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Transactional Reporting Meets Data Management: Interview with Marc Aubin, CEO and Co-Founder at AppBuddy

October 15th, 2015 14 min read

Marc Aubin, CEO and co-founder at AppBuddy, explained that while Salesforce’s complex data structures are well suited for storing data properly, they can be difficult for end-users to navigate effectively, which hinders adoption among salespeople. GridBuddy fills this gap in Salesforce by improving data visibility, context, and actionability. Aubin characterizes its single-screen interface, where related data can be sorted, filtered, and edited, as the marriage between transactional reporting and data management capabilities.

Give us overall background on AppBuddy—how long have you been around, and what is your product focus?

AppBuddy started about 6 years ago, in 2009. We were first listed our flagship product GridBuddy on the Salesforce AppExchange in 2010. GridBuddy fills a usability and adoption gap in Salesforce.

Working with a relational data management system is confusing for end-users. The data structures translate into a lot of complexity, yet this complexity is necessary to store data properly, insuring data integrity so that it can be reported on. It’s a necessary evil. Unfortunately, for a lot of people that user experience is not something they can dive into easily and use effectively. We see problems with sales people not entering their data in a timely fashion. Down the line, these user adoption and and process adoption problems trickle into a data quality problem.

Can you give us some detail around those “gaps” or pain points that GridBuddy addresses?

Data has a lifecycle, and of course, companies need to maintain quality throughout. We decided to focus on improving user experience because it’s integral to ensuring data quality, and we saw it as a major gap in Salesforce, in terms of a few user experience principles:

1. Visibility—Visibility is the ability to see all the data you need to work with for a particular use case on one screen. This is weakness in Salesforce. Users have to open up a gazillion tabs in order to get a good picture of all the data they need to work with; they have to drill into numerous records and deal with page loads. This creates inefficiency when sales people are trying to get a complete picture for a particular use case. GridBuddy brings all of the data onto one page, into a report-like display. Users can easily access the information they need without clicking back and forth between pages. We’re cutting down the navigation problem.

2. Context—GridBuddy helps users narrow down the fire hose of information to the exact data set around a particular context. For example, a salesperson might be interested in a record within a particular account. We do this with report-like capabilities to sort and filter data. We make data aware of its context. This is a pain point in Salesforce; people have trouble finding the exact information they need within the Salesforce data management interface. This rears its head when users work with Salesforce related lists and list views.

We took the paradigms of reporting and BI and married those concepts together to provide a user experience that delivers on visibility and context.

3. Actionability—We think of reports as the dream interface for delivering visibility and context while salespeople are working on any kind of use case. But reports lack actionability. We bring in actionability similar to what you see in Excel. Users can edit data, create and delete records—and in addition to these operations, users can also launch the CRM processes they’ve configured in Salesforce. This is a capability that Excel lacks. GridBuddy gives users the power to act on the data in front of them, in any way they want to.

What kinds of use cases does GridBuddy help with?

Working with opportunities and deals is our #1 use case. 85% of our customers are using GridBuddy for opportunity management. We often find that companies aren’t just managing opportunities, they’re also managing products and other aspects that give context to the deal. As soon as companies introduce that related data into the opportunity lifecycle, reps start to get lost. They have to do a lot of clicking, and they might start ignoring updates because it’s too much of a management burden. This cascades into more problems later on, especially if they are working with a downstream team who needs to know the opportunity status up to the minute.

For example, we are working with a customer whose global sales teams sell satellite bandwidth. These are million dollar deals—if they don’t have the inventory reserved aside for a particular deal, then they might overcommit or under-commit in the sale. It translates into millions of dollars of missed opportunities. In that use case, we see direct consequences of mismanaging data. With GridBuddy they were able to update and view data easily, and they saw a drastic improvement in reps actually updating data and understanding what was happening with their deals and their inventory.

Account planning is another interesting use case. This means working with named accounts data, where a company might be tracking the account competition, the main points of contact, and the strategies they want to implement for particular divisions or deal locations. Managing the account hierarchy is a pain point in Salesforce. Our package helps users look at and manage all of the account information in one place, in an easy way.

