I'm used to going to conferences that have more than 20,000 people attending them - that would be salesforce.com's Dreamforce, Oracle OpenWorld, SAP's Sapphire, and Microsoft's Convergence among others. They aren't just conferences, they are shows with entertainment - in fact, salesforce.com typically blurs the line and you find digerati, glitterati and fashionistas in attendance at the show. A truly entertaining mix.
But, most conferences - and most that I attend are considerably smaller than that. They might have 150, they might have 500, even 5000, but they don't reach the megabucks spent level of the above four.
But what they all provide, regardless of the totally cool entertainment is content - and the small conferences can compete with the Godzillafests without any shame.
Which is what made the conference I just spoke at and attended so damned interesting.
That would be Clarabridge's C3 Conference held at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
The Company and The ConferenceFor those of you who don't know Clarabridge, they are becoming one of the leaders in multichannel customer analytics - a component of what I'm now calling Customer Insight Applications. This young company has a substantial number of industry veterans as part of it - 10-20 years in the software world - folks like their CEO/Chairman Sid Banerjee, President/CTO Justin Langseth, VP of Sales & Marketing Tony LoPresti and the man who covers all the corporate communications, Marcos Sanchez. (read their bios here) Lots of years and a good deal of sense of humor among those folks.
What makes Clarabridge interesting is that their solution which among other things provides a considerably more granular look at sentiment than 90% of the solutions out there (11 points instead of 5) - seems to be an investment for a large number of enterprise-sized customers - and these customers had enough interest to actually attend Clarabridge's C3 (annual) conference. For example, I had the opportunity to meet with Fidelity Investments, Acer, PetSmart, Kodak, among others and found that they were true believers in what Clarabridge could provide for them - though the buik of the customers I spoke with (all in all about 15) were in a fairly early stage of deployment.
The other thing that I'm finding based on this conference that I truly like about Clarabridge is that a good chunk of the 260 attendees - their customers - were not only there, but also up on the stage talking. In fact, a helluva lot of them were - United, Gaylord Hotels, USAA, Hilton, oh crap, I could list 20-30 others but I don't want to do a really long post. But they weren't doing deep bows to Clarabridge. Instead they were showing their business use of the capabilities that Clarabridge provided without kissing Clarabridge's rear while showing them. They discussed how they were doing things with text analytics, or what they were trying to understand from the results they were getting, or what kind of metrics they used, what kind of ROI they were seeking and the best practices gleaned from their ongoing efforts. They discussed the follies and foibles that came with the customer analytics territory each company had carved out at the company. They didn't hide the glitches, they discussed how they handled them.
In other words, for once, because this isn't actually what you often hear at conferences in the software industry, there were deep dives by the customers that had value for the other customers. If I didn't know better, and I do know better, I could say that it was almost like customers were talking amongst themselves. For the most part, genuinely candid - and thus, very very cool.
But there was a lot more going on. Part of the value of a software vendor conference is the kind of effort that goes into creating a really cool environment. Which means a couple of things - 1 - people have a lot of fun and 2 - they are able to network - and they have the time to do that.
Viva Las Vegas? Nope. But, Hey That's Just MeThere's a little bit of a limitation in holding a fun event in Vegas. "Fun" events inevitably include an Elvis impersonator - who of course will curl his upper lip at every opportunity and most likely a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who is compelled genetically to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" in a breathy, little girl voice. Plus there's gambling. Plus there are clubs - with very leggy dancers and very leggy waitresses/hostesses. Distinctly male-oriented clubs. Which, as a male, I have to say, I didn't have a problem with - well except for Elvis and Marilyn which was so kitschy that it relocated the category to an even lower rung of Dante's Inferno than it had resided on before. But as an important female customer of Clarabridge's put it jokingly "where's the Thunder from Down Under" - or for those older - The Chipppendales? Way too male.
All this occurred at a somewhat trendy club at the Belaggio called the Bank. Despite its testosterone driven focus, it managed to still be fun - and the customers knew that. But then, its hard for me to hate a place that required a look at my ID. As anyone who knows me knows, I'm clearly of age - and then some.
But throughout the conference there was lots of breaks and plenty of networking opportunities also for the attendees something that conferences often formally lack. The lack tends to lead to informal networking and that means a lot of sessions get missed. In this case, because there was clear opportunity to break, the conference speeches and breakouts were well attended.
So, the conference was well organized thanks to Clarabridge's Susan, Keri and Vanessa . Nary a visible problem at all. Yay to them.
Okay for the Conference, What About the Product?But this is really meant to be more of a first look deeper impression of Clarabridge than a conference analysis so I need to make sure that I give you a picture of some of what they are doing with their product as they move from version 4.2 to version 4.5 - another one of those marketing mysteries that makes me wonder if anyone really thinks that if you skip a couple of point releases and make it a .5 release it seems so much more major. From 4.2 to 5.0 - sure. A new maybe even transformative release. But 4.2 to 4.5? Cute - and incremental - maybe lots of increments? Ah. Poo.
Keep in mind, Clarabridge provides a complex product that is evolving to an enterprise-class product. Even though it focuses on customer analytics, it is NOT a consumer product. It isn't a simple product. It isn't a marketers dream for its ease of use. It isn't meant to send spiders to the social web to gather up undifferentiated information or even simply categorized information for a report (it isn't meant to send spider's into little children's dreams either. It's a nice company).
This is a serious product designed to grab thousands and even hundreds of thousands of verbatims - actually conversations and stories from multiple channels in multiple languages, analyze them to glean behavioral insights and to find core problems and/or positives and provide you with enough knowledge to make better judgments on both future customer behavior and on how to handle core customer segments or individuals - present and future.
It scales. According to Justin Langseth, they crunched 239 million verbatims in 2010. It reaches into more than just standard digital channels. Through alliances with companies like Vovici, Radian6 and Verint, it can crunch the wide-net data from millions of sources and deal with channels - such as speech - that aren't that easy to deal with.
In other words, they're onto something. They apparently aren't resting either. President, Co-founder, and CTO Justin Langseth, who could be a geek's best friend and a professional standup comedian with his own show, did an amazingly entertaining presentation on the new features and functions that will appear in version 4.5 which I think they said releases in March - though, hold on a sec.....checking notes....can't find it. Let's say March and hold them to it. (hee, hee.)
Here are some of what was in 4.1, 4.2 and will be in 4.5.
- Version 4.1 - Sentiment ranges, video tutorials, wizards, motion charts, anaphora resolution. (PG note here - people clapped happily for motion charts - each to his/her own I guess....)
- Version 4.2 - Added full Natural Language Processing for Spanish, alerts (a necessity to play with grownup enterprises); Facebook, Twitter and Buzzmetrics connectors, APIs, category cross references, and a new GUI/dashboard
- Version 4.5 - their gameplan includes an adhoc upload wizard; new connectors for Lithium and Radian6; considerably better attribute management "during data upload (on this one, not clear on exactly what that means, so I'm just passing it on. Don't shoot the messenger, please); the ability to load via API which from what I can tell is a customized batch load - so if you have survey answers and multiple verbatims, you can create the conditions and triggers and rules to load the information - from whatever channel/source it came from, automaticallyl via an API call. Finally, considerably more languages (full NLP) will be added - French, Portuguese, German, Chinese and Russian.
One parenthetical note here - when they were discussing the languages added, they showed a Reagan video and did a fake Klingon reference. I"d lose those ideas for 2012. A Reagan video? Klingon? Oi.
Keep in mind this is a company moving up in the world. They come from a strong data oriented background - Microstrategy veterans in leadership kind of reinforce that - but their strategy is to appeal to the business user. I wrote what I thought initially of them in Part V of my CRM Watchlist 2011 here. But I have a few more thoughts - some reinforce what I said, others a bit different.
They have a shot at becoming a real market leader in the customer insight applications space - and that directly drives into CRM and Social CRM as well as analytics in general. But there are a few things they have to do. They seem to have a corporate culture that values vision and thought leadership as is evidenced by their stated vision - to be the leader in Universal Customer Analytics (UCA) and in a terrific document on the future of customer insight analytics - 2011 trends - done by their CEO Sid Banerjee - which I consider a beacon document - one that shows where this market is going. (Yeah, I'm going to provide the link. Go here for Sid's document).
MIABut there are two noticeable lacks in my eyes that have to be rectified as they continue to grow. First, they need to participate in their own and the CRM and enterprise applications industry more. That means attending conferences that aren't theirs or just in their original domain - not just in text analytics. They do attend text analytics events - but those consist of mostly technology people. They need to get to those that that are made up of business people - the market they want to reach.
Second, there was a BIG hole at their conference with very few third party thought leaders or key analysts and journalists at the event. This reflects what is often an issue with companies like Clarabridge who are growing to the point that they have to start engaging beyond paying some fees to an institutional analyst firm. In the case of Clarabridge, for example, at this conference there were 5 folks - 4 of whom I know and greatly respect who could be considered business thought leaders - and I'm including myself in there in the spirit of arrogance. I was there, Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation RG and one of the most influential thought leaders on the planet; Seth Grimes, an analytics master; Bob Thompson, who runs the empiric CustomerThink and a Gartner analyst who I didn't know and didn't meet.
That was it. And given that Clarabridge has a lot in place to take some kind of market leadership, wholly inadequate. They are at the stage where they need a true influencer relations program so that attendance at their conferences for thought leaders is a given - not a chore.
A Coupla Final ThoughtsWhile I spoke there and gave a keynote day 2 on Social CRM, which I think was pretty well received, (but who knows?), the true value for me was in seeing what Clarabridge brings to the table. Are they perfect? No. But they are one of the companies that I now know that I was certainly right about when it came to be on my 2011 Companies to Watch List. Though, post conference, I'd add a qualifier to that. You should watch them closely.
You can quote me verbatim. And then run it through Clarabridge.