The bell rings to start another round: Fred Studer signs on with FinancialForce

Will the fourth time be the charm for this well-known software marketer?

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A couple of years ago I did an interview with a new, high-profile hire for cloud ERP vendor NetSuite. NetSuite had seen a progression of marketing staff and this hire was the first “big hitter” to really run marketing at the vendor.

Fresh from running marketing for Microsoft's Dynamics division, and with a previous history in marketing at Oracle, this hire was seen as a secret weapon. The fact that he had, in a past life, worked as an accountant, gave him yet more cachet with the financial executives that NetSuite was courting as customers.

I came out of the interview with my hair swept back (metaphorically, I’m a crew-cut sort of a guy so hair sweeping isn’t particularly possible for me). Fred Studer, the big hitter in question, was a breath of fresh air -- an energetic and obviously passionate individual, he regaled me with plans to reinvent marketing at NetSuite with a new, customer-centric angle. This focus was reinforced at NetSuite’s next SuiteWorld conference where Studer certainly shook things up.

Alas, as it came to pass, Studer’s tenure was short-lived. He moved on only a few months later after what industry scuttlebutt suggests were tensions between himself and NetSuite’s then-CEO, Zach Nelson. Since then, NetSuite has been acquired by Studer’s old employer, Oracle, and subsumed into the big red mothership.

All of which makes today’s news, that Studer has signed on with mid-market ERP vendor FinancialForce, super interesting. I took the opportunity to chat with him prior to the announcement, to get a read on how he thought FinancialForce was different, and what his approach would be as he takes over marketing the brand.

FinancialForce is, of course, the ERP vendor built on top of Salesforce’s platform. Indeed, from its inception it has been a Salesforce partner -- Salesforce is even an investor in the company. It’s fair to say that FinancialForce has had its own fair share of changes of late with CEO Jeremy Roche moving on to parent company Unit4 and Tod Nielsen, former platform tsar at Salesforce taking over from him.

I started off by asking Studer to reflecting upon the previous ERP vendors he’s worked for. Studer was, understandably, jazzed about the opportunity:

"Look at where I’ve been. The [FinancialForce] is a phenomenal opportunity. The challenge with ERP is that it is a source of pain for people -- it is difficult to use and ultimately it is something that people have to do but are reluctant to. Cloud is making it easier for a company like FinancialForce to deliver software, but also changes the way organizations deploy and use software. ERP is a driver for growth -- and helps organizations add incremental value and follow new strategies."

That is a compelling soundbite, but it is, to be frank, the same one I heard from Studer when he signed up to NetSuite. So what is different this time around, I asked him? His response:

"The opportunity for FinancialForce, as opposed to NetSuite and others, comes down to focus. Our differentiator is that we have total focus on creating a simple, easy to deploy solution on the cloud. We have an automated system to help companies drive growth -- and being built on top of the Force.com platform really puts the customers in the center of what we do."

I pressed Studer on his thoughts on competing with a newly Oracle-acquired NetSuite. His response was in line with what most commentators are saying:

"I was at Oracle during the PeopleSoft/JD Edwards acquisition. Oracle is a great company that does a great job for its customers. But we are a pure cloud company and if you don’t have that in your DNA, it’s hard to transform into something that wasn’t intended to be there. Legacy companies struggle to make the jump to the cloud -- it’s not just the tech barriers but the business and go-to market ones as well."

On his priorities from today, and what he’s going to focus on in his new role, Studer stuck close to the customer line he’s used throughout his career:

"It comes down to customers. We are going to market through happy and successful customers. We’re a scrappy and innovative company and will deliver the highest impact at the lowest cost. We’re also committed to working with partners -- building out a great channel strategy. Being a Salesforce partner builds our credibility and breadth. We’re going to sell our story through the customer, rather than to the customer. We’re creating a movement that people want to belong to -- we have to hunt every day.”

MyPOV

Studer is undoubtedly a heavy hitter. That has been the key driver for his success and, it has to be said, some of the disappointments in his career. The key question for me is how well Studer can fit into the FinancialForce culture, or how well he is able to rework the existing structure into something best set up to deliver the customer-centric message he wants. It’s going to be interesting to watch his progress.

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