This thing is so big that I have to split the posts. You saw my choices on Monday in Part IIA, now here's the rest of them - Cognizant, Eloqua, Sword-Ciboodle, SAS, SugarCRM, Helpstream and Aplicor. Any others you would suggest? Why?
This is one of my most out-of-place and yet most appropriate picks for 2010. IBM is the only consulting firm I have ever chosen for this category in the past and usually that's because of Lotus Connections. IBM is very much the enterprise solution provider. But Cognizant is here for something that they are doing uniquely and interestingly, doing well. That would be not just CRM consulting, but also building a Social CRM practice that is not absolutely identical to the CRM practice.
For those of you who don't know Cognizant - just think a systems integrator/strategic consultancy with 66,000 consultants in total. Their CRM consultancy alone has 1400+ associates worldwide and is not shy about drawing on their Master Data Management (MDM), Customer Data Integration (CDI) and Business Process Management (BPM) for consulting support when need be, making the pool that much bigger.
But what they are here for is not just the sheer size of their CRM consulting practice, but their creation of an Social CRM practice in 2009. While it currently is small, with 20 consultants (though, again, they can borrow from within Cognizant for stuff like CMS integration), I want you to think about it. Who do you know that has SCRM consultants at all? That's 20 more than any other company that I'm aware of in the consulting realm including the other giants like Accenture. The fact that Cognizant is creating this nascent organization, not only validates Social CRM as a legitimate practice (among other things of course) but at the same time speaks volumes about the visionary leadership of their Vice President of Customer Solutions, Peter Grambs.
The fact that they have a practice is well and good but they back the practice up with content and that makes a huge difference. They are actually developing a Social CRM framework for both technology and strategy and investing resources in products that can support them. For example, they have a sentiment analyzer that I saw not too long ago that is a solid entry into the tool belt. This is not a commercial product, but a tool for their work and their clients to use. Honestly, with not much more work, it could be a very salable sentiment analysis tool - competitive in most ways. (I'll be doing a comparative review of sentiment analysis tools this year and they will be among those in the mix. Watch for it - it will be associated with an exciting - at least for me - announcement in the not terribly distant future). To top this off, they have someone actually positioned as an evangelist, Prem Kumar, who's responsibility is just that - not sales, not service, but evangelism for SCRM. Prem is one of the rising stars of CRM - who made his appearance in thought leadership circles in 2009.
How could I not pick Cognizant?
However, like everyone on this list, Cognizant needs to continue to support this SCRM practice and grow it in 2010. Budget concerns are with everyone now, and new and innovative thinking is not usually the last to lose funds so to speak. But, damn, they're off to a good start. Watch 'em in 2010 as this thing sprouts.Eloqua is up to the challenge going well beyond just the nonetheless-valuable"Share-to-Social" that many marketing automation (especially email marketing) firms have embedded in their feature set. This year, Eloqua went horizontal and vertical when it came to expanding their already classic marketing automation platform. They added on the one hand added social media monitoring generally and share to social for their email capabilities but they, even better, are integrating with the Pedowitz Group's Sweet Suite, a comprehensive social marketing suite that allows real time monitoring of prospect and customers and then, based on the response can initiate appropriate and sometime automated responses and offers - and so much more than that. Sweet Suite is currently integrated with Eloqua right down to the dashboard.
Its easy to conclude that Eloqua has rightfully swallowed the social marketing Kool Aid. But let's also see, via CRM industry thought leader Bruce Culbert's wordsmithing, what Eloqua has in store in 2010 and three reasons why they belong on this list:
- "Growth in the Global Enterprise: Eloqua is a workhorse in the enterprise and currently has one of the most comprehensive solutions for sophisticated multichannel Marketing Automation for global companies. Large deployments are not unusual for Eloqua. Their ability to provide customers the capability to scale and process millions of automated marketing and sales transaction with large data sets is truly impressive. Eloqua has international language and global product support, a mature API and a number of successful integrations with complex legacy systems. As multinational companies aggressively deploy Marketing Automation in 2010 Eloqua should benefit greatly.
