We are thrilled to introduce Get Personal’s first guest Jeannie Blackwood! Get Personal is a monthly feature of our conversations with client-facing thought leaders across the enterprise software industry.
Jeannie is an account manager at OpenExchange, a virtual meetings and events company powering the world’s top financial services and investment management firms. Jeannie and I used to work closely together at DealCloud, where we experienced both the thrills and challenges of early startup days. Jeannie, before we dive into today’s questions about your role, tell our audience how you got to where you are today.
Thanks so much! I went to University of Virginia, studied systems engineering and computer science, and played varsity field hockey throughout college. Managing both engineering and field hockey was super tough, but it left me with a lot of grit. After college, a lot of my peers went into consulting, banking, or became government contractors in D.C. I wanted something a bit smaller. I found this organization called Venture for America, which is a nonprofit organization that helps recent graduates find startup companies in underrepresented cities across America. That’s how I found DealCloud, and landed in Charlotte for my first job. I chose DealCloud because there were a couple older fellows who loved it and I thought it would be great to learn about the financial services industry.
When joining, I had no idea what was going to happen. Am I getting on a rollercoaster? I joined DealCloud around employee 40, which now seems so crazy to think how small it was at the time. We were a lot of 20-somethings figuring it out and we were given a ton of responsibility. I started by doing small scale implementations with small private equity firms, and then moved to implementing our enterprise clients like Raymond James and PIMCO. After doing that for a couple of years, I moved to San Francisco to help open our West Coast office. Four of us moved out there to expand our presence in the Bay Area and to grow into APAC.
We were both twenty-four years old, laying by a pool in Asia and thinking “what is going on in our lives and how did we get here”?
We brought on some key clients in Singapore and Hong Kong and I got to travel to Asia for a sales trip, which was an amazing experience. We grew the office to 15 people across customer success, account management, implementation, and sales and we had a ton of fun doing it. Having done implementations for a couple of years, it was time for something new. I had actually been staying in touch with OpenExchange for a while because of college a friend who worked there. At one point my friend and I happened to be in Singapore and Hong Kong for work. We were both twenty-four years old, laying by a pool in Asia and thinking “what is going on in our lives and how did we get here”? And so I stayed in touch with her. When I started looking, she connected me to their CEO and set up a call. I talked to the CEO and COO on a Saturday morning at 6am Pacific Time. I was actually on my way back from Tahoe, so I pulled over at a rest stop. The process moved really fast, and they were pretty early at the time. They wanted me to join to help with account management, as well as outbound sales into the middle market.
What is your role at OpenExchange?
That is quite the story and I am reminiscing on all those times we worked together, good memories. I love hearing about the sales trip as well, it’s always nice to be on the other side after implementing clients! Tell us about OpenExchange. What is your role? What are your key responsibilities?
OpenExchange is a meetings and events software and professional services company, primarily for high profile meetings with financial institutions. We manage everything from large scale conferences down to road shows and AGMs. I am in a business development role / account management role. When Covid hit, we had longstanding relationships with many of the largest banks and so they came to us to help them navigate the virtual world.
Now we’re working to get into the middle market banks, buyside, and private equity. In addition to the new business, I also help with managing existing accounts, and do a little bit of sales engineering. DealCloud gave me (and Sagar and Nigel) a lot of demoing skills which I was able to bring to OE. For our large clients, I’ll be brought in to demo our new technologies and services.
How does the company make money?
Got it, that’s pretty fascinating. You touch a lot of areas of the business with one role and it seems like your experiences at DealCloud really helped grow you for what was ahead, very cool. Tell us about what OpenExchange specifically sells, what are the products and how does the company make money?
OpenExchange has a suite of products and services. We sit on top of video conferencing technologies like Zoom or WebEx or Teams. We offer self-serve, grey glove, and white glove service, depending on what our clients want. We can also build custom web pages to act as event hubs or digital repositories.
We have two different groups of clients. Those who use it as SaaS and are paying us annually for the subscription; these clients are usually our corporate clients or PE firms. Our bank clients use our white glove service heavily, paying us to execute on the meetings on a meeting by meeting or event basis.
Understood, so the revenue model has a couple of different pieces to it with a subscription focus for some solutions that has recurring revenue, and others that are consumption (usage) based where you get paid for every unit of meetings or time that you support.
Yes, exactly. For usage-based solutions we get the parameters of a meeting and give our clients a cost estimate. So you can think of the meeting or event price to be all in – including all set-up and support costs. We also have volume-based pricing. If you exceed a certain amount of meetings in a day, then you drop into a different pricing tier.
How do you expand revenue within accounts?
That makes sense, it seems because there is a quantity that’s determined ahead of time and you would know what the revenue forecast for the year looks like. As an account manager, I want to focus on the revenue expansion part of your role. This is of particular interest for us at Foresight, given that’s what we help companies and account managers do. We help clients understand their revenue potential across a few different lines – upselling users, cross-selling solutions, and reducing discounts. In your role, what is your playbook for expanding revenue across your existing book of business?
By identifying this white space, relationship managers, account managers, and business unit managers can work together to strategize how we can help within the different markets, within the firms.
