21 Nov Ryan Westwood and Gilles Muys Q&A with Frank Sohn
Recently, Simplus CEO Ryan Westwood and VP of Customer Solutions Giles Muys sat down with Novus CPQ President and CEO Frank Sohn to discuss Simplus’ fast growth, Dreamforce 2017, and the future of CPQ. Here is their conversation.
Frank: Please tell us a little bit about what Simplus does and help us understand what both of you do?
Ryan: Simplus is a leader in Salesforce Quote-to-Cash implementations, strategy, and advisory services. As the CEO, my main focus is on culture, strategy of the business, and corporate development regarding acquisitions and funding. But I really enjoy being at the heart of the business with our employees.
F: And you Gilles?
Gilles: My primary focus is to mentor the team at Simplus. My extensive experience in Salesforce CPQ comes from being a member of the original team at Steelbrick, which then became Salesforce CPQ in 2016. I mentor the team that allows Simplus as a whole to become better and better at implementing QTC with our clients.
F: Excellent. Ryan, Simplus has seen very strong growth—there were 94 employees in November of last year, and this November you already have over 200 employees. How are you dealing with this growth so that the employees and the customers actually get what they are looking for?
R: I think that you have to be very deliberate about the process of growth. I believe the heart of that question is culture. There’s three pillars around that I, as a CEO, believe strongly in.
The first is clarity: we have to be very clear about the dreams and the goals we want to accomplish at Simplus. How are we different from the rest of the market? I have a one-page document called the Playbook that I deliver to the company every quarter to provide absolute clarity to all team members. If you don’t have clarity, siloes start to creep up and people start to come up with their own differentiating ideas.
The second is transparency. We have an open executive meeting in front of the whole company every week. We go through the top metrics of the business and everyone’s V2MOM, which outlines everyone’s goals and personal measurements for success. That transparency creates a nice level of trust between the employer and employees.
The last one is collaboration. When your employees have their best friends at work, they will love what they do. Our executives have rotations of travel to our various branches across the country. We are vigilant about digital conference technology. We like to see each other’s faces as often as possible. One of our core values is critical thinking—we’ve sent pinewood derby cars to all of our employees and asked them to build cars to race. We do a lot of fun things together to encourage collaboration and be a team and even a family.
If a CEO spends the extra time connecting with his or her employees, the management of growth is much easier. We measure what is called the Employee Net Promoter Score, or ENPS, and from November 2016 to November 2017, it increased by ten points as we focused on these three pillars.
F: Why did Simplus decide to focus on CPQ implementations?
G: There are a lot of successful Salesforce implementation partners in the ecosystem, and as with any company, you need to find a differentiator in order to be successful. Instead of doing a little bit of everything, we decided we could have a lot of impact in a specific area. I think that, from that perspective, the niche is still very small, so there are a lot of opportunities ahead of us and we are excited about being a key player in that space.
F: Ryan, what is the most exciting part about being an entrepreneur in CPQ Quote-to-Cash area?
R: I am very passionate about entrepreneurship, and I love building companies. One of the best parts of entrepreneurship is that we get to solve problems and create something from nothing. Four years ago, the idea for Simplus was born out of frustration of running our own business and not being able to figure out our own CPQ instance. That was the first time it clicked in my head that I wanted to solve this specific business problem.
F: Gilles, what was your motivation to join the Simplus team?
G: In my professional career, I was privileged to go through a lot of different startup initiatives. I joined Steelbrick when the whole team was less than five people, and I love the fast-paced environment. After the Salesforce acquisition, it was obvious to me that I needed to continue being in the same environment where you get to be creative and work hard on great ideas. Simplus was an obvious choice to me because of the culture; the culture is very close to what we had at Steelbrick. We care about each other internally just as much as we care about our clients.
F: What should every customer know for a successful CPQ implementation?
G: We could talk about that for hours! Some of the key factors are similar to any kind of implementation project. But there is one thing specific to CPQ: it’s heavy on cross-department involvement, and that’s what makes it so interesting with each client. To be specific, you need to first get business sponsorship at the highest level. It needs to come from the highest level in order to focus all teams. You also need to have appropriate preparation: you should know and document all team requirements. It’s also important to have success measurements in place so that you can confirm success at the end of the project. There should be a holistic focus on the benefit to the company and not just specific departments. You should also be thinking in the long-term. It’s not just a one-time implementation and you’re done—your company is going to continually grow, and that growth and evolution will require that you adapt your CPQ implementation to sustain your future needs.
F: Up to this point, what are you most proud of with the Simplus team?
R: I’m most proud of seeing our leaders grow, and I think we will have a lot of leaders from Simplus that will be leaders in other sectors as time goes on. I love when employees are able to go home at the end of the day and enjoy their families and be happy. People try to say that your personal life doesn’t affect your business life and vice versa, but I don’t think that could be any further from the truth.
F: Ryan, you are obviously the CEO of Simplus, but you also spend time writing articles for magazines. Which one of these jobs do you enjoy the most?
R: Writing is always about some kind of experience or where I’ve learned something. Something that I wish I would have known. It’s really my journey as an entrepreneur and building Simplus that I’m writing about.
F: What are some of the biggest challenges in a CPQ implementation?
G: I usually look at CPQ implementation as not just a software implementation project. To me, it’s more of a business process or even a complete business transformation project. CPQ will make you change the way you do business, and it comes with a wide set of benefits from it. And perhaps the biggest challenge for some clients is that they do not realize what they are missing from not having this perspective.
F: At Dreamforce 2017, there were a lot of vendors showing developments in different areas. What do you consider to be the next big thing in the CPQ space?
R: I’m very excited for the opportunities that sit right around CPQ. I think that CLM has started to heat up quite a bit and we’ve noticed it in a big way in deal activity at Simplus. When I look at the whole ecosystem, I think there’s a couple of areas that broaden beyond CPQ. Whether that is on the campaign side, marketing, billing, etc., I think all of these areas are beginning to tie together.
F: What kind of integration challenges do you see with customers that have big ERP implementations like SAP or an Oracle system?
G: From my point of view, I think the primary focus we try to get with a client is all the different connection points you want between the systems. You have to select which system is going to be the master—you can have either your ERP system or Salesforce as the master—and that choice is entirely up to you. If you go through the whole QTC process, you could decide to push data from CPQ into your ERP system. Through the entire bidding process, you have other connection points such as accounts receivable, your general ledger transactions, credit and debit notes, and so on. One thing to remember is that at the end of the day, you want to take advantage of what CRM is all about which is to give you a 360-degree view of your customers.
F: Finally, I wanted to ask what you think you do differently and potentially better than your competitors?
G: I think it all goes back to that idea of culture. We are a team and we are a family and that is what makes us stronger. No matter what we have to tackle or what problem we have to solve, we go at it with passion and energy, and we never give up until we get it right. And I think especially in the past few months, our executive has really made a push to acquire the best talent in the world. When I was at Steelbrick, I thought that we had the highest concentration of CPQ implementation talent, and I think now that Simplus is also in that position.