Every November since I began writing this column in Contact Center Pipeline in 2011, I’ve written about veterans and veterans’ issues in the customer service profession. As a veteran myself, and a veterans’ advocate, it was something I wanted to do. But for this November issue, I’m doing something different. This column is going to be all about me. Well, kind of.
On November 1, 1999, I officially established Saddletree Research. The purpose of this November column is to reflect on and share with readers my experience as an independent industry analyst on the 20th anniversary of the company I founded.
I began my analyst career in 1989 when Ken Landoline hired me to cover the voicemail technology market at Dataquest. Yes, kids, voicemail used to be an entire industry unto itself. I’ll bet some of you more, uh, mature tech pros still remember companies like Octel, VMX, Centigram and others.
I credit, or blame, Ken Landoline for getting me into this career path. If the name sounds familiar, Ken is still an analyst himself, currently working for Ovum. Ken hiring me also began a 30-year friendship that still exists today.
Dataquest also gave me my first entrée into the call center as the former Telecom Group Director, Jim Carreker, had left Dataquest to start Aspect Telecommunications in an office across the street from Dataquest in San Jose, Calif. I visited Jim in his office several times and my interest in the call center industry began to grow.
Although I loved my job at Dataquest, actually working at Dataquest was another matter entirely, so I left in 1993 and, after a short stint with a consulting firm, I found myself moving my family to Scottsdale, Ariz., to join a company that had just been acquired by Cahners Publishing. Called Cahners In-Stat Group, I was recruited to work there by one of my former Dataquest co-workers. In-Stat wanted to expand its coverage into telecommunications, so I established their telecommunications practice and began to grow it.
Like Dataquest, In-Stat had its share of management problems. I tried to keep my head down when the hosing started, but after a while it began to grate on me and I started to seriously think about going out as an independent. While I mulled that over, I was able to contact Jack Beedle, the man who founded In-Stat and sold it to Cahners. Jack was still in Scottsdale and agreed to have lunch with me. Needless to say, I took full advantage of the time I was able to spend with Jack and learn from his experience. I ended up having several lunches with Jack and he offered to introduce me to his accountant and attorney. That’s when things started to get serious.
If I make this process sound simple, it wasn’t. I put together a full business plan and made a few discreet inquiries to try to gauge business potential. At that point in my life, I had a wife, twin eight-year-old daughters and a mortgage, so the thought of having a regular paycheck every two weeks was still very appealing, but I would go home at night and wonder how many more stupid management decisions I could take before I quit anyway. I finally decided to take the plunge and made Saddletree Research official on November 1, 1999. The first thing I did was get on a plane to chair the Call Centre UK conference in London, as I had done for several years prior.
After the initial high of being independent, reality hit me like a ton of bricks. One of the first companies I had approached, and was assured that I would receive support from, was Nortel. As soon as I went from Director, Telecom Group at In-Stat to Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, they dropped me like a hot potato. That was my first wake-up call.
Some of you may have been in the contact center industry long enough to remember when it was all about CRM in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Every call center vendor wanted to be a CRM company, so I thought I’d jump on that bandwagon and get some of that CRM action, too. What I quickly discovered was, as an independent, I couldn’t compete with the 30-plus CRM analysts at Gartner, the CRM army at Forrester, and even the multiple-analyst CRM groups at companies like Yankee Group, which eventually went under. I didn’t stand a chance.
Instead, I began looking around for markets that were being ignored by the big analyst firms, and for companies that couldn’t afford the substantial fees charged by those big analyst firms but still needed market coverage and business intelligence. That’s when I stumbled upon one of my first clients, and one of the finest people I’ve known in this industry.
Renee Maler was the Director of Public Relations and Analyst Relations at Blue Pumpkin when I first discovered workforce management (WFM) as a potential market for Saddletree. Blue Pumpkin became one of my first clients, and Renee and I began a business friendship that lasts to this day. Without her support of my early efforts, I’m not sure where I ‘d be today.
I met Ryan Hollenbeck and Nancy Treaster in about 2000. They both worked for Witness Systems and I met them at an ICCM show in Chicago where they were trying to line up analyst briefings. I accepted their invitation to meet and it was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. Witness Systems became a Saddletree client in 2001, and we haven’t looked back since. Ryan and Nancy have been staunch supporters of Saddletree Research for almost 19 of the 20 years I’ve been in business.
With obvious talent, both Ryan and Nancy rose through the management ranks of Witness Systems, and then on to Verint once Verint acquired Witness. Today, Ryan is Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, and Nancy is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Strategic Operations at Verint. Meeting Ryan and Nancy is one of the best things that happened to me in my Saddletree Research life. In fact, Ryan flew out here to Scottsdale and, along with other Verint locals, took my wife and I to dinner on November 1st to celebrate Saddletree’s 20th anniversary.
Larry Skowronek is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met in the contact center industry. I think we first met when he worked at WFM pioneer TCS, which was eventually acquired by Aspect, and Larry went to Aspect with it. Larry eventually transitioned to the analytics side of the industry and went to work for Nexidia as Vice President of Product Management and Marketing.