- Product Direction: Eloqua has big plans in 2010 to release a whole new architecture, data model and user interface. You will hardly recognize the new Eloqua, yet you will because the new interface is very marketing and sales user friendly and designed more as a Web 2.0 application with emphasis on ease of use. In the backend they will be offering improvements and more flexibility in almost every aspect of the offering. With these improvements and advancements Eloqua looks to once again set the standard for Marketing Automation.
- Good People and Support: In working directly with Eloqua I have found the people to be very committed to their customer’s success. They are easy to work with and do what they commit to. They have a rich set of intellectual capital and a very robust knowledge portal to share these best practices with both customers and partners. They provide multiple levels of support for a customer including global product support, dedicated customer success mangers, and a robust set of global partners ready to help client’s leverage their investment in Eloqua."
Good enough for me. Now Eloqua has to live up to all these expectations in 2010 - and, of course, given that its January, that remains to be seen. Last year, they were on "revisit" this year they made it.
Keeping the ordinary, ordinary is perhaps the most important aspect of what a customer service application can support. Most customer service actions are not particularly emotional exceptions like complaints and the meltdowns and inadequacies associated with them. The vast majority of customer service inquiries are just "ordinary" e.g. the address of something, or how to do something. Many can be handled without personal direct contact with an agent via knowledge bases and web self-service. However, if the contact is an "ordinary" inquiry, screwing it up creates an immensely dissatisfied customer because they would have had low expectations unfulfilled. Not bad, but a utilitarian low level. However, by being able to handle thousands of inquiries a day and keeping the "ordinary, ordinary" you have immensely benefited the company and customer.
Of course, our industry can't just call it that so we have to create categories to explain things. So we created what Forrester called process based CRM. This would be a focus around providing well-integrated, scalable embedded best practices solution that a large enterprise could adopt. In fact, Forrester did a process-based CRM Wave in 2009 that Sword-Ciboodle won.
The accolades came for them beyond that. This company not only won numerous awards including a coveted (by me) CRM at the Speed of Light 4th Edition SuperStah! award for customer service. They are quadrupling their U.S. workforce, hiring like crazy to be able to meet and sustain the strong interest they are seeing in their solution.
2010 promises to be an important year for them (for everyone it seems). Social CRM needs to be on their agenda to continue to be both interesting to potential customers for them, and to be able to provide support for the customer engagement strategies at the customer service level for those who need technology to do that. How they do that - build or buy or partner - is moot in their case. They could go on as they currently are constructed and, I suspect, they will continue to be successful. But to really crack through, providing some Social CRM capabilities in 2010 is the way that they are going to have to go to "keep the ordinary, ordinary."They are consistently named one of the best places in the United States to work for year after year. Second, they they don't stray from what they do extremely well, meaning they build on their strength as a firm that makes analytics tools. Third, in a somewhat myopic but still productive way, they are attuned to what are typically going to be the contemporary trends that will have a lasting impact - meaning aren't fads - and then develop the tools that businesses - provided that its in the realm of what SAS does really well.
Hopefully, that makes sense to you. What I mean is simple. SAS in 2009, decided that since analytics on the on the one hand, and management on the other are their strong suits, that they need to develop products that will take the social data, slice it, dice it and come up with insights - not just data aggregation and some organized way of looking at it. To that end they are looking at the broad brush stroke - capturing the data from the unstructured world of conversation - but also being able to be granular - who's the influencers and who do they influence.Their overall Marketing and Customer Experience toolsets are incredibly deep, plays to their strengths and a potential market leader, especially around customer experience and now, social network analysis, a particularly exciting tool that will help identify key influencers in its positive role and do fraud detection in its preventive role.
Additionally, they are finally starting to pay attention to mind share, using the incredibly capable Angela Lipscomb to reach out to analysts etc. This is just a start.
