CRM Watchlist 2012 Winners - Defying Convention

Summary:What We Have So FarCRM Watchlist 2012 Pt 1A - The Big GunsCRM Watchlist 2012 1B - The Big Guns AgainCRM Watchlist 2012 - The...

What We Have So Far

CRM Watchlist 2012 Pt 1A - The Big Guns

CRM Watchlist 2012 1B - The Big Guns Again

CRM Watchlist 2012 - The Winners List

CRM Watchlist 2012 -  Let the Reviews Roll: The Top of the Top

CRM Watchlist 2012 Winners - The Generalists

CRM Watchlist 2012 Winnners - The Marketing Mavens

CRM Watchlist 2012 Winners - Customer Service Strikes Again

CRM Watchlist 2012 Winners - Social Makes Mainstream Moves

My Disclaimers for the CRM 2012 Watchlist

This final technology category (we have the consulting companies/systems integrators to go yet. When I'm done with that, that will do it.) is one that "defies convention" to use the somewhat hackneyed but oh-so-true phrase.  None of these companies are competitive with the other. In fact, to some degree, each has its own place in its own category - though that bears some explanation. Of course, I'll provide that to you in the discussion of each of the companies. They are all interesting and unique properties.  What do they have in common? Awesome possibilities. But, of course, that's up to them.

Coveo

2011 was something of a small coming out party for Coveo - to stretch an analogy. They went into 2011 an uncomfortable Enterprise Search 2.0 product and came out a clearly identified Insight Solution.  And it was a good thing because it situated this rather amazing company as a player in a burgeoning somewhat fresh market and as a company with a versatile capability.

This was one of the companies that surprised me in 2011. They had been a blip on the radar screen for me until we hooked up early in the year - the reason being that they had been heads down on building their product portfolio and by getting their enterprise customers via word of mouth.  But when I heard what they did, and how they did it, and saw it and heard their customers describing what how they used Coveo, I was hooked.

First, realize that this is a truly industrial strength product that scales at enormous levels. It is a company designed to play in the era of Big Data.

Let me start by telling you what they do - though this is not the sole reason they won a place on the CRM Watchlist for 2012.

They provide what they call the Coveo Unified Indexing Platform pulls real-time data from all internal on premise enterprise systems, all cloud-based systems, and all social media, including the unstructured data in communities and forums into a dynamic virtual integration layer which never takes the data from a source but shows the data from a source without storing that data on your system, unless the source is on your system. Imagine setting up a complex chain of queries. Then imagine a series of pipes go out to millions of sources and then the pipes embed themselves into the sources that have what you are asking for. The pipes then suck the data, organize the data, and provide the data for viewing - without ever taking and storing any of the data in a data store of any kind. If the information changes, it dynamically changes the results shown at nearly the same time.  The search and report is immensely fast because the indexing algorithms work at lightning speed.

Effectively, what they are doing is aggregating the access to the data and leaving the data where it is - at the source, not stored by you.

The variety of uses this platform has is staggering and incredibly varied. I had the opportunity to speak to the Coveo Customer Board of Advisors last year and they did presentations to me, Forrester's Kate Leggett and each other on how they use Coveo.

Amazing.

For example, science and engineering consultancy, Haley and Aldrich used them to not do the big searches of unstructured & structured data that you would expect, but also set up a Customer Relationship Health Dashboard that monitored the activity of H&A clients with H&A employees and how healthy the relationship was due to frequency, activity "tone" and other criteria - this was a dynamic dashboard; they set up an Expertise Finder to identify colleagues with specific subject matter knowledge for other employees or to identify documents and their authors.

One reason that they could this is that they have a highly wigetized user interface - with a great degree of flexibility.

Another firm used them to track a very complex manufacturing process at all its points, thus identifying bottlenecks when they arose - about 180 degrees away from the H&A example.

Oh yeah, they have genuinely strong text analytics and even root cause analytics, too.

You can see that I think highly of their product.  But, needless to say, that is by no means even close to what I need to declare a Watchlist winner.

They have a highly experienced management team led by the founder and CEO of Coveo Louis Tetu, who was also the founder and CEO of Taleo - that would be the talent management company bought by Oracle this past week for $1.9 billion. This also includes industry veterans like Ed Shepherdson who ran Cognos Global Professional Services for 13 years.  This is among many other highly experienced, skilled veterans. Their team knows how to manage an enterprise-focused company.

They have a solid corporate culture which seems to respect the thinking and lives of the employees of the company as well as management. They are headquartered in Quebec City, an amazing city unto itself, which contributes to the quality culture of the company. But they have staff in multiple locations.

They actively work with their customers as partners, with a very strong and very dedicated customer advisory board that incorporates a number of large enterprises who spend time actually advising them - as opposed to just having the annual get together.  Their Advisory Board members seem to be truly advocates for the company.

They have a tightly knit, very well run analyst/influencer relations program that has a shortcoming that I'll outline in just a minute. But what they do is work closely with those influencers that they like with updates and briefings and a strong relationship with them.  Its not a large group (hint) but the influencers who they work with are well covered.

They have just, and I mean just in the last few months, found their messaging niche.   Prior to then - mid last year - they were uncomfortably squeezed into an Enterprise Search 2.0 category which while it fit to some extent, was uncomfortable because it didn't truly characterize what they were able to do. It was the equivalent of calling a Stealth Bomber an "airplane." It is, but it's so much more than that.  The paucity of Enterprise Search 2.0 as a category was vividly apparent, when you saw the product in action. But the category name limited the people who wanted to see it. Even so, they managed to win a large number of industry awards. Their product quality shone that brightly - even with the limitations they have been operating with.

So, in the late fall, they started using Insight Solution - which is a far better category for them if I do say so myself. I have to be candid and say this is one of my pet categories for 2012 so I have a bit of a stake in their saying this. I'm not alone in thinking through the value of the category or idea. Please take a look at the work of fellow Enterprise Irregular and managing director at Trident Capital, Evangelos Simoudis, who has been doing a brilliant job making the case for the corollary Insight as a Service since 2010. Just so you know. But that doesn't take away from the far more accurate positioning for them. But they are early in the creation of the pieces that need to accompany the message. They have the most important one - the product, now they have to provide some other things.

Okay, okay, I've been coy so far in what I think Coveo has to do in 2012, so let me get into it.

  1. They have to build out the thought leadership around Insight Solutions. What makes this particularly important for them is that because it is a new category, they have opportunity to seize the mindshare high ground here and hold onto it. But that takes time, money and a lot of thinking around how they are going to do that. That means webinars, whitepapers, digital guides, speeches etc.  That means hitting the stump with their execs, it means engaging external thought leaders to support their efforts. It means being loud with the ideas of what insight solutions are and how they came to be and what they provide.  This is a MUST for them. Wait a year, and someone else seizes the title.
  2. They have to expand their market presence.  One part of this is to expand their IR/AR program. Right now, they deal with a small number of select analysts and influencers and they do a good job with them. A very good job. But their problem is wide visibility because they have been operating from a heads down development scheme for the last couple of years and they have been building their already impressive but small customer list via word of mouth. To get to that next step they need to cast a wider net - both with AR/IR and by simply showing up at things and sponsoring things and doing things - classical and contemporary things - to make themselves more obvious (small hint: actively use social channels too).  This is particularly delicate for them.
  3. They need to dramatically increase their partner channels. Their current partner program is built around sales and development - there is nothing strategic about it. They have to create a strong go to market partnership offering and aggressively go and find some strategic partners at both large consulting firms/systems integrators and at key technology companies.
  4. They should consider holding their first user conference.  At least I think it would be their first user conference. This should be their coming out party as an Insight Solution. It would be users, influencers, press etc. Companies like NetSuite and Radian6 did their first ones in 2011 with great fanfare, great attendance and great results.

As you can probably tell, I am enamored of their product and really think they are a well managed company with good people, good culture and a good perspective.  But if one word describes what their effort needs in 2012, its "scope." They don't need a small high quality effort. They need a big push with big initiatives in multiple areas. They need to be willing to go for it and spend the time and money accordingly. If they do, and obviously, I'm only one opinion, they have a decent shot at owning the market they have placed themselves in. I think that have that chance this year, which is why they were a hands down Watchlist winner.

Nexj

Nexj was the discovery of the year for me in this competition (did I claim that for someone else earlier?). I knew them already. They were attendees at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management CRM Centre of Excellence Social CRM training. But I didn't know how incredibly good this company actually is. And they are that good.

Nexj has an astonishing number of credentials to back up their position as an impact player  - though primarily confined to Canada - for now. They were named the sixth fastest growing tech company in North America by Deloitte on their Technology Fast 500 (though I'm not sure you're "named" that - you just "are" that). They were seen by Forrester as strong when it comes to CRM for the insurance and financial industries. They were named among the Top 20 innovative companies in Canada by the Canadian Innovation Exchange and, of course, I would be remiss to say, they were one of the walk-on winners for the CRM Watchlist 2012.

Interestingly, they are also the first software company in Canada to go public in five years (in 2011) pulling down a very respectable $44 million at their launch. (I couldn't find out which Canadian company went public in 2006, unless Tim Horton's is now a software company. That's a joke only a Canadian might find funny - and I even doubt that).

What makes them so good is that, the only image I can use is, they are tight. There isn't a loose end in the company that I can find. That doesn't mean they can't get better or there aren't things they should do. Far be it from me to not have suggestions. But they are well rounded, capable and focused on just a few areas, though have a curious anomaly in their strategy.

The Nexj focus is on the enterprise and it is specifically build around process-driven innovation in three verticals as of now - wealth management, insurance and heath services.  Interestingly, they have achieved their greatest recognition in wealth management and insurance with them being named #1 CRM provider for enterprise sized wealth management firms by Aite Group in April 2011. But I think their most interesting innovations are in health care and they would be remiss to not emphasize what they have there (see suggestions below).

Their product suite is driven by what they call Model Driven Engineering, which is a data virtualization architecture that allows multiple and disparate systems to communicate with each other. They build their products on this highly scalable platform so that they are able coordinate that single view of the customer that we've spoken of so many times over the years.

While these reviews aren't meant to be product reviews, (Watchlist reviews are focused around the company's potential impact) I do want to make two points about their products.

  1. From all that I can tell, what Nexj does perhaps as well or better than anyone else I've seen is take systems of record to their ultimate limits - without getting beyond that into systems of engagement. Which is both great and bad.  It seems that they've truly mastered the single view of the customer despite the location of the data.  But that said, customer engagement is not their strong suit. Nor am I saying it should be. We'll talk about that soon.
  2. While their name has been made in financial services especially wealth management, I think they have some of the most innovative health services products I've seen to date. For example they have multiple solutions and products, each important in its own right: Health Information Exchange, a solution that allows disparate systems to connect and exchange health records creating what they call a "comprehensive longitudinal electronic health record". They use an open architecture and open standards to allow the varied systems to communicate. I remember back in 1993 when IBM tried to do internet based access to patient records using Lotus Notes. Failed miserably. This is SO much better. Another health solution is Connected Wellness - a cloud based system that allows collaboration between institutions, doctors and patients. That means access to health records, and the use of their other products Health Coach a mobile application that provides personalized health care plans and captures and stores critical health information from glucose levels to medications and allows medical professionals to remotely monitor the patients. Finally Connected Wellness can be used in conjunction with Nexj's Disease Screening which manages large scale disease screening for specific population groups.  All of their products can be accessed via Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, and Android Devices.   Incredible.

But the products aren't the only thing that they have going for them either. If it was only the products, they wouldn't have won this. They have a highly experienced management team, many of which were key executives at Janna Software, which was sold to Siebel in 2001 for $975 million, including their CEO William Tatham who founded Janna. Their senior execs not only are experienced at large enterprise companies beyond Janna, like Siebel, Oracle, and SAP, exactly what they need given their focus, but they are active participants in the forward thinking aspects of their industry. For example, Mr. Tatham is a member of the Board of Stewards for Open Health Tools - an organization that champions open source health software based on open standards and best practices.

They have a clearly expressed vision which they say is to "deliver people-centred CRM solutions that drive a comprehensive view of customer or patient information." This is actually  more of a mission than a vision, but the point is clear. They are focused around a deep involvement with a system of record. They spend a lot of time in the modeling of and the analysis of the relationships and hierarchies that are embedded in the customer/patient records as an indication of how they are realizing their vision.

They also have multiple partnerships, though I think, there is some room for improvement here. They have the standard consulting partnerships with companies like Deloitte and Capgemini. They have some OEM relationships in the wealth management/financial services arena and some technology partnerships with Oracle, Microsoft (a wise one for health services especially) and IBM, but what makes their partnership model even more interesting is they have a specific set of Healthcare partners like provide service add-ons to their Connected Wellness solution - including at least two Canadian star universities - York Univiersity and McMaster University.  But their alliances with universities doesn't stop at the technological. They have what they call "thought leadership partnerships" with multiple universities and even with hospitals and organizations like the Canadian Association for People-Centred Health and the Academic Research Collaborative.  They even partner with their customers and other companies for the implementation of their products (e.g. Wells Fargo, Saskatchewan Cancer Authority) The only technology company I've seen use a similar model is SAP. Which speaks volumes for Nexj, given SAP's success with this kind of approach.

Like I said, tight.

But this incredibly well directed outfit continues to at least check off the boxes with a full time AR/IR program, a PR firm, an investor relations program, and an ongoing dialogue with the analysts and influencers that matter to their world - especially their verticals. So for example, they've been offered the opportunity to become bloggers for HITR.com which is an online community of health care stakeholders who are involved in or interested in health IT.  Not something made easily available to vendors.

So what in the name of....whoever....can this well oiled operation who seems to have thought of most everything, do, but improve their products?

Well, there are a few things...

  1. They need to investigate going beyond the boundaries of systems of record, which they toy with (they claim to be able to expand to social networks via their API, but they don't claim they've actually done it).  This might not be the place to do it, since the areas they specialize in are mostly highly regulated industries like wealth management and healthcare.  But they owe it to themselves to see about the possibilities because networks and communities of professionals and interested parties in their precise areas of expertise are growing like wildfire and need to be addressed.  This investigation would be one that takes them into thought leadership in the 2.0 world and into potentially systems of engagement. Again, I'm recommending putting on the plate as a possibility, not a done deal.
  2. They need to expand their integrations beyond just Oracle and Microsoft as far as the general practitioners go.  It's been wise making them the first two general enterprise software integration choices, given their strong involvement in financial services and health services (especially Microsoft on the latter) but its time to consider companies like SAP among others.
  3. I'd be giving health care a lot higher profile in the market. They have exceptional capabilities there but since they made their bones in wealth management and insurance, health care doesn't get the proportionate play they should be giving it.
  4. I'd be making a much greater pitch for at least mindshare in the U.S. to date and that means at least make the connections to the analysts, journalists and influencers that are U.S. based in a considerably more aggressive way.

That's about all I'd suggest at the moment. None of it monumental, but all of it important. This is a company that has been around, doing well, getting accolades but confined mostly (not entirely, to be fair) to the top 1/3 of North America (out of countries, not landmass).  Time for them to have a coming out party which I think they are poised to do, which is why they won the CRM Watchlist 2012, as a walk-on, and yet, in 2011, I only knew them through their attendance at the Univ. of Toronto.  Don't be shy, Nexj - make sure that people not only know how to pronounce your name, but sing it in 2012.

Nimble

This is a different kind of year for Nimble. They made the Watchlist for the first time last year but the way I put it was not my normal winner's comments (if I do anything "normally"):

What I’m going on here, which is a little unusual for me, is faith to some extent. I’ve seen what Jon and his crew have done so far and its genuinely impressive, if you know the market he is explicitly targeting. It truly does it right – with some minor technical glitches here or there.  But I’m presuming, given Jon’s sincerity, honesty in general and history of success that if he says the small business sales force automation functionality is going to be released by second quarter, then it will be. I have no reason to doubt him.

And, to his credit, while he was a bit late in releasing the functional actual SFA capability, he did release it, and, lo, it was pretty damned good - if small business is your bag. Jon Ferrara, the CEO I mention in the paragraph, candidly admitted that getting this out the door was a lot tougher than he had anticipated, though I was thinking, it couldn't be any tougher than getting a release of Goldmine (another company he founded and sold for untoward amounts of moola) out the door back in the day.  But, get it out the door he did.

So this  year, I'm not going on faith - well, not entirely. For the most part, they win on evidence and on a solid approach to delivery, clear vision and a startlingly large network of value added resellers and developers who will help them achieve the kind of market penetration they need to achieve in 2012.  At least I think so. That's where the wee bit of faith still lurks.

So, then, why was Nimble chosen again? Let me count the ways.

  1. Their product focus - They do not waver. They are strictly small business with no pretensions to go "upstream."  They not only target the capabilities that small business needs now, but they have a roadmap of features and functions, components, that is on a timeline based on what they see as the priority requirements of small businesses in alignment with the timeline. They are alert to not only feature/function but the jobs that small businesses have to do and the need to have a navigable, easy to use interface.  All of which they pull off admirably. In their latest release, Nimble 2.0 (out today), they added what they call "social notifications" which essentially is an aggregated notification of the activities that are occurring on the social networks that your company participates in and changes in the social graph - the social profiles of the people on your networks - ranging from birthdays to job changes.  Aggregation is the theme runs through their products. Aggregate contacts from the social networks. Aggregate notifications. Aggregate activity streams.  Its what they do. It's gotten them 30,000 users, though most of them are free so far.
  2. Strong product vision - Interestingly, and ironically (see below), they have the same visionary perspective and approach that Marc Benioff and salesforce.com and Jeff Bezos and Amazon have. Bezos put it best in an article in the November 2011 Wired Magazine:  "We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details." Nimble's vision: "Our Mission/Vision is to create a simple, elegant solution for people to manage their social relationships individually or as a team...We envision Nimble to be the WordPress of Social Relationship Management." While I can't say I would use the latter metaphor exactly, since I suspect the vast majority of their customer base would have no idea what they are talking about, everything that they go about doing is flowing in this vision's veins.  The ironic part of this is that they are following in the footsteps of Benioff directly by promising their vision without immediate delivery of the products that they are committed to. But like salesforce.com, they eventually do deliver.
  3. Their partner network - Nimble has over 300 solutions partners - the majority are value added resellers (VARS) who are selling for them.  But its not just the number he's recruited, which is staggering unto itself, but how well organized his communication with the VAR network is.  They provide significant support via a partner newsletter, a partner conference and a joint effort with Nimble Partner account manager who will coordinate sales opportunities and be available to support the partner needs. Additionally, they have a well thought out set of integration partners who are a little unusual. They are integrating with HubSpot (another CRM Watchlist 2012 winner) for inbound marketing and analytics. They are also integrated with Mailchimp for email marketing and Wufoo for lead management. With all three, they handle the basic marketing needs of most small businesses.
  4. Their (out)reach - They have a lot of visibility getting coverage in multiple publications; they are active on social networks that they need to be to push their vision to the right crowd (e.g. Twitter and Facebook, now Google Plus); they even got a $1 million investment into the company with high profile investors like Mark Cuban and Jason Calcanis, which caused quite-the-buzz when it was announced.  They show up at events, speak where they can, provide ebooks that are focused around best practices, rather than concepts per se. They are incredibly active on social networks and Jon Ferrara makes himself available in ways that other CEOs should emulate.

All this sounds good - and it is good - they've come a long way in the last year.  But they are still a distance from being where they need to be to really optimize their impact in 2012 and 2013.
What do they need to do?

  1. Same as last year, they need to tone down their competitive dissing. Even though I will say that they've gotten a little better than they were, recently Jon F. was quoted on Crunchbase saying about salesforce.com "We have spent time interviewing their development team,” says Ferrara. “A lot of the stuff they are talking about, they don’t have. Even if they were to build a product, their margins are razor-thin and they are getting hammered.” This was an uncalled for comment akin to something the CEO of Jive did to Lithium not very long ago too.  Conduct unbecoming. Concentrate on the strength of the offering and the value it provides to a customer. The competitive disrespect is a sign of weakness not strength.
  2. This is the year that they must monetize their product.  They have the reach, the buzz, the quality, the practices and the stories they need to be successful. But they have to turn the corner. They don't have a choice in that. At the beginning of the year, they announced a premium model for $15/mo that scales up what they offer in the free version. A great sign for the company.

Nimble has come a long way in the last year.  2012 has a shot for them to become the small business application in the CRM market to beat, if they do the tweaking they have to do and continue to make my faith in them more than just faith, which I have faith that they will do.

The Home Stretch

We're now in the home stretch. Next week (or maybe this week, I'll see how it all pans out), you'll see the final four reviews - the consulting firms.  For those of you with short memories (that would be me), the four are Accenture, Capgemini, Solvis Consulting and The Pedowitz Group.

But I'm also going to announce a major rule change for next year and something that you can do right away to begin to qualify for the CRM Watchlist 2013 winners.  Yes, right away.  Stay tuned. This will be a rule change that dramatically levels the playing fields.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Software

About

In addition to being the author of the best-selling CRM at the Speed of Light: Social CRM Strategies, Tools, and Techniques for Engaging Your Customers Paul Greenberg is President of The 56 Group, LLC, a customer strategy consulting firm, focused on cutting edge CRM strategic services and a founding partner of the CRM training company, BP... Full Bio

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