At what point is someone ready for your product, in terms of the complexity of their Salesforce instance?

That’s a really good question. They are definitely not ready on day 1 when they’re implementing Salesforce. Although, actually we’ve worked with a few larger organizations, coming from other CRM systems, who saw a problem while they were piloting Salesforce. They were able to use GridBuddy to make the initial launch successful. But in the typical scenario it’s about 6-9 months afterwards, once they’ve felt some pain for a while. Some organizations notice only 9 months into implementation; others have created hundreds or thousands of objects in their schema and have suffered for a long time before they find out about us.

The cool thing about GridBuddy is that we’re a completely configurable solution. They can roll out these user experiences without necessarily having to do code pushes or having to go through long development cycles that they’re accustomed to. We deliver value to the field right away.

How many customers do you have?

We have a little over 400 customers using our unlimited product, and over 5,000 organizations on our free product.

What are the differences between your free and unlimited products?

The free product is limited to 5 users, with a bit of a reduced feature set. The difference is widening as we go along, because we’ve released more premium features. For example, mass update and the ability for users to define their own filters are unlimited features. Our current release also includes the ability to relate objects that don’t have a logical relationship in the Salesforce scheme—that’s in beta right now. The unlimited version has a lot of powerful features to cross reference data and act on it efficiently. But the free product is a great value for organizations with simple use cases and only a few users.

Who is your target customer? Do you serve a typical vertical or size?

GridBuddy is a horizontal application. We run the gamut in terms of meeting industry needs. We’ve had great successs in healthcare, high-tech and financial services, but we also have customers in media and communications, non-profit, education, and retail.

In terms of company size, we’ve seen a lot of success in the enterprise. Those are installations between 2-8k users. But we also have customers using our free product with under 5 users or using our unlimited product with under 10 users or in the hundreds of users. We like them all.

Who’s the typical buyer and user in terms of role?

GridBuddy is an end-user tool. Sometimes people evaluating GridBuddy think it’s an admin tool. It can be used for admin use cases, but typically we focus on the end-user. We want to make their data management experience a good one so that they can be the guardians of their own data. We don’t want data problems to bubble up to admins for clean up. That said, the buyers are directors or VPs of sales operations or customer services operations. The departments buying our app are usually focused on sales, though we also work with customer service and marketing departments.

Do you have any other products besides GridBuddy?

We are releasing more add-ons to GridBuddy, which we think of as a platform. Being a horizontal platform is both a blessing and a curse. Users need to have some kind of translation to understand what it means for them, to boil down to their use case. We do this with add-ons, such as our Opportunity Management product on the AppExchange. We’re releasing an update to Opportunity Management soon, and we are also releasing an Account Planning solution soon. We’ll release a few other apps for the GridBuddy platform as well.

We also have integrations with some other AppExchange companies for add-on structure. For example, we integrate with TaskRay by Bracket Labs, to marry our mass management capabilities with their project management capabilities. That’s the roadmap in terms of other sellable applications. We are looking into other things a few years down the line; for now, they’re TBD.

What technology category would you place GridBuddy in?

I look at GridBuddy as something that fulfills the needs of transactional reporting, as opposed to historical overlap reporting. But we marry those capabilities with data management—it’s transactional-reporting-meets-data-management.  We’re taking those two categories and bringing them together. That’s a lower level view.

At a higher level, GridBuddy is a multi-object workspace. For instance, some of our customers have replaced a lot of the Salesforce interface with GridBuddy screens. They’ve made GridBuddy the central workspace for interacting with the data that’s stored in Salesforce.

Does the Lightning release change things for you, since it brings a lot of improvements to the Salesforce UI?

It does bring a lot of improvements to the Salesforce UI; however, they aren’t touching the ability to work with multiple objects in the same workspace. That’s our sweet spot.

