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The Big Data Application for Predictive Forecasting and Pipeline Analytics: A Q&A with Michael Howard of C9

Originally published January 8, 2014

This BeyeNETWORK article features Ron Powell’s interview with Michael Howard, CEO of C9. Michael and Ron discuss how C9 incorporates the major elements of big data, predictive analytics, and visualization technology to help their customers improve their revenue predictability and consistency.

Michael, let’s begin by having you tell us about the problem that C9 is solving for your customers.

Michael Howard: When it comes to forecasting and revenue, most companies in the global 3K or really all companies across the world are struggling. Revenue is unpredictable, and forecasts are notoriously unreliable. In fact, 56% of deals in the global 3K never close, and we’re really talking about a systemic problem in companies today in predicting revenue, managing growth, getting consistency and understanding what their reps are doing. That’s what C9 is all about. We help companies focus on revenue growth, improve the predictability of the revenue stream, and deliver consistency by managing the risks associated with revenue across marketing, sales, service and support.

How do you do that? What do you use?

Michael Howard: There are a number of different things that we do to solve this problem. First, it’s data—data, data, data. It’s like real estate with location, location, location. If you don’t have the data, you’re not going to be able to transform your sales processes. So we use big data. To put it another way, we use historical data, we use current data, and we have predictive data to fuse together and allow our customers to understand what’s going on in the future, what has happened in the past and what’s going on in the present.

So you utilize predictive analytics?

Michael Howard: We use big data. We use fast data. We use predictive analytics. We use visualization—all incarnated in applications that are purpose-built for forecasting and pipeline analytics. This is extremely important because we are, in essence, an application for big data. It’s not a platform. It’s not just a tool. It’s an application in the cloud, a SaaS [software as a service] solution, that incorporates the major elements of big data, data science and visualization technology such that our customers can improve their predictability and consistency as it relates to revenue.

Michael, what really drew me to C9 and the reason for this article is your impressive customer list. Could you talk about some of those customers?

Michael Howard:
Yes, I’m really proud and honored to be working with some of the most respected companies in the world, and some of them include Google, Pandora, LinkedIn, EMC—the list goes on and on. We have hundreds of customers, and they are of all different sizes. They are using our applications to be able to make sense of what is going on in their forecast and their pipeline. All these companies have significantly outperformed the S&P, and we take pride to be a key contributor to their revenue growth.

How is C9 helping these companies achieve revenue performance?

Michael Howard: These companies all have very sophisticated sales operation organizations that have implemented formalized weekly sales forecast processes. We are helping them by capturing every field associated with opportunities in their pipeline, many times a day, and then combining historical trends with predictive analytics to accurately predict what deals will close, and what deals are at risk and need attention. What I mean by "need attention" is coaching—coaching to transform, coaching to exceed your target objectives. And, as a result, you can forecast accurately, have visibility, know what deals to focus on that need attention, and know what deals not to waste time on. That’s very important in terms of prioritizing your focus and your manpower to be as productive as possible. Some say we’re like the GPS or the radar of revenue—the fastest way to grow revenue and to understand what the risks are around it.

Michael, you say on your website that C9 is a big data application company. Can you define that for me?

Michael Howard: This is very close to my heart because I come from the infrastructure space, whether it be EMC, Oracle or Veritas, the virtualization company. What I think is very important today is that technology has to solve a problem. It can’t just be a technology. It can’t just be about speed and feeds, augmenting the speed of low latency SQL processing. It all has to come together in terms of a business solution for a company. When I talk about an application on top of big data, there are a couple of things that I think are important to understand. To me, big data is about uncovering new top-line opportunities. It’s not about cost-cutting. It’s about uncovering new gems, pockets of gold, to be able to increase revenue. But you can’t just take big data on its own as a platform, as a Hadoop distro or cluster. Something needs to focus the data on a particular problem. And, as such, C9 is an application for predictive forecasting, employing big data, all sorts of information—structured, semi-structured—from all different sources to be able to use the revenue supply chain of data to be able to help those companies reach new levels of performance in revenue.

