CRM Watchlist 2013 Winners: Three Kings - Sales, Process, Analytics

Summary:This is probably the most eclectic category - because it's so disparate - but it's the foundation for many a company's core business operations: sales, business processes and analytics. Three hot areas. Our winners this year are all accomplished. Let's see what they got. Winners: Xactly, Lattice Engines, BPMonline, Pegasystems, Clarabridge.

Woody Allen has this great thing he says about immortality:

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work…I want to achieve it through not dying.” 

I’ve come to the conclusion that my work on these Watchlist reviews are going to take me so long, I’m going to have to achieve immortality by not dying – just to be able to finish this year’s Watchlist.

 Now, a commercial.

The 2014 CRM Watchlist 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) wait 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. That 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 you 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.

Previously on CRM Watchlist 2013:

  1. CRM Watchlist 2013 Lifetime Achievement: IBM Institute for Business Value
  2. The Sweetest Suites: Part 1 of 3 – salesforce.com; Microsoft
  3. The Sweetest Suites: Part 2 of 3 – SAP, Oracle
  4. The Sweetest Suites: Part 3 of 3 – Infor, NetSuite, SugarCRM
  5. Marketing Puts Itself Out There - Aprimo, Eloqua, Hubspot, Infusionsoft, Marketo, Neolane
  6. Customer Service Served Hot – KANA, Moxie, Parature

 

Overview

This isn’t an “easy” category because, truthfully, it’s three categories at once. But they have a relationship that is unimpeachable. All three of the categories and the companies that they represent are pillars of what needs to be done at multiple levels in the 21st century business world. Core stuff.

Yeah, okay, pretty lame, but that's the best I can bring for an overview.  

Sales

As anyone who has been around the CRM world at any length whatsoever knows, sales was the original driver of CRM the technology and CRM the strategy. While the battle around “CRM the strategy” was lost a long time ago (though it is still a strategy – just not perceived that way), CRM technology in the traditional sense is typically identified with sales force automation.

Yet, Social CRM, the new evolution of CRM (which can go back to being called CRM) was driven by customer service, partially because the massive escalation of customer demands on companies has put more than just the traditional customer service representative in the position of providing service to the customer. This forces changes in the company’s operations and culture, because of the required empowerment of employees to allow them to respond with some ability to act when dealing with this new more demonstrative customer. Customer service, rather than a pillar, becomes an envelope around sales, marketing and customer service’s traditional pillar-like departmental functionality.

What this led to is an uncomfortable relationship between the use of “social” channels and sales. For a long time (in Silicon Valley terms, that’s more than 6 months), there have been attempts to fit Twitter and Facebook external outreach to sales.  The broad discomfort of putting “social sales” into the pillars of Social CRM and even just the integration with social communications channels and traditional sales functions have always been a bit dodgy. But there is an area that actually works and that’s an area that is defined either as sales intelligence or a broader set called sales optimization.

Sales intelligence at its simplest is the use of the structured data of an internal database or Hoovers and Reuters corporate information in combination with the capture and organization of unstructured data that is focused around individuals, companies, and events that potentially can impact a sales deal. It is a specific subset of social listening but combined with the more traditional transactional and demographic data that sales has used forever to figure out how to sell better. It can reach the level of being a great contributor to insights around customer (read: B2B customer) behaviors and actions that impact the direction that a sales deal might go in – allowing the sales person to have much better success with the next steps they have to take to “influence” a deal.

Xactly

Thanks in particular to the work of Blanc and Otus’s Joan Levy, an excellent PR and analyst relations manager, I’ve “known” Xactly for about 3 years. They’ve made a couple of attempts at the Watchlist in the past, but this is their first win. And frankly, not only did they deserve to win, but they’ve crafted the pieces to knock it and their particular market out of the park.

