Friday, November 08, 2013

Gainsight Gives Customer Success Managers a Database of Their Own

I had a conversation last week with a vendor whose pitch was all about providing execution systems with a shared database that contains a unified view of customer information from all sources. Sadly, they were unfamiliar with the concept of a Customer Data Platform as I’ve been developing it over the past few months and didn’t realize that they fit the definition.

This post is not about that company.

Instead, it will be about another company I also spoke with last week, which I had originally considered a CDP but then decided wasn’t. After hearing their latest news, I still place them outside the border, but think they’re creeping closer and – for reasons I’ll explain later -- will some day reach the other side.

The company is Gainsight (formerly JBara), whose Web site positions it as ”a complete customer success platform”. That could easily be pure fluff – doesn’t every company contribute to its customers’ success? – but Gainsight actually means something concrete: it helps customer success managers identify churn risks and sales opportunities among their clients. As Gainsight sees it, this makes them the post-sales analogue to marketing automation systems (which manage acquisition) and CRM systems (which manage sales)*. This trichotomy** ignores customer service systems, which I'd consider the major post-sales management tools. But Gainsight is genuinely different from customer service, and in fact uses those systems as data sources. So even though Gainsight may not have created the third great category of customer-facing systems, it does do something important.

Specifically, Gainsight gathers information from online products, CRM, customer service, accounting, and customer surveys to create a complete view of how existing customers are using the products they own, whether they’re renewing or expanding their usage, what they’re paying, what sorts of service issues they’re having, and what attitudes they’ve expressed.  It tracks this over time and uses the information in a variety of ways: to profile and summarize the health of each account; to send alerts about problems or opportunities; to display trends in usage, satisfaction, and other measures; and to analyze the customer base by relationship stage, revenue range, and other factors. The information is presented through Gainsight’s own interface, which runs on’s platform, making it easy to integrate with Salesforce itself.

Gainsight originally stored all its data within, but it has recently started using MongoDB and Hadoop, which will allow it store details such as clickstreams and product usage history. The company has also expanded its "big data science" resources to identify the attributes of customers likely to churn or to purchase new services. This will help users define the rules that drive alerts.  So far, there is no automated predictive modeling to build such rules, although that’s planned for the future. Data is typically loaded weekly, which Gainsight says is the most often that customers have requested.

Of course, once all that juicy customer data has been assembled in one place, companies could use it for more than customer success management. This is part of Gainsight’s master plan, which is to expand beyond customer success teams to account management, sales, and other departments.

This brings us (or me, at least) back to the question of whether Gainsight is a Customer Data Platform. It does build a multi-source customer database, which is the core CDP function. Although the data sources are largely limited to the client’s own systems, external sources are not essential for a CDP.  In any event, Gainsight could probably add external sources fairly easily if a client wanted – especially now that it isn’t bound by the limits of Gainsight isn’t yet doing predictive modeling or decision management beyond rule-based alerts, but those common CDP features are also optional, and Gainsight is moving in those directions. Gainsight clearly meets the CDP requirement of building a database controlled by users outside of IT, even though in this case the users are not marketers.

Where Gainsight gets disqualified is that a CDP by definition makes its data available to other systems to guide customer treatments. The Gainsight database is technically exposed already: users could query the data via the Salesforce API or write direct SQL queries against the new Mongo / Hadoop back-end.  But so far Gainsight’s direction has been to use its data in its own applications and user interface. If Gainsight opened itself up as a data source, it would clearly be a Customer Data Platform.

Even as Gainsight stands today, it’s still more evidence supporting the CDP proposition that companies need a multi-source database – and a warning that multi-source databases themselves could proliferate into a new forest of single-purpose data silos if companies don't adopt a shared CDP instead. As this danger becomes clearer, Gainsight and other companies will need to either become general-purpose CDPs themselves or become applications that plug into a CDP built by someone else.

Gainsight was founded in 2009 and started taking paying customers in 2012. It now has about 20 clients, mostly large enterprises running an online service or Web site. Pricing is based on the number of modules used plus number of users, and averages around $50,000 to $60,000 per year for 20 to 50 users.

* Okay, CRM really is more than sales force automation, but that’s the term that Gainsight used and CRM is increasingly used in that narrower sense, mostly because that’s how describes itself. Get over it.

** Yes, that’s a word.

1 comment:

Scott Gilbert said...

I actually liked the word Trichotomy. I also agree with your notion of a CDP as I noted from my own personal experience as a PM, the difficulties of really understanding your customers and how my product was performing from the perspective of the functional silos within my company. See blog post here