The renaissance of Infor continues apace, with more customers, more partners, more products, more cloud functionality, more go-lives. Pretty much by every measure, the company CEO Charles Phillips calls “the world’s largest startup” continues to improve its market profile across the board.
With one important exception that in the end will become the ultimate measure of Phillips’ success: name recognition.
With a well-recognized brand, Infor could become one of the great turnaround stories of enterprise software. And without one, the dream of being a viable and market-leading enterprise software vendor with the critical mass of an SAP, Oracle, or a Microsoft remains unattainable.
It’s not that Phillips doesn’t get it. In the first five minutes of his keynote address at the recent Infor Americas Partner Summit, Phillips made it clear he knows what’s at stake. New product strategies, partner strategies, and technology strategies are all are in place or in process, but all that is not enough to get the company or its partners on a prospect’s shortlist, Phillips told his audience: “Our biggest challenge is to get into the meeting.”
Give the man credit for knowing his business well. This issue seeped into every partner meeting I had at the summit, as well as numerous conversations I’ve had in the last year across the industry. And the problem isn’t just a matter of not having heard of Infor: I spoke recently with an industry exec looking to make a career move, and when I mentioned Infor I could hear him wince over the phone. The pre-Phillips Infor was more of a private-equity shark’s nest than a great place to grow a career, much less grow great products and markets. That Infor was a little too well-known for all the wrong reasons, and Phillips and his team have to do double-duty to re-build the brand while overcoming a less than exemplary past.
That past, and the relative lack of marketing budget for promoting the new Infor so far, has left partners in a bit of bind. How to drive prospects to let them into a meeting hasn’t gotten easier, even if the message that can be delivered at these meetings is dramatically different. So a little creative marketing has been necessary. One partner I spoke with has been targeting Salesforce.com customers: Infor has an alliance with Salesforce.com, productized under the name of Inforce, that lets partners at least “get into the meeting,” drafting on Salesforce.com’s name recognition.
And name recognition is everything. Never mind the irony that Infor and Salesforce.com brought in roughly the same amount of revenue last year ($3+ billion), and that of the two Infor is both the more profitable and possibly the faster-growing. Or the fact that Marc Benioff may have better name recognition, but Charles Phillips has better overall credibility. Or the fact that Inforce has significantly enhanced Salesforce.com’s CRM functionality to make it more functional in a manufacturing environment than off-the-cloud-rack Salesforce.com. The race is not always to the swiftest, in case you hadn’t heard.
I asked Phillips about the problem, and he promised that the company would do more events, more face-to-face meetings, and otherwise get the word out more aggressively than it has in the past. Infor has started an airport advertising campaign, and more is in the works. I personally think that Phillips and the rest of his management team needs to become more visible as well: He’s a good speaker, has a sterling resume with a pretty interesting background (ex-Marine Corps captain, a techy and a lawyer, a former top notch financial analyst, ex-Oracle co-CEO, jazz lover, the rare African-American executive in an otherwise predominantly lily-white industry). And his team – presidents Stephan Scholl and Duncan Angove, and COO Pam Murphy – have a co-leadership model that should be fodder for some great brand-building as well.
I think focusing on renewing the Infor brand will also help set the stage for the other big challenge: getting customers who have lingered for too long on older versions of Infor products to stick with Infor instead of moving to a competitor. One of the partners I met with this week told me his most optimistic hope was that 50 percent of these old die-hards could be convinced to stay the course. Pretty much everyone else I talked to thought that was a realistic goal, but still quite aspirational considering the state of Infor and the stasis that has limited these customers’ thinking for some time.
But if the Infor brand can become identified with the concepts that sell modern, innovative enterprise software, instead of remaining the locked in the past, that 50 percent might be more than attainable.
Customers tempted to move away from Infor have an increasingly complicated set of choices. SAP is definitely there to be reckoned with, but Oracle really isn’t playing in the mid-market where Infor is strong. Microsoft Dynamics does play in this market, but I fear that sorting through the ramifications of the recent Microsoft reorg may cause some execution problems at Dynamics. Sage and Epicor are definitely players as well, but neither can command top tier status in the market, nor have either of them been able thus far to be identified as members of the leading-edge innovation club.
In the end, the brand recognition issue represents Phillips’, and Infor’s, next great opportunity. It can be done, but it takes time and budget. SAP started down this path years ago, and as of this year its overall brand awareness is significantly higher, but the company still has issues ensuring that its brand identity – the “what does SAP do” question – is as well-established as its brand recognition – the “who is SAP“ question.
A similar problem besets Infor, though it’s clear that the company neither has the time nor the budget to engage in a multi-year, multi-billion dollar branding effort. So far Phillips has made “doing more with less” both a virtue and a competitive advantage. We’ll see if he can do the same on the way to making Infor the household brand it deserves to be.