Reflections from the Unit4 sales kickoff.


In my career I have attended a variety of sales kick offs, as an employee and as an external speaker. They generally involve sales leaders telling sales people that they are awesome. There is lots of talk of crushing the competition while simultaneously showing deep customer empathy. When done well, they are a celebration of success, a motivator, and an educator.

For the past year or so, I have been advising Unit4 on product strategy, and I have seen the product and the product team develop over that time. The product is quickly moving in the right direction. In HCM, The acquisition of Intuo, the application of Prevero to workforce planning, the People Platform and the partnership with SmartRecruiter will mean that Unit4 is far more competitive in the HCM space. The overall product and engineering strategy is tight, with a clear focus on cloud delivery, and vertical solutions for the service centric ERP. There is much to do, and there is much happening. Now is not the time for me to give my detailed perspective on the products, I’ll save that for another post. Several analysts have written about Unit4 recently. See here , here and here for instance.

When you make a change in strategy, getting the salesforce behind it is really important. It is also hard to do. So this event was more than just a standard kick off. It was a barometer on how Mike Ettling and his leadership team are transforming the business. I had a ringside seat, in that I sat next to the Chair of Unit4, Leo Apotheker. It was great to see him again, as I hadn’t seen him since my Gartner days.

I’ve worked closely with Mike Ettling for many years now, and we have become friends outside the workplace. At SuccessFactors, he was President, but he had limited opportunity to actually shape the culture and strategy of the division. At Unit4, over the last 9 months or so, Mike has assembled his team, building out marketing, sales leadership, HR, customer service / support, and so on. This event was really about the organization culture and values.

In his opening presentation, Mike set up the organization as orchestra metaphor, using real live classical musicians to make the point about being in business for people. He also laid out the revenue goals for 2020, and briefly celebrated strong 2019 results. Then various leaders presented how their functions would support the vision covering marketing, roadmap, key product and service announcements, partnering and so on. Two customers also presented, and both clearly explained why they chose Unit4 over the competition – mainly industry focus. The presentations were all well rehearsed, energetic and hit a consistent message. They were also all on time. Having a professional MC, in this case the ‘accomplished’ Mark Jefferies, is a very good thing.

Two presentations stood out for me, one from Lisa Dodman, the head of HR, who explained how excellence in hiring and creating a great place to work through better engagement were vital for developing the business. My favourite presentation was from Brigid Lury, the head of presales. Of all the functions in an enterprise software company, presales is often overlooked, but Brigid showed how she was re-imagining the presales function and demo process, and laid out a very clear plan for 2020.

brigid Lury presenting.

Brigid Lury presenting

Ray Wang from Constellation Research kicked off day two. He is a remarkable presenter, and he delivered a message about service industry ERP that hit home. I’d not actually seen him present live, although he is ever present in my social media stream (It was also great to catch up with him and talk analyst/advisory business models the evening before). The day then moved to detailed education sessions. I sat in on the Intuo and integration sessions. I then had to dash to the airport, so I missed the closing awards session.

Informal feedback throughout the event and afterwards was very positive. It was clear to me that the Unit4 sales machine is focused and fired up, and they now have a story worth talking about. Things have changed a lot in the last 9 months. I’m really impressed with what Mike and his team have accomplished, and I expect to see a lot more from Unit4 in 2020.

(Disclosure. Unit4 is a current customer)