Ed Frederici, CTO of Appfire comments on the future of AI and salestech in this conversation with SalesTechStar:
Welcome to this SalesTechStar chat Ed, take us through your B2B tech journey, we’d love to hear about your time as CTO at Appfire
My experience runs the gamut from bringing start-up tech companies to fruition through strategic and tactical planning, to corporate turn-arounds and managing large, global teams. I’ve been privileged to work in IT leadership for nearly two decades, including three stints as CTO across enterprise technology companies. My career has allowed me to intersect with and gain significant experience in the marketing realm, both B2B and B2C. The key learnings I gleaned along the way contribute to how I operate as CTO of Appfire.
For starters, there are two concepts that every marketer must follow:
1) Have a 360-degree view of the customer, and
2) Meet the customer in the moment they’re in, which enables the best experience possible.
By focusing on both, marketers have the opportunity to demonstrate to their customers that they understand them and care about their individual needs and preferences. These concepts certainly hold importance in the world of B2B tech, which is where I’m entrenched, as CTO of Appfire.
For context, Appfire is the world’s largest enterprise collaboration app provider enabling teams to do their best work and tackle today’s biggest challenges by breaking down silos, boosting productivity, modernizing tech stacks, and adding value to platforms they already have, such as Atlassian, Salesforce, Microsoft, and monday.com. As CTO, I am responsible for helping to build and expand the company’s portfolio by integrating new applications and solutions that will better serve our customers. Only by truly understanding our customers and their evolving needs can we as a company deliver the best experience possible.
Could you share your thoughts and observations on the evolution of the SaaS industry and how this has enabled better alignment among key business areas – sales and marketing?
When it comes to sales tech, it’s all about accelerating and maintaining growth. In 2023, sales and marketing are becoming one team, highly cohesive with loosely coupled integrations between the SaaS platforms of each group. This allows them to work in the way most effective for them and heightens collaboration, joint workflows, and data sharing so that they become a seamless, data-driven revenue engine.
When marketing and sales come together they can optimize for the most personalized 1:1 customer experience (CX) possible and demonstrate that the brand cares about the customer. The data-sharing piece is key. The more that sales and marketing teams know about their client base as a whole, the greater the analysis they can do to better identify their ideal customer profile (ICP) and cohorts within their client base to serve them better with tailored marketing and offerings.
What are some of the best ways you’ve observed through which B2B tech brands have used their tech stack to drive better data unification and integrated processes to power the customer journey and align their sales and marketing cycles?
From a technology standpoint, companies in 2023 are turning to SaaS platforms and apps to facilitate a low-cost but high-touch CX. They are connecting Salesforce with Jira/Confluence in the Atlassian workspace so that anyone working out of one of the many Salesforce clouds can benefit from, leverage, and act on the data from any team within the company using Jira and Confluence.
This integration frees data to follow users and customers along the entire business workflow, giving every member of the go-to-market (GTM) team (or anyone in a customer-facing role) a true 360-degree view of a client’s experience from pre-sales to renewal. Specifically, apps like Connector for Salesforce & Jira and Connector for Salesforce & Confluence help Salesforce users to integrate with Atlassian products and allow users of both platforms to sync their data, providing a streamlined, single source of truth. New logo wins, renewals, upsells, gross revenue retention (GRR), and net revenue retention (NRR) are all boosted when data flows between teams and their unique systems.
Putting the prospect-brand interaction points in the hands of the GTM team has big benefits. Examples: Now, post-Salesforce/Jira/Confluence integration, when the GTM team has an interaction with that potential client, it is current, relevant, and knowledgeable — and they can make that prospect feel like there’s a strong two-way bond. If you’re trying to win business, you can provide the right piece of collateral to a prospect moving through the funnel to motivate them. If you’re a sales rep and you’re aiming for a renewal or an upsell, having that integration between Jira, Confluence, and Salesforce provides a centralized place for sales and marketing teams to work from, in order to understand the CX. Data-informed client interactions help to avoid the dreaded scenario of a sales rep walking in cold to a customer interaction where the customer says, “I’ve had five issues in the last week, why don’t you know about that?” If a customer enters a bug ticket in Jira, for example, the Atlassian-Salesforce integration allows that ticket to be moved over to Salesforce. From there, the CRM system will notify the rep who can then reach out to the customer with a proactive high-touch experience without the customer needing to initiate contact.
What future trends do you feel will impact how technologies/SaaS tools are used to enhance the customer experience?
What comes to mind, at no surprise, is AI as it has become a mainstream discussion and everyone is wondering how it will impact their day-to-day negatively and positively. First and foremost, what I’d say to those who believe AI is going to take over the world or that it’s going to eat software, and that all developer and engineering jobs will be wiped from the earth – not going to happen.
Yes, AI has the potential to immensely improve customer experiences and people’s working lives, but it isn’t going to rip and replace. Before an idea can come to fruition and for innovation to happen, someone has to come up with that idea. ChatGPT, and relevant generative AI solutions on the market today, are only as intelligent as the data that has been funneled in. If you are to ask the platform to shed light on future trends, it can’t do that. For example, ChatGPT can tell you as a customer what Atlassian application you should leverage to improve your work flow, which is great, but it can’t tell you how future ideation of the application should be implemented to maximize your time and effort.
Can you highlight more on the impact of AI in sales and marketing you’ve been observing brands capitalize on?
Every brand says that if they aren’t already leveraging AI, they plan to do so. That said, we have only reached the dawn of AI’s potential. Many people, as I noted above, are concerned about its power. However, when Salesforce launched its customer relationship platform as the first SaaS solution on the market in 1999, and when the cloud was first introduced in 2006 when Amazon Launched AWS, people were scared of their potential and the risks that came with them. The same holds true for AI where many envision the Terminator and robots taking over the world. Fear still exists in the innovation taking place. While I don’t have a fear of AI, I also don’t think it’s quite there yet in the sales and marketing world where brands are effectively and consistently leveraging AI’s capabilities.
Looking ahead, as AI becomes more sophisticated, I do think that it will be equipped to create more personalized and improved customer experiences.
Just think about it even in your personal life. I, for example, have a house full of four teenagers. Because of this, I added smart devices that ensure that the doors lock within 10 minutes of someone leaving the house. If I didn’t, the doors would never be locked. Other smart devices people leverage to improve their everyday lives and work smarter, not harder, include robot vacuums, washing machines that alert you when the cycle is complete, security systems that recognize the entire family from your kid to the family pet and smart speakers that can play your favorite music in context of day and event. So yes, AI today supports many tasks, but it has not quite reached the level of “changing the world” that many fear and others hope for.
Appfire is a leading enterprise collaboration software provider supporting teams from planning to product ideation, to product development, project delivery, and beyond. Appfire gives teams the best solutions to enhance, connect, and extend platforms like Atlassian, Salesforce, Microsoft and monday.com, enabling teams to do their best work together.
Ed Frederici is an experienced CTO with a proven track record of execution-focused leadership and an extensive background bringing start-up technology companies to fruition via strategic and tactical planning. Since joining Appfire, he has played an instrumental role in building and expanding its portfolio, and successfully integrating new apps and solutions via acquisitions. Ed previously served as CTO for Salesforce Marketing Cloud (previously ExactTarget), Terminus, Cheetah Digital and Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
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