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Tableau To Host Conference Amid Big Shift in Enterprise Sales
Posted November 9, 2016
Tableau To Host Conference Amid Big Shift in Enterprise Sales
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By Rachel Lerman. Updated November 9, 2016 8:54AM

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An object in motion will stay in motion with the same speed unless an outside force intervenes. In Tableau's case, the outside force might simply be time.

The Seattle technology company has faced investor concerns throughout the year that its growth is slowing as it faces steeper competition and has a tough time closing large sales.

Some have attributed that to growing competition, largely from Microsoft, and a general weakness in the industry. But others think it was more a consequence of timing and typical growing pains.

Tableau, which is hosting its annual conference this week in Austin, Texas, has a new CEO, is undergoing a hunt for a new sales chief and is making a big shift in how it sells its data-visualization product to businesses.

More than 13,000 people, mostly customers, are expected to attend Tableau's sold-out conference this week.

Customers will have the chance to see some of Tableau's future plans, and meet with product developers.

The company has more than 50,000 customer accounts globally, including 3,600 it added in the third quarter.

The company's stock sank by more than 50 percent in February after its earnings showed license-revenue growth had slowed, indicating that customers weren't expanding their use of Tableau's business-analytics software as fast as they once were.

That slowdown happened just months after Microsoft launched Power B.I., its data-analytics tool. The two events may look related, but Robert W. Baird senior research analyst Steve Ashley thinks it was largely coincidental.

"We just do not believe that that is the reason for Tableau's slowing," he said. "We believe 95 percent of the reason is internal execution issues."

He is optimistic those issues can be fixed.

The company saw its revenue jump 80 percent a year for about five years, he said, an unsustainable pace.

During that skyrocketing phase, Tableau's enterprise Relevant Products/Services sales team, which sells to large companies, did not develop at the same rate.

Tableau attributed some of its drop in revenue to enterprise sales when it reported last week a 20 percent increase in revenue in the third quarter over last year.

Those results fell short of analyst expectations.

"We didn't close as many large enterprise transactions as we hoped. Many of these remain in our Q4 pipeline," co-founder and chairman Christian Chabot said on a conference call with analysts. "As we engage in more strategic enterprise deals, we are experiencing sales cycles that are longer than usual."

Many analysts say that Tableau has the right executive to lead the company through a renovation of its enterprise sales team.

CEO Adam Selipsky, who started in mid-September, served as the vice president of marketing and sales -- effectively the No. 2 position -- at Amazon Web Services for more than 10 years. That was effectively the No. 2 position under AWS Chief Executive Andy Jassy.

"His background is in enterprise sales," Ashley said. "That's his skill. It's exactly what they need."

That's not to say it will always be a smooth ride.

"We think that the new CEO has a big job ahead," Barclay researchers wrote in a note after Tableau announced its third-quarter earnings.

The company is shifting aggressively to a subscription-pricing model, an idea that was popularized by first Salesforce, then Adobe, and has now spread across the technology industry.

Rather than paying for a one-time license to use the technology, customers pay a smaller fee upfront, then pay a monthly or annual subscription fee.

For Tableau, that will mean less money upfront, but it should mean more revenue over time.

"Over the long term, it actually benefits the company," Ashley said.

It also changes the relationship with the company. Tableau will have more of an incentive to keep its products updated and running smoothly to ensure companies keep subscribing.

Tableau is already known for its strong technology, an advantage analysts cite it as having over competitors.

The company is expected to offer a glimpse of future versions of its product this week at its annual conference.

© 2017 Seattle Times syndicated under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.

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