For those of you who don’t exactly (with an “e”) know what they do, Xactly is the leader in what I think are important niche markets: incentive compensation management and sales compensation. They have a 100% cloud-based, pretty much complete platform to create and administer compensation programs which, as anyone in sales knows, are the lifeblood of company after company. While they cover the gamut of pieces needed to craft a custom or even good out of the box comp program, more important than any pieces of the components is their approach to compensation planning and systems. It is that compensation’s focus should be around reward, not management of dollars. Which I love them for.

To that end they have spent the last several years building systems that are deep and able to handle complex compensation schemas yet navigable and via cloud delivery both easily consumable and affordable for the most part. They’ve attempted to spend some tealeaf reading time so that they could stay on top of trends that might impact them.

So, for example, they’ve added gamification to their newest release of Xactly Express, their emerging companies focused solution. That means the standard stuff that you would expect – contests, leader boards, badges, social streams. Even though this isn’t a foundational component, it is a good example of how you can do something that actually makes sense in the context of your product in your market. It’s a level of smart applicability that indicates crisp thinking, not just “gamification for gamification’s sake.”

They are laser-focused in the compensation market and there is no doubt that they are staying that way. With their focus there, they are able to provide the enablement of workplace performance (which is not strictly CRM but it is part of the collaborative ecosystem necessary to provide value for both the business and customer) via not just the compensation, but the ability to monitor the performance relative to the KPIs set up for the compensation’s realization.

The laser focus has given them the opportunity to crank out the kind of thought leadership material that can give them mindshare in this growing market. They have multiple assets in different media formats that describe the practical and strategic side of incentive compensation.  To their credit, they don’t stray beyond that.  They are visionaries in the context of their marketplace. Big fish, modest pond.

They have a tight, complete company with a notably great culture. Many companies that I deal with provide homilies to their cultures and while they may or may not have a great culture, they don’t prove it, they merely say it. Xactly proves it. Interestingly, their culture, in part, reflects their beliefs on compensation. Compensation is based on reward, not financial management. So for example, they incent their staff with a formal program that provides everything from iPads to cash to trips to stock options. But they also have a non-profit arm, XactlyOne, for Xactlians (their name for the employees of the company), dedicated to service in their community (San Francisco area). XactlyOne raises money for worthy causes like Turning Wheels for Kids or Relay for Life. Of course, as is the nature of a growing contemporary company, they’ve injected the aforementioned gamification not only into their applications, but into their culture with contests, leaderboards etc. –another way to reward performance.

This culture hasn’t been unnoticed. In 2012, they were named one of the best places to work by the Great Place to Work Institute (GPWI) – an accolade which appeared in Fortune Magazine.

I could go into a lot more, including an extensive product review – let’s save that for another day. The Watchlist is an impact award and products are just a part of the factors that go into a big footprint on an industry and customer base. This company has nailed all the elements and, truthfully, has only to tweak some things.

Let’s see what they are…

What they need to do

  1. More cowbell – While they have a pretty substantial partner network from both technology partners and most importantly consulting and systems integration partners, they need to do that more. The reality is that their consulting/SI channel consists of small niche players who have a nice place in the market, but if Bruce Dickinson has a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell, then you have to give him more cowbell. Meaning, start courting the larger Sis and consulting firms. Sales compensation fits nicely into the pantheon of pieces needed to optimize sales operations and opportunities in a large enterprise. Surely, the larger SIs and consulting firms can understand that, n’est ce pas?
  2. Tell a more ecosystem-focused story – Sales compensation fits into an ecosystem that is built around sales optimization. Sales optimization is defined by its objectives, which are better shots at closing deals. Obviously, it involves sales intelligence, predictive modeling etc. but it also involves how sales people are compensated and for what. There is a great story to tell here from Xactly’s perspective that still needs to be teased out but the story is there.

