An Interview with Aldo Zanoni of Riva International, Inc.

Riva is a global leader in CRM data automation, integration, and relationship intelligence, as well as an award-winning software company. Here are just some of their success highlights:

  1. Number one on the 2017 Alberta Venture Fast Growth 50 list
  2. Winner of a 2017 Stevie Award for Excellence in Customer Service
  3. Winner of the 2017 Canadian Business Excellence Award for Private Businesses, presented by Excellence Canada and PwC
  4. Finalist for the 2017 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Canadian Prairies Region

Riva’s impressive customer list includes 15 of the world’s largest banks, four of five of the leading Canadian banks, numerous Global 1000 companies, and hundreds of fast-growing small and medium-sized businesses. Over 1,200 companies (and 125,000 CRM users) trust Riva to automate data integration for CRMs, email collaboration systems, mobile devices, marketing automation platforms, cloud storage systems, and other enterprise applications.  Supported CRMs include Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, SAP Hybris Cloud for Customer, Oracle Sales Cloud, Sugar, NetSuite, Infor CRM, and others.

Riva helps organizations accelerate sales and deliver better customer service by delivering relationship intelligence, marketing and sales insights, cognitive insights and AI directly to email systems and users’ email clients.

Today, I interview Riva CEO and Founder, Aldo Zanoni, for a deep dive into highlights from his company’s journey and success.

Who is Riva and what does Riva do?

Riva is an amazing team of people who are focused on helping our customers be successful.

What does Riva do?  Riva helps customers from around the world be successful by “automagically” integrating data between the two most critical applications in their organization –  their CRM and email system. Riva was the first company to integrate CRMs directly with Office 365, Exchange, Gmail and G Suite, and GroupWise – without the need to install or manage any client-side plugins.

How did the idea come about? 

It’s a bit of a long journey, but bear with me.

In 1993, we started a company that provided IT training to large companies.  By 2002, we were the largest technology training company in Western Canada.

In 1999, as part of our “double-next” strategy, we started Omni Technology Solutions.  Our objective was to provide professional services to companies interested in implementing new networks and email systems.  We began to develop software to gain a competitive advantage over our competition.  Over time, we pivoted from technology education to becoming a successful software development company.

In 2006, we were looking to deploy a new CRM system to do a better job of managing our customer relationships.  We needed to track customer purchases and renewals, support requests, projects, meetings, emails and phone calls, and much more.

But there was a problem: There were no CRM systems that integrated with the email platform we used at the time.

The idea for Riva came about because of one of our “Riva Rules.”  We have a dozen or so of these Riva Rules now, but the rule that got us started with Riva was: “Thou shalt not bitch about that which you’re not willing to fix.”

Riva’s CTO, Stéphane, who also happens to be my son, said, “You know what? Rather than complaining about it, let’s go ahead and fix it.” And we did. Under Stéphane’s technology vision, we took a solution we had originally developed to synchronize email, calendar, and contact information to Palm Pilot, Sony Ericsson, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry mobile devices and repurposed that solution to be a server-side solution for integrating data between companies’ CRM and email systems. Hindsight shows that was a great decision because chances are we might have otherwise disappeared like the mobile manufacturers that weren’t able to stay relevant and make the transition.  Many of the lessons we learned during that transition became part of our culture.  We learned that our success depends on being different and on not following other companies’ footsteps if you want to bring about change. We learned that we needed to focus on helping our customers solve pain and help them build their future by leveraging innovative technology.

So it was an insight?

Yes, it was an insight, and more importantly, it was about executing on another one of our key Riva rules: “If there is something that needs to be done, let’s do it – and do it right”.

In this case, our CRM integration pain was important enough for us to dedicate resources to develop a new way of synchronizing CRM data. Prior to the arrival of Riva in the market, and still today, CRM vendors offer a free Outlook or Gmail plugin that gets installed on people’s desktops, laptops, or mobile devices to synchronize data. Because our email system didn’t support Outlook, we had to find a better way to sync CRM data.  That one development project totally changed our company, and over time, it changed the way the industry delivers CRM data automation and synchronization.