Michael, let’s talk about C9 versus a business intelligence solution. How is C9 better than BI?

Michael Howard: BI, first, is a tool and C9 is an application. We have manifested the questions that hundreds of companies have had concerning revenue and pipeline analytics into our application. What I think is a very important distinction between a BI tool, which is a generalized technology that facilitates the asking of a question, and an application is the amalgamation of experiences and questions of systems put together in a form factor that is easy to digest by specific constituencies—sales, finance, sales ops or marketing. BI is only as good as the questioner. Applications can be way more sophisticated than the users themselves, and that’s a huge difference. To go one step further, we believe that BI is complementary to our application stack in that if someone wants to extend the set of questions, they can use a BI tool to interrogate our information.

When I look at BI tools, especially the traditional ones, they’re complex and very hard to use. It sounds to me that by making it an application, you really open it up to most of the end users out there who may not be technically savvy, but they definitely know their business. Is that what you’re seeing?

Michael Howard: Absolutely. When we have one of our customers employ our forecasting application, which we call Active Forecast, it is literally going to be used by every revenue agent in a company, any person who is touching revenue whether it be from a service, or finance or a sales perspective. And that’s just not a BI tool. That’s not a tool; that’s not a technology. It has to be in a form that’s easily usable by varying skillsets across a company. That’s extremely important to us.

Would a CMO utilize your product?

Michael Howard: Yes, the CMO, finance—anyone who is interested in what it takes to close business. A CMO would start using our information to understand whether or not the leads that have been culled over time are really leading to a closure of an opportunity and what are the dotted lines between campaign assets and an actual close of an opportunity, and looking at those campaigns and assets therein to determine if they have the right sequence and whether they had the right dollars apportioned to it. The notion of revenue touches every facet of a company, whether it be the CMO or the CEO—every C-level class needs to understand what makes revenue tick in a company.

Michael, a basic issue for corporations, especially public corporations, is that they have to figure out what their guidance will be from quarter to quarter. It sounds to me like C9 has created an application that can help them determine what their revenue will be quarters out. To me, that seems phenomenal, and it’s something that most companies have a very difficult time doing. Is that what some of your customers are doing with your product?

Michael Howard: Clearly, Wall Street’s perspective on revenue is key here. But the other part of the key here—whether it be Google, Pandora or LinkedIn—is who wants surprises? Wall Street doesn’t want to be surprised, nor does the chief revenue officer or CEO of a company. And that’s where we are changing the game. Before surprises happen, you will know how to adjust, coach and transform yourself to reach new levels of achievement. When I look at the companies using C9, they know very well that Wall Street doesn’t like surprises and that we’re the guys to really make a difference there.

From the perspective of a customer, how long does it take to implement C9?

Michael Howard: One of the wonders of being a SaaS company is that it’s absolutely mandated that our customers be able to get value out of our applications immediately. We’re no longer living in a world where you will be creating a data warehouse, buying a BI tool, buying storage, buying the servers, hiring SQL tuners—that just doesn’t work here. With SaaS, in our world at C9, you give us the credentials to the sources of data that are required to create these insights, and the very next day you’re up and running. It’s really a remarkable, totally unique experience, especially when comparing the way we are today versus the way you were even a year ago.

Michael, that sounds fantastic—to be deployed the next day. As far as expertise, if I don’t necessarily have the expertise on staff, is that something that your staff could help me with?

Michael Howard: Yes, different companies have different levels of sophistication concerning their forecast cadence and processes, and we help people there very much. Some really know what they want and are able to incarnate their requirements almost immediately in the application because it’s so configurable for the different situations that companies have. Some companies, for example, are inclined toward the enterprise or mid-market or B2C or B2B, and the application covers that extremely well.

Michael, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I keep looking for killer applications in the big data space, and to me this seems to be one of those killer applications that every company needs to predict revenue and forecast revenue growth in the future.

Michael Howard: I agree. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I see so much promise for C9 and our customers as well.

Thank you so much for talking to me about how C9 optimizes revenue performance
across the entire revenue supply chain.

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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