CRM Idol 2012: Lessons at the (Nearly) Halfway Point

CRM Idol 2012: Lessons at the (Nearly) Halfway Point

Summary: There are some clear trends this year that reflect the change in the market and the interests and concern of emerging companies who think that this is how they will make it in the technology industry. We look at a few here. AND we'll let you in on who the semi-finalists are.


It's funny but every year, we learn something new about the thinking in the emerging business applications market by how the contestants line up in CRM Idol.  We learn not only what interests them as a business value proposition, but we find out what they are building their applications on, what they are thinking about current trends and what they do well and not as well.  

By CRM Idol 2012 being our second year, it also gives us informal data on the evolution of the emerging technology market and how it changed from year to year.

Though we have completed the Americas portion of CRM Idol 2012, we have the EMEA/Asia/Australia portion of CRM Idol left to go,  so there are probably more insights to be gleaned that will become apparent after we finish that part of the competition next month.  I’m not going to do “lessons learned” in the demos thing here, which might be of value to the future contestants, but not necessarily those reading this. But what I will do is identify what we’ve found out that is applicable to the larger market, because there have been some interesting and even fascinating trends and information that we’ve uncovered that can be public and that has some impact on the market’s thinking…we think.

Before I do that, I want to highlight the 13 companies that made it to the semi-finals because they are among the best of the emerging technology companies that we are seeing - and we is a significant portion of the leading analysts/influencers in the CRM space.

The CRM Idol 2012 Semi-Finalists

There are 14 semi-finalists. Here they are in alphabetical order with links back to their microsite at the CRM Idol website.

  1. 3CSI - Customer Connect Portal - @3CSISocialMedia 
  2. Awareness - Social Marketing Hub - @awarenessinc
  3. Blitz_SCRM (Performance Solutions) - @Blitz_Scrm
  4. Compendium - Marketing Platform - @Compendium
  5. Crowdtap - Influencer Marketing - @Crowdtap
  6. Demandbase - B2B Sales & Marketing - @Demandbase
  7. InterSolutions Respond - Citizen Relationship Management 
  8. Matrix - SCRM & Sales Management - @MatrxSolutions
  9. Mothernode - CRM & ERP - @Mothernode
  10. Nearstream - Social Lead Generation - @Nearstream
  11. NextPrinciples - Social 'Insight to Action' - @NextPrinciples
  12. ShopIgniter - Social Retail/Commerce - @ShopIgniter
  13. Social Dynamx - Social CRM - @Social Dynamx
  14. VirtuOz - Customer Service Virtual Agents - @VirtuOz

Congratulations to all of them!! It isn't easy to get to semi-finalists. They were 14 of the 41 entries who made it into the contestant round - which had 6 disqualifications and withdrawals of its own. So they are 14 of 47 in truth. Rarified air indeed. 

The Caveats

Let’s face it. As far as this being methodologically scientific, it ain’t.  This is also a small sample set but it is plugged into larger trends that I’ve been seeing in the market and thus does have some significance, in context.  So, here’s what I saw and what I think is worth ruminating over. Do what you do with it, but there it is.

The only other caveat is that I’m not going to get into the individual companies. If you want to do that, read the 41 reviews that we’ve already put up. Here’s your starting point.

What We Know Now

  1. Marketing in general (content, social, alignment of sales and marketing) is a dominant theme this year
    • with many of the CRM idol emerging companies presenting us with significant and functionally interesting marketing products.  It’s reasonably obvious this is being driven by the amount of information that’s being not just created by the social web, but also consumed by the social web. So we are seeing products that make creation, distribution and consumption of targeted content a focus of their business offering.  Interestingly, a small handful of them are presenting products in a way that’s superior to even the largest vendors. 
    • However, it’s not just the content marketing application providers who are showing us something.  As many of you have probably read for the last couple of years – there is an increasing alignment of marketing and sales objectives going on at the corporate level. This is leading to a new form of relationship between the two departments that still retain their distinctive differences.  Even companies that are focused around small business are thinking about the association of revenue objectives with marketing department goals. This is leading to a more unbroken chain of lead to close processes that commonly impact sales and marketing, and thus tools, which now fall under the aegis of revenue performance management. Emerging tech companies are taking the hint from Eloqua and Marketo and gearing their applications in support of that alignment.  We see that with CRM Idol companies and with more established companies like Infusionsoft.
  2. Social is just another set of channels and capabilities – This is something that directly corroborates what many of us have been saying for awhile now. Social is no longer “the shiny new object” as Esteban Kolsky says or in the experimental stage. It is a group of channels that are accessed through a set of tools that are provide communication media for customers (at least in a business context). They are to be considered when thinking through a multichannel strategy as to their value and the likely outcomes from using them.  CRM Idol this year has two sorts of companies that intersect “social.” Several built around social channels as the core service offering – so it might be social analytics or social customer service. Several others built around applications that incorporate social components but they are just part of what is provided. It was noticeable that none of the contestants emphasized the “hey we got social” which was something that stood out last year.  None.
  3. Stronger focus on outcomes and results than features and functions – While not a slam dunk of a trend, we noticed that there were more discussions on business outcomes than last year. The focus wasn’t always around features and functions but what the products could do for the specific customers that they targeted. Was there enough of this? No, but the inability to do that is endemic to small emerging tech companies who are constantly in the weeds and rarely lift their head above the reed.   But there were more than last year who did discuss business outcomes with us, rather than how great their features and functions are.
  4. Analytics a part of even the smallest players – the products that go beyond simple functionality, almost all incorporate analytics of some level. Some run deep, some lightweight. They run the gamut from social analytics to email analytics to business intelligence and even a little bit of predictive analytics.  But analytics is a theme that is threads throughout the entire gamut of contestant applications.The most advanced companies in the contest are seeing it from the standpoint of actionable intelligence.
  5. Some of the applications provide their customers with the ability to take actions directly from a feed of some kind. So open a case from a Twitter complaint that would then be captured and placed in the system of record. Or identify an opportunity and promote an action based on a Facebook message. All examples of what some of the contestants can do.
  6. Less Dot.Net architecture than last year - Even though we saw Dot.Net still more than we ever could have expected, there were more architectures dependent on php and the LAMP stack, etc.

These were trends that were noticeable among the contestants that resonated with the more general trends in the industry.

The Contestants

What about the contestants themselves, rather than how they reflected the trends?

Glad you asked.

We found some of the same problems that we found last year.  These are small companies that are more often built by developers than not and thus they are plagued by the problems that companies like that typically have. 

The best way to put the primary problem is:

Engineers don’t know how to market, nor do they understand it's importance.  

Marketing is a most nebulous discipline for many engineers. They have some difficulty understanding why they should spend some of their very limited dollars on something so intangible. They deal with tangibles – code, products, deadlines.These are small companies they have to juggle their dollars understandably. So they tend to adopt a “build it and they will come” attitude.  Don't get me wrong. We see this in the engineering companies who have made it big too like Sony.  

For many years "build it and they will come" worked.  Look at Oracle, who were that kind of company (note the "were") But the world has changed.

The problem is, given how highly competitive the market is, building a a great product  it isn't enough to make customers buy it any longer.  What we find is that often these small technology don’t recognize is that there are others building products that provide the same benefits or at least similar ones with similar products, even if not as good as theirs.  Plus great features and functions don’t a successful application make – by themselves. You have to be visible in the market. You have to be a company that is trusted - and known - not just have a good product. You have to be a company that is mentioned when your “category” comes up.  You have to be a company that is recommended by those who influence the purchasing decisions of your target market.  Just having a good product is nowhere NEAR sufficient to accomplish that. 

What’s fascinating is that while the CRM Idol company this year all in all are providing superior products even in comparison to last year, we still have the same concerns about their lack of marketing and outreach, and in some cases their lack of concern over it.  We know that CRM Idol is their tentative baby step. We hope that they take advantage of what we are trying to provide to them to invest in what can make or break their future – their visibility. 

Topics: Emerging Tech, Software, Start-Ups, Tech Industry, SMBs, Social Enterprise

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  • Maybe you're right ...

    "great features and functions don’t a successful application make – by themselves. You have to be visible in the market. You have to be a company that is trusted - and known - not just have a good product. You have to be a company that is mentioned when your “category” comes up. You have to be a company that is recommended by those who influence the purchasing decisions of your target market."

    While in general I do find the CRM Idol exercise to be a very valuable one - helping potential clients shine a light on the real relative merits of the competitive offerings available - I do find the above statement to be at least potentially self-serving. And representative of not just CRM Idol, but the argument put forward by a large number of reviewers, recommenders, pundits...

    In effect, I am concerned that paraphrased, it says - "support our efforts - lend our activities importance - because you know, they are important. Playing the media game is critical, because the media is of real value. And the fact that I am part of the media is not influencing my point of view. Please, participate and increase my value in the media and industry ecosystem."

    While media mentions and evaluations, comparative reviews are obviously of value for a product to be discovered by clients, I think most clients are more than capable of deciding for themselves what their needs are, and which products best address them.
    Michael Whitehead
  • That would be true but...

    Hi Michael, While I think you can justify what you say to some extent, the reality is that there is an ecosystem that the enterprise software world is dependent on, whether you consider it self-serving or not. Customers call up those you call reviewers, recommenders, pundits, and read what they write, so that they can get more information to make the decisions they have to make around those products. Things standing on their merits alone don't actually complete the circle, because if the product remains unknown, it will sell in only a limited way.

    As far as calling what we "pundits" are doing with CRM Idol self-serving, you are so far from the truth its astonishing. This is a completely volunteer, paid for out of pocket effort, with hours spent a day by each of us, during the contest, that is built around the idea of giving back to an industry that has given each of us something. None of us need the business nor the attention and despite your outlook, the exposure either. We all have plenty of it. But we each feel that there is something to the idea of giving back and we do this to highlight those companies that would otherwise have a difficult time getting that exposure or the advice that we freely give.

    Also, you don't know me, nor do you know many (if any) of the judges, so your comments are presumptive and unwarranted.

    So what you are saying, frankly, is uncalled for and a bit offensive. All of us, as human beings are self-interested, meaning we want happy lives, but not all are self-serving and certainly CRM Idol isn't a self serving contest. The best examples of the success of the contest are what the contestants themselves, win or lose, say about it. Ask them. Then see if you can make the same statement you just made afterwards.
  • Mea Culpa

    I can see I have touched a nerve, to put it mildly, and that's a shame. You are a subject matter expert beyond reproach. You work at this space harder than pretty much anyone. Those are my thoughts, and I don't think most people would contest those points. So my comments were not about you, or the other judges, whom I indeed do not know (or even their identities).

    They were about the optics of the situation with CRM Idol - in my eyes at least. A media in-crowd for CRM inventing an industry activity with themselves at the centre certainly might seem to tend to reinforce the continuation of the world order, wouldn't you say?

    Perhaps at the root of this for me is a fundamental mistrust of the media today. Whether it be politics, technology, celebrity, ecology, nutrition - the cycle of build 'em up to break 'em down is so prevalent as to foster a lack of desire on my part to participate. I support the Internet generation's trend to disintermediation. I'd rather potential CRM clients do their own web research, read reviews by real users, see what the support experience is like on Facebook or LinkedIn, try web-based online demos themselves.

    Or maybe I'm just an Engineer (and what's worse, Canadian) that doesn't know how to market. A built-it-and-they-will-come luddite. It's very possible.

    Regardless, I'm sorry to have offended - it was not intended, but I should have forseen that you would take comments re CRM Idol personally.
    Michael Whitehead
    • Greenbergs comment

      Michael, good reply. This guy has done some good work but this Idol thing is like so many other reviews today that are simply pay to play. In fact someone called out Greenberg in the past for listing companies of which 80% had paid him consulting fees in the past. Like your comments he fired back with a response that showed he is quite sensitive to others comments. Not a good trait for a consultant.
  • A contestant's perspective...

    Michael, thanks for providing an interesting perspective on CRM Idol. But as a contestant, and now a semi-finalist (see Mothernode in the above list) I think you’re looking at this from the bleachers and not on the field.
    Based on your comments I’m assuming you haven’t diligently followed CRM Idol this year or last, and that’s OK, because unless you are a participant in the competition; judge, sponsor, contestant, in the industry, etc., I wouldn’t expect anyone to have the same level of interest or awareness.
    Last year’s competition not only put contestants on the map, it was also largely responsible for the M&A of a few of the finalists, during and after the competition.  For our company, it has provided us the vehicle we needed to get our name out there and not to mention a review by industry analysts to help us carve out a better direction and strategy for our products and company business models. I know of no other industry where experts volunteer to give relative unknowns free advice. Additionally, the recent level of activity our company has received is directly tied to CRM Idol.
    To speak to your comment: “While media mentions and evaluations, comparative reviews are obviously of value for a product to be discovered by clients, I think most clients are more than capable of deciding for themselves what their needs are, and which products best address them.” While I agree with the last part, it’s also a chicken and the egg syndrome. If Mothernode CRM provided the best value for your business needs you probably wouldn’t have known who we were 6 months ago to seek us out. Idol’s media attention has and will continue to generate a level of awareness for us that would have been impossible to achieve on our own. Analysts and influencers have taken note of ‘all’ contestants, because of CRM Idol.  I cannot imagine how much publicity this would cost us in time, resources and expense if we attempted it on our own. Coincidently, I recently blogged about what CRM Idol has done for our company a few weeks ago, before becoming a semi-finalist. You can read our thoughts here:
    I’ve befriended a couple of other vendors in the competition and many are young companies. I can tell you first hand that they ‘need’ CRM Idol. Every contestant ‘needs’ to be here and they have been grateful to be a part of it for the exposure and council it has given them, semi-finalists or not. Some contestants are well-funded but others aren’t and are too small or inexperienced to generate the kind of recognition and attention that CRM Idol can give them. Paul Greenberg also mentions in his article that marketing and PR are a weakness some of the contestants have, which is a common symptom in many software startups.
    If you’ve followed CRM Idol on a daily basis and have seen the amount of time the judging panel put into demonstrating products and authoring reviews for each contestant (with more to go) on a volunteer basis, on top of their real jobs, they deserve every personal benefit that can come from their efforts. They have given us untold hours (weeks, even months) of free service.
    With everything I just mentioned, I’m not entirely sure calling Paul Greenberg’s efforts self-serving is an accurate assessment of what is CRM Idol. And for everything he and the other judges have offered for contestants like Mothernode, they deserve to be recognized for their initiatives.
    One final note. You’re probably thinking at this point that because Mothernode is a semi-finalist in this year’s Idol, I’m looking for kudos in the competition by publicly defending its founder. Mothernode is one of the few competitors that has become a household name in this year’s Idol, so defending the competition’s founder by responding to post doesn’t really overshadow our involvement and contribution to the community throughout the competition.
    If you aren’t following the competition, I would encourage you do so. There are some great products, companies and entrepreneurs you may not have heard of being showcased (semi-finalist or not) that have some outstanding and innovative technologies to offer the world of business. And after all… That’s what it’s all about.
    Ken Pearson
  • Thanks for the participant's view

    Moving on from the unpleasant phase of feeling I have stepped in it, and rather wishing I hadn't, now I'm starting to be happy I did again :) It was worth it to get this kind of real info from someone in the competition!

    While I regret upsetting anyone that is being positive and genuine like Paul, I still have to say that my initial comments were based on a perfectly genuine, honest and valid view 'from the bleachers' in which the optics of CRM Idol gave me pause. With more info now, I'm starting to come around a bit :)
    Michael Whitehead
  • A view on CRM

    I t was really a good effort. Thanks for sharing it.
    Engagedots CRM