We started to build Riva in 2006.  By April 2008, we had our first customer. When we demonstrated Riva’s server-side sync capabilities at a CRM conference in San Francisco, a number of attendees asked us if they could use Riva for Microsoft Exchange. My answer was, “Why do you need Riva? Your CRM already provides a free Outlook plugin and Riva isn’t free.” They answered, “We’re okay with paying for your solution because the free Outlook plugin doesn’t do what we need it to do.”

That was our light-bulb moment – the realization that our new way to sync was needed by users of all email systems.  When we asked these first attendees, “Would you buy it if we build it?”, they answered, “Yes.” And after we built it, they bought it!

And here we are, nine years later, an overnight success that’s taken almost a decade to achieve.

How many people use Riva? 

Over 125,000 CRM users, from 1,200 companies around the globe, trust Riva every day to automatically sync data between their CRM, email system, and other enterprise applications.

Our customers range from individual consultants and emerging small and medium-sized businesses right up to some of the largest companies in the world. Our largest customer, for example, uses our Riva Cloud platform to sync Salesforce and Microsoft Exchange for 28,000 users.

Now one of the one of things you said to me earlier, and I hope I get this number right, is that 95% of your customers are outside the province?

Yes, that’s right.  And not just outside of Alberta, outside of Canada.

In 2017, only 5% of our revenue was generated in Canada. The U.S. is our largest market, followed by Europe and Asia-Pacific.

I find that very surprising, but at the same time it is absolutely fantastic that a relatively small Edmonton-based company can become an international success story. Did that happen automatically or were there key steps you took to achieve 1,200 customers, 95% of which are outside of Canada? 

Yes.  We took two key steps that I would recommend to companies looking to win more international business:  (1) Develop a compelling solution that solves a specific problem and, in turn, drives exceptional value for your customers and (2) Listen carefully to your customers.

When you become a customer-focused company, your company’s development efforts need to help customers solve real pain. You need to understand that if one customer experiences serious business pain, chances are others do too. By listening carefully to your customers, you can do a better job planning your double-next. By “double-next,” I mean your technology vision for the next 12 to 24 months. Companies that only focus on what they’re doing today may not be around to see tomorrow. We’ve always tried to focus on future customer needs and driving more customer value when pursuing our double- and triple-next strategies.

Our customer base is spread across all verticals. Having said that, financial services companies represent our strongest vertical. Banks and other financial services companies understand the value that CRM data automation and relationship intelligence deliver to accelerate sales, improve productivity, and enhance customer experience.

It’s quite amazing to be successful in this industry and have 15 of the world’s largest banks use our software. As a Canadian company, we are proud that four of the “Big Five” Canadian banks use our software – and we recently started a pilot project with the fifth one! And we didn’t go around knocking on these banks’ doors.

Keep in mind that Riva was, and continues to be, a relatively small software development company. We have 100 staff and don’t have offices on Wall Street or Bay Street.  So, how does an Edmonton-based company end up with 15 of the world’s largest banks using our software? You make sure that your software does exactly what these customers need. And not just what they need, how they need it to be done, and why that’s important to them.  Then comes the hardest part – making sure your solution continues to be important to your customers in the future as their needs and expectations change.

Now there had to be a couple of door-knocking sessions to get to all these 1,200 customers? Or did they just come to you directly? 

Almost all of our customers come to us through referrals, CRM events, social media, and our web site.

Trade shows are important for us.  This year, we will participate in or sponsor 60+ CRM events around the world. I recently returned from a Microsoft Inspire event in Washington, D.C., where 16,000 partners gathered to learn about Microsoft’s vision for the future. And it’s an amazing vision!

Many industry leaders understand what their double-nexts are. Companies like Microsoft are planning and executing on their double- and triple-nexts. While we were in Washington, I had the privilege to visit one of our large government customers. They became a customer of one of our solutions back in June 2003 and they are still a customer today – 14 years later.

Why are they still a customer after all these years?  Because we focus on being ahead of where our customers are and when they are ready to move forward, our solutions are ready to help them get to where they want to be.

Double-nexts sound important to me. Tell me a bit more. 

A double-next is what we build toward. For example, if you look at what Riva did when we first started, Riva provided automated server-side CRM data integration. Pretty easy, right?  Riva started by synchronizing data between CRM and email systems.  And synchronizing emails, appointments, calendars, tasks, and opportunities the way customers need them to sync, remains the core of our success.

We know, however, that if that’s all we focus on, we’re not going to be around two or three years from now because of the rapid and continuous changes in technology and competition. We are successful today because, after building the world’s best CRM data automation sync engine, we listened when our customers asked us to enhance our solution with market and sales intelligence, relationship mapping, analytics options, cognitive insights and new AI capabilities. In addition, we listened when customers began to ask us to sync data between their ERP and line-of-business applications and CRM and email systems.

Now, customers who end up with multiple CRMs or email systems because of mergers and acquisitions can use Riva to allow these systems to talk to each other. And by focusing on these types of double- and triple-nexts, our technology vision allows us to be ready for even the most complex integration problems.  For example, we are working with a large insurance company that needs to synchronize data for 16,000 users in five geographic regions. In North America, this company uses Microsoft Exchange as the email platform. In the rest of the world, they use IBM Notes. This company has four different CRMs that are used in their regions (Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle CRM On Demand, and Sugar). Riva is the only platform on the planet, that I’m aware of, that’s able to provide the same functionality and CRM data automation across their four CRM systems and their two email platforms. That’s a very powerful double-next.

So double-nexts are not only about envisioning how your product solves today’s problems, but they are also about anticipating the problems of tomorrow and next year and the year after. Is that different from building a roadmap for your product?

Yes and no.

A roadmap is, by definition, where your product is going. A double-next takes that roadmap to the next level by focusing on how and why your solution will remain relevant to your customers and become more important in the future.

By focusing on customer requirements, Riva has become a customer-funded business. What is a customer-funded business? In the venture capital world, we would be called a bootstrapped business. We’ve taken bootstrap to the next level by building our business based on customers that invest in their future through the continued use of our solutions.

Pre-investment or by simply buying your current product line?

Simply by purchasing our product.

We have no third-party institutional investment or other investors in our company. By continuing to be a customer-funded company, we have achieved significant growth and have full control over our future.

We recently achieved the milestone of 100 employees. In 2012, we had 12 employees in Edmonton and three in Europe.  Of those 15 employees, 14 are still with us today. Not only do we have amazing customer retention and an average year-over-year growth rate of 51% for the past 7 years, we are also proud of our high employee retention.

Our team understands that they’re helping amazing customers be successful in achieving their objectives. They also know that they make a difference every day.

Is there a process for defining that double- or triple-next? 

Yes. But, it’s not easy to define.

In our case, we have developed and nurtured a culture of continuous improvement. We understand that we need to work toward daily incremental change and improvement to drive more value for our customers and to take the company to the next level.

That way, when an enterprise customer requires our integration platform to sync data for increasingly large numbers of users, we’ll be ready, because our team, technology, infrastructure, tools, and processes are evolving constantly to take on these types of opportunities. We’re charting the course well in advance of our customers making these types of requests. That’s the definition of a triple-next.

Recently, we were challenged by one of our banking customers, a large U.S. bank that started with our software four years ago with 40 users.  After the first year, they grew to 450 users, then 4,000 users, and earlier this year, to 8,000 users. This customer is now challenging us to demonstrate scalability of our solution for 50,000 users in a new business unit. And we’re ready for them!

