From Boredom to Chief Customer Officer with Gregory A. Mark

Posted: 01/06/2018 - 02:39

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In this episode of the Sourcing Industry Landscape, Dawn Tiura interviews Gregory Mark. Gregory Mark is the Chief Customer Officer at Zycus, a role that not many have heard of. On the podcast, he shares the reason his role was created and we take a journey to learn more about his unique career path and what keeps him motivated.

Dawn Tiura: I'm really excited today. I am at Zycus Horizon 2018, and I'm recording this podcast live with somebody I have just had the opportunity to get to know this week. His name is Gregory Mark and Gregory is—what is your official title?
Gregory Mark: Chief Customer Officer.
Dawn Tiura: So Gregory, I was blown away when I heard that you were coming over to Zycus, that's a big coup for Zycus. So, don't want to mean to blow any smoke up your skirt or anything like that, but you've been around the block and you know everybody in this industry.
Gregory Mark: Yeah, yeah indeed. I have been around, I've been around since the Commerce One days and that goes back to the 1990s. And at Commerce One I ran the marketplace strategy group. I also had responsibility for, our supplier marketplace. And so it's been a long time that I've been in the space. I had the opportunity to work at several companies and watch a lot of marketplaces come and go.
Dawn Tiura: Mm-hmm.
Gregory Mark: And, yeah, it's exciting to be such a veteran of the space and seeing the progress companies are making in terms of addressing the needs of the procurement professional.
Dawn Tiura: Prior to joining Zycus you were one of the founders and the CEO of Hubwoo.
Gregory Mark: Yeah. Well just to correct you, I wasn't a founder.
Dawn Tiura: Okay.
Gregory Mark: I was the CEO. When I joined Hubwoo I was the Head of North American Operations, and soon after that I was asked to take over as Global Head of Sales, and then followed up that is a tenure as the CEO, and I was a CEO for about seven years. It was a publicly traded company when I joined, traded on the Euronext in Paris. So it was a Paris headquartered company very tightly partnered with SAP. They were a shareholder; they were on our board. Our whole go-to-market strategy was aligned with SAP because we hosted the SRM frictionless business objects suite on top of our catalog management solution and business network, which was our own IP and that was our go-to-market. So that's what we did at Hubwoo.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah. It was amazing. After Hubwoo was sold—
Gregory Mark: Yes.
Dawn Tiura: Is that when you left?
Gregory Mark: Yeah. So, as there's no secret, SAP acquired Ariba and-
Dawn Tiura: That secret's out.
Gregory Mark: -and put a bit of a dent in our go to market partnership with them. We basically reformatted the company around going to market around our own IP. We had great success with that. We had 20 plus percent growth in that area of the business. But because we were shrinking on our SAP SRM customer base that we were hosting, it just wasn't a dynamic, exciting place to be from a reporting revenue on a quarterly basis. We were showing six, eight percent growth. Our enterprise value had dropped in half, due to the result of a stock reduction in price.
Gregory Mark: The leadership team that I had put in place that I had been working with for probably the last 15, 20 years—one of the members of the leadership team I've worked with [at] five different companies, we kind of like all go together. And they were all starting to leave, and so it just wasn't fun for me anymore. And so we decided with getting board approval to go about to sell the company. And so that's what we did. And then I sat for a couple of years with noncompetes and did some board work. I sat on the board of a couple of companies, OpusCapita and Cortex, E-invoicing solution provider in the oil and gas sector. I did some consulting work, but at the end of the day I was just bored—is the reality—and I wanna just get back into the game, and play it at full strength.
Dawn Tiura: Well I know you did a great job after the sale. I know a lot of executives, you helped get placed into some other leading companies while you were ... hands were tied for you. I know you've got a great reputation for taking care of the people that came along with you. So that was great.
Gregory Mark: I'm a big believer in taking care of the people that you work with because they're taking care of you as well. It doesn't matter where you are in the organization, you have customers to your right and to your left, inside, and outside the company, and you need to just always be looking after others first, you know, knowing that that will come back, I think, in a good way for you.
Dawn Tiura: Tell me about how did...your journey to Zycus?
Gregory Mark: This is an interesting journey because it happened very, very quickly. I decided at the end of 2017 that that was it. Okay? 2018 I'm gonna go back and get a job. And it did not take long at all for Atish and I to make contact. And on the 15th of January, I was on a plane to Mumbai, looking forward to meeting the team and meeting Atish in person. I knew him, of course, we'd had several conversations in the past, but I'd never met him in person before. And so this was the opportunity to do so. And well, the rest is history, here I am.
Dawn Tiura: But this is a position that never existed before within Zycus because one of the things I understand that you are responsible for is customer success.
Gregory Mark: Correct, correct. Yeah.
Dawn Tiura: So you've got a lot on your plate here.
Gregory Mark: Yeah, no, let's face it as the SAS industry has matured, it's become obvious that recurring revenue is the key to sustained growth. And the whole Customer Officer position came out of Salesforce when all of a sudden they realized that their renewal business was much greater than their net new sales business and so they had to really focus on that. And that meant you had to have somebody whose responsibility it was to continue to work with the customer base, continue to ensure that the relationship doesn't end at 'Go Live' but continues, and we've been talking about this this week at Horizon how the transformation process is continuous. It isn't an event, it is a journey.
Gregory Mark: And so that requires to have a team of people working with the customer base on a very intimate regular basis to make sure that we're continually responding to their needs from a technology provision standpoint. Also helping them with the cross customer expertise that we can bring to bear through conversations and exposure that we have at various different companies, and bring value along that way. And the CSM team, by the way, is the customer success management team is, as we call it, an onshore team. My entire CSM team are here-
Dawn Tiura: Oh all right.
Gregory Mark: -in the US and they're engaging on a regular basis with the customers face-to-face.
Dawn Tiura: Tell me in two years of hiatus and then jumping back into a technology, has it changed a lot since you stepped out?
Gregory Mark: I will be honest with you, I'm pretty disappointed in the rate of progress that this industry is making in terms of the E, the D, whatever we wanna call it. We know we're talking about digital transformation now, and it is truly different than electronic procurement. There is a distinct difference and as a technology, the application of cognitive sort of technologies on top of the data that we now have at our fingertips due to the electrification of these various business processes. But yeah, I still see a whole lot of non PO invoices. I still see a lot of paper invoices. I still see people getting paid with checks.
Dawn Tiura: I know.
Gregory Mark: And so, I still remember a long, long time ago at Commerce One we were like, we were all about XML document exchange. EDI was totally dead. Right? It's like no, EDI is still not totally dead. It's not dead at all. Okay? And so the reality is is that I am still excited about the challenge ahead. I've done some presentations and some analysis on this. I just think the electronic invoicing solutions alone could take close to $2 trillion out of the global economy in terms of friction and inefficiency by just getting rid of the paper invoice.
Gregory Mark: And I'm a fan of getting rid of the invoice as a business document as we know it today because when we talk about blockchain everyone gets all kind of bright eyed and what have you. But one of the coolest things about blockchain is this concept of the smart contract. The smart contract simply means that when you put in a transaction, payment is guaranteed based upon the delivery of the goods.
Dawn Tiura: Yup.
Gregory Mark: Okay? We used to call that evaluated receipts settlement 20 years ago. It's the same concept and the reality is true. There is no reason why I as a supplier have to send you as my buyer an invoice to tell you that you need to pay me because I've already delivered the goods. You've asked, I've delivered, pay me. And the systems should automatically take place to address that, and therefore; I will continue to work until the invoice has completely been eliminated from the business lexicon.
Dawn Tiura: And the checks.
Gregory Mark: The checks as well. Absolutely.
Dawn Tiura: Because you know, you travel the world. When we acquired Outsourced Magazine, which is now a Future of Sourcing Magazine over in the UK, I ignorantly asked the banker when I'd get my checks and he said, "Haven't you heard of swift codes?" And I said, "Well, I've heard of them." He said, "We don't write checks." And then I talked to a CPO the other day, he's 40 something years old, a really bright young man, never had a checkbook in his life.
