Vendors go all-in on professional services to speed digital transformation

For many sophisticated marketing technology platforms, it is nearly impossible to be a technology-only company.

Recently, one of Acquia’s customers who had not previously worked with the digital experience platform’s professional services team reached out to set up a meeting. The customer was being approved for an FDA test related to COVID-19 and, in less than a week, expected a rush of traffic to their website.

“The Acquia team quickly realized that handling such large volumes was much more than infrastructure and required a ready-for-scale Drupal application,” said Vangie Cleversey, Acquia’s SVP of customer success. Her group put together a team to audit and improve the customer’s Drupal code for what was likely to be the highest traffic they had ever experienced on their site. They also tuned the CDN to manage the load to the site and offered recommendations to implement after the traffic surge.

“The launch was a huge success,” said Cleversey. “The customer is highly appreciative that we jumped in and helped even when they didn’t know they needed it.”

For many sophisticated marketing technology platforms, it is nearly impossible to be a technology-only company — even before the pandemic. Martech providers understand if they want to retain clients, their professional service offerings must go beyond simple onboarding and product training efforts. And, with more money being funneled to marketing technology — two years ago, Forrester predicted martech investments would grow 27% by 2022 — it’s likely more businesses will look to their martech providers to maximize their spending. This is especially true now that the pandemic is forcing so many businesses to prioritize digital transformation initiatives.

Platform vs. professional services provider

Cleversey says Acquia is a “partner” company first — but that being a partner company does not disrupt Acquia’s professional services offerings.

“As with any other technology product companies, there is an assumption that professional services competes with partners. We do not,” said Cleversey, “We complement each other and are jointly focused on customer success.”

Acquia’s professional services fees are in addition to what customers pay to license the software. Cleversey says services range from quickstart, week-long programs to month-long committments.

Pega, a customer engagement and relationship management software, offers a portfolio of services to meet different client needs and recently launched three Kickstart professional service offerings that range in cost from $25,000 to $100,000.

Ken Hirschkind, Pega’s VP of global consulting and client success strategy and operations, said the fixed-priced Kickstart services are designed to help clients quickly implement solutions in a few weeks time, giving them the foundation they need to to start digital transformation initiatives.

According to Hirschkind, Pega is, first and foremost, a software company and that its professional services are not meant to be the core of its business.

“The aim of the services team is to help the client and our partners reach their own goals in whatever way works best for them,” said Hirschkind, “I don’t necessarily see a unique challenge with being both a software provider and offering services for our software. If anything, we bring a high level of expertise to the table that helps clients unlock their full potential. We’ve built our software to be easy to use with guided experiences so that business people don’t need to rely on IT to build a new app or reconfigure it with our low-code capabilities.”

The challenges of offering professional service

Peter Mahoney, founder and CEO of Plannuh, a cloud-based marketing budgeting and planning software solution, says the primary challenge of delivering professional services as a technology company is the potential to pull resources away from your core mission of developing scalable, repeatable software systems.

“If you look at professional services as a method of driving more short-term revenue, regardless of the alignment with your product vision, you risk slowing down your ability to prosecute your core agenda,” said Mahoney, “On the other hand, if you carefully define your service offerings and engage only in appropriate opportunities, professional services can have a strategic value.”

It took Mahoney’s team time to strike the right balance between the software’s subscription costs and the level of professional services it offered to clients. The CEO says his company struggled with some of its early customers because his team assumed an effective business model included a low-priced product that was designed to be fully self-serve.

“The challenge with a low-priced product is that we could not afford to provide the appropriate level of customer success services along with the subscription, and customers did not want to purchase additional services because the professional services were typically much more expensive than the platform in it’s early days,” said Mahoney.

Now, Plannuh sees its service offerings as a central part of the company strategy and includes a combination of services — things like system configuration, data upload, administrator and end user training — as part of its regular subscription fee. Customers can purchase additional services on top of what’s included for help with marketing plan development, goal alignment workshops and on-site training.

“We look at our paid services engagements as an opportunity to refine our product roadmap and get closer to our customers,” said Mahoney.

Martech consultancy firms gaining more traction

When it comes to professional services and martech platforms, CabinetM CEO Anita Brearton says she sees two trends: 1.) An uptick in the number of specialist consulting firms focusing on one or more platforms or one part of the martech stack, and 2.) Martech companies paying more attention to customer on-boarding, training and success programs.

“Some of what would have been delivered as professional services is now being included as part of the consultative sales process,” said Brearton, “On the user-side, we see that as stacks become more complex and have more integration dependencies, enterprise organizations are increasingly reaching out to these sorts of consultancies, or the large generalists with top-notch martech practices such as Wipro, to assist in evolving their technology environments.”

Brearton’s company, which offers a platform for managing martech stacks, estimates that about 10% to 20% of the martech companies in CabinetM’s database offer paid services on top of their tech. “And that might even be a little high,” according to Brearton. She says, typically, the martech platforms to most likely offer services are the products that make up the core of the martech stack: CDPs, analytics solutions and marketing automation platforms.

“It makes sense for companies with configurable, highly complex platforms to offer professional services to ensure that products are implemented and utilized correctly,” said Brearton.

Her company initially charged onboarding fees, but as CabinetM’s product evolved, there was no longer a need to charge for professional services since her team can now get users up and running quickly. Currently, CabinetM is looking at developing relationships with a small group of consulting partners that have deep technology capabilities suitable for a range of environments and company sizes.

“The reality is that they can provide a level of technical depth in recommending and evaluating technology strategy beyond what we can offer,” said Brearton, “We’re really excited by the progress we are making in this area and believe it strengthens our offering.”

Accelerated digital transformation efforts drive greater need for services

“Clients increasingly want a fast path to value, but don’t always know how to get there or even where to start. This is particularly true now in the pandemic crisis,” said Hirschkind. He says his company is seeing an increased demand from customers who need help jump-starting their digital transformation initiatives that were previously stalled due to time and budget constraints.

It was this increase in demand from customers that prompted Pega to launch the previously mentioned Kickstart services. Hirschkind echoes what so many martech leaders have recently learned — that digital transformation is no longer marathon, it’s a sprint brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Marketing teams are being asked to freeze or reduce expenses and, at the same time, reallocate programs and budgets from offline to digital. The problem is that most marketing teams are underwarter dealing with the hear and now impact of COVID-19,” said Brearton. She not only sees professional services as crucial to her customer’s success, but also a tactic that helps inform her own business strategy.

“We know for sure that our customer engagement and success is very much tied to the care, attention and support that we give our clients in the early days of their subscription. Once we’re past that and they are off and running, the tables turn and they become exceptional product managers and advisors in helping shape our product direction.”


About The Author

Amy Gesenhues is a senior editor for Third Door Media, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land, Search Engine Land and MarTech Today. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs, SoftwareCEO, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy’s articles.

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