Double-nexts are not just about product, they also involve operations and staffing.  When we were looking to open a second Canadian location in October 2016, we chose Pictou, Nova Scotia.  Why Pictou? First of all, because we had a staff member from Pictou who had worked with us in Edmonton and then moved back to Pictou. More importantly, it’s because 30% or so of our business is from Europe. Why is this important?  Because Pictou’s three-hour time zone advantage over Edmonton allows us to better satisfy our European customers’ needs during their business day hours. Our intellectual property is created in Edmonton. And we support our global customers from Edmonton and Pictou.

Is there a difference between Canadian software companies and their American counterparts? 

I’ve been involved in the technology industry since 1993.  I have often been asked the question, “Why are there so many successful Canadian software development companies?”

The most important part of the answer is the fact that we are next door to the United States, the biggest market in the developed world.  We are fortunate that this market, for the most part, shares time zones, language, and a long history of political, cultural, and strong economic ties with Canada.  At the same time, I think part of the answer is also because Canadians have a more global view of the planet than many other countries. Canadians understand there are limited growth opportunities if we focus solely on the Canadian market.  We understand that, in addition to the U.S., there is a large and growing global market outside North America. This forces Canadian companies to think outside our border from the very start.

The U.S. is by far our largest and most important target market.  Riva is focused on continuing to grow our U.S. sales through local presence and engaging strong partners across the entire U.S. The first enterprise customers for one of our solutions were two large U.S. federal government departments. As a company, we are proud that the second customer is still with us 14 years later.

An interesting differentiator for us is that for such a small company, our Canada-based staff members represent 20 different countries. At Riva, we embrace diversity and celebrate our team members’ cultural, religious, and educational differences.  Our company benefits from our staff members’ world views and different approaches to solving problems. This helps us be successful in better understanding how other countries do business.

A major success factor is that CRM publishers introduce us as a trusted partner to fill gaps – gaps that exist that cause challenges in the enterprise customers’ advanced CRM data automation, sync, and integration requirements.  Riva is brought on board to simplify the implementation and deliver full value for their customers’ CRM investment.  A big part of our success is based on trying to understand what the CRM vendors’ double- and triple-nexts will be.  You can rest assured that, over time, the Microsofts, the Salesforces and the Oracles of the world are going to fill the gaps that they currently depend on Riva to fill. That’s another thing I like about our business.  We compete against “free”.

Every day, we keep in mind that each of the CRM publishers we partner with offers a free solution that does some of what we do. That’s why we can’t just focus on what we do.  We have to shine the light on how Riva is the best solution to solve their needs, and more importantly, why the pain we solve is important to customers so we can remain relevant in the future.

A great example of a double-next that’s being imposed on the technology industry is the introduction of more stringent data privacy laws in countries like Australia and regions like Europe.  The European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) legislation applies starting in May 2018.  Our software and processes have been updated to reflect the current Australian and pending European data privacy requirements – well ahead of the deadline.  Customers can already access Riva Cloud in data centers in Europe and Australia to satisfy the local data residency and processing requirements. As a Canadian company, we understand there’s a whole world outside our border and that 95% percent of our revenue depends on that world.

What challenges does a Canadian company, let alone an Edmonton-based company, have in competing on a world stage with very large software firms? 

To succeed in the global market, you’ve got to be awfully good at what you do. The people you work with have to be passionate about ensuring customer success. You have to develop technology, security, and operational processes that scale and reflect enterprise requirements.  You need a base of core beliefs to help guide your company’s growth.

As mentioned earlier, we have developed a number of “Riva Rules” that guide us when making decisions.  One of our key rules is, “Only hire people who are 10s!” – people who are passionate about being successful, people who bring their very best effort to work each day, and people who will go the extra mile for our customers to deliver customer delight. To succeed globally, Canadian companies have to deliver solutions that go above and beyond what a local company would build for a local market.

