Jive CEO Elisa Steele targets midmarket: 'Collaboration is not a feature'

In an interview, Jive CEO Elisa Steele outlines her plan to expand into the midmarket and convince more enterprises that collaboration is more than a feature.

Jive Software CEO Elisa Steele has been at the helm since February 10 and at the company for a little more than a year. Her to-do list is extensive: Make Jive's social business and collaboration software easier to implement, develop faster, and fend off a bevy of rivals pitching suites.

Steele's biggest mission is to convince enterprises of all sizes that its collaboration tools aren't a feature, but a construct that can organize a company's data. After all, 20 percent of a worker's day is spent looking for information.

If successful, Jive's growth should head in the right direction led by communities software and the launch of the recent Workstyle Apps that simplify consumption and engagement. Steele, who knew Jive as a customer well before she joined the company, is plotting a midmarket push and has a simple plan to rally the company.

Also: Jive's latest release strengthens ties to Microsoft, Google and Marketo | Jive names Steele CEO, sets 2015 outlook | Jive Software launching comms platform for US Department of Veterans Affairs

Analysts are hopeful, but clearly in show-me mode. Macquarie analyst Aaron Schwartz sums up the consensus view:

Jive Software is the independent leader in the enterprise social collaboration market. The company has been in the market for some time, helping create the category roughly ten years ago, but has struggled in achieving scale in both product adoption and revenue. We think recent actions to emphasize deal volume are steps in the right direction, but market limitations remain an uncertainty.

The big question is whether social collaboration is a standalone business. Jive's installed base of 950 enterprises think so. Steele's challenge is to convince more companies to sign up with Jive just as Microsoft argues collaboration is a feature and social giants like Facebook eye the enterprise.

I caught up with Steele to talk shop. Here are the highlights.

Landing at Jive. Steele first learned Jive's promise as an early adopter. She deployed it in previous roles. Steele was the chief marketing officer at Yahoo from 2009 to 2011, at Skype from 2012 to 2013, and then briefly at Microsoft's consumer apps and services unit. When she moved on to other companies she was considered a "friend to Jive" and was clued into roadmaps and asked for opinions. That knowledge came in handy when she landed at Jive as CMO in January 2014. In a little more than a year, Steele took over product marketing and strategy, became president and then CEO. What remains to be seen is whether Steele's experience as a customer gives her the user empathy required to develop great products. "I get the buying process and the power of technology and what it can do for the executive suite," said Steele.

Can Jive be the point guard of operations? Steele's biggest challenge is convincing executives that social collaboration is a standalone application that can bring value to other applications. Inevitably, I had to ask about the competition. "CRM, productivity apps and infrastructure are all making some kind of collaboration available in their products, but the difference is that Jive brings all of those things together and centers it around one point of view," said Steele. For instance, Salesforce's Chatter primarily revolves around the sales function. Collaboration built into Office 365 remains in that silo. "Collaboration has to be about all corporate functions," she said. "Enterprises are choosing Jive to bring information together."

The customer base and growing it. Jive has a loyal customer base, but Steele said the company has to onboard companies faster. Steele's three point play goes like this:

  • Simplify products and interactions with customers. Jive is launching more single purpose apps focused on addressing problems.
  • Make it easier to get value. Jive sells into large enterprises and the sales cycle can "be longer than anyone wants it to be," said Steele. Jive has 95 percent renewal rates, but needs executive buy-in to really push social collaboration. If Jive can show value faster it can land and expand its business.
  • Expand into the midmarket. "Customer communities are a must have for the midmarket companies, which don't have the resources," said Steele.

Add it up and Steele is trying to set it up where Jive's business model and implementation throughput can handle more transactions. Jive is also developing new channel partnerships.

How long will this plan take to grow sales? Steele said: "We would like to move faster, but it takes time."

Social business as a concept. Steele chafes at the term social business. She thinks it was overplayed years ago and just doesn't fly now. "Social business as a term shortchanges what's actually being done. It sounds like something you don't need," said Steele. I asked about what her take was on Facebook for Work and similar efforts. Steele argued that Facebook and Twitter data integrations are a leading indicator for Jive. But she doesn't see either as a threat. "Enterprises can't rely on external tools to drive internal productivity," she said. "It's about direct access to customer relationships." Jive's push to move its customer community software to the cloud will grow opportunities for the company.

New apps. Jive is launching a series of focused applications. One in beta is called Chime, which is free and could be seen as an option for business decision makers. Jive Daily is aimed at corporate communications departments. These applications are a way to introduce Jive in an enterprise with little friction, said Steele. Later, Jive can upsell as customers realize "collaboration is not a feature," said Steele. Jive's applications integrate with Cisco, Microsoft and Google software.