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As we enter 2021, we reached out to a few Microsoft partners and asked if they could share with us about their experiences from 2020—how they and their customers faired amidst the challenges presented by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what trends they’re seeing, what lessons they had learned, and what predictions they had for 2021.

In our last article in this series, we talked to Sunrise Technologies CEO John Pence. This time, we hear from Aden Forrest, CEO of Australia-based Simple, a marketing operations platform that helps companies plan, create, and optimize their marketing activities to deliver exceptional customer experiences across marketing touchpoints. Learn how Microsoft Dynamics 365 partners like Simple can help you get the most value from your Dynamics 365 implementation.

Headshot of Aden Forrest
Aden Forrest, CEO, Simple

A shift in conversation, a focus on people

According to Forrest, when the pandemic hit in March, the executive board at Simple reviewed the situation to determine how it was going to navigate the upcoming period of uncertainty. “Our offices were closed and our working from home policy was put in place,” Forrest said. “Some of the activities included setting up weekly board meetings, weekly company all hands meetings, daily stand ups, and team check-ins that focused on team and individual well-being.”

Forrest noted that, over the course of the year, the types of conversations he’s having with customers has shifted. Our conversations are now focused on supporting our new market normal and new expectations,” Forrest said. “The big picture is still important, but immediate payback is equally critical. It truly is a ‘think big, start small, and grow fast’ conversation. For our own applications, we are also diving into the following conversation areas immediately; supporting newly remote teams, business and regulatory compliance, reduced budgets driving increased productivity requirements, and larger rapid digitalization of business outcomes,” Forrest said.

Forrest has observed a common trend across the customers he works with: a focus on people. “Consistent across all of our customers and prospects are the people aspects of our new normal,” Forrest said. “Our customers are aggressively investing in their people, and this translates into how they support them through their respective technology and processes. These are typically areas that have previously been under-invested in.”

Simple company logo in purple text

Cloud-based business grows in 2020

Forrest said the fact that Simple’s business is powered by cloud-based business applications benefitted the company greatly over the course of 2020. “Our business has not only continued under the enforced remote working requirements—it has grown,” he said. “Our customers were able to continue to use our solution with no service interruptions, and as a result, they have invested further in our offerings.”

The COVID-19 environment has led to increased innovation within Simple, Forrest said. “As an Independent Software Vendor (ISV), we have delivered more applications and capabilities than before across Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Power Platform, and Microsoft Teams, and our customers are also extending our applications and other cloud technologies faster than before,” he said.

Lessons from a challenging year

Forrest said the year’s critical learnings have included the following five lessons:

  1. People will always surprise you. The strength of the human spirit is amazing.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for more from your team, partners, and customers.
  3. Communication continues to drive culture, brand, and relationships.
  4. Technology, and your ability to embrace it, can be the difference between survival and excelling.
  5. Stretch targets become the new norm in a time of crisis.

While 2020 was a demanding year, Forrest thinks his team has emerged more resilient and focused. “Our business faced many challenges in 2020, but through totally focusing on the value we provide our customers and cutting back on anything not linked to delivering this, I believe our team has become stronger, more engaged, and significantly more commercial,” he said.

“I believe our team has become stronger, more engaged, and significantly more commercial.”—Aden Forrest, CEO, Simple

A new business landscape

Looking ahead to 2021, Forrest believes that staff retention initiatives will be increasingly important, “since in the remote digital environment, good people will be able to work for an ever-increasing number of global employers. Business culture and the associated brand will become even more important. People want to work for causes, not just money.”

Forrest believes that the new cloud-enriched business landscape will continue to provide people the ability to work as countries will continue to manage lockdowns. “Through technology, the world has gotten significantly smaller, and employers need to understand the benefits and potential challenges this brings. The trusted relationship between the employer and employee is going to take on even more importance,” he said.

He continued, “2020 has been all about survival in our new normal. 2021 will be all about taking full advantage of this new business landscape. Things will not go back to the way they were. 2020 has changed the business landscape for the better, forever. It is now up to Microsoft and its partners to ensure this is for the betterment of all. We have exciting times ahead.”

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