Unlike companies in front-line industries such as healthcare, food service and retail, most software companies haven’t had to rethink everything about their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But what has changed for software providers is what their customers have been facing. They’ve seen a fall in sales and uncertain demand and their employees are suddenly working from home, making remote access to data more important then ever.
So, while business for software companies was comparatively unaffected when the pandemic first hit, there was still lots of uncertainty, as two software executives explained during the most recent Oracle NetSuite Open for Business event.
“Early on, it was a wild guess as to how the business would perform,” said Chris Sullens, CEO of CentralReach, a software company that supports applied behavior analysis for the treatment of autistic patients. “But it’s a data exercise, and as time goes on, we’re all getting insight into how customers have responded.”
Extending a Helping Hand
What CentralReach quickly learned was that its customers needed a helping hand. It proactively engaged with its client base to better understand their evolving needs, and it quickly began offering free consulting and training. It segmented its customers so it could serve them more effectively, and it made an extra effort to really listen to what its customers were experiencing.
“Sales and marketing really tuned our messaging to make sure we were talking to the pain points of the reality we are in,” Sullens said.
He added that customers were pleasantly surprised by the company’s investments in improving their experience.
For example, prior to the pandemic, CentralReach had developed a digital continuing education library to help customers with their recertification processes, and it provided 120 days of free access. Customers certainly noticed.
“Over half of the industry signed up to get continuing education through that,” said Sullens. “We built lots of good will.”
The company also offered free services to professionals who’d lost their jobs but still wanted to work with autistic children, or for those who were trying to establish their practices when COVID-19 hit. Sullens said taking such steps was simply the right thing to do—for customers and for the future of CentralReach.
“It wasn’t about seeding future revenue,” he said. “But if it helps people to get through this, we will reap some positive benefit down the line.”
Confronting the Crisis
Sprinklr, a provider of cloud-based customer experience management software, took many similar steps. As the pandemic took hold, the company faced numerous requests to defer payments and provide pricing discounts, and it collaborated with customers to find workable solutions.
But before it did this, it reviewed all of this data to get a better picture of what the cash supply would look like going forward. It also did a lot of customer segmentation, which was helpful in grouping customers based on how they were being impacted by COVID-19. And as time has gone by, it’s been offering free consulting services, or providing complementary access to some premium functions.
And all of this has been done with an eye on emerging from the pandemic as strong — or stronger — then when it started.
“We’ve been looking to make ourselves more valuable to everyone who uses us,” said Eric Luehmann, global director of business applications.
Additionally, Sprinklr began working with vendors, as the deferrals and discounts it was now providing to customers would translate to slower payments to suppliers.
“We don’t want things being turned off because of miscommunication,” said Luehmann.
But the move Sprinklr has made that just might pay the richest dividends has been focusing on customizing its financial systems so it can track everything with more granularity, with a particular focus on spend management. It focused on creating dashboard views of cash coming in and going out. It tweaked its accounts payable system so it can group vendor invoices by categories.
It’s also been kicking the tires on NetSuite’s purchase order functionality, which has become a higher priority because of the increased focus on spend management. Luehmann said the company wants to be able to act on all of this data in order to improve its cash position by either creating new revenue streams or tightening spending.
Preparing for the Post-COVID Reality
Luehmann said he was surprised when a survey of attendees to the NetSuite event found that 60% said they had less confidence than when the pandemic started. He said Sprinklr expects to emerge from this time with more confidence in its forecasting abilities.
More than anything, Luehmann said, Sprinklr didn’t want to let the exception become the process. The company wanted to ensure that all of this new critical business data was captured in a way that decision makers could get at it.
If it sounds like the company was focused on future instead of the present, there’s a good reason for that.
“People can’t think about what to do right now,” said Luehmann. “Right now is in the rear view mirror. We have to set up to see the next big thing, and in business, there’s always going to be a next big thing.”