We are a global company with employees spanning Seoul, Hong Kong, Hyderabad, Boston, New York City, and London. We have regional, global, and business line coverage for each of our clients. Our clients are large organizations, operating separately in different regions and business lines. We might have a client that is doing a ton of conferences with us in EMEA, but in APAC they’re only doing bus tours and road shows and in North America they are doing capital markets with us. We’re now spanning three regions and three business lines. Given our global perspective we might know more about how other regions or business lines are operating than the firms themselves.
Therefore we might try to get into the conference business in America or into the capital markets business in EMEA or APAC. We have a pretty good idea of what the volume would look like if they were fully using us, therefore, we can identify the upside potential or white space. By identifying this white space, relationship managers, account managers, and business unit managers can work together to strategize how we can help within the different markets, within the firms.
How do you educate clients about value?
There is so much incremental value in that because you can offer unique ways to support their business objectives by using additional services. I’m curious, do you share learnings about your clients back to them in any formal way? Do you give them a report or anything that says, here’s what you’re doing with us today and here’s what you could be doing better? Or is it more anecdotal in nature?
We do an annual review of the account where we invite in all the key stakeholders across all regions and business units to share “this is what we’re doing, this is what we could be doing”. But often this discussion is happening organically throughout the calendar year. If we find out that one team absolutely loves something, we’ll take it to other regions or other business units of our client and say, “we worked with one of your colleagues and they found a lot of value doing X”. We really want to make sure that if we’re offering our client something, it’s because it will be beneficial to their business.
How do you engage your clients?
That makes sense, because you are seen as a trusted partner to your clients it doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal session. Which leads us nicely to our next point here, how do you engage your clients as an account manager today? Is there a regular touchpoint cadence?
We ultimately want to be viewed as a partner to our clients. We have weekly or monthly meetings regionally / globally and within / across business units. Some banks want their firms to be aligned across all business units, but sometimes they want to be able to maintain autonomy. We also have internal Slack channels for sharing intel within each account. We have a robust staffing matrix at the execution level and we try to maintain as much consistency as possible with who is delivering to which clients.
Wave a magic wand, what do wish for?
If you could wave a magic wand and come up with any new tools or ideas that would help you drive more value for your clients, more revenue for the business, and greater success overall, what would you want?
I think a lot of it comes back to product feedback from the client. The client facing teams are exposed to feedback, but very rarely are you able to convince the end users to formally give it to you. And if you do get it, what is the quality of that feedback? What’s their use case? How do you document it? How often do they use the solution? If someone is in the solution every day, you would take them more seriously than someone who logs in every six months.
No matter what organization you’re in, your highest paying customer may be the most vocal and then you end up tailoring your product to a single account versus actually being informed about what the best decision would be for everyone.
We have another layer because we might get our client’s feedback, but we’re rarely getting our client’s client’s feedback. Having access to these insights would deeply inform our product roadmap and our prioritization of new features. Whereas often, the “loudest voice” gets the most say. No matter what organization you’re in, your highest paying customer may be the most vocal and then you end up tailoring your product to a single account versus actually being informed about what the best decision would be for everyone. We have done a really good job protecting against this, but I have seen this kill other products.
Why is getting feedback so hard?
It is very difficult to get responses back from clients and everybody has their own story about this, but what do you think is the biggest hurdle to getting your clients to give you regular and high quality feedback?
I think it probably has to do with the overall saturation of how many products we touch in a given day. If you think about it, you as an individual consumer might touch 20 products a day. If you include your work life, you might touch another 20. How often do you submit product feedback to a technology you use? It’s pretty rare because you assume that you’re not going to be listened to. There’s a broken feedback loop in general.
Any advice for future account managers?
Totally! Thanks so much Jeanie on all the role insights and telling us about your world at OpenExchange. I’d like to transition now to some more personal questions, and this is geared for folks who may be graduating college or making a transition in their professional life and are looking for advice. What advice would you have for either a new account manager or someone who want to break into this type of role at a high growth company?
The first and best thing you can do as an account manager is to become an expert in your offering; know exactly what your company does, how they help people, and what the value proposition is. Work to understand the different client bases, use cases, and solution areas. Learn to dig deep into understanding, but also know when to not go any deeper and don’t get lost in the details.
Always be prepared for the call that you’re about to get on. You can do five minutes of prep and that can go a really long way.
As an account manager, if you can answer questions like what cloud services are you hosted on, that’s going to increase credibility from clients because they will feel you know what you’re talking about. At the same time, it’s also credible to say, “I don’t know. Let me loop in one of our experts to answer that question.” The balance of having expertise, but being aware of your knowledge limits is a huge skill in this space and is very respectable.
One other piece of advice for anyone in a client facing role is always be prepared for the call that you’re about to get on. You can do five minutes of prep and that can go a really long way. Look back at the email thread, bring the right people into the call and prep them. The more prepared you are, the more the client is willing to engage. You don’t ever want them to feel you’re wasting their time, and it should always be efficient. Lastly, give people a sense of your personal side! That’s what keeps you with that individual throughout your entire career. The small things like knowing they have a house in Tahoe and their kids are on the ski team.
Very well said Jeannie, and I love that perspective. I am sure our readers will too. Well, let’s end on that high note and I can’t thank you enough for spending some time with us on Get Personal!
It was a pleasure, thanks for featuring me!