CRM Watchlist 2022: And the winners are...

The CRM Watchlist 2022 is now over. Here are the winners, the reasons, and the future. Read on and find out how these companies had an exceptional impact.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

This one is different. Not only is it the penultimate CRM Watchlist – the 19th – but the winners were actually announced on a CRM Playaz Awards Show on Thursday, February 24, taking the suspense out of the blog post. If you want to watch the show, here it is on YouTube. Our primary channel is LinkedIn and then Twitter and some on Facebook. But YouTube is where you can see the uncut unexpurgated edition – Henry Miller watch out.

Because this isn't a Big Reveal post and instead is a post to recognize the already publicly announced winners of the Watchlist this year, it will be abbreviated (my idea of abbreviation though).  They'll be some repurposing of content because it still applies, needs to be reiterated and why would I want to rewrite it since it's more details than anything else. I'll tweak it though.  I'll cover the following in the post.

  1. The Watchlist context & criteria
  2. How I score
  3. The differences between the CRM Watchlist 2022 and the CRM Watchlist 2020
  4. The data
  5. Observations
  6. The winners
  7. The CRM Watchlist 2023
  8. A big thank you

The Watchlist awards context and criteria

Given that what I'm writing about here has been generally similar for 19 years, I bear the risk of repeating myself. Or as the saying that would date me goes, this might repeat like a broken record (does anyone under 60 know what I mean when I say a "record"?)

The CRM Watchlist is an impact award. It is not focused on the financial success of the company though that is a criterion considered. It isn't designed to analyze how good or bad the strategy is – it is focused on the level of successful execution and clarity of that strategy. What that means is that as an analyst, I might judge your strategy and publicly or privately express my opinion on it and perhaps an alternate strategy or a tweak that I might think would improve your company's chances of success.  That is NOT what I'm doing as a judge. I'm taking your strategy, whether I agree with it or not, and seeing how well you executed it and what the impact in the market is as a result of that strategy.

To win the award you have to show that in the year immediately before submission (same year) you had a significant impact on the market – and that you have the corporate infrastructure, strategy, and resources to sustain that impact over the next three years.

What do I mean when I say "impact?" That means significant influence in the market that you participate in. It doesn't have to be global. It can be specific – e.g., a vertical market, a sized (small, midsized, enterprise) or a geographical market. It can be a market specific to your offering.  For example. The Big 5(Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, and Adobe) are in global markets. Thunderhead was focused on Customer Journey Orchestration and Real-Time Interaction Management. A few years ago, when consulting companies were still part of the competition – Solvis Consulting won because of their impact in Latin America.  Veeva won for their incredible dominance in the Life Sciences market.  It can be specific. 

There is no winning by category though. You meet the brutal criteria for winning and you win – no distinction or preference for which markets you address. The only data when it comes to the actual winners that get revealed is who was the #1 scorer.

Additionally, though it's been called the CRM Watchlist for the last 14 years of its 19 - year existence, it is open to all that provide customer-facing technologies. There are 53 categories to choose from on the registration and the questionnaire and something called "Other" in case you are doing something that doesn't fall under the 53 other choices.

For your impact to be sustainable, the company must be a complete company that has been doing this long enough to have established a rhythm. The company has to be well-rounded: it has financial stability, solid management, excellent products and services, superb culture, and a strong partner ecosystem to help sustain its efforts. It has to have a clear vision and mission and also clear-cut strategies for outreach to get external forces - customers, analysts, journalists, prospects, influencers, etc. - engaged. That takes a complete (and complex) set of tools and activities, which could include marketing, analyst relations and public relations programs, the subject matter expertise via the content produced and distributed for consumption, and the "theatrical" activities that establish the corporate identity necessary to stay top of mind, as well as capture share of wallet. And, because this is the first Watchlist that occurred during the pandemic, not only your immediate response to the pandemic but your long-term planning and creation of infrastructure to support the changing world we live in, now is part of what all those who submit have to prove.

How I score

The key to this WHOLE thing is that the entrants to the competition have to prove that they had an impact in the immediately preceding year to the Watchlist named year. So this year, that means the impact the company had in 2021 for the CRM Watchlist 2022. Next year will be the impact the company had this year – 2022 – for the final CRM Watchlist 2023.  But what I'm NOT interested in is just that. To win the CRM Watchlist or even have a chance you have to show me that you not only had an impact in the year at hand but had the infrastructure and the foresighted strategic thinking to be prepared to sustain that impact for the following three years. If you only had the impact of the year, that isn't enough. You could be a one-hit wonder. But show me both – and you have to in order to win – and you have a real shot at winning.

Another thing: While I do independent research on each qualifying candidate and also take note of how much I have run across them during the year, ultimately it's the quality of the submission that counts. If I have to give it the relative weight it works something like this: 30% for my independent research and anecdotal and quantitative information I've gathered over a year in the course of my work as an analyst. The other 70% is the submission itself. The submitting company has to make the case for their impact. You may have had it and if my 30% doesn't put it over the top because you have made such a poor case for it (and that does happen) then you lose. Three years ago, two companies that should have made it given my research and what I already knew of them in the market would have made it, but the submissions were so poor that they didn't make it. This year there was one company that did win but the submission was not very good, so it kept them a category down. 

Conversely, the case is the case, regardless of the quality of the writing. I place a real value on the presentation – the quality of the writing and the look and feel. You will make some marginal but potentially crucial gains if it is really good but not lose if it really isn't. You can write poorly and sloppily and still even if it seems accidental make the case.  As the sole judge, I have to separate that from the "facts of the matter."  So, I do.  But that doesn't excuse something written badly.  Companies that submit are companies proving they have an impact. If they do, the face they present to the public should be something that engenders trust. To do that you have to make sure that the public (or me in this case) knows you put some real effort into what you did (or do)

This year had a couple of unique scoring challenges. Most importantly, the base final score required to win or win at a higher category became significantly higher. There were four companies that would have won under the CRM Watchlist 2020 (I skipped 2021 due to the pandemic) that didn't win this.

Think of it this way: When I write on customer engagement, I define customer value as "feeling valued." In other words, when the customer feels valued, they are more than likely to continue to be your customer.  To do that you have to show the customer that you care enough about who they are to make them feel as if you value them.  The same goes for a Watchlist submittal or anything a company does in the analyst or public relations. Make the recipient feel as if you value them. Learn the lesson, please. It's important. That means not just telling the truth, but making sure that you tell it well. The failure of many companies is their inability to present and stay true to a corporate narrative. They lose the trust or don't gain the trust of those they need to trust them – meaning not just their customers but their potential customers. In the case of a few of the submissions this year, while the facts may have seemed indisputable, the submission seemed to be an afterthought.

A factor that weighs heavily (and not positively) – even though it might have been a good thing that happened to create it – is uncertainty. For example, if you were acquired (in the impact year) and/or had significant management turnover or if you were addressing a new market that you didn't have much history in – I penalized you – as harsh as that sounds. Sometimes, all other things being equal, the company would have won the Watchlist, but the uncertainty was the tipping point in their loss. Sadly, I have no way to see the impact two or three years out when I don't even know how your new management team or new CEO is going to perform in their new environment, or you gave me no discernible proof of the results of your bold move into a new market. I have no way of knowing if you were going to be successful there over time – even if you were successful this year. Again, this is an impact award, not a "smart strategy" award. I might think that you made the right move, but you rarely are going to have an impact in the new market in the first few quarters you are in it. Also, it's impossible to say that the new person or people are the right choices until they are. Even if I think that. One example of this in an odd way – Thunderhead was acquired in January by Medallia but since the impact year was 2021 – that had no impact on the score.  On the other hand, two companies entered new markets, and while the level of penalties was different between them, they were both penalized for not being able to show me a lot of results of their impact in the new market.  I call all of this – transitional uncertainty.

The score is also driven by a raw score and then a weighted score and the weights vary year to year depending on macroeconomic conditions, industry movement, and trends that are discernibly more than self-serving justifications for hiring a "thought leader" or buying a vendor product.  Based on that the weights vary every year though the raw score perfect total and the weight's perfect total never does. There are some 50-60 "intangibles" (several new ones that were added this year due to the pandemic) that I am looking for that are not indicated in the questions asked – some negative and some positive. There is one larger question (I'm not telling you which), a second question if you stretch my definition, where you can gain some positive intangible points. Keep in mind, the intangible deductions or additions come off or are added to the final weighted score. Because they are so important to the outcome most of the time they are incrementally small though on occasion, they can be substantial (e.g., transitional uncertainty)

Hint: For the first time I'm going to reveal one of the intangibles in a post-competition bashing. If you show me a single instance implied or direct of competition bashing, there is a pretty serious penalty. Aside from my dislike of it, there is NO circumstance in this submission where that is needed to affect my judgment of your impact or score. NONE. So future participants, read this closely.

The CRM Watchlist 2022 vs CRM Watchlist 2020

Clearly, this Watchlist was impacted greatly by COVID and thus the questionnaire not only had a specific response to the pandemic question but implied a much more important weight being placed on what each company was doing for the greater good.  That also impacted the weighting (relative value) of each question. Things that weren't as important three years ago became much more so during the last two years.

Additionally, because I was dedicated to making companies lose this watch list I made the baseline scores for winning considerably higher. Roughly 15% harder and at one level nearly 20%. There were reasons for the specific hikes that I won't delve into here. That would give away too much. 

Now let me give you some data on the registrations and submissions.


Registrants – 60

Submissions – 59

New Submissions - 19

Dropouts by withdrawal deadline - 0

Dropouts after withdrawal deadline – 1 (penalized)

Disqualifications – 0

First-time winners – 2

Pages total – 4189

Average submission – 71 pages

Largest submission - 259 pages (Zoho)

Submissions over 100 pages – 6 (Zoho, Verint, SAP, Oracle, Anaplan and 1 non-winner)

Smallest submission - 19 pages

Four observations

There is a caveat to these observations. They are based on the 59 submissions I got so they are not even close to longitudinal or even scientific. They are observations, not trends – trends to me that you read from pundits are often self-serving and impossible to predict. So please take these for what they are… I noticed these patterns in 59 submissions. 

  1. Composable architectures, no code development (citizen development), and low code applications dominate the evolution of most technology offerings. These are not long-term or even short-term road map capabilities. They are on the agenda right now or have already been built into the technology stack.
  2. Platforms and ecosystems are now mainstream and dominant in the strategic thinking of most companies (to varying degrees). This one was particularly pleasing to me. Several of us especially the Four Horsemen of the CRM Apocalypse – me, Brent Leary, Esteban Kolsky, Denis Pombriant) have been advocates for this being the crux of tech industry thinking for years – and now it seems to be, at least in a very large percentage of the submissions, the crux of corporate thinking.
  3. There is a pervasive idea that permeates the companies – which is to meet the customers where they are.  This means in most cases that companies are either seriously accounting for or at least providing lip service to do what the customers need in the manner they need it with the channels they want.
  4. Finally, there is one interesting analog to all this (especially trend #3) that wouldn't have been discussed if it wasn't part of the optional question. There is finally an emerging definition of the idea of being "channeless."  Three definitions (leaving out who's they are) that make the point best:
    1. "…one step beyond omnichannel (NOTE: This was a common statement). For the customer the channel is secondary to their experience - …they simply want their interaction to be frictionless and personalized. While omnichannel connects multiple channels, channeless is about the experience.
    2. Channel-less (referred by some as Multi-Experience) takes omnichannel to the next level – which is predicated on a truly holistic outside-in perspective. …Customers don't think in terms of channels, touchpoints and silos. They think in terms of what they need to get done. The essence of the channel-less approach is…to understand and serve the needs of your customers from their perspective.
    3. Channeless is the next step in the sophistication of managing customer engagement over different channels. In a "channeless" strategy, orchestrating customer engagement across different channels has become so simple that a business is able to focus on building an exceptional customer experience and brand experience without needing to worry about which channels are in play with a customer.
  5. There were a sizable number of negative observations too, but this is an awards post – we should be happy, so I won't post them here, but I would be glad to discuss them with anyone who asks me to. Contact me on LinkedIn. If you aren't connected, connect, and we'll set up some time.

And now what you didn't have to wait for but of course still are if you didn't watch the show….

And the Winners of the CRM Watchlist 2022 are:


Highest Overall Score: Zoho

Winner with Distinction:

1.      Oracle

2.      ServiceNow

3.      Thunderhead

4.      Zoho


1.      Adobe

2.      Anaplan

3.      Creatio

4.      Microsoft

5.      Pegasystems

6.      PROS

7.      Salesforce

8.      SAP

9.      SugarCRM

10.  Veeva

11.  Verint

12.  Xactly

Best in Category:

Impact Statement (understood own impact & had the data to prove it):  Tie between Anaplan and Veeva

Mission and Vision: ServiceNow

Technology: Thunderhead

Customers: Salesforce

Privacy: Thunderhead

Partners/Alliances: SAP

Marketing Strategy: Pegasystems

Outreach: Tie between Salesforce & Zoho

Market Impact: Tie between Salesforce & Adobe

Culture: Tie between PROS and Zoho

Pandemic Response: Salesforce



Best Social Media Strategy: SAP

Best Presentation: Thunderhead and Creatio

MOST PROMISING COMPANY: Dead tie between Contentful & Optimizely


The CRM Watchlist 2023 is going to be special. It's the 20th and last one and we will have a significant number of additional awards and surprises, but it will be a total BEAR to try and win.  I will make it even more difficult than this year – though I'm truly not sure how to do that.  However, while there is still a lot to be done in the shape of the final awards, it is now time to open registration.  So, there will be another blog post sometime soon here or elsewhere about what the CRM Watchlist 2023 will look like and be like but rest assured, the core is the same.

Okay, without further ado, as of this very minute...

Registration for the CRM Watchlist 2023 is officially open! 

If you are interested in taking a crack at this 20-year-old award – send me an email requesting a registration form.  I will send it to you as soon as I see the email and then once you have returned it, I will send you the questionnaire for the submission as soon as I have tweaked it and completed it. Which will be soon. You have fourteen (14) days - NOT business days. This includes weekends - to get it back to me or you will not qualify for the Watchlist this year which means forever since this is the final Watchlist. 

Since this upcoming one is the very last one so, if I'm you, I'm registering to take a crack at it. Even if most companies don't win the award, they more often than not appreciate the exercise that you go through to put together the submission because it, when completed, gives you a holistic look at your company that you otherwise do not have.  It's worth it for the workout.

I'll leave you with that. 

Congratulations to the CRM Watchlist 2022 winners!! You all not only deserved it given what I tried to do, but I will genuflect to you because I think what you are doing is amazing and no matter how hard I tried to get you to lose, you still won. Thank you for honoring me with your effort.  I truly do appreciate all 59 submissions because I know what kind of work they take. 

See you with the CRM Watchlist 2023! 

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