Gregory Mark: Yes.
Dawn Tiura: Why are we still writing checks?
Gregory Mark: No, and you make a very good point and the Europeans are much further ahead-
Dawn Tiura: Yeah.
Gregory Mark: -in that regard and PSD2 is a new regulation that's really, really gonna open up the banking industry. And I think you're absolutely right. This isn't something that should even be involved in. And if everything was truly digital, part of the transformation process is actually taking these payables and receivables, putting them into a financial ecosystem. Everyone's gonna get paid, but there's a way to address this in such a way that people can get paid faster or slower depending upon what their risk tolerance is, what their demand for capital happens to be, and what price that they're willing to pay for this. And a lot of people are doing this. I don't think that supply chain finance has really taken off the way that we all thought it might, and hoped that it would.
Gregory Mark: And quite frankly, I think part of the problem is that the supplier is reluctant to raise his hand and say, "I'd like to get paid sooner." Right?
Dawn Tiura: Right.
Gregory Mark: It's because people are gonna say, "Well, why? Are you having financial difficulties?" etc., etc. And when we apply AI now onto these payment networks—I read something very, very fascinating that said that in the financial industry right now: if you start buying gasoline at a $5 or $10 basis where you typically just filled it up, right? And so you had this random sort of number of what the price was for the gasoline that you're filling your car with. If now all of a sudden you're only buying $5 or $10 at the time, you get flagged as possibly having cashflow issues. And so it's this sort of intelligence that we're laying on these systems that's really being able to pull out some interesting information.
Gregory Mark: And I like what they said earlier today, spend analysis and the ability to drill down's one thing but what we really need is systems that are going to alert up so that we can let things happen. The whole kind of approval workflows that we've put in place, uber complex in some organizations, and the reality is—if we have the compliance, and the procurement processes, and policies digitized within the systems, then in theory the system will tell you if you need it approved or not, who should be the right person to approve it, etc.
Gregory Mark: And this is what kind of gets us back to the very beginning of this conversation is what excited me about joining Zycus—we were AI before AI was cool, right? This is part of the DNA of this company back when we started in this. Okay? And I remember is Zycus when I was at Commerce One they were best in class in spend analytics, hands down. Right? But then we started the journey of building the full suite and we got very, very deep into the features and the functions necessary to create this whole source-to-pay solution. And we kind of lost track of who we were. And that was the company that put artificial intelligence into the product.
Gregory Mark: And so the fact that we're now really getting back to our roots and really starting to leverage the experience that we have in the way of adding a cognitive sort of layer on top of all these business processes that we have built over the last five to eight years, that's what excites me because…and I'm doing all the talking and I'm sorry.
Dawn Tiura: No, it's your podcast.
Gregory Mark: But ease of use, User Experience, we have a lot of conversations about this, right?
Dawn Tiura: Right.
Gregory Mark: And there are certain products out on the market and everyone's like saying, "Oh, these guys have got the best UI, the best User Experience, hands down." Well that's because they have very, very limited capabilities and ability to address very, very low levels of complexity in business process. As business process becomes more complex in terms of what you're trying to address, UI suffers, right?
Dawn Tiura: Mm-hmm.
Gregory Mark: And so there's this tension that exists while you're developing these products and it's a bit of an innovator's dilemma, right? It's because as you become more mature and as you have much more global, complex corporations that you're serving, your UX tends to suffer from that. And so there is this tension. What excites me about the AI layers is that we can simplify the complexity in the background through RPA, through AI, and then we can now address complexity and still retain an experience from a user end standpoint that is gonna kind of change the game. So, this is kind of where we're going. This is what excites me about Zycus.
Dawn Tiura: That's really neat. Tell me about Merlin, that was unveiled this week.
Gregory Mark: Right. Right. So Merlin is basically going to be our Bot Studio.
Dawn Tiura: Okay.
Gregory Mark: Okay? And so the idea is that rather to try to put a man on the moon with a single algorithm and create this bot, we've decided that we're gonna go about it by creating these very, very small bots that we're calling ‘Botletts’. Right?
Dawn Tiura: Mm-hmm.
