After six months on the job as KDS' general manager of the Americas, Mike Concannon spoke with The Beat's JoAnn DeLuna about the travel and expense system provider's North America ambitions, obstacles in the U.S. market and partnerships with travel management companies, including a new deal with Travel and Transport. An edited transcript follows.
DeLuna: Where is KDS with the Americas operations?
Mike Concannon: When I was hired six months ago I worked very closely with Dean [Forbes, KDS CEO] and the board of directors to put together a three-year plan for what we're going to be doing in North America. The plan consisted of a number of different components, including a hiring plan and what to do from a sales, marketing and infrastructure perspective. After six months, that three-year plan has been elevated to an 18-month plan because of the interest, growth and enormous positive feedback we've had in the market. We had to change the strategy around hiring and sales plans and escalate things. That's good news. We're moving at twice the speed of what we originally thought we would be. The PhoCusWright conference was a key turning point for KDS last fall where we presented ourselves to the U.S. market.
DeLuna: What are your specific goals?
Concannon: From a sales perspective our objective is three-pronged. [First], it's to expand the existing customers we currently have and to have deep relationships with organizations in Europe and beyond. It's about that global expansion and how can we bring those customers to the U.S. Two, it's about direct customers. We were getting a lot of interest from direct corporations for both travel and expense. The third piece__and the most important__is probably about the partnerships. Carlson Wagonlit Travel, which we signed about a year ago, has been so successful. They're a key reseller of ours in this region. Our strategy is really about making that a success, then bringing on additional partners to also grow our business in North America.
DeLuna: What qualities are you looking for in your partners?
Concannon: It's important to note that we're not going to sign 20 to 50 partners. We're being very selective about who we partner with to resell in the U.S. We just recently signed a second U.S. partner. We're really looking for quality, not quantity in terms of our partnerships. We want partners who are similar to KDS and have a similar innovative, forward-thinking and entrepreneurial mindset. [We want] partners who are not happy with the status quo, [with] the way travel and tech tools have been operating to date and are looking for something different.
DeLuna: Are there any challenges specific to the U.S. market that you didn't anticipate?
Concannon: I wouldn't say that we didn't anticipate, but I'd say there are absolutely very regional-specific features and functionalities that we had to address before coming into the U.S. market. From the travel perspective, it's things like being connected with certain providers: for example, Southwest Airlines and Amtrak. You need things like a ticket bank to apply old nonrefundable tickets to a new booking__something that's not necessarily an issue in Europe. There's a certain way travel agencies do business over here that is a little bit different than the way they do business in Europe. There are definitely challenges, everything from currency, to the vernacular, to the way everybody does business. But we saw most, if not all, of those coming in, so we were able to address them before we came to the market. We had to consider all that, but it was a very carefully thought-out, calculated move to come to the U.S. So we needed to make sure we were ready from a sales and marketing perspective, but also from a product perspective.
DeLuna: Considering IBM is retiring its Global Expense Reporting Solutions tool, now seems like an optimal time for KDS to enter the U.S. market. How do you see the opportunity?
Concannon: We do see that as an opportunity. One of the key things about KDS Neo, both with travel and expense, is how different we are from everything else that's out in the market, and it's been very well received. We seem to be hearing from people as we talk to customers and partners that they're not satisfied with the tools currently in the market. If you take the new door-to-door philosophy, the new interface for the expense, the fresh approach and combine that with the fact that we have all these changes going in the market, but the competition keeps doing the same old thing__it's really a great opportunity for us.
DeLuna: Will you be expanding into Latin America as well?
Concannon: We do have interest from Canada, Mexico and South and Central America. The interest is there and we are going to need to be moving into those regions, but right now the focus is very heavily on the U.S. We have plenty to do here.
DeLuna: In general, how do you see the business travel market?
Concannon: People I've been talking to over last six months__whether they're in procurement, travel or finance__they all are very concerned with two things: giving travelers an easy, effective, good tool to use and providing their organization with some form of [return on investment] or savings and making sure that it's efficient from an industry perspective. I think there's a lot of interest in both of those areas because people see the business continue to grow. They see that business travel is continuing to escalate even though there have been some dips and really want to make sure they have the right process and tools in place for travelers.
DeLuna: Is the adoption of expense tools increasing?
Concannon: There are still so many companies out there that are not using any type of formalized automation. They're still using Excel spreadsheets to do their expenses, maybe using older, antiquated systems. There are so many different tools out there in the market and a lot of customers aren't using anything. There's a huge opportunity for companies like KDS to work with and talk to customers who aren't using anything, as well as customers who are on some kind of automation that they're not happy with.
DeLuna: For more advanced companies that already are using automated systems, what else are they looking for in terms of specific integrations or configurations?
Concannon: The comments that we hear are that they want a tool that's easier to use and they want it for expenses specifically. Expenses are a pain in the neck. Nobody wants to do them because it's a big challenge in businesses today to do in a timely manner. That's why people gravitate to our tool. We can give them something that will be easy and quick to use, they can do on a mobile device or at their desk, and they can get it done quickly and efficiently.
DeLuna: Regarding the second U.S. partner, what can you tell us?
Concannon: We recently just signed a multiyear strategic partnership with Travel and Transport, obviously a very large agency here in the U.S.
DeLuna: Is the partnership a reselling agreement?
Concannon: Yes it's reselling KDS in the U.S. and North America. They will obviously be our second big partner doing that, with CWT being the first. Travel and Transport really is going to help us with our North America strategy in terms of getting corporates on the Neo platform.
DeLuna: Why Travel and Transport?
Concannon: They have similar goals, very similar customer service-focused culture. We just really felt like it was a good fit. We spoke with a lot of their customers. We really did our due diligence to make sure they were the appropriate fit for us.