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Pega Diary: We’re Selling Change

There are many stories to be told when a vendor like Pega holds a conference. Many come for the BPM. Some come to learn hands-on Pega skills, some even come to talk about blockchain. I wanted to focus on what Pega offers marketers, and where we are on the journey from CRM to authentic, real-time, one-to-one customer engagement. To get a 360 view on those questions, I spoke separately with Matt Nolan, director of product marketing; Jeff Nicholson, VP of product marketing; and Vince Jeffs, director of strategy & product marketing, with specific responsibility for the Customer Decision Hub, Pega’s AI “brain.”

From CRM to customer engagement

Nicholson: Pega Infinity is the portfolio of solutions, all one code base, and it includes two hemispheres — one on customer engagement, one on digital process automation. These are two sides of the same coin; the digital process automation has to happen in the back end to get things to execute. We still have the CRM applications — sales, service, and marketing, as well as AI, which is the Customer Decision Hub.

Nolan: The vision of helping with the entirety of the customer experience is something everybody wants to have, but the problem is that a lot of the marketing eco-system was built another way — it was built around channels, and around campaign management apps which would send everything out. People are backing into the idea of a central brain for a central experience. They’re doing it outside in. 

Nicholson: Great experiences don’t happen by accident. There are a lot of well-meaning companies out there, but if they have old-fashioned CRM systems they’re not going to happen. Something has to change. 

Jeffs: I’ve been in marketing — marketing technology really — my whole career. The ability to actually execute real-time stuff across 15 or 20 channels, with scale, and with the amount of data you’re delivering on; honestly, some of that technology has existed for some time, but it’s been really hard. People got stuck somewhere, people didn’t believe it would work, and if it got too difficult they would bail out. The technology has improved rapidly. Barriers have been overcome. 

The always-on brain

Nolan: There’s a lot of AI out there that’s after the fact: ‘Look, we can do all these amazing things.’ 

Jeffs: When a technology gets more available — and cheaper — to install and test, then you get the creative minds coming up with the use cases that, frankly, the technologist didn’t ever think of. Some of the actual algorithms are improving, there’s a lot more data; it’s easier to feed in good training data.

Nicholson: People flocked to these marketing automation systems, which just made the shoveling of bad offers faster and more efficient. We challenge our customers, ‘Is that really what you want to achieve?’ You need a brain which doesn’t think in terms of campaigns, but which thinks of one customer at a time. That’s why we talk about next best action, not next best offer. The brain sits in the middle of sales, service, and marketing, and it’s thinking about what the consumer really wants to consume — if anything. In the context, what’s the right thing to do next?

Jeffs: What matters is not how sophisticated the AI is. What matters are the outcomes. But the big factor, which is what we’re doing, is to have some decision management associated with the AI. How are you going to operationalize this? You want to be able to get value out of it, which means having some kind of operational system which can ingest the AI, and have a real concerted process around it.

“We’re selling change”

Nicholson: One point of epiphany in the past year was realizing we’re not selling software. We’re selling change. It’s not that people don’t want to get to real one to one experiences, it’s how to get there. It’s a game changing difference when you make the change, but how do you take the first step? 

Jeffs: If you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to keep getting the same results. If you’re happy with a 0.3% response rate, great, because that’s what you’re going to keep getting. There’s comfort in knowing what the results are going to be. We have to help people transition into this new way of going about things, because it is disruptive in many ways.

Nolan: In traditional marketing, people shout at you so much; you start to ignore what they say. Trying to go after real one-to-one conversations is a huge jump; if you try to do that straight away you run into problems. But if you give a marketer these Self-Optimizing Campaigns, they can still set a time and a target, but the campaign becomes more intelligent as it interacts with people. You push the campaign out in waves, and it gradually gets smarter. And the rest of your program learns from it, which I think is what’s important.

Nicholson: If you’re going to keep doing campaigns, fine. But we’re going to get you acclimated to the AI and help you do them much, much better. When you develop a comfort level, you can begin to move things to one to one.

Jeffs: The process of aligning with this whole new way of doing business — for big brands, that can take some time. Some are faster than others. It has to permeate the organization and be a cultural thing, this shift to engaging customers in moments, and having all your people and processes focused on that. And not wavering from it.

Nicholson: We took dynamic case management, and we’re the first to apply it to sales force automation. It’s not tied to opportunity management. Right offer, right time, right person — that’s all about you. That’s about firing stuff at people. How do you have empathy with what the customer wants?

Day of the robots

Nolan: We use the AI to tell us which bot we should use, which is the most effective automation technique to use, whether it’s a human task or a robotic task. That really starts to change your business. Deploying bots for the sake of deploying bots, it starts to look like Space Invaders.

The data puzzle

Nolan: We take data directly from the channels. We take it in real time; it becomes part of what we live and breathe. With the decision hub, the data has come directly from your integration channels, it’s not being pushed through a data warehouse or a million data lakes. You’re not doing a lot of synchronization, it’s direct API calls. Every time I touch a customer, it becomes a piece of what I know about them. You can look at it as a profile, but that’s kind of like putting the customer in a little silo. I don’t want a rep or a marketer to see all the data about a customer; I want them to see the data which will help them make the right decision.

Pega’s profile

Nolan: I used to walk into rooms with prospects and folks would say “I don’t know Pega that well.” I think they now know who Pega is. They’re now getting into specific use cases and want to know how we help them solve specific problems. They know the core of what Pega is — the Customer Decision Hub and the always on “brain,” but they want to know how they apply it to their business. 

Nicholson: We certainly hear some vendors say, just come over to our stack, get rid of all the [legacy] stuff. A decade ago, people would almost buy into that. It’s no longer a possibility. You couldn’t afford it, and it would take years to get there. You have to succeed in spite of your systems, and get there now. Our software can be turned on immediately, generating business value in about 30 days. And we give them software which writes their software.

Nolan: We don’t have the brand name [in CRM] of an IBM or an Adobe, but customers have heard of us, and they’ve seen recommendations from Forrester and Gartner, and it makes a huge difference. Pega for a long time was focused on the really hard stuff. We’ve now made a real investment in the easy things, the things the market takes for granted. 

Nicholson: All too often if you’re looking at various packages, they look simple to use just because they can only do just what you saw them do. 

Nolan: Some organizations like Vodafone have done amazing things from a customer experience perspective. Others, like Cisco, have used the AI and the robotics to provide efficiencies. What I don’t see yet is an organization which has done both, although a lot are dipping their feet in the water. That’s when I think you’ll really see the power of Pega.

Pega covered DMN’s expenses to attend PegaWorld.  Article updated June 7 with supplementary quotes

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