Gregory Mark: And the idea is like LEGO blocks, you can began to put them together to create kind of a process bot that has various different small little steps and components to it. Okay? And so that's where the studio comes in place. We're doing—you know—and rather trying to decide what our customers need, we're doing what we've always done as an organization and that is engaging with the customer base and saying, "Hey, you tell us what would be useful."
Dawn Tiura: And—you had us ask the question this week.
Gregory Mark: Right.
Dawn Tiura: Have you seen the idea box?
Gregory Mark: I have not.
Dawn Tiura: It is jam packed.
Gregory Mark: And it's not just the watch-
Dawn Tiura: No.
Gregory Mark: Because you're looking around most everybody's walking around with that Apple Watch right, now anyways.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah, it's not the Apple Watch. It was, they were so excited that you asked them what kind of bot would be best for you?
Gregory Mark: Absolutely.
Dawn Tiura: And I saw people couldn't wait to get out in that hall to stuff the ballot box.
Gregory Mark: And you know what, very few companies really come to the market with this customer centric sort of behavior, right?
Dawn Tiura: Mm-hmm.
Gregory Mark: They say they're very customer centric. But the reality is look at the way that they design their products, and their roadmaps, and what have [you]. We very much so want our customers to participate in this journey because...and what this means for us is that when we come out with a 1.0 release product, it's already best in class because it's come out of the experience of our users, right? And so, it's got real business value built into the technology, and so it hits the ground running.
Dawn Tiura: So rather than building what you think they want, you're actually-
Gregory Mark: Exactly.
Dawn Tiura: building what they-
Gregory Mark: We're building-
Dawn Tiura: -told you they want.
Gregory Mark: -what they want. Right.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah.
Gregory Mark: And what's exciting about this studio is that we're hoping that in its more future-mature state, our customers will be able to bring bots to the marketplace, and third party will be able to bring bots to the marketplace. It will be a bot-exchange, and we can do so much fun things with that in terms of the gamification of this process of design and innovation. It just makes things fun.
Dawn Tiura: So where is the Merlin studio? Is that over in India with-
Gregory Mark: Yeah.
Dawn Tiura: Where all the incredible programmers are?
Gregory Mark: Yeah. All of our development is over in India.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah, okay.
Gregory Mark: And I think what you heard today is we used to be just Mumbai-centric, right?
Dawn Tiura: Mm-hmm.
Gregory Mark: And we've realized that there are so many other talent pools throughout India that we have now opened operations, development centers in Bangalore and in Pune as well.
Dawn Tiura: That's what I thought, yeah.
Gregory Mark: We're looking to tap more and more of that rich country's IP that it's…And this is something that's also interesting is because when you look at our company from a financial performance standpoint, granted we're private and so we're a little bit opaque in terms of that. However, we still look at the metrics in terms of what do other companies spend on sales and marketing? What do other—as a percent of revenue? Right? What do other companies spend on R&D? Well, we take that same sort of percentage, we're a little bit higher than most, but then you multiply it by the cost advantage of what we have over in India. We probably have the second largest R&D group in our space.
Dawn Tiura: Wow.
Gregory Mark: And therefore, our ability to come to market with more and more product and innovation is something that most other companies, especially those that have a Western sort of R&D approach, be it Europe, be it U.S., can't even come close to keeping pace with us.
Dawn Tiura: So it's been about 10 months that you've been with the company-
Gregory Mark: It has been.
Dawn Tiura: ...and you're smiling from ear to ear. You've looked like you've had some amazing, lively conversations with the folks here all week long. You're happy.
Gregory Mark: I absolutely happy. I'm happy because in these 10 months I've been able to put my team in place. Okay? So I have three teams that report to me. The first team is the customer success management team. We talked about that. I brought a gal who I've known from Commerce One, we worked together at Commerce One, we worked together at Perfect Commerce, we worked together at Hubwoo.
Dawn Tiura: Wow. Okay.
