Project Unite: How a mini-ecosystem gained inspiration from the Tour de France

Driven by Xactly Corp., Project Unite is one of the first mature examples of a mini-ecosystem. Ultimately, the agility and capability of the people within your ecosystem is what wins your yellow jersey.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor
Image: istock.com

Note: In May, I wrote about why companies that are providing a larger set of services and products to their clients might want to be thinking in terms of mini-ecosystems. This required something more than ordinary partner arrangements. Imagine my surprise when I was contacted by Matt Bray, who had built just that -- a mini-ecosystem in Europe around Xactly, one of the leaders in sales compensation. I asked Matt, who is the director of Strategic Alliances for Xactly in EMEA, if he would tell his story so you can see what they did and get a few hints on what to do. Take it away, Matt.

It's been an amazing summer for sports: Formula One Grand Prix, Soccer Euro 2016 Championship, Wimbledon lawn tennis, Tour de France, and finishing with the Rio Olympics. As an avid sports enthusiast, I look at all our athletes in admiration, representing their country (or team), aspiring to be at the pinnacle of their game to ensure at the right moment they perform, when it matters, their best. Take the Tour de France, for example. July 2 marked the beginning of the 103rd Tour de France, where 219 cyclists set off to compete across 21 stages, tackling a total distance of 3,535 kilometers, bringing them to Champs Elysees in Paris in just 22 days. Chris Froome, from Team Sky, triumphed -- gaining the prestige of winning the yellow jersey, €2.72 million, and their names engraved on the epitaphs of cycling history.

As business leaders, I believe, we recognize our own Tour de France. Success at this level has to be a combination of the best team (physio, trainer, nutritionist, etc), bike, and leadership all working in complete clarity and alignment, together with a winning mindset. The formula to compete, navigate the challenges, and get us over the finish line first.

The similarities between Team Sky investing in their athletes and business leaders investing in sales employees are undeniable.

Navigating challenging terrain

Tech savvy millennials are increasing their impact on the workforce. Ninety percent of the world's data has been generated in the last two years alone, and 57 percent of buying decisions are made before the customer even talks to a supplier. The boom in Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) automation adoption is thriving. Salesforce, Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud, and SAP HANA are enabling communities and ecosystems of business applications to interact across a single secure cloud-connected environment.

Consequently, understanding the market, keeping up with customers' requirements, adopting mobile-friendly business intelligence, and delivering fingertip on-demand solutions wrapped in culture, values, and leadership are unquestionably today's expectations. Our world is experiencing a revolution in digital transformation, people, and disruption, and to win a symbiotic relationship between customer and supplier is at the heart of it all.

No wonder then when I speak with our own sales athletes at Xactly, those who win agree their mindset is to challenge, as well as to be faster, slicker, and smarter than the competition while always positioning with confidence the right solution at the right time for the customer. It's a delicate balance of belief, technology, and business investment.

Early in 2015, over a Speckled Hen ale (or two), I chewed the fat with my good friend Richard Goodall (founder of InvoiceIT, which was acquired by SteelBrick and is now Salesforce CPQ et al). Our debate: accelerate lead/quote-to-cash digital transformation to empower sales. We were both perplexed that some off-platform digital suppliers were offering independent applications --including contract management, CPQ, ICM, quota management, etc., -- and spinning a one-fits-all "best-in-class" lead/quote-to-cash-branded message.

The reality was these digital suppliers were born out of acquisition, branded disconnected products, and services of mixed ability (marketed as integrated), with in-house sales agendas that didn't marry corporate goals of their own business. They were disconnected in business culture, digital technology, and deliverables sold. Why would customers want to take a broad mix of digital applications across lead/quote-to-cash, confined to the development dollars of one supplier off-platform with an inability to integrate or scale? It made no sense.

And here it was, over our Speckled Hen, that "Project Unite" was born. Following a thorough Go-To-Market deep-dive with Ed Ball, director at ISV EMEA Salesforce, the plan was formulated and objectives simplified:

  • To leverage the Salesforce platform.
  • To build a scalable ecosystem that delivered.
  • To integrate best-in-class, well-balanced, Platinum-certified independent applications from digital suppliers who shared the wider lead/quote-to-cash vision.
  • To supercharge our shared customers, leaders and sales athletes better than the competition (particularly who used disconnected on-premise, hybrid, off-platform single supplier solutions).

Building The Team

I feel obliged to make one thing clear: the energy in connecting digital applications together bears no resemblance to aligning people and businesses. Core to Project Unite's challenge was forging collaboration with independent, successful, responsive companies who culturally desired less than the inherent financial gain of positioning their own technology first, but more the digital ecosystem we were building on this journey. It was not unlike the merging of a number of cycling athletes into one of the 20 teams competing in the Tour de France; each striving for individual success, but also wanting their team to rise to the top of the leader board.

What mattered most was our family of partners, collaborating across their whole business and fueling a joint vision and tight bond. Inspirational leaders and personalities on this journey -- who in their leadership capacity kept our vision real and the teams on-track -- naturally came to the fore: Karry Kleeman, CCO at Spring CM; Tom Castley, VP at Xactly EMEA; and Gareth Stephens, founder of CloudSocius. Their leadership skills empowering Project Unite employees (vertically and horizontally) to align collectively across agreed common goals: sales on sales, marketing on marketing, legal on legal, etc., intertwined and collaborating similar to a DNA string.

Image: Project Unite

As the Tour de France demonstrated, successful teams not only need top-performing athletes, bikes, and leadership, but great trainers and visionaries to guide, deliver, and manage the strategy and keep stakeholders continually focused and on-track. For Project Unite digital partners having gone through the pain of building our ecosystem, the right certified System Integrator was paramount. Culture and people (who could deliver and manage the technology), with a "customer centric" mindset (no matter size, segment of vertical). No better service partner was found in CloudSocius... That done; our team, bike, leadership, and trainer complete.

Image: Project Unite

Winning the race

It has been eight months since Project Unite launched at London's Calling, a gathering of Salesforce customers in February 2016. I am honoured that I have met and worked with some amazing people across Salesforce and our little ecosystem (that lately I have been reliably informed is one of the most complex ecosystems globally). Yes, our Project Unite-specific ecosystem supercharges Salesforce customers' lead/quote-to-cash experience, giving an alternative choice for customers to digitally transform their business by integrating independent solutions across one platform.

But this is not the full story. This story is about scale: how buyers -- as consumers of digital in today's platform age and dynamic business landscape -- have the power to connect independent applications, build and choose their own ecosystems, and transform their business in the way they want. It's the power of the platform that drives the digital ecosystem revolution. Project Unite proves that best-in-class independent applications on platform really can work in harmony.

But take heed of my experience: It goes all the way back to people and business culture in a symbiotic relationship that drives "the win"; the steer from the right leaders and visionaries is paramount. Pick the correct mix of individuals, together with the right independent on-platform applications (culture on culture, digital on digital). Ultimately, the agility and capability of the people within your ecosystem is what wins your yellow jersey -- for your business, people, and customers who are always at the center of it all.

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