Another Riva rule is, “Make sure that for every dime our customers spend with us, they get a dollar’s worth of value.”  That rule is a big part of our high customer retention and continued growth.

Can Edmonton become a global centre for software development? 

It won’t be easy, but I believe we have a good start.

Riva is a good example of a software company in Edmonton that has succeeded by focusing on markets beyond the Albertan and Canadian borders.  There are others.  How many people know that the three finalists for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards program (for the Canadian Prairies region) are all from Edmonton? Yes, all three.  I think this speaks well for Edmonton’s ability to grow and become better recognized as a centre for software development.

You are clearly an example of that. And what I love the most is that you have just hired your 100th employee. I love that, and I love that there’s an Edmonton software company, an independent, that is doing that in the software space. And so, my question is, “Can we become like Silicon Valley with a very strong technology cluster?”

Yes we can.  But only if software development companies see beyond local borders.

In Alberta, that means looking beyond traditional oil, gas, agriculture, and forestry markets.  Those markets represented easy money when the money was good. And because it was easy money, many companies, and not just software companies, didn’t have to worry about being lean. They thought they didn’t have to worry about the future.

Successful Edmonton-based software development companies need to focus on developing solutions that apply to the local market that can also satisfy global needs. This requires they be better than the local competition – and the global competition. This means developing technology that’s scalable, replicable, reliable, secure, and that serves a niche that is reflected globally.  This also means that Edmonton companies have to align themselves with large technology companies and go to market through these companies’ partner and delivery channels.  To be successful on a global scale, Edmonton companies need to become strategic by helping enterprise customers solve problems that can’t be met by the default free options provided by software vendors and publishers.

Will our company become the next Facebook? Of course not. That’s not our goal. Will we continue to be successful and grow? Well, that’s the plan we’re working on.

How do we grow the software industry in Edmonton? 

To be successful in the software development industry, it takes people who identify a niche and help companies relieve pain in that niche.  I believe there’s a role to be played by the different levels of governments to help grow the software industry.  More on that later.

On one hand, I think it’s interesting that, as a leading software development company, we have not been able to break into local enterprise or government clients.  It’s doubly interesting that, in spite of our software being used by 15 of the world’s largest banks and government departments from around the world, we have not been successful in breaking into Alberta-based financial or government departments.  Having said that, it’s important to note that our company has benefitted from a number of outstanding federal and provincial programs.

When we were a smaller company, access to the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive (SR&ED) played a critical role in allowing us to focus and invest heavily on research and experimental development to build and maintain our technology leadership and growth position.  Other government programs that we have benefitted from include the Alberta Ingenuity Industry Associates Program (for hiring leading executives); the Federal and Provincial California Market Access Program (to accelerate our growth in the U.S.); Alberta Government International Offices (for our expansion in Germany); Alberta International Business Partnering Program; the London High Commission Commercial Attaché (support for our business development initiatives in London and the UK); Canadian Embassy support for initiatives in Berlin and Santiago, Chile; Alberta ICT Missions to Mexico; joint trade show participation in Alberta’s global trade show pavilions at CEBIT in Hannover, Germany; and others.

There is no question that, without this support, we would not be as successful as we are today.

Okay, so let’s go back to the question: How do we grow the software industry, where we are a global centre for software in Edmonton? You said there’s a role for government, what is that role? 

Edmonton is a great place to start and grow a technology and software company. I think government programs do a good job in their role of encouraging Alberta/Canadian companies to grow.  At the same time, I think government can play a more active role by educating themselves and becoming more aware of what’s going on in their own backyard. Not just with what’s going on at local universities and colleges, but what’s going on in the innovative software development companies that are creating intellectual property in Edmonton – companies providing well-paid, long-term, sustainable jobs and futures in the technology industry.