Gregory Mark: I brought her to run the Customer Success Management Team, and now we've built a team around her. I've also hired a VP of Delivery in Mumbai, got this guy from Accenture; incredibly talented guy. People wanna experience a product company and there aren't that many product companies in India. He wanted to come over and work with us, and he's just really carrying the load for me because I've got about 50, 60 guys who do delivery over in-
Dawn Tiura: In Mumbai?
Gregory Mark: ...Mumbai, the offshore team. I have an onshore team but I have a big offshore team. And so I have a real senior, experienced guy leading that for me which is fantastic.
Gregory Mark: And then my third group is this technical account management team, and they're the folks that deal with—their number one mission is really adoption.
Dawn Tiura: Okay.
Gregory Mark: Okay? We bring them into the customer when they're getting ready to go to UAT.
Dawn Tiura: Okay.
Gregory Mark: They learn the uniqueness of the customer. They're gonna have...each customer has a main technical account manager, and that person knows them, and knows their configurations, knows their business processes, and what's important to them. And so they are there constantly championing the customer in Mumbai. They also actually do testing of our releases on behalf of the customer before the customer sees it.
Dawn Tiura: Wow, okay.
Gregory Mark: So to make sure that it is actually adhering to the configurations and the needs of their portfolio of customers. But they're also tracking the adoption, and working on a biweekly or monthly basis with each customer, and giving them all the metrics from the system, and not just where are you with your tickets, here's your tickets and where are they, and the disposition of those, and whatnot—just SLAs in terms of uptime, adherence to contracts, etc., etc. But they also deal with, "Okay, these are the number of events you ran, and this is the savings that you made, and the contracts that have been added, and these are the numbers of the users, and the active, and what have you." And so they track that for them and we try to project constant increases in the adoption because that's where the value is. Right?
Dawn Tiura: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Gregory Mark: The value comes from the use of the tools.
Dawn Tiura: Exactly.
Gregory Mark: And so they're constantly there with the finger on the pulse of that and so the customer is always hearing from us just exactly how they're doing.
Dawn Tiura: Well, I heard from Porsche this morning when they—Crystal was talking—she really liked her Technical Manager.
Gregory Mark: Yes, Yeah.
Dawn Tiura: And they really bonded over the entire implementation, and he really listened, and she made a huge emphasis on that this morning.
Gregory Mark: We really have a great bunch people at Zycus, and I hear this from customer to customer, to customer. And whenever we do have issues, look and everyone's gonna have
issues, right? There's always gonna be a bump in the road-
Dawn Tiura: Always, Yeah.
Gregory Mark: And we're big on the relationship, and the relationship is long term. And I'm a long-term relationship guy. I've been married for 38 years and I have no plans on doing anything else. And that's the kind of relationships I want to have with my customers as well. I'm very excited about the fact that I constantly hear on a regular basis, "We're a little bit unhappy with this. However, I want you to know that our Technical Account Manager is great to work with, very responsive, cares about us..." and what have you. And that's encouraging to hear because you know if you have the people right... because software as a service, it is as a service. If I have the right people serving our customers, I know that eventually we're gonna get to where we need to get.
Dawn Tiura: Absolutely. Well it sounds like Atish did a great job in hiring you for this position.
Gregory Mark: Well thank you.
Dawn Tiura: Because I think your empathy and your view on relationships is so solid and so needed in this industry. I'm excited and it was exciting to get to know you at Horizon 2018, hopefully-
Gregory Mark: Well nice to meet you as well.
Dawn Tiura: Yeah, hopefully we'll be running into each other a lot over the next few years.
Gregory Mark: I'm sure we will.
Dawn Tiura: But it's been fun being on the broadcast live with you getting to know you, Greg. So folks, this is Gregory Mark with Zycus. I'm at Horizon 2018, and we're sitting here live recording our podcast. Join us really soon. Thanks, bye bye.

About The Author

Gregory Markcurrently the Chief Customer Officer at Zycus, has extensive experience in growing and transforming global technology companies with an emphasis on strategy, global sales, customer success and cross-cultural executive management. His strengths include servant leadership, strategic creativity and results-focused execution. His areas of expertise include B2B digital platforms, collaborative business process automation, facilities maintenance and operations, and workforce optimization.