Enterprise application choices for scaling growth technology companies

23.09.22By Guy Sochovsky, Farview Investment Partner

We are often asked what enterprise applications we think companies should be using as best practice to support their growth from 100-150 employees to 500 and beyond. The answer is always “it depends …” but that does not mean we do not have some perspectives.

We thought it might be helpful to try and set those out and offer them for others to agree or debate. This blog post is certainly not a document with the rigour of a Gartner Quadrant, Forrester Wave or similar, but it does pull together the direct experiences of the Farview Investment and Strategic Advisory teams and the numerous companies we have worked with over the last 20+ years. Think of it as our collective view around product-market fit for applications that support technology savvy companies who need to support the complexities of multi product, geography and segment go-to-market and functional teams layered over several geographies and working modes. Or as we like to think of it, the world of “compounding complexity” that many scaling journeys need to navigate.

The picture below shows the applications by functional area we feel provide the right blend of flexibility and scalability to underpin most organisations towards and well beyond €100M revenue. Some of these names are well known and often very foundational applications deployed from the earliest stages of company formation: Microsoft or Google suites, Hubspot for marketing automation, Salesforce for CRM, Zendesk for customer support, Jira for product and engineering management. Others in the below are the types of applications that can really help harden processes and provide insight to help determine effective growth: Zoominfo – Salesloft – Gong around sales management, Planhat or Churnzero for customer success, ProductBoard and InSided for product returns, Financial Force and Tableau for business control and insights.

All of the applications listed would fit in the category of being well-proven and broadly used. That makes them not only robust as software, but also tools where there is an eco-system of qualified employees who know how to get the best from them. We would care as much about having the latter as a key part of any organisation, as we would about the application package. Most tools have more functionality than ever gets used – being able to use them properly both in terms of upstream process design and in-application configuration is the key to getting value.

One of the key application ‘joins’ that scaling business often default to is the connection of Salesforce CRM with Netsuite ERP. No question this is a robust and proven approach. A different model we have seen deployed successfully is anchoring the entire application estate around Salesforce, in effect, using Force.com as the underpinning database that goes across functional areas and applications. Despite its category leadership by scale, we would not advocate Salesforce as the most modern, flexible or cost-effective CRM (it is not …), but it does have an eco-system from which it is possible to build a truly integrated enterprise architecture. Being able to manage complex process streams like Order-to-Cash entirely in one singular system environment and being able to amend and improve that through an internal team of appropriately qualified Salesforce admins adds real velocity to the change management obligations of high growth. In a perfect world, a good data architecture across Salesforce applications delays or even prevents the need to overlay complex data warehouse and visualisation capabilities. The data and insight are available in the core, so no need for abstraction …

To be a bit controversial, we also added in the applications we felt are not within the product-market fit for companies going through a typical scaling journey. These are generally not bad applications, but they are ones we have categorised as being on the wrong side of the Goldilocks paradigm – they are either too big, too small, or too hard. It is very normal that the too small applications are part of the scaling pathway that we see. Within the accounting domain, Xero, Quickbooks and Sage are typical start-up and early scale-up tools. At the point that you need to run multi-currency, multi-segment, multi-function breakdowns and consolidations through them though – no amount of great extensions (Calxa and ApprovalMax being two examples) will give you long-term scaling. At the opposite end, if you jump for Oracle or SAP you might end up in configuration complexity for many quarters … most likely many years.

Thinking about the many debates we have been involved in around product choices, there is no doubt that fast growing technology companies have strongly held views across and within teams around application choices. The preferences around communication and collaboration channels is a debate we suspect has been run across every company between functional and perhaps generational groups: Google vs. Microsoft, Teams vs. Zoom or Slack, Miro vs. Notion vs. Asana. Our only ethos is to encourage companies to standardise and leverage as few as possible.

One of the ironies of cloud applications that are easy to install and configure, is that left on their own every pocket of an organisation may end up running their own preferred suite. This may produce narrow gains within single teams or functional areas, but it is almost always at the cost of broader Company-wide visibility and insight. Treating the selection of core applications as a co-ordinated exercise and being very conscious about how they will integrate with each other is fundamental. As is doing the hard work around unifying data architectures and defining standard measurements – for example, having multiple systems that interpret what a ‘customer’ is in slightly different ways becomes a major blocker to any meaningful customer insight.

If something here grabs your interest or strikes you as misguided – we would love to pick up the discussion in person. Our Strategic Advisory and Investment teams are always happy to engage with our companies and help them with the many aspects that wrap around getting value from the effective deployment of the right software applications.