Lattice Engines

From the time that I met Lattice Engines two years ago, I knew they were going to get somewhere. They had a unique value proposition (unique at the time) – one which combined what InsideView does with what Oracle attempted to do with Sales Prospector and added their own signature capabilities. What that meant is that Lattice Engines was able to ascertain what was the best possible route to take, intelligence to have, moves to make and team to provide the most likely successful result when it came to closing a sales deal.

“Big deal,” you say, “lots of companies claim that." Well, some do, but the thing that made this compelling besides their components and their approach to what I’m saying is sales optimization, is that they had measurable results to prove it. Even though the results are confidential, suffice to say, there were significant increases in sales volume, value per deal, etc. in enough clients to convince me that they are on to something.

So how do they do this thing?

Their core product is called salesPRISM and to dumb it down a bit, it’s able to do three things:

  1. Intelligent sales targeting – This is a combination of a strong predictive analytics platform in combination with sales intelligence that is gathered the way that sales intelligence often is – a combination of internal sources (customer records, etc.), structured external sources like Reuters, Dun and Bradstreet, Hoovers and LinkedIn and the more contemporary unstructured sources – social web data sources but in the case of Lattice Engines also their own proprietary data “lattice” – which includes social media, but also government contracts and funding announcements etc.  Salespeople are able to take this disparate information, and through the application of predictive analytics can forecast things like likelihood of customer acquisition, estimated deal value, products likely to be purchased, and several other attributes.  This is, to some extent, what Oracle’s Sales Prospector attempted to do with a much higher risk involved than Lattice Engine’s sales targeting.
  2. Talking points – This is an umbrella for several things. First, it provides a way of getting in the door with executives by using analytics to identify what Lattice Engines calls “Gaining Access Talking Points.” Not only does it chart a course for the sales person on what hot buttons to hit, and actions to take, but it identifies historic data from similar selling situations that might be of value and makes product recommendations that provide a basket of goods that is the best combination for the customer – and thus most likely to sell. Sales optimization, uh huh.  
  3. Plays – These are arguably the most interesting differentiator that Lattice Engine has. These are highly specific sales campaigns organized around the when and how of engaging with potential and existing customers.  They can be manually determined or algorithmically determined based on “historical behavior and purchase patterns” among other things. What I do know is that these are NOT generic pabulum. They are granular and targeted and actually valuable.

I emphasized their product here, even though I make the point in the Xactly analysis that product isn’t the focus per se of the CRM Watchlist – an impact award – yet in this instance, to some extent it is – they are a juiced super sales optimization suite that has solid measurable results in an area that measurable results have often been either specious or non-existent.  That’s meaningful – and has impact.

But they are a young company – with some pressures due to substantial backing from Tier One venture capital firms Sequoia and NEA.  Results are expected sooner rather than later. They’ve nailed the product and a few other aspects that do them proud – a highly capable management for example – but they are at one of those inflection points where they have to push even harder than they have with all 140 plus employees involved.

Here’s….
What they need to do

  1. Big Data for Sales is a bit limiting – While this is certainly a good bit of messaging, it actually undersells what Lattice Engines does and really doesn’t make it seem like much more than highly scaled sales intelligence. They need to probably shift their emphasis a bit to making Big Data for Sales a component rather than a tagline. They are a sales optimization star – and the world needs to understand that. Not just Big Data. They need to be clear on their distinctions from the more narrow foci of their likely competitors – without falling prey to the bane of our industry - attacks on the companies that they compete with. Big Data for Sales sounds like amped up sales intelligence, which is only an aspect of what they do. While they can ride the Big Data wave for a while longer, it isn’t going to be a trend forever. It’s defined by the inability of technology to handle it if you read the extant literature. Not where I’d be hanging my hat.
  2. Drop sales effectiveness, pick up sales optimization – the former is a concept; the latter is becoming a market. They need to lock themselves into the market they are in.
  3. Next product steps should be to link to demand generation – there is a sales optimization ecosystem that incorporates what Lattice Engines does, what InfoHive does (Reputation capital management); what Xactly does – among other pieces. However, it all begins with demand generation – e.g. lead scoring, lead nurturing etc. If Lattice Engine is already making marketing claims (“Lattice is revolutionizing sales and marketing by harnessing BIG DATA to develop the most informed sales professionals…” ), then back them up by placing them squarely in the sales optimization market category – e.g. focus on developing a solid demand generation set of applications/services.
  4. Have their Lite release out the door in early-to-mid 2013 – The danger they face is that their product is easy to underestimate and it’s easy to mistake what it does. A Lite product, which they claim they are producing, will go a long way to helping customers and prospects see the distinction. But they don’t have forever to do this.
  5. AR time – I’ve said this often for other winners, so in order to not just take up space; I’ll make it simple. They need an analyst relations program not just an analyst relation’s person. I don’t often say that for a company this size, but in their case it’s merited.

Process

When Forrester first came out with the Wave around process-based CRM, I saw it as an artifice. I mean, who would want to be thinking about CRM that way? Process in my head meant the idea of having an engine to “keep the ordinary, ordinary” no matter how complex an activity that turned out to be.  That meant a strong workflow creation toolset and a business rules engine that could handle complex flows. That meant a company that put time and effort into deeply understanding the  nuances and variances of business processes in different vertical industries and in different contexts. 

I still think that process-based CRM isn’t a legitimate category – in part because there are so few players that meet the criteria that something like that would require. But interestingly, two of the best at doing that are Watchlist winners this year – industry heavyweight Pegasystems and up and coming slugger BPMonline.  Which does tell me there is something valuable about companies who can provide that specialized an approach to CRM. 

Let’s see what we have here.

BPMonline

Two years ago, BPMonline was the first EMEA winner of CRM Idol, a competition for emerging companies in the customer-facing space.  They were our Kelly Clarkson, so to speak. One of the prizes was to guarantee them a spot as a winner of the CRM Watchlist for 2012.  But this is (forgive me if you’re not a baseball fan here) like saying that a Rookie of the Year is going to get attention.  Of course they are but what about when they are no longer rookies? 

Well, BPMonline figured that they didn’t have to believe in a sophomore season jinx – and they did what every other potential candidate had to do – submit a questionnaire – and guess, what, unlike most of the others – they won. This time without guarantees.

It’s not really all that surprising. This is a company with 3500 customers in 35 countries. They have 350 employees plus (note the increments of 35 here…grand plan in the universal scheme of things?). They have a headquarters in London but their true base is in Kiev.  They are doubling their office space there because of their rapid growth. They have managed to get the attention of large consulting firms like Capgemini, though there is a lot more to do there. They have a reseller channel of over 250 partners.  They are no longer an emerging technology company; they have emerged.  There are reasons for that:

  1. They have a vibrant, mature, but still young and innovative management team led by CEO and co-founder Katerina Kostereva, who not only has a savvy sense of business, knows the industry and what kinds of products and services BPMonline needs to produce.  She and the other members of the management team has one other vital characteristic – a sense of humor (check here for that).
  2. They have a cohesive and friendly culture that encourages hard work and innovation and reward for the work.
  3. They have been particularly savvy about making sure that they expand their market reach and mind share. They attend the events they need to attend; they have a strong outreach to analysts and other industry influencers. This led to industry recognition not just through CRM Idol but through CRM Magazine where they were recognized as a rising star in customer service in 2012.
  4. They do a lot of opportunity development.  They build their own events with customers that are designed to show how capable a company they are.  I had the distinct privilege of speaking at one in 2012 that drew 350 customers and prospects from seven former Soviet republics. 
  5. Their development team is strong. The company focuses on not just the product sets, but also the platform. They concentrate not just on the workflow and business rules and process engines but the user interface and the user experience – trying to tie the navigation flows to natural movements of users.

They've come a long way in a year. They've made it as a player on the stage and have shown themselves to be young potential force for a long time. But that doesn't mean that they don't have things to do. The impact they will have in 2013 can be magnified extensively if they start to do them.

What they need to do

  1. Expand to the United States – This is a company that has a universally good product platform and engine; has an Anglicized version of it; They have U.S based enterprise customers – and there is room in the U.S market now that Pegasystems is the only player that is directly competitive though Sword-Ciboodle’s acquisition by KANA puts KANA into the mix too. Make an idea, reality. There is a serious opportunity for them in the U.S. because of the nature of their offering and the need for what they provide. Plus the amount of direct competitors is small, though to be fair, its formidable.
  2. Slow down the road map when it comes to constant new product releases – In 2012 there were about 6 products released which for a several hundred employee company is a lot. Slow down product development – perhaps be a bit more opportunistic about it for the time being.  Concentrate on expanding their market opportunity by developing partnerships with companies like they have (at least ostensibly) with Capgemini. 
  3. Move the needle a bit more in one direction or another –They claim process based CRM for customer service, sales and marketing but the preponderance of products (and marketing) are aimed at customer service.  Time to move the needle toward sales and marketing a bit more and provide the focused effort that normalizes the balance between sales, marketing and customer service as Pegasystems is beginning to do or move the needle all the way to customer service until they have enough to show a true marketing and sales offer.
  4. More around outcomes and less process based –There’s no doubt that process is BPMonline’s DNA. But no one needs to hear constant detail about genetic structure; only about the person that it created. What that means is a refocus of their messaging around the beneficial outcomes that process-centric CRM provides.  While they have a website that certainly is a pleasure to navigate, the content is very much product focused and technology brushed.  They need to revamp around the idea that process-centric CRM provides outcomes like “x” or “y” that are immensely valuable to those using the enabling technology, rather than the feature/function focus their messaging currently has.

If BPMonline does even half of what I suggest, they will be a shoo-in for the CRM Watchlist in 2014. Seriously.

Pegasystems

Pegasystems has a long heritage in the Business Process Management technology world – they have been the market leader in that space for many years.  They were and are so strongly invested in that world that they used to talk about “dead CRM” as part of their messaging to try to establish the dominance of BPM over CRM – which, actually is not really in competition – they are different animals with complementary characteristics. It could be explained away if one wanted to – they were an engineering culture that did what engineering cultures do – operate in the “build it and they will come mode.” Which meant that they would specialize in the things that going into building it, not what happens when “they” actually decided to show up.

But Pegasystems turned out to be very different than the standard engineering company. First, they are able to read the trends and respond accordingly and with the flexibility necessary in a technology world that makes rapid and sometime breathtakingly pinpoint pivots.  Second, they were able to admit that they had erred – something that companies in the technology world are loath to do – and stupid not to.

They started mending their rip by buying Chordiant in 2010. (Here’s the collective view of Forrester on that acquisition) which gave them some strong CRM functionality (marketing automation, multi-channel contact centers); some vertical power (insurance) and some street cred in CRM. They saw this, at least in the eyes of Forrester as a way of bolstering their capability around customer experience. I would agree and that’s what makes them interesting.  Customer experience is the right brained polar opposite twin of the highly left-brained process centric thinking that dominated their past. They weren’t reducing their power in the process world.  But they began to see that processes weren’t agnostic. In fact, though I can’t say this is their view, more mine, the best processes are those that are impacted by customers and that impact them. Hardly agnostic.

Much of this 2010 turnabout was driven by the communications revolution that drove social media’s ascension to business thinking and Social CRM’s morphing of CRM into its new format.  The channels that were not easily parsed to allow processes to automate them, were big and unruly.  To the vast credit of Pegasystems, they got it – and they acted on it – and have been working with their increasingly  flagship product – PegaCRM to make it something that not only handled the more standard and somewhat routine operational processes and capabilities of “classic CRM” but also could begin to tame the more wooly, crazy unstructured conversations out there on the social web, and interactions that were necessary between customer and company.

So, why does that make them a Watchlist winner in 2013?

For one, because no one else is doing that at the level of complexity that Pega is.  What the hell does that mean, you might ask? Or might not. Well if you do, it means that one of the hallmarks of all good process-centric CRM companies, typically focused on customer service to start, is their ability to “keep the ordinary, ordinary.” That means being able to handle the 90% of queries that are not complaints in an easy, repeatable and hopefully automated fashion, regardless of the channel of communication

Complexity gets added with the rise of social channels but the concept remains the same. What makes Pega a bit different is that they are also trying to “make the extraordinary, ordinary” too. Meaning that they can anticipate the queries or even the complaints and deal with them via the use of predictive analytics  so the next best action is suggested, not just reactively but proactively. 

Are they fully there yet? No, but they have made progress and it’s a technology that even with gaps elsewhere puts them on the hot side of an impact heat map – to create a very clumsy metaphor.

They are also expanding their bet on CRM and rather than just resting on their serious chops in the customer service arena, are moving into sales and marketing, with available applications.  They are able to use their best technologies and knowledge of process to allow them to spread both broad and deep.

For example, in the deep category, they rely on their technology to provide some strong market differentiators. In customer service, they have dynamic case management – which is a near real time highly unified action-focused enablement for solving complex service cases.  In both marketing and sales, they use their process knowledge and predictive capabilities to support a well-documented next best action” facility – a way of determining what action to take with a campaign (marketing) or with an opportunity (sales). 

But they also go long with deep process and workflow knowledge for multiple vertical industries – including insurance, financial services, telcos, and healthcare among others. SAP probably has deeper vertical process maps (and more) but the quality of Pega's process maps and G2 about the specific industries they cover is laudable.

But they aren’t quite where they can be yet either. They are into Year 3 of their revival of the dead CRM and there is a lot to do around their messaging and thought leadership, despite their active participation in the industry, thanks to the leadership of Steve Kraus– a really good "acquisition" who was former GM at KANA.

Keep in mind, they are placing some pretty big bets too. Maybe not at the level of Microsoft and Windows 8, but nonetheless, big enough. They are investing in areas they don’t have a proven expertise – sales and marketing – which means they need to prove it with the mindshare and market share.

Don’t get me wrong. They have a strong sales product to go with their customer service product. (I haven’t seen the marketing product yet so I can’t comment on it.). But that isn’t enough to make them competitive to the more established players there. In addition, they have been a BPM company and to make inroads even deeper than they have in the CRM world, they have to overcome their public image – engineers who love process more than they love humanity – in a manner of speaking. Totally untrue, but it’s a public image that lingers. 

Last year, they won in Customer Service; this year they win in the more eclectic side – process-centric CRM along with BPMonline.  I’m not ready to put them in the suite category like an Infor, let’s say, but they do deserve something for their efforts beyond customer service. So let’s see what they have to do to make an uber-impact in 2013, rather than just an impact.

What they need to do

  1. Tell me a story - They are claiming a true “CRMish” expansion, meaning process based CRM for customer service, and now marketing and sales.  They need to tell a much better tale, rather than trumpet the sales and marketing features they offer.  What makes this company powerful is what rests underneath the sales, marketing, and customer service capabilities – not the features and functions they offer per se which are I would say more than standard but less than unique. Tell a CRM story that emphasizes the true strengths – the keeping of the ordinary ordinary via their incredible process, rules engines and workflow creation tools.  But it’s a story to be told, not a set of products to be promoted.
  2. Tell me a story #2 – I hate to be too blunt here, but they need to get past a strong perception that they are a left-brained, very stiff engineering company. To their credit, they are 60% of the way there already in part due to the personable teams that run their CRM application.  So, I can personally attest that they aren’t what they are perceived to be.  But acting in two areas can make this perception a relic. First, their collateral.  They need to get past the currently constituted old school product marketing in their literature - meaning feature/function/feature/function/blah/blah/boring/not truly useful. Rich media, telling stories, role-based focus; outcome based discussion. That will work.  Second, PegaWorld this year can be a real marker, given the importance of annual user conferences for the subsequent public perception of the company holding it. Let’s see Pega wherever they are talk about outcomes, have a good time, show a sense of humor, provide CMO talk rather than CTO or CIO talk – or in addition to that. Make it more about  the genomic process than the business process.   
  3. Give more than lip service to customer experience – Pega has had a somewhat awkward, almost adolescent relationship with customer experience – making links to process and “great customer experience” but the depth provided tends to be at the level of a sentence or two. This is a put up or shut up time for that one.  From the technological standpoint they are providing powerful tools to support a company’s efforts to enhance and support great customer experiences – Next Best Action as a capability; predictive analytics as a component.  But now they need the mind share here and make it more than lip service. I’m doing something with them that might help that (they are clients) but it isn’t enough.  They have to work through a program and make a conscious, bold effort to give substance to the link to who they are and substantive outcomes leading to great customer experiences.

There’s a lot here because, of the companies in this group, Pegasystems is the one that has pivoted the most in the last several years and is the largest and most established of the lot. But they are also resource rich, smart, and have solid products. They are also actually interested in making this work both in market share and mind share. I bet they do. I know they'll take the next best action in 2013.

Analytics

Analytics, especially predictive analytics, is hot. Superheated, turbocharged, jet engine…hot.  There is nothing better than being able to reasonably forecast the behavior of a customer down to the individual’s likely next actions.  But equally as good is the ability to capture a customer’s moods and emotional responses to a brand or an action and then be able to ascertain the need to respond and the how to respond in conjunction with the value to the business of that interaction. 

By no means has this reached an exact science, but more and more we are seeing companies who are using the power of predictive analytics (Oracle, SAP, Pegasystems, Lattice Engines to name a few) and companies that are doing sentiment analysis that is tied to business rules and workflows so that the analysis becomes actionable quickly.

This is the world that our Analytics winner this year, Clarabridge lives in. They don't do predictive, but damn it, they do the other stuff so really well.  Stay attuned to this sector. Its heat will burn blue-white for the next several years (he said smiling and confidently.).

Clarabridge

Clarabridge is just simply a winner. When I was doing my scoring, there was no doubt about the outcome after I was about halfway through (though they hadn’t achieved the threshold yet.). I know this company.  They do some brilliant things – and arguably some of those things better than anyone else.

Yet, they could do even more than they are.  Greater scope, reach, more customers, a power player – all within reach. 

They are a bit enigmatic. Have you ever run across those people who you think you know and they make you think you know them, but when you sit down and think about it, you don’t really? You know only what they will tell you about themselves – and that’s just enough to be satisfied but not enough to really KNOW them?

That’s Clarabridge. So some of what I write here is impressionistic. But here’s what I do know of them and what I think is the power of this excellent company.

  1. They have what might be one of the most powerful analytics platforms in any venue. Note I didn’t say products, though they have excellent products.  Their power rests with their platform.  It’s what you would expect – an excellent natural language processing (NLP) engine and dozens of connectors that allow it to integrate to systems of record or mine sources. So, for example, they integrate with salesforce.com and the Radian6 Insights Platform (they are an announced partner) and on the other hand they use the full Twitter firehose via GNIP. Plus they have a highly flexible and customizable API to build whatever connectors are needed for data sources or operational systems.  It’s also what you wouldn’t expect. They have an 11 point sentiment scale that just kicks the crap out of the idea of a five point (positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, and negative) sentiment scale. It allows you to distinguish between irritated, furious and mildly peeved if that’s the route you want to take.
  2. They have a solid partnership strategy with over 40 partnerships in the technology and consulting side (the list that the link brings you to is not complete). They are highly regarded by those partners. In a recent conversation with one of their most important partners, I found out how highly regarded they are. 
  3. They focus tightly around feedback and customer experience from the actual product configuration to the messaging they use.  They don’t really waver much on that and have been in that area more or less consistently for several years (at least the feedback part). 
  4. They have a good management team headed up by the highly intelligent Sid Banerjee who is not only a good operational CEO but an excellent spokesperson for the company.
  5. Their customers love their results. I really don’t have to say that much more on that. Its what I hear a lot from their customers.

All of which is good, but they aren’t as ubiquitous a presence as they could be because in certain areas they move slowly, or little.  If they decide to deal with the lacks they have – because I wouldn’t classify them as “problems” they should be able to accelerate to the point that prospects on the one hand and people like me on the other, will say, “Clarabridge? Oh yeah, I know them really well.” 

What they need to do

  1. AR/PR major escalation – In the last few years, they have become lackluster when it comes to their AR/PR program. While they, like everyone else, cultivate some of the institutional analysts. After some informal checking around I find little or no evidence of even a standardized briefing of the analysts or influencers.  Look, while I recognize that AR/IR/PR is an unfortunate circumstance – meaning products/services should just sell on merit, that’s not realistic and the AR/IR stuff has to be done – because influencers influence buyers and public opinion which matters to a company. Clarabridge, which does something very important to businesses but is not easy to wrap heads around at the same time, is at the point in their existence where they need a regularized AR/IR program – not just an occasional outreach or engagement here or there with one or two. Time to get serious with this.
  2. Deal with ongoing setup complexity – I applaud their product expansion – Collaborate and Engage add a lot to their self-designated CEM suite. But they also need to deal with a problem that I keep getting feedback on which is that the results that Clarabridge gets are mind-blowing but that setup, especially of feeds, is a real bitch.  That means that they need to once and for all crack the setup bottleneck – because it could bite them hard at some point. Make the investment in time and money to improve the set up.  While I’m guessing it will always take professional services to set up this powerful but complex product, the difficulties of set up and maintenance (meaning altering the setup at some point during the use of the products) remains an issue – less so than it used to – but still an issue.  Or, prove me wrong.
  3. Case studies built around 11 point sentiment benefits – Because they have a genuinely valuable differentiator – 11 point sentiment – they need to put that out there – not as  feature lost in some technical matrix – but as a series of outcomes. That means colorful tales of different levels of emotion. How did the difference between irritated and livid lead to a beneficial measured efficiency with the customer service team?  Eleven point sentiment is a granular sentiment scale. Tell me the stories with the outcomes that were measurably beneficial to the company that utilized this.  Tell it in emotional terms and with the results. The ambiance matters to the right brain; the measurement to the left. Be whole brained.
  4. Overhaul their website - I don't think I have to make a case for the value of a good website. The social world didn't eliminate the need to have a site that reflects the dynamism of a company and its products and services. Clarabridge's site just doesn't do that. It is product feature focused - there's nothing that speaks to line of business people in any serious way;  its got ONE named case study - ONE.;very light on thought leadership; story telling for a company that is focused on sentiment analysis - is almost non-existent. Its nowhere near representative of the quality of this company. I could go on but I won't. I'll make the point again. An overhaul is in order.

Clarabridge is going to have an impact and be part of the buzz in 2013. No doubt. But rather than a low-zzzzzzing impact it needs to be at the level of earsplitting. I’ll be furious…no, mad….no, irritated…no, kind of peeved if they don’t make it that this year. I'll let their outstanding platform figure out which I am if they don't it.  But do the above, take a little chance, invest and the journey won’t be sentimental – it will rock. I'll be happy, no...ecstatic; no...wait...joyous. Hey, they actually CAN figure that out. No matter what, they win in 2013. But I think they can go all the way.

That’s it: next up the social guys – Attensity, Get Satisfaction, Gigya, Jive, Lithium and Nimble.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Emerging Tech, Social Enterprise, Tech Industry

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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