Zuora, the subscription billing and payments company and the Financial Times of London announced a deal today in which the Times will use Zuora to help manage its subscription business. Two interesting paragraphs from an article in Computerworld UK stand out:
“The organisation has invested heavily in its digital strategy in recent years amidst a declining print market, helping increase total circulation 13 percent year on year to 677,000 during 2014, two thirds of which are online subscribers. It has also seen growth in mobile, accounting for 50 percent of overall traffic.
According to FT chief technology officer, John O’Donovan, the software as a service (Saas) system has helped provide flexibility in terms of pricing and bundling of subscription products, enabling the company to concentrate on where its 126-year old business can add value – the creation of content.
I am impressed by everything about this deal — the preponderance of digital subscribers; the use of Zuora not simply for billing but also for managing the business in a more fundamental way; and the company itself. The Times is a 126 year-old company coming into the digital and subscription age. Good on them, I say, and good on Zuora for making this happen. It’s got to be worth at least one touchdown in the race for supremacy in the subscription billing race.
This helps to validate (though Zuora is a long way from needing validation) the subscription management idea, which started with billing and payments but is more complex than this today. The data given off by digital customers through their subscriptions is significant and can tell a vendor quite a bit about tastes, needs, preferences, and much more — all of the things that a vendor needs to make a better mousetrap — or as the CTO in the article says to make content that customers want.
So when I see an article like this, I am happy for both parties because it means the vendor is also adopting the ways of digital marketing that make it possible to understand customers even if its people aren’t in direct communication daily. Does this mean that the billing and payments system should be part of CRM these days? Perhaps, but more fundamentally it can also mean that the traditional CRM silos of Sales, Marketing, and Service are crumbling and being replaced by data, analytics, and specific process-oriented apps that address customer moments of truth. There is nothing more fundamental to the relationship than getting the billing right and offering the right product mix. Doing those two things enable subscription companies to win the battle today and earn the right to do it all over again tomorrow.
Last week I attended Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud customer event put on by ExactTarget. The theme of the conference was “The journey is its own reward” and I think that offers proof for what I am arguing because the journey involves collecting and analyzing customer data so that the vendor can stay relevant to the customer. So, not to get too far afield, this is an important announcement and I am glad I found it.
(Cross-posted @ Beagle Research, LLC)