I think government leaders and departments need to play a more active role in understanding that the software and innovations we and other local companies have built can help them solve the same technology challenges that we solve for similar organizations and enterprises around the world.  The reality is that, although Alberta enterprises and government departments have the same technology challenges and pain we solve for our global customers, the perception is that companies like ours are not an IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, CGI or one of the other big software or system integrator companies and we’re not “big” enough to help them.

Do we expect to benefit from a “Buy Alberta” advantage? No, but at the same time, I expect that we shouldn’t suffer from an Alberta disadvantage!

I do expect that government and local enterprises be aware of the fact that innovative technology solutions are not the sole purview of the IBMs, Oracles, Microsofts or Googles of the world.  I would think they would understand that their investments and purchases from local sources contribute substantially to the local economy and help grow local economies in a sustainable, long-term manner. What’s important to all of us is that local success can breed global success.

I’m not an “Alberta first” person, but I think that at some point in time, we need Alberta and local governments and leading enterprises to move toward a more open attitude to foster improved opportunities for success in our local communities.

So is it buy local? 

In a situation where a company can demonstrate equal value for a similar product, yes, it’s “buy local.”  I think we all understand that the local economy and everybody in that economy benefits directly from buying from a local vendor.

Think of it from a farming, engineering, or any vertical industry perspective. Whenever you can buy a product of similar nature, similar quality, and relatively similar pricing, every dollar that you spend locally is going to be amplified across multiple vertical segments within the local environments.

I guess the silver lining in the cloud of Riva not having focused on local Alberta government or enterprise customers is that our company’s revenue growth and success have not suffered from the recent Alberta economic challenges.

Have you grown Riva exclusively with local resources? 

Yes. Well, let me rephrase that, yes, sort of!

Our software development, client engagement, and client success teams are located in Edmonton (60+ employees) and Pictou, Nova Scotia (10 employees).  We have marketing and sales teams sprinkled around the world to service their local markets.  We have employees in the major U.S. centres who provide sales, marketing, and partner engagement for the U.S. market, which represents 55% of our global sales. Our VP of sales and marketing, Trevor Poapst, leads our global growth strategies and marketing initiatives from San Jose, California. Trevor works closely with our U.S. regional team (10 staff members) and our regional sales and marketing teams in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and APAC (Asia-Pacific region).

Our European team members take care of sales and marketing in EMEA, our second largest market (30% of our sales).  There are eight people in Munich, two in the U.K., and one in France.  There are two people in Sydney, Australia, who are responsible for business development in Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

A major contributor to our global success is having partnered with leading service providers, system integrators, implementation and professional service companies in each of these regions.  It’s these local partners who understand the pain of their customers and networks of customers – pain that Riva can help resolve.  These partners amplify our presence and success in each of the regions.

How many people work remotely?

All staff members located outside Canada, and even some of our Edmonton and Pictou staff members, work remotely.  We are a local Edmonton company with a global virtual footprint.  Just as we service our global customers from Edmonton, we service our global teams and employees remotely.

Two final questions: What’s next for Riva? 

There are lots of nexts for Riva.

In addition to expanding our global virtual footprint, our Edmonton physical footprint continues to grow.  We currently occupy 5600 square feet of office space.  We recently bought a 10,000-square foot building in Edmonton to grow into as we add staff and new teams.  One of the most exciting nexts will be to move into our new headquarters in late spring 2018.

Other nexts include continuing to be successful in hiring exceptional people, continuing to drive value for our customers, and ensuring that our triple-nexts drive more value than the competition – because there’s lots of competition in the global market.

When we started back in 2008, we were the only kid on the block. We used to be a lone lost voice in the deep, dark, cold, winter night in the desert calling out that there was a new and better way to provide CRM data integration and automation. It was hard to be heard.  Now there are at least 10 companies that have followed Riva’s lead and try to do what Riva does.

We are reminded every day by potential customers that the major CRM vendors we support are following our lead and starting to offer server-based CRM data integration.

