In 2021, automated cash applications will be vital for continuous cash forecasting, increased collections, optimized credit, and reduced time-to-cash.
MEDIA 7: From being a Chartered Accountant to becoming the Director of Product Marketing at BlackLine- could you please take us through your journey?
DAVID BRIGHTMAN: I left University with a degree in Economics at the start of the global financial crisis – a time when many new graduates struggled to find opportunities. In hindsight, starting my career in audit and completing the ACA helped to set me up for virtually any career path. My day-to-day role helped promote transparent financial reporting, which is the foundation for a well-functioning global economic system, and the skills I learned honed my understanding of enterprise-wide finance and business processes.
I’ve spent most of my career working in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in various presales roles. But I wanted to work in a broader, more collaborative role that covered key, intersecting organizational pillars – product, marketing, sales and customer success. So when the chief product officer at a previous company suggested I move into product management, it felt like a good fit. At the time the company I worked for was owned by Vista Equity. Early on, I went through Vista’s intensive course on the fundamentals of product management and leadership, learning and sharing best practices with peers from Marketo, Tibco and Xactly among others.
This was a really valuable experience, but I’ve always enjoyed thinking creatively about problems and adapting how I communicate the solutions to those problems to different audiences. I also try to bring a sense of adventure to problems and think storytelling is really important, as it helps people to visualize and focus on their vision for the future. So, the natural next step for me was to shift from an inward-out approach (in product) to the opposite.
Product management and product marketing certainly have a lot of overlap. Both are value-based and customer-centric. But product marketing is more holistic, deliberate and dedicated to shaping the market and defining a new category of software. It’s so important to understand the external environment and context, so you can shape, build, refine and deliver a core narrative for your business. As well as keeping on top of competitor and market analyses and trends, the focus needs to be on the customer.
And that’s what I love – being able to have a constant dialogue with users at all levels and seniorities within a business, so you can create living, breathing messaging and strategies that respond to changing customer behaviors, experiences and dynamics. At BlackLine I see my role as a trusted voice of the customer, and a vital mouthpiece to drive our positioning strategy.
I work closely with our customer marketing team to help them shape and execute their plans and strategies. From determining what capabilities to launch, to driving awareness for solutions in the market, including go-to-market launch planning and messaging, content, campaigns and sales enablement. It’s all about externalizing and highlighting what our solution brings to the table, who it is for and how it solves the pain points users experience every day.
M7: What marketing channels do you use and which ones do you see as the most promising given your target customers?
DB: We use a variety of marketing channels to reach our audiences, from social adverts, LinkedIn community feeds and amplification tools for social platforms, to webinars, tradeshows, round tables, media buying, outdoor digital & sports advertising, along with Account-Based Marketing and Nurture programs.
Our partner ecosystem is expansive and we use a partner hub to enable partners to access branded assets, on-demand training sessions, case studies and brand guidelines. Under the current circumstances, where virtual events lead the way, we are still seeing high interest in attending events we produce. For example, we had over 1,800 people register to attend our virtual Modern Accounting Summit for EMEA in May, which after a year of Zoom calls and other virtual meetings, we were very pleased to see.
Tradeshows are critical for networking with our audiences and we’ll continue to invest in these as they start to re-emerge in regions where restrictions have lifted. Of course, our biggest marketing channel is our website. This is our shopfront and we ensure that great content is uploaded and made freely available via blog posts, media coverage links, thought leadership content and product datasheets We are constantly improving our site for accessibility, ease of use and personalization using a variety of technologies to give our visitors the best experience when looking for information on how to make their move to modern accounting.
We have a large BlackLine Community and our clients have access to our own university. This allows our customers to certify themselves by solution. Easy access and use ensure they are making the most of the software; they can add users who are certified and use various KPIs to determine if any users are not following their company process and procedures and put them through the training again. We enable our customers to talk to each other in a community space where they have a repository of frequently asked questions, experts who can respond with tips on improving outcomes and of course we promote our new release information in the community and by inviting our Administration members to webinars. Finally to ensure we are delivering on our promise we have reviews on public websites such as G2, Trustradius and Gartner Peer Insights.
M7: How does BlackLine modernize the finance and accounting function to enable greater productivity and better detection of accounting errors?
DB: Companies come to BlackLine because their traditional manual accounting processes are not sustainable. Our cloud-based solutions and dedicated customer teams help companies move to modern accounting by unifying their data and processes, automating repetitive work, and driving accountability and collaboration through visibility.