While Lightning catches up with the classic interface, GridBuddy helps anyone going over to Lightning use it more effectively. Lighting doesn’t have many of the objects that are central to our enterprise customers’ sales management processes, like opportunity team member support. While Salesforce builds this out, our customers can use GridBuddy to continue to manage those objects from within the Lightning interface.

We’re really excited about some of the Lightning improvements. We think the progress around Builder and the page layouts will play nicely with GridBuddy. We’re increasingly relevant and complementary in those areas, because users need a multi-object workspace as part of the pages they build. It’s something we’ve been doing for a while with Visualforce pages. But now people who aren’t developers of Visualforce pages can also build those experiences. We think we’ll be able to add value there, just as we did with the custom Visualforce pages.

Who do you see as GridBuddy’s competitors?

I pay the most attention to Skuid and ActionGrid. Skuid allows users to build custom pages in Salesforce, with what they call point and click capabilities. ActionGrid is more of a direct competitor.

How do you differentiate from those competitors?

In many ways, we’re not really in the same space as Skuid. We’re not in the business of building custom pages. They focus on building forms and pages without Visualforce programming, and we think that’s great! It’s complementary to GridBuddy’s strengths. Skuid also has a grid component, and that’s where they surface as a competitor. But we have better multi-object capabilities, and better filtering capabilities at both the admin level and the end-user level.

With GridBuddy, admins can define filters and push them to end-users, and end-users can also define their own filters. GridBuddy is also a lot simpler to set up and configure. When we run into them in competition and win, buyers tell us that it takes a very skilled, developer-like user to set up Skuid and push things out to reps. There’s a degree of complexity of setup required that we have intentionally avoided. That is an area where we’re better than Skuid.

ActionGrid has only been on the market for a year and a half, whereas GridBuddy has been around for 5 years plus. For any sophisticated enterprise implementation, ActionGrid is really not going to be able to scale to meet business and end-user needs. In general, we’ve done more sophisticated integration with the Salesforce platform. We’ve focused on advanced features like look-up filters, consoles, etc. that enterprises see as essential. We give admins the ability to push definitions to users and certain groups very easily. This is something ActionGrid doesn’t do very well.

We’ve had the experience of working with enterprise customers for over three years and we built those specific features based on feedback from our enterprise customers. Through these customer relationships, we’ve created a product that’s proven to have repeatable benefits. GridBuddy is a much more enterprise-worthy product than ActionGrid.

Are there any trends, in terms of how customers are doing CRM or using Salesforce, that drive your product changes?

There are two main things that I watch closely:

1. Business Intelligence (BI) is more important than ever. This is even important to Salesforce themselves—they’re releasing Wave, and a lot of other companies are jumping into the space.

BI is a very broad category. While we’re not trying to be a complete end-to-end BI solution, we do want to make our app more intelligent. We want to provide a great management experience, to inform the user of what’s going on so that they can make a more informed decision. We look at the BI paradigms closely as we make plans for development and positioning in the marketplace.

2. Mobile is huge. Everyone wants to jump on mobile, but frankly, when we ask other organizations how they want to use mobile, no one has any idea. (This is almost a couple of years after Salesforce released Salesforce 1, let alone Salesforce Touch a while before that.) Some companies have bought iPads for their field, but most have not gotten as far as a coordinated central mobile strategy. We can learn a lot from the few that have developed a strategy; they’ve battled to figure out what works.

Some mobile apps work well, but they are very focused on a task-oriented approach. Although it’s unsaid, I believe what the market truly wants is full desktop capability on their mobile device. People want to stop lugging laptops around. In order for that to happen, mobile needs to provide more comprehensive functionality. We are a long way from providing that kind of user experience.

Things like artificial intelligence are very exciting, so people don’t have to tap around or think about what they need to do next. Still, at the end of the day, we’re focused on improving the user experience because even if the mobile app is intelligent, it still can’t read minds, and people have to interact with it. Mobile is an interesting space to watch, but it’s still extremely young—no matter what Salesforce tells you. Today, companies are not getting the value they need from mobile applications.

To share your own user insights about GridBuddy, write a review on TrustRadius.

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