I was introduced to Nexidia by Renee Maler, who brought me in and introduced me to them in 2009. Thanks to Renee again, they became a Saddletree client and I got to watch Nexidia grow and flourish as the leading analytics provider in the industry. I learned, and continue to learn, a lot from Larry. When Nexidia was acquired by NICE in 2017, I assumed I’d lose them as a client, as that was the case when NICE was acquiring several of my clients in the 2007–2009 timeframe. But this time, it was different. Today, thanks to Nexidia, NICE and Saddletree Research enjoy a terrific working relationship.
As I look back on the last 20 years of Saddletree Research, there have been a lot of smaller companies that became Saddletree clients in the hope of building their market presence and mindshare. In almost every case, that smaller company ended up being acquired by a larger company. As it was with Nexidia, that was also the case with Latigent.
Latigent was a couple of guys pretty much working out of a garage in Chicago when I met them in 2005. Chris Crosby, the founder and CEO, was trying to figure out how to get industry attention given their limited resources. Another client-turned-friend, Tom Aiello, introduced me to Chris, and through some creative contract work, Latigent became a Saddletree client.
In 2007, Latigent was acquired by Cisco, a company whose attention I couldn’t seem to attract as a boutique analyst firm. Cisco paid off Latigent’s Saddletree contract as part of the acquisition and when Ross Daniels, Cisco’s Senior Director of Marketing at the time, asked me if I’d provide Saddletree Services to Cisco for the duration of Latigent’s contract, I agreed that it was the fair thing to do. The rest, as they say, is history.
For the past 12 years, Cisco has been another Saddletree supporter. Sometimes we’ve had to find creative ways to keep our business relationship going, but we’ve managed to find them. For the past few years, Anne Blomquist has been the angel on my shoulder at Cisco as people have come and gone and I’ve had to establish new relationships there. One of my favorite clients at Cisco these days is Zack Taylor, who is as big a music nerd as I am. You’ve read his name in my column before.
Back in 2005, another of my favorite industry people, the late Samantha Kane, introduced me to a small WFM company in Montreal called Calabrio. Like so many other companies, they didn’t have the budget to play ball with the big analyst firms, but they needed to generate industry attention. So, they became a Saddletree Research client in 2006.
Also, like so many other Saddletree small company clients, they were acquired, this time by Spanlink. Within a year of the acquisition, Spanlink spun off Calabrio as a separate company and my relationship with them withstood all the changes, right up to the present day.
Calabrio today is a fast-growing company with a visionary leader in CEO Tom Goodmanson and a loyal customer base. They are also one of the most philanthropic companies in the industry, always giving back to the community in one way or another. Calabrio not only remains a staunch supporter of Saddletree, they are a company I’m proud to be associated with.
My association with the not-for-profit National Association of Call Centers (NACC) began in 2008 and it has been a godsend. It has given me a deep reach into the end-user community that I couldn’t have accomplished otherwise. It allows me to publish the demand-based reports that are unique to Saddletree Research today.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Linda Harden, Susan Hash and Contact Center Pipeline magazine in this gratuitous celebration of me. I first ran across Susan Hash when she was part of the ICMI acquisition by CMP Media in about 2007. I was writing a column for Call Center Magazine at the time. That magazine didn’t survive the test of time, but Susan contacted me a year or so later and asked if I’d be interested in contributing to Contact Center Pipeline. I’ve had a great relationship with Susan and this magazine ever since.
Of course, this 20-year journey of Saddletree Research hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns. I’ve met, and sometimes had to deal with, some of the most distasteful people this industry has produced. The kind of people who make me wonder how they sleep at night, or how they can look at themselves in the mirror. And, I’ve been devoutly ignored by some of the larger companies, in a similar vein to the aforementioned Nortel, if you get my drift. I’ve also had a few failures.
In 2005 and 2006, I tried creating an industry event of my own. I called it the Saddletree Forum and held it at a resort here in the high Sonoran Desert of Arizona. It was an exhausting task and the net result was about 35 attendees at each forum. The good news was, I didn’t lose any money and as a bonus, I met some really fascinating people among those who did attend. But, after 2006 I realized I didn’t have the marketing muscle that the trade show companies did so I left the events to the event organizers.
Same thing with industry awards. After watching industry awards being given away by the bucketful, with every company in the industry getting the same award year after year, I thought the industry would appreciate a real award. One that you would have to do more than just write a check for. So, I assembled a group of impartial judges, trademarked Kachina Award™ and introduced the industry’s first award that not everyone would receive.
Turns out that in this industry, most companies would rather just write the check and get the award than to have to actually compete for a win. I tried the Kachina Awards in 2016 and again in 2017, then decided to leave industry awards to others and go back to what I do best—research.
If there’s one thing I could point to if asked what the differentiator for Saddletree has been for the past 20 years, I’d have to say it’s the kind of relationships I’ve built with so many of my clients. Like every other analyst firm, clients come and clients go, but many Saddletree clients have come and stayed, and have become friends as well as supporters over the years. For that I’m truly grateful.
Through all the ups and downs of the past 20 years, I probably wouldn’t have made it without the stability of a home and family to come home to. I’ve been married to my wife Barbara for nearly 38 years and my now grown twin daughters, who were eight years old when Daddy lost all sense of reasoning and started his own company, are truly the best things I’ve ever done.
Given the chance to do it all over, I know I would. Given the chance to do it all over and know what I know now, I’d still do it anyway. The last 20 years of my Saddletree life have been rewarding, frustrating, frightening, exhausting, exhilarating, maddening, joyful and above all, meaningful. Thank you to all who have been a part of it.