How are we going to deal with increased competition in the future? By ensuring that we continue to listen carefully to our customers and provide them better implementations and use of our technology. By ensuring that for every dime our customers spend with us, they receive at least a dollar’s worth of value and by ensuring that this value increases over time.

Are there other product lines, other markets that you want to enter? 

Absolutely.  Expanding our product line and enhancing our platform are key to executing our double- and triple-next plans.

CRM is all about managing relationships.  Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and social intent are becoming increasingly important to our customers, but are hard to track in CRM. That’s why we focus on building the world’s best data synchronization engine and work with partners to integrate new technologies into our platform as customer needs mature and evolve.

In today’s CRM data automation marketplace, it’s no longer good enough to know what a contact’s phone number is and to keep track of meetings with that contact.  Yes, it’s critical to get that information right because that’s what customers expect. But customers also need a 360-degree view of contacts and companies and the ability to understand relationships within the company.  It’s critical to be able to provide this view of related information in real time and shape the information with relationship relevancy and related intelligence.

A key to our double-next strategy is to partner with companies that provide best-of-breed, leading-edge technology solutions to satisfy customers’ various 360-degree view requirements. Riva recently partnered with two partners:  InsideView, a San Francisco-based company, the leader in providing company and contact data intelligence and enrichment services and TrustSphere, a Singapore-based company that delivers an amazing relationship analytics solution called LinksWithin. These leading solutions are now available to Riva customers through our Riva Insight platform.

We have started working on a new partnership with Opentopic, a company based in New York City, to integrate Sia, their IBM Watson-based artificial intelligence, social intent, and machine learning solution with Riva. These are the first of many future relationships with leading technology solutions that will meet our customers’ diverse information requirements.

Our double-next growth objective is to “land, expand, and improve value” for all of our customers.  After we help enterprise customers solve their initial CRM data automation challenge, they look to us to solve other more complex data challenges.  Enterprise customers are looking to deliver on their objective to provide universal data automation, synchronization and integration across more of their systems. Definitely not an easy challenge, but to help customers solve their more complex data challenges, it’s best to tackle them one at a time. By providing the best out-of-the-box, scalable, secure, reliable synchronization platform, we are well positioned to help these customers drive more value as their needs evolve.

I’m inferring that you want to add intelligence to your platform as well, right?

Absolutely! That’s a key focus for future growth.  That’s why we work closely with industry-leading partners such as InsideView, TrustSphere, Opentopic, and others to enhance, enrich and add intelligence to our platform.

But you said social intent, right? 

Right. Social intent, a company’s ability to determine its customers’ social value score and intent, is critical not only for business-to-consumer (B2C) companies that provide goods and services to end-users, but also for business-to-business (B2B) companies that serve other businesses.

And does social intent refer to what their customers intend on doing next?

Yes.  And knowing that social intent can change dramatically from one day to the next is probably the biggest challenge in understanding and tracking social intent and trends.

Successful companies need to engage on a daily basis with customers on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.  If you’re not listening to, monitoring, and responding to what people share about your brand and product in those channels, you’re setting your company up to fail.  Think of the impact of social media amplification on airline customer service incidents and you quickly realize the importance of tracking, responding to, and integrating social media.

And where does social intent and intelligence reside? Well, some of that information comes from your CRM, because that’s the core of your customer relationship intelligence.  That’s a big part of the picture that I need, as a customer-facing agent, to be better prepared to get on a phone call with a contact to take an opportunity to the next level.  If I haven’t got that person’s contact information in front of me and I don’t know what’s going on with that contact’s account and interactions based on intelligence gathered from CRM, I’m setting myself up for failure.

But I need more than the traditional information that’s often found in CRM.  I need a full 360-degree view of what’s going on in that contact’s larger environment. I need access to dynamic data that might only be aavailable on their website, their company’s Twitter feed, LinkedIn and other channels to be able to understand the whole picture. And, I need instant access to the related information to benefit from the value of relationship intelligence and social insight.

