publicized everywhere.
Because the relevancy of the brand is only as good as the information behind it. Hold on, nobody cares about your brand name, what they care about is well, what can you do for me, what can you deliver to me? And so we have tried to develop content that makes our brand relevant, that allows companies to say wow, this is exactly what I was looking for. Who wrote it? And hopefully they see the Interactive Intelligence name. So that has been one big one.
I think our third party relationships has been probably the other really big influencer. We’ve got a couple thousand consultants in our consultant liaison program. We have made sure that we educate them so that when they run into an opportunity if it makes sense they will propose us. Before they did not propose us because they did not know anything about us. So going through that education process and maintaining those relationships has been important. And then kind of on the back of the consultants, the analysts contribute a lot to opinions. And if they do not understand what we do and the value that we bring they are not going to speak as positively about us.
So we have done a lot to improve those relationships and it has had a good impact on us. You think of how many companies there are in the world that service contact centers. Gartner only has four that they place in the leader’s quadrant of their magic quadrant and we are one of those four. That has an impact because a lot of companies today, as you know, they get so much further through their buying cycle before they engage a vendor or a channel partner. Well, when they decide who they are going to engage they do not want to stare at a list of 200. They want to stare at a list of four. And so oftentimes we will hear we took the Leaders magic quadrant and those are the vendors we are talking to so that is why you got invited. Frost and Sullivan, another company that does a really nice job with a vendor analysis, Ovum does a nice job with a vendor analysis. So us making sure that we educate those analyst firms I think has also been an important part for us.
Jim: Well, I attend your annual event every year and it is a great event. I mean, it is—we are actually at a big event right now doing this podcast. And while I think this is a great event, too, the education I get from your event is just spectacular.
Jim: It helps me and I know all my colleagues that are there, they enjoy it. We like it when it is outside of Indianapolis from time to time, but it is still not so bad. So I thank you for that. I think you have done a service to us because we are trying to help the industry evolve and good information helps us—makes our job a little bit easier.
Jim: We have talked a little bit about cloud and the success you have had there. But in my opinion the cloud is going through some major evolutions and the question is, what are you doing to keep up with what I perceive as this evolution of the cloud changes?
Joe: Yes, it is definitely a moving target. I think we would admit that cloud deployment of communications is kind of at the 1.0 version. There is a lot of runway left in front of us. So we have been working for a couple of years on kind of where we see the next generation of the cloud going. Things that provide an architecture that is much more distributed, that is much more friendly to mobile devices, and creating an environment where location absolutely goes away. So we are excited about those developments. We will have more to tell later in the year. But definitely we are not sitting back going hey, we are doing well in this cloud stuff and think it is going to stay where it is at. We have got to continue to push the forefront of that technology space because I think customers are expecting it not only from us but from the industry and the needs that they have today are being met but the needs that they have tomorrow will be met by some bigger, better, faster stuff.
Jim: It sounds like a prelude to a product announcement.
Joe: Could be.
Jim: Let's plan on getting together during that product announcement so we can do another podcast.
Joe: Yes, great.
Jim: Joe, thank you so much.
Joe: Thank you.