Our solutions for financial close management, accounts receivable automation, and intercompany accounting enables large enterprises and midsize companies across all industries to do accounting work better, faster, and with more control. More than 3,400 companies trust BlackLine to help them close faster with complete and accurate results. We help companies manage the financial close by standardizing and reporting on every aspect of the close—from balance sheet reconciliations to correcting journal entries. We accelerate accounts receivable processes using AI to automatically apply cash to open invoices. And we unify intercompany accounting for an end-to-end solution to a complex, global process. Our aim is to drive the future of financial operations management, by evolving the role of Finance and Accounting, from accounting for the balance sheet to account for business performance and value creation.
Remote working means employers can afford to be more flexible with staff working patterns - the 'working day' will become an outdated concept, as the increase in AI technology means cash collection efforts can still be carried out even during downtime.
M7: At BlackLine, how do you ensure that your sales team understands and presents the products and services in an engaging manner?
DB: As I mentioned earlier, storytelling plays a key role in helping businesses envision their roadmap for the future. We believe we can help companies to move from outdated approaches that are no longer sustainable, to modern accounting that delivers more value for the business. Customers are at the center of everything we do – everything ties back to how our solutions solve pain points. We make sure to provide evidence of that success, in the form of customer success stories, which sales teams can use to help tell this story.
M7: What do you believe are the top three product marketing challenges in the post COVID-19 era?
DB: Audience engagement is a challenge in the current climate when there are fewer in-person events. Companies are fighting for attention in a virtual world that has Zoom fatigue, and it’s hard to replace that in-person feel from a live event and keep it interactive. At the same time, this has created opportunities to be more creative, and also reach people who perhaps wouldn’t commit to an in-person event previously.
Making sure you really know your customers at a meaningful, segment level is also challenging, but something we really try to focus on at BlackLine. There is also a need to get this type of data quicker and monitor new trends, so we can more quickly adapt to the customer experience and their expectations.
Product marketing is continuously generating a flow of new, targeted content to help sales articulate the business value of our solutions. We want to empower sales to be change agents – our job is to enable the enabler. We’re lucky at BlackLine that we have a mature setup with a dedicated sales enablement organization, including partners and internal sales teams, all set up by territory and segment (mid-market and large enterprise). This helps us to rapidly scale in such a high growth environment.
As both AI and ML will pick up, addressing the accuracy and velocity of data will provide a solid foundation to reliably speed work up even more, while driving risk down.
M7: What trends in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now and why?
DB: Global financial uncertainty means cash will continue to be king - new business efforts could stall or slow down, so businesses will need to focus on collecting cash from overdue invoices. In 2021, automated cash applications will therefore be vital for continuous cash forecasting, increased collections, optimized credit, and reduced time-to-cash. The addition of Intelligent Automation means that when conditions change, or when there are non-standard tasks to be done, Intelligent Automation learns and adapts to control the change.
What’s more, remote working approaches mean employers can afford to be more flexible with staff working patterns - the 'working day' will become an outdated concept, as the increase in AI technology means cash collection efforts can still be carried out even during downtime. AI will also become more intelligent, as AI vendors will now be able to use the lessons learned from the COVID crisis to model and predict future outcomes for accounts receivable teams in times of economic challenge. In other words, payment behavioral analytics can now be more refined. There is already demand for these types of solutions – our research shows that more than a third (35%) of finance leaders and professionals are interested in using AI or ML to predict customer payment patterns to help them more accurately forecast cash flow, and three in ten (30%) think using AI or ML to better understand customer financial behaviors would help to lower the risk of non-payments.
With cash collection being pushed to the forefront of revenue generation efforts, customer-facing roles also have the potential to be redefined in order to create a cash culture. Compensation for sales and other roles will pivot from revenue to cash-focused goals and specific tools that drive collaboration and embed cash generation across the organization will be a priority for all enterprises.
M7: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Business Leader?
DB: Very early on, I grasped the importance of platform solutions, that is, interconnected sets of solutions and services in a single integrated experience. For accounting, it’s about unifying data, processes, systems, and people, connecting and simplifying an enterprise’s often complex IT landscape, and substituting human focus from the routine, manual tasks for non-routine, cognitive ones. Accurate data is the lifeblood of any business, enabling agility, and accurate, reliable planning and analysis. This substitution effect on work priorities is manifested in the workforce: from backward-looking, scorekeeping, to forward-looking initiatives that drive value across the wider business. As both AI and ML will pick up, addressing the accuracy and velocity of data will provide a solid foundation to reliably speed work up even more, while driving risk down. In a traditional environment, risk and efficiency often counterbalance each other and this trade-off can be streamlined with AI to yield the panacea of both risk reduction and efficiency.