Though product companies have seen more than their fair share of challenges in recent years, standout market leaders have been able to achieve consistent, significant revenue growth by embracing a number of winning strategies.
At Propulsion 2023, industry experts and business leaders gathered to share how product companies are growing in the current economic environment—including five success stories from hypergrowth companies embracing technology to deliver innovation and competitive advantages that will last for years.
Here are 8 of the top themes we heard:
1. Artificial intelligence is an advantage, not a takeover.
Multiple speakers conceded the transformative power of AI but stressed the need for strategic thinking, accurate data, and comprehensive measurement to effectively harness its potential benefits.
In the session “Digital Transformation’s Impact on Business Models,” EVP of Technology at Salesforce, Alexa Vignone was clear that, “these tools are not magic. Finding the right data sets to inform the problems we're solving and products we’re building is going to be important."
Similarly, Ralph Loura, Chairman of the Board at SustainabilityIT.org, emphasized the importance of thoughtful consideration for measuring AI when drawing a parallel line to sustainability initiatives:
“I agree AI will have a profound impact, but it's worthless without someone asking a question... The same is true for sustainability. If I'm not thoughtful about how this plays end-to-end and I'm not measuring the right KPIs, I'm not going to end up with the outcome I truly want."
2. Owning sustainability outcomes: reuse, repurpose, regenerate
Speaking of sustainability, you cannot host a conference about supply chain practices in 2023 without bringing in this urgent discussion. As was made clear in the session “Sustainability: A Crisis Needing Leadership and Change.”
Speaking alongside Loura, Kevin O’Marah, founder of Zero100, expressed the need for a “regenerate” step in current value chain processes. One that, at the end of the product lifecycle, "feeds directly back into the source.”
He asserts that, in principle, three things get regenerated: 1) materials and components, 2) revenue, and 3) the cycle itself—when empowered by tech.
Moreover, acquisition and retention of talent was a correlation drawn by both O’Marah and, later in a panel discussion, industry evangelist Cindy Bolt, who didn’t mince words: “What your company is actually doing behind your sustainability strategy starts affecting who wants to work for you.”
Companies looking to attract and retain the best talent should pay close attention to Cindy’s advice.
3. The rise of IT to strategic leadership
The role of today’s IT leaders is evolving to a core strategic asset for their companies. Digital transformation is a practice that fuels all the themes we’ve touched on so far: revenue growth, sustainability, user talent, adoption of AI, and innovation.
That means the key performance indicators that consumers and shareholders alike are honing in on, are all effectively under the remit of the CIO.
"This is our focus—being able to evolve fast. Making sure our data is great and then reporting it so we know how we need to adjust in real-time,” said Heather Multhaupt, VP of Team Services at Alert Innovation in her session, “Scrappy Tech Startup Fuels World’s Largest Supply Chain.”
Both Propel CEO Ross Meyercord and chief strategy officer Ray Hein mention how the elevation of CIO roles correlates to “companies recognizing that technology is one of the greatest enablers of business strategies.”
"There's a holistic understanding of what we're doing as a business that is just as important for a developer to understand as it is for a sales and marketing person to understand."
4. Growth cannot be managed, let alone achieved, without a modern solution
Savant Systems' focus on technology is company-wide, and they are launching cross-functional processes on Salesforce, including Salesforce-based applications such as Propel. This approach has helped them move fast and scale to the point of acquiring GE Lighting, taking on an established industry leader and tying it with Savant’s “spirit of innovation and necessity of speed to market,” according to Senior VP of Service & Customer Operations Angie Larson.
Alert Innovation had a particularly exciting growth story in 2022, when they were acquired by global retail giant Walmart. Multhaupt attributed their success to having the right solutions: "Because we expected to scale, we planned for success. We've been selecting tools in the IT space with the expectation that we would grow to the scale we're anticipating with Walmart.”
Also seeing rapid growth is Samsara, scaling from a startup to a public company worth $10 billion. VP of Operations Jeff Faulkner explained in his session, "We knew we had to have a more robust look-ahead capability to ensure we knew where the areas of [supply chain] risk were. This is really where the Propel organization helped us play a really key role with making sure everybody was on the same page."
5. Achieving “Customer Intimacy”
Almost every success story we heard at Propulsion shared a common theme of strengthening customer relationships.
In the session “Do More of What Matters to Your Customers,” Jan Meise, CEO of AMS Technologies, explains that the best solutions are the ones that allow you more time with your customers and less time on process:
"We need to make sure that time spent by our employees in the system is at a minimum. You don't build customer intimacy in Salesforce nor Propel or any other tool. You're building customer intimacy in front of the customer."
For medical device companies, the stakes of not knowing your customer well enough are incredibly high. Kumud Kalia, CIO/COO at Guardant Health, states their mission as “the business of making sure people don't die of cancer.
Kalia echoes the same sentiments as Meise: “The business value of a solution is the amount of time saved around the company for people doing repetitive tasks, and to automate as much of that as possible to give them back time to do more patient-facing activity.”
Guardant Health certainly takes this approach to heart. Ravi Jogi, VP Business Applications, stated that Guardant saves 27,000 hours each year by using Propel!
6. Subscription revenue models require a customer feedback loop with product teams
Helping to drive customer intimacy is increasingly common thanks to the growth in subscription revenue model. In his conversation with Vignone and Moore, Meyercord points out that “if you're in an annual recurring revenue model where you need to renew a subscription service, you know how you're succeeding. The product and customer are being pushed together and that feedback loop is built in.”
That’s why so many product companies see the importance of connecting customer and product teams on a single platform, where data is easy to find and collaboration is effortless.
Savant Systems has recently entered the subscription economy and is seeing the advantages already. Larson says, "We've been able to deliver to our customers the benefits of the subscription model. Because we want your smart home to evolve with you and get better and better and better."
7. “West Coast PLM”
In his session “PLM and the Future of Manufacturing,” Forrester’s VP and Principal Analyst George Lawrie draws a distinction between east coast (and European) manufacturing and west coast manufacturing, characterizing the former as primarily fabrication-based in which companies run their processes in factories, engaging in activities like casting, milling, drilling, and assembly.
By contrast, west coast manufacturing emphasizes creating products using existing components and relationships with contract manufacturers. Lawrie notes this form of manufacturing is growing at a remarkable pace compared to its east coast counterpart. He suggests that west coast manufacturing will lead to a different sourcing paradigm, involving a combination of offshore, nearshore, and onshore operations.
This shift will require the support of different types of product lifecycle management (PLM) systems to accommodate companies specializing in different manufacturing approaches or hybrids thereof. This will fuel the growth of cloud native PLM solutions that can be quickly deployed anywhere in the world, are easy to configure and intuitive to use.
8. Innovation and investment continue across all markets
The theme of Propulsion 2023 was “find your upside in a turbulent market.” Even with environmental, political, global, and economic factors disrupting the market and supply chains, those who are succeeding are the ones leaning on the capabilities of modern solutions to foresee and manage risk—and still keep growing.
Stories like those we heard at Propulsion—from Savant, Samsara, Alert Innovation, AMS Technologies, and Guardant—are all evidence that this can be done.
And because they all took the leap and invested in Propel, they didn’t simply survive the turbulence, they thrived and continued to grow.
That’s why Meyercord stated the future is bright for innovative product companies. And it’s why the entire team at Propel remains committed to helping these visionaries achieve their goals, and to quickly and profitably bring great new products to market.