CRM Evolution 2010 - A Retrospective - 28 Hours Old

I have to start this by saying I am biased when it comes to this conference. I chair it and I love working with the people at CRM Magazine.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

I have to start this by saying I am biased when it comes to this conference. I chair it and I love working with the people at CRM Magazine.  They are a genuine joy to get involved with.  So, you can temper my remarks all you want. However, that said, there is no veneer on this post - sheer matte is what we're dealing with.

The CRM Community

Before I get into a look at the conference itself and what I saw and heard, there is a backgrounder necessary.  For the last few weeks, I've entirely informally (which of course increases my chances for a misstatement) looked at the enterprise software/functional communities.

Probably when I said that, your first response was "wha? Man is chomping something pharmaceutical." If a pastrami sandwich at Roxy's Deli in NYC is pharmaceutical, then I agree. But while chomping and chomping and chomping (they're BIG sandwiches), I was also thinking about what I had found and this was something revelatory - to me, at least.

There IS a CRM industry community that can actually be defined as one. That would be as opposed to an ERP community or a financial services community or a supply chain community.  It is an organically stable entity that is palpable in its conscious interactions.  In other words, it acts as a community. One that is recognizable.

To simplify that, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands that interact regularly who represent thought leadership, vendors, practitioner companies.  They know each others names; they correspond online and party together offline; they battle out ideas with each other; they gossip about each other; many have become personal friends, while others remain business acquaintances. There is an atmosphere that overlays this community - whether I'm speaking of its digital or physical presence - it has a presence.  Like any other real community it has fringe elements and people within it who are disliked, though they truly are fringe and a real small percentage. Thing is that its a community though that in general has each other's backs.  When people go unemployed - other members of the community step up and try to support them - and its not a small amount of people - and typically isn't only the group that immediately surrounds the temporarily jobless individual.  If there are senseless attacks on people in the community (this happened to me), the folks in the community rise up in defense - rather aggressively sometimes - of the attacked person.

This community has a specific character because its built around a thriving industry segment - one that actually somewhat weathered the recession.  The business is expected to be between $13-$16 billion next year so there are substantial stakes for many - make that most - of the members of the community, which makes the collegial nature of this group all the more wonderful.

Its an expansive bunch too.  In recent months - probably the last 12 really - there is an influx of social immigrants into the community - which had historically been something of a traditional CRM nature. The new residents are from the social side, tend to be younger and very forward thinking and not as well acquainted with the enterprise as the older group. But, know what?  NP.  Everyone is welcome who wants to be a part of it and this year at the CRM Evolution 2010 - the social side was represented really well and frankly enriched the entire conference - as the noobies enrich the entire CRM community.

The reason I'm talking a little about this is because this community was integral to the success of the CRM Evolution 2010 conference.  Without that community and their willing participