CRM Watchlist 2013 winners: Heading in the right direction

Summary:The 'Young and Hot' group includes two CRM Idol 2012 winners — Artesian Solutions and Crowdtap — and those companies who didn't win, but are worth being on a radar.

We are truly in the homestretch. Before I get to the Consulting groups/systems integrators — the final Watchlist 2013 post — I'm doing this Young and Hot group — the two CRM Idol 2012 winners, Artesian Solutions and Crowdtap — and those companies that didn't win, but are worth being on a radar that has them 12 to 24 months away, depending. These don't get the same depth as a Watchlist winner, but there should be enough to get you excited. I know that I am. So, penultimate review, here goes.

may be a technology wonk, but I have to admit: I'm getting worn out writing all these reviews. But I get excited anyway, because this group is new and fresh to the market. Except for the CRM Idol winners, they didn't win this year's Watchlist, but they all are worthy of being on a radar — be it an analyst or because they all have pretty darned strong products, as buyers. So here's the scoop.

In the case of this weeks' batch of companies, we have three categories:

  1. CRM Idol 2012 winners: The two winners of CRM Idol get a guaranteed slot in the Watchlist winners without submitting anything, since they have already been such under such intense scrutiny. Plus, I'm the founder of CRM Idol, so I know who they are. They won't get a full review but they will get a mini review and encouragement to try for the next year.

  2. Ready to leap companies: These are companies that are about a year away from true impact. They will get a paragraph about them and things to think about.

  3. Companies to watch: These are companies that are between 18 and 24 months away due to larger holes in their ecosystem of needs. They will get a paragraph about them and things to think about too.

The 2014 CRM Watchlist registration is now open

On Wednesday February 20, 2013 at 7.00am ET, the CRM Watchlist 2014 registration process began. Yep, right in the middle of the 2013 reviews. Progress (and time) waits for no man (or woman). What that means is that if you are a technology company or consulting/systems integrator business that does "customer facing" things which means software or services products/solutions, you become a candidate for the CRM Watchlist 2014. This means that:

  1. You can request a 2014 registration form from me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com.

  2. When you receive it, fill it out exactly according to instructions and in return you will get the questionnaire for 2014 — either the vendor questionnaire or the consulting/SI questionnaire, which are slightly different.

  3. You have until November 30, 2013, to fill out the questionnaire.

  4. If you send in the registration form to me, I will presume that you are going to fill out the questionnaire by the due date and will start tracking you as soon send the registration back to me. Please don't waste my time and request the questionnaire and then not fill it out. I'm tracking you for the better part of a year if you do send it.

CRM Idol winners

The winners of CRM Idol go through a process that can be characterized as tough, though fun and educational at the same time. It's always been somewhat easy to enter — there are 60 worldwide contestants after all, but to win ... ah, that's a tough one. Not only do you have go get through nine experienced industry influencers to get to the semi-final rounds, but after you get there, you get a 1.5-hour to 2-hour grilling that determines whether you make the finals. If you make the finals, you have to produce a video, and then you are judged by a panel of judges (around 75 influencers from the analyst, vendor, end user, and media worlds) and a popular vote — both. As one venture capitalist told me, "the winners might be the most vetted company in the world by the time they win". The winners gain in the technology world and among customers and analysts who follow it. In other words, just by winning, they have something of an impact. But, of course, the real test is that they do it again in year two. Both Get Satisfaction and BPMonline, the 2011 (first year) winners, did win the CRM Watchlist 2012 because they sustained the momentum they got from the contest and made it completely their own. Let's see if Artesian Solutions and Crowdtap, the two CRM Idol 2012 winners, can do that in 2013 and 2014.

For now, they get an abbreviated review and the right to call themselves winners, because they deserve it. But, even though the review is abbreviated, tough love comes with it. Oops.

Artesian Solutions

Artesian Solutions is a young company, only four years old, and yet, it has made quite a splash in EMEA for a company that young. This UK-based enterprise B2B sales intelligence provider's offer is similar to Demandbase in part, and Lattice Engines in part, but it takes a radically different approach to either of them. It provides social intelligence that is aimed at B2B sales and marketing people, contextualizes it, and — here is where it gets different – then uses a set of ranking heuristic algorithms to determine how accurate and relevant the information is. Apparently it works well enough so that in the first month of its existence, it racked up over £300,000 in sales. Doing well, indeed.

It has been recognized by more than CRM Idol in addition to doing as well as it does. It was part of the 2012 (now defunct) Gartner Social CRM Magic Quadrant; it was also a Gartner Cool Vendor in 2010, among several other awards.

But that's all great and I applaud it for the quality of its products and its recognition so far. But what it has that bodes really well for its future is an incredibly strong management team with hundreds of man years of experience. For example, its chairman is the former head of Salesforce.com EMEA, Steve Garnett, who has been in the technology business over 30 years; its highly personable CEO (and a co-founder) is Andrew Yates, who spent over 20 years at Cognos , Misys, Eyretel, Aprimo, and "Then". In fact, it's noticeable that there are a significant number of Cognos veterans in this group, which is a big plus for an organization that does a cousin of business intelligence. In addition to the experience, the professionalism of this team, from its years of seasoning, is apparent and it is refreshing — given the arrogance driven by a false sense of entitlement we sometimes see from younger companies with a considerably less experienced management. These guys are a class act.

But that doesn't mean that they don't have things to do that will give them continued impetus and impact. For example, while they have a decent though small body of case studies for their enterprise customers like Barclay's Bank, they are notably weak in the thought leadership department, with just a few documents that more or less cover aspects of B2B social intelligence. This is an increasingly crowded market that in its broadest aspect — B2B sales intelligence — has InsideView as the clear thought leader in the space. But, narrowed slightly to what Artesian Solutions does specifically, and there is no one leading. A chance for the company to seize some mindshare.

It also needs to expand its market presence, and its management needs to be more publicly visible than it is. Make appearances at events that have industry foci — speak, show up, do more in both EMEA and North America.

There are other things it could do lot better around analyst outreach and an institutionalized program that makes the same adjustments that I've called for in several of these reviews — a 21st century approach — but I said this is an abbreviated review. Suffice to say, this is a company that could be a global leader in the space, but to do that, it is going to have to step it up. Which I think it will. Big time.

Crowdtap

Crowdtap, the Americas CRM Idol 2012 winner, might be one of the most interesting companies in the space because it not only made a modestly big bet, but it is on the road to winning it.

What makes this 30-plus employees business so interesting is the focus of its offering. Most end-user companies, when developing their customer strategies, focus on some aspect of their ROI being either customer satisfaction (a measure getting less relevant by the day) or, at best, customer loyalty as an optimal outcome. Businesses that are truly thinking wisely would be aimed more toward an outcome that results in customer advocates. They would, in effect, settle for loyal customers, but optimally drive advocacy.

What Crowdtap placed its bet on is not the "easier" optimal customer result — loyalty, but on advocacy. It sees its platform being able to activate "peer influencers" who would get "people like them" to make purchase decisions and provide the marketers with not only actionable intelligence but also the ability to take action.

It does this with a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, it has a brand advocacy and feedback community sort of a hybrid between what Get Satisfaction did in its early days and what Procter and Gamble does with communities like VocalPoint. That means a membership community where individual members can support specific brands and provide feedback based on polls and other forms of interactions. Member participation is awarded with badges and points, which are ultimately redeemable for ... things. As of CRM Idol in 2012, there were over 250,000 members of this thriving brand advocacy community.

The other side is the marketing platform that is designed to do those two things I just mentioned (haven't you been paying attention? Tsk. Tsk.) First, provide enough intelligence to target a specific class of consumers or group. Second, provide the capability to interact with those consumers, with personalized interactions. For the sake of brevity, I won't go into the details. As I've said (or made the excuse) before, this is an impact award, not a discussion of technology per se.

Its combination is incredibly smart, effectively creating a brand engagement community that can not only be highly targeted unto itself, but can also be a core basis for understanding and interacting with the greater social web. Wow.

This is a company that is growing fast. It has the interest of at least the forward-thinking part of the Fortune 1,000, and I don't see anything but more interest as its advocacy platform evolves.

But it has several holes in their overall work. Being small, it has devoted little time to actual marketing of itself and beyond CRM Idol and the Watchlist and a Mashable award in 2011, it doesn't have much visibility to show for it. It is a highly operational company and very focused on cost efficiencies. But it needs to be out there, and it needs to be visionary, which it is not at the moment. It has a platform and a community that gives it a model that can work. But it doesn't have anything that I can find that shows me the value of influencer marketing (its term) except one decent whitepaper. As small as it may be, it has a great product, and has nailed the concept and the engineering down. Now the rest of the world needs to know it.

Finally, it might want to consider technology integrations via partnerships with some of the vendors that can take it into markets that it otherwise doesn't have easy access to. I'm not suggesting who, just that it thinks about it.

This is a company with a genuinely excellent model. If it lets the world know it, not in an entitled way, but in a way that makes the vision clear, its current success will be a drop in the bucket compared with its future achievements.

Ready to leap

These companies are closer than the "ones to watch" and are maybe a year away from having a real impact. They have a piece of their corporate ecosystem missing here and there, or they need to bolster something they are doing to a greater degree. But they aren't impact players quite yet, though they may be mature. If I see them take care of the holes I perceive, then, well, they'll be winners next year. Again, these companies have great products, but reflect different degrees of maturity for what will provide them.

Allegiance

Allegiance is a long-established player in the world of enterprise feedback management and customer experience. It is oh so close to truly coming onto the impact player stage; it was a tough call to put them into "ready to leap". But there is one fairly big hole: its partner program, which is, given the strength of its feedback platform, actually far too sparse. Fix that, and it will get out there. Build out the technology partners beyond the Salesforce and Clarabridge et al partnerships it does have and establish some go-to-market relationships with serious players publicly and voila, it will have made the leap. This is a company that just missed winning this year and might be an easy choice as a 2014 impact player — and if it continues to do what it is doing oh so right, then look out for it in the next three to five months. But that hole...

Demandbase

Of all the companies (in all the gin joints ...) on this "almost won" list, Demandbase came the closest and is the one that I think is the most likely to be a winner of the CRM Watchlist for 2014, should it enter. Though, of course, no guarantees. It's a great company; in fact, one of the most mature and thoughtful companies I've run across this year. It is blessed with a very mature and experienced management, and a culture that reflects that maturity. It addresses a very specific need, which is to provide insights for a successful sale in the B2B market via analysis of the social web. It does that by providing custom variables that can be used with other analytics engines. Thus getting highly personalized results that utilize not just Demandbase's power, but also the power of the engine that the custom variables are sitting in. It is highly regarded by analysts, customers, etc, and was a leading contestant in CRM Idol this year. (The review can be read here.)

But there are questions that make me hold back on it a bit: Its pricing model for a license of their API key; its market reach, which is not as deep or far as it could be. But, I think that it is onto something, and that because it already has a significant amount of industry good will, it is well positioned to succeed. In about 12 months, tops, I expect to see a lot. And I won't need custom variables to see it.

Tracx

Tracx intrigued me. When a good friend of mine, Ted Hartley, went to work for Tracx, it came on my radar, since I had never been approached by it before. But what I saw was went well beyond friendship courtesy after I observed something that I thought was "right there" in terms of the social analytics it provided, with a couple of unique capabilities such as social heat maps to test the temperature of an ongoing occurrence on the social web, and pinpointed social geographical analysis, which I had only seen previously in the business intelligence products that ESRI produced. So it seemed to have that sumpin' sumpin'.

As I found out through discussions with a lot of friends, it had also caught the eye of several analysts. What was also interesting was that while it had a small customer base, those customers had marquee names; always a plus.

But it still lacks components that it needs to succeed. For example, it doesn't have nearly strong enough partners, which should include a couple of go-to market partners, not just technology partners. It has little market reach. It has little mind share, which for a company with this product is just a shame and needs to be rectified. But it is not that far. I suspect it will get its act together this year and next year, should it decide to enter, and it might well be a winner for CRM Watchlist. Or CRM Idol. But a winner nonetheless. But that's up to it and its willingness to invest in itself and the effort it takes to make an impact.

ITC Infotech

ITC Infotech is a company of unusual origins. It is actually a spin-off of ITC Hotels, which is a high-end Indian hotel chain. Its information technology services was doing so well, and its home-grown products so elegant, that it decided to spin off a consulting services/systems integration company — and it spun it into a quarter-billion-dollar business.

It is an incredibly interesting company because it is an odd mix of progressive services — meaning strong social capabilities and traditional ones — with a strong effort at on-premises deployments. Much of this comes because of its Oracle partnership, which is a bonded-at-the-hip strategic relationship with Oracle. One area it has been wildly successful at is around vertical industries, particularly hospitality (well, duh!).

But what holds me back from anointing it a winner are three things: It seems to over-rely on Oracle; it has an analyst relations program out of the 20th century, with strong focus on the institutional analysts; and it just doesn't have a name in the US that is well known yet.

But what it does have is an excellent group of practices; a good leadership; and a desire to step out and compete with the Cognizants, Accentures, etc of the world. That makes me think, given its strengths, that it can get somewhere in 2013 and maybe reach impact's promised land by the end of 2014. I really think it has a shot at this. Up to it, though.

Companies to watch

These are companies that have excellent products but several other spaces in their overall corporate ecosystem to fill out — spaces that will take about 18 to 24 months to get them where they need to be to become true impact players. Don't get me wrong; their products and services are market ready and good to go right now. The reason that they made this part of the Watchlist is because their products and services are exceptional enough to merit attention. But they have to focus more on the marketing, the body of thought leadership, fill out a few management positions with seasoned veterans, perhaps. Or something else. Maybe a partnership or two. But they are companies that have stellar clients and excellent products already. So, give them some time to grow.

Next Principles

Next Principles has one of the better and most differentiable products in the analytics realm. It handles areas that I ordinarily don't see — community engagement, campaigns, events, contact management, and social performance. A refreshing array of analytic services compared to the usual Twitter and Facebook social listening, blah blah blah. Its usability is off the charts. It's arguably the easiest customer analytics platform to configure and use that I've ever seen. Additionally, it is a solid company with a good product and a sane business model with an industry veteran but still young management team led by CEO Satya Krishnaswamy, a former SAP management guy who is both savvy and a good human being. It has made headway with analysts and influencers, has evolved its product in the right direction, and is developing a serious customer base. So it is doing many of the things that it needs to do — and doing them extremely well. But it is in an evolving market with a lot of players, so the effort to be more visible will be daunting. Very daunting. It also won't be easy to keep evolving the product at the pace it needs to. It is still too young to have the impact this year. It's just getting started in marketing. But with the proper staff hires and the funding, it can do it, I would think in the next 18 months — the earlier part of the "Companies to Watch" time spectrum. It's getting closer every day.

DRI Global

DRI Global is the one consulting company of the submissions around the world that I think can become a force in the next 24 months. I know of it via CRM Idol, because it volunteered to do the website at no charge, and then volunteered to do my website at no charge. That, as you can guess, doesn't impact my decision in any way. However, what it did do is allow me to see how it operates. It had a truly impressive client list, revenue in the millions of euros, is partnered with SugarCRM and Lithium among others, has a solid base in Southern Europe (Portugal and Spain), and more recently has expanded to the Nordic countries and to the US, where it hired CRM thought leader Mitch Lieberman to lead its US practice. What makes it a potential player is the innovative thinking and willingness to take risks that have led to some exceptionally lucrative and interesting contracts. It does quality work, trust me. But it has a long way to go, with the newer expansions, of course in combination with its need to start thinking in terms of thought leadership, rather than good works. But it is still pretty young, and in 24 months or even sooner, if things break its way, we may be congratulating it on its first CRM Watchlist victory.

Nearstream

What makes Nearstream an intriguing choice for the near future is the recent merger between Nearstream and Loopfuse, both CRM Idol contestants. Individually, the CRM Idol judges thought well of each (see reviews of Nearstream here and Loopfuse here), and both were already solid companies with good-sized customer bases and relatively mature products. Nearstream is a demand generation-focused social analytics platform that finds highly targeted possible leads from the social stream, and Loopfuse is a small business-focused marketing automation/demand generation set of products, a bit comparable to Infusionsoft. Separately good, together very strong possibilities for a small business-focused marketing automation powerhouse. But it is still a long way from being an impact player with all of the market-facing things to do, the mind share to capture, the depth of its competition, and the integration of the products into that powerhouse I think it can become. That's 18 to 24 months away, and on the right track.

___________________________________________________________________________

OK, this was an easy one. The final Watchlist 2013 post will be up next week and that will be the consulting/systems integrators — Accenture, CSC, Ernst and Young Advisory, the Pedowitz Group, and Solvis Group.

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Topics: Tech Industry, Emerging Tech, Social Enterprise

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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