Data by itself won’t help me do my job.  By combining artificial intelligence, relationship relevance, and social intent, Riva allows users to understand and get the full view and value of the relationship that exists with an account. That’s what’s required to deliver customer delight!  As a salesperson, I don’t want to call a customer and say, “Does it still look good to close that deal by the end of the month?” only to find out from the contact that they have three open service tickets that haven’t been resolved for the past two weeks. Gathering relationship relevancy from CRM and using Riva to surface information from social systems that otherwise don’t talk to each other is our objective – to find the Holy Grail of CRM data automation and relationship intelligence – and help our customers continue to grow their future.

Final question: What’s next for Aldo Zanoni?

That’s easy. I’m going to continue to pursue my retirement career!

Well, I hardly consider you retired. 

I am absolutely retired.

You’ll have to explain that to me, what does that mean? 

For me, retirement is all about having more time to do the things you love doing.

But you’re leading a company of 100 plus people! 

Yes, that’s what I’m doing and I love doing it! I plan to keep doing it.

At the same time, I know my contributions and leadership role with the company will continue to evolve because our future is based on having the right people in place to take our company to the next level.  When there were only 12 of us in Edmonton, I was a key figure and was involved in everything.  Today, I no longer lead by leading, I lead by following. By following the people we’ve hired who are the best they are at what they do best.

My role has evolved to supporting and coaching these outstanding team leaders and executives to lead our company to where it’s going to grow next.

Is it your job now to create the next generation of leaders?

Absolutely.  And we are executing on that job each and every day.

That’s the real job you’re doing in retirement then, correct? 

Yes, I’m helping people build their future as they help build our company’s future.  Every leader’s job is to ensure that everyone who gets on board be empowered and successful doing what they do best for your company. After all, that’s why you hire 10s!

We need to take time to make sure new and existing staff members understand our culture, our mission, our values, our processes, and our goals. We also need our team to understand that their contribution to our customers’ success will help us grow our personal and professional success.

I know there are team leaders and members of our staff who, if I had asked them where they thought they’d be after five or 10 years with the company, they wouldn’t have had an answer.  And if I had told them they would probably be leading or be a key contributor to a critical developer, marketing, sales, client success, client engagement, operations, or QA team, they probably wouldn’t have joined us. That’s one of the reasons we focus on the cumulative impact of making daily incremental improvements.

We share our personal and professional stories and success among team members, across teams, and across the continents.  We want everyone who joins our company to understand that their personal and professional initiatives, commitment, and leadership will help our customers achieve our “1 + 1 = 10” promise. We know we won’t always be sure we are on the right track.  We know that sometimes we will have to recalibrate our vision. But we also know that, by keeping our Riva Rules in mind, listening to our customers, and helping them continue to be successful in meeting their future needs, we will continue to be successful.

We know that by building a world-class organization, we can continue to make a difference – not only in our customers’ future, but in our families’ and our communities’ futures.

Kurian, thank you for your interest in Riva and taking this deep dive into our story.

Kurian Mathew Tharakan is the founder of sales and marketing strategy firm StrategyPeak Sales & Marketing Advisors, and a 27 year veteran of the sales and marketing industry. He has consulted for companies in numerous sectors, including Manufacturing, Distribution, High Technology, Software, Non-Profit, and the Life Sciences. In addition to his consulting practice, he is also an Executive in Residence at two business accelerators, NABI and TEC Edmonton, where he assists clients with their go to market strategies. Prior to StrategyPeak, Mr. Tharakan was vice-president sales & marketing for an enterprise class software firm where his team achieved notable wins with several members of the US Fortune 500. Previous to his software experience, Mr. Tharakan directed the sales and marketing programs for the Alberta practice of an international professional services firm.

Kurian Mathew Tharakan
Direct: 780 237-1572
Email: kurian@strategypeak.com