All in all, SAS FINALLY is making the social CRM grade - long overdue but a beginning.
But what makes me reluctant is what always has. I think that they are continuing to be deficient in how they position themselves in the market. Their approaches are bland and traditional, no matter how hard they try to spice them up or make them "relevant." The best they achieve is "cute" with their "You Can" ads. While I understand tradition - there is a comfort level that 30 years of business success provides - what I don't understand is why SAS, which has exceptional products when it comes to customer experience, don't build their campaigns and channels to the rhythm of the social customer's expected experience. Everyone else is doing or attempting to do just that.
My concern is thus - even with a great product set, if you don't market well, if you don't capture mind share - if you don't "feel the beat" of the social customer, you can suffer. So 2010 puts SAS in a great but dangerous place, They are nailing it with their products but they have to step up with a much better "go to market" strategy. They are doing a few things in that direction. Hopefully, because I really like companies that treat their employees well, they will succeed.
One reason for their success is that they have a lot to offer in the marketplace. Their 30,000 strong development community and the release of a strong new version in SugarCRM 5.5. bodes well for them. They've been adding Cloud Connectors that will tie the Sugar system to third party data sources including Hoovers, Jigsaw and Zoominfo - all smart choices. They have a strong mobile administration capability and many mobile vendors are tying their apps to SugarCRM as are social vendors like InsideView. They have a social feed builder of sorts that resembles but is not as strong as salesforce Chatter's social feeds - allowing you as an "internal customer" to subscribe to activity within the company. Their open source developers community SugarForge had one of its members create a connector to allow Twitter users to tweet inside the Sugar system. SugarForge has been a rich source of capabilities for SugarCRM. They alleviate the quality control concerns by making sure that core functionality is developed by internal teams, not SugarForge, though the talent on SugarForge is unmistakable.
In addition to their strategy for continuous improvement (though not revolutionary innovation), they also understand that the customer is looking for stability too. To that effect, in 2009, they changed their pricing with Community Edition remaining free, Pro at $360 per user per year and Enterprise at $600 per user per year. That's right. Per year.
They decided to go to a completely partner driven sales model, which, given their past history with partner programs, was a difficult move to make. Larry Augustin, in a useful video interview with the VAR Guy claims that 2/3 of SugarCRM's revenue comes from the channel now - which indicates to me that 1/3 comes from direct sales so perhaps they are rethinking a pure partner channel - or else its just a long transition to make.
One thing that sparked their moves was a change of CEO this year which, regardless of merit, creates some turmoil as the "new guy" who is actually a shareholder of SugarCRM - Larry Augustin, a very capable guy, has to stamp the company with his unique signature in order for things to move forward. That takes time - and time is precious in a roiling, ever changing, customer-demanding market - though I have no doubt they will make the changes work for them.
However, this is also a big transition year for SugarCRM because they need to stop seeing themselves as the "open source CRM alternative." Yes, they are that, but they also are the only real open source player of any consequence and, when it boils down to it, most of the "regular" players now have open source components which mitigate an "open source CRM alternative" as something of great value. Which means open source is less of a differentiator than it used to be.
Plus they have some very aggressive goals in 2010, looking to "double their business" which is pretty aggressive no matter how you cut it.
Their very success means that they have to position themselves differently in the market place. They've defined the open source market in CRM. They now have to prove that they provide more than that though. They provide a flexible well-supported platform that can be delivered in any way the customer likes - on premise or on demand for a justifiable price. While they remain deficient in social tools as of now, just getting started there, its to their credit that they are getting started there. But whether or not they can come up with a clear way of differentiation beyond Open Source remains to be seen. They are a talented, exciting bunch.
Now comes the tough part.
But hasn't only been the strength of their solution. CEO'ed first by Tony Nemelka and then Bob Warfield, they had two intellectually strong leaders who have led them to a buzzworthy leadership position when it came to the Social CRM market and to some thought leadership in the space also, which is highly unusual for a vendor company of their size. They've done a very good ebook on Social CRM (registration necessary). They tout a "Social CRM Virtuous Cycle" (a kind of very coolly medieval name) which places customer service at the pinnacle of Social CRM - which, while probably a little bit self-serving, is also probably right.
Their long-standing (such as it is) strategy deserves some kudos too. Among other aspects, they've been integrating with the more "traditional" (whatever that means) CRM systems. For example, they now are partnered with marketing automation up and comer Marketo and with Eloqua (see above); Another aspect - they're integrated with salesforce.com and Oracle CRM on Demand.
But their strategy goes well beyond that just simple integration with CRM or social systems. It's probably best reflected by the Marketo alliance really which is a way of providing the "missing pieces" that a company might need - as components or as a platform. Helpstream defines itself as the "in betweenness" (though that's my term, not theirs) when it comes to Social CRM. Their strong workflow and business rules engine can be an asset to companies that are trying to provide social tools but have no workflow or business rules engine - a necessary CRM component. Their customer communities can be used as possible components for companies that have a more traditional agent based model so that the contemporary and traditional approaches to customer service can meld. Using the model they seem to have with Marketo, they provide the customer service component of a Social CRM suite, while Marketo provides the marketing pillar. (NB: For some reason, Marketo's "sales pillar" is the Salesforce.com Twitter integration, which is one of the reasons that Marketo is on my revisit list, not my watch list). All in all, Helpstream is a company that provides solid products/services, has an interesting and differentiable strategy and, a rarity, has a strong visionary leadership.
But I do have a problem with them, though its not a "problem" the way you might think of one.
Simply put, I can't get a handle on how well or poorly they are actually doing. I've seen their ROI numbers, when it comes to customer community solutions for customer service problems. They have a nice looking customer list with a number of high tech customers and some marquee names like Toshiba and Johns Hopkins.
But what I don't know and can't seem to find out is how is exactly how they they are doing - what their pipeline is like, how customers are responding, what their revenue numbers are, what they are planning for 2010, and how big their base is. Some of that is private company lip lock - I get that. But some of it should be exposed and is just downright puzzling as to why I can't find it.
They are going to need to step up their public exposure next year if they are to continue to be a leading voice in social CRM. But I remain bullish on these guys because I know what they have. What they do is the question that I hope they answer in 2010.very cool CEO Chuck Schaefer who thinks at the level of a thought leader, rather than just a corporate manager, though he can do that too.
Aplicor is a company that knows how to execute. They have deployments - unbeknownst to pretty much anyone in the thousands of users that have been successful over a period of years. They have a product that functionally competes and in some cases exceeds the best SaaS products on the market - which includes them (how moebius strip like is that?)
They are deficient in two areas - first the execution of social capabilities with their CRM platform, something necessary for social customer love. Second, marketing, which seems to be a theme this year. They don't pay enough attention to getting attention in a marketplace that is increasingly defined by the number of messages cluttering up the human individual brain. Attention is a currency in a manner of speaking and its one currency Aplicor doesn't trade in. You can only go so long by doing EVERYTHING via referral. That's one avenue among others. Also, just using social media is a limitation that you don't want to have, either. Maybe traditional media isn't cool, but it has some effect on the hearts and minds - though not often that cost-effective. The combination of different traditional and contemporary avenues works best it seems, depending on the company. Most importantly, though, mindshare matters, people.
To that end, Aplicor has taken one important step, hiring Chris Bucholz to run a mostly agnostic social channel for them, ForecastingClouds.com - a very wise decision. Chris is one of the true talents in the social CRM world and the reason that the formerly important InsideCRM was important at the time. Now he is Aplicor's first step in doing some seriously good marketing and thought leadership.
But that's of course, not enough. So we'll see how Aplicor handles its way too low a profile in 2010. They gots da tools, now lets see the flare.
Revisiting Later in 2010
Three Month List
Six Month List