We sat down with ServiceNow’s Elissa Houchin, an analyst relations veteran, and effective industry leader. Elissa currently manages ServiceNow’s analyst relations program with a unit of ten individuals spanning coverage all over both market industries and the globe. Of course, we should be talking over wine and cocktails during downtime at a conference like Gartner’s IT Symposium in Orlando. But with the state of the world, as it is, these ethereal discussions of AR’s purpose and real, daily challenges will have to settle for our best digital communication.
AR Leader Spotlight:
Role: Senior Director, Global Head of IT Analyst and Influencer Relations
Team Size: 10 analyst relations managers
Priorities: Brand awareness
Company growth in new markets
Rapidly expanding analyst list
Increased resourcing needs
A growing company and a growing team
“I come from a philosophy that I want people with strong communications and AR skills… then I can teach them a business domain.”
For Elissa, this mindset is one of the keys that unlocks her success at ServiceNow, a workflow company growing at seemingly exponential rates. Elissa is the Senior Director, Global Head of IT Analyst and Influencer Relations, and to play in her sandbox, you have to be able to uncover new sandcastles.
“I don’t want people that think their success is only tied to the fact that they’ve been in a market forever. If you can’t pick up a new market tomorrow and run with it, this isn’t the right team for you.” This inexorable adaptability stems not only from Elissa, but also the culture of the company she’s in. Over the past three years, ServiceNow has grown from roughly 5,000 employees to more than 13,000. They are on a mission to spring from the IT service management space into the low code platform realm.
After a wonderful and intense 12 year sprint in AR at IBM, Elissa joined ServiceNow as an individual contributor in their security and ITSM team three years ago. Elissa’s AR program started with only three practitioners and has now more than doubled in size with international AR coverage thanks to a leader in Europe and growing focus in Asia Pacific. Elissa is known for being a calm, encouraging force in an otherwise hectic AR world through her team approach to leadership and bright personality. Her passion for AR and fierceness for tackling new problems are apparent to everyone, not just those on her team.
“Our team is more embedded in product management than any other AR team I’ve ever worked with – we truly understand what they are working on. And we still get surprised every day because the company is moving that fast.”
The constant inventiveness of the company’s development presents frequent needs for Elissa’s AR team to venture into the vertical wilderness. With new industry-specific solutions being developed at rapid rates, Elissa’s team is subsequently tasked with building relationships with the analysts in these various verticals. “I feel like I wake up every morning and they go, ‘new product! It’s the beauty of the Now Platform’”, says Elissa. “And our team is more embedded in product management than any other AR team I’ve ever worked with – they truly understand what we’re working on. And we still get surprised every day because the company is moving that fast.”
Take a company growing at rapid rates and add in a global pandemic, ServiceNow responded by changing not only their workplace but their workflows. Their development model went from two big product launches per year to a new product launch every two weeks. “The first time they did it, we were two weeks into the lockdown and they said, ‘we need you to work on the FAQ and write down every single question the analyst and the customer will have.’ 15 pages later they were stunned and said, ‘Wow, we didn’t realize we’d still have to do all of this.’”
“If you do too much analyst activity, it’s just bad strategy. You end up cannibalizing your own news because analysts are like, ‘enough with you’.”
Elissa knew this model wasn’t sustainable for her team, nor was it beneficial for analyst relationship-building. “It’s a law of diminishing returns. We did about three or four of these quick product launches and then I called, ‘time out.’ All we’re doing is shoving more capabilities at analysts. Until we can show customers using this new product, I’m doing us a disservice by continuing to take this out.” The compromise was to deliver announcements once a month, but just as a “light touch” to the analyst community. “If you do too much analyst activity, it’s just a bad strategy. You end up cannibalizing your own news .”
Using AR to drive awareness
When you zoom out to look for ServiceNow’s AR north star, brand awareness shines bright. Analyst relations at ServiceNow reports through communications, with a unique de-emphasization on measuring sales lead as compared to other AR teams.
“My philosophy is that given where we are as a company, the most important thing we can do is drive company awareness. We have an awesome execution engine, but our sales teams, brand surveys, and customer surveys say we can improve our awareness, particularly in the c-suite.”
In the coming year, she’s identified four areas for her team to drive their efforts toward to help move ServiceNow’s AR forward. Unsurprisingly, her biggest obstacle is operational scale. Because of ServiceNow’s acceleration, Elissa is creating a center of excellence to help standardize her AR program’s processes. “From events to measurement to Gartner Peer Insights and other review sites – so many simple things need one consistent process. We shouldn’t be reinventing things” she says.
The second initiative is a digital-first solution for managing all of ServiceNow’s engaged analysts. “When we were small, it was really easy for us to say we are focused on this core set of analysts. We are mushrooming. We are trying to keep our arms around it, strategically.” Elissa is hoping that the digital-first experience will help keep all of ServiceNow’s analysts more frequently engaged by providing more information regarding news and demos available at their fingertips.
“We want analysts talking to all the different parts of our companies, so they understand the whole picture. But that means we have to have a different way of creating content and thinking about how we engage with them.”
“The third area is insights-driven AR,” she says. “We’re following Spotlight’s great model and really using Spotlight Oz to collect the insights and sentiments and then feed that back to our business. This way we can get much better at creating custom analyst strategies and content to address those insights. When one analyst would only engage with basically the same three to four people, month after month, we could do that from the facts in our heads. That doesn’t scale and can not happen now and that’s okay – we want analysts talking to all the different parts of our companies, so they understand the whole picture. But that means we have to have a different way of creating content and thinking about how we engage with them.”
But creating custom analyst content isn’t the only way Elissa plans to use insights-driven AR. Through presentations across the company, they’re able to show how AR can impact the entire business. “My team does internal SWOT based on what analysts are telling us. I showed the Analyst Perception Gauge from Spotlight Oz in my 2021 priorities meeting to get my peers and boss used to seeing it. We discussed insights-driven AR and how that changes the way we work. They like it because it helps all of us be smarter about what the company is taking to market.”
Spinning up and down with Spotlight
All this forward motion means Elissa has to be creative with her resourcing. Although her team has doubled in size, the lack of predictability means she’s needed to find nimble and flexible solutions to spin up and spin down AR work on a dime. “How I like to use Spotlight best, to be honest, is as a fully formed member of my team that takes a topic and runs. You are responsible for the plan, for communicating that plan to the business unit’s general manager, for the results, communicating the results, and engaging with the analysts. To me, if the analyst can’t tell if you’re with Spotlight or ServiceNow, that’s perfect. You guys are a part of my team.”
You may think Elissa would be worn out from ServiceNow’s incredible pace, but if anything, she’s more energized. “We’re in a moment right now that as a company we understand that where we are today isn’t where we’ll be in three years, so everyone is open to new ideas. It’s a true “give and take” with analysts. There is a genuine desire by everyone to learn. Combine that with the fantastic AR team I’m privileged to work with and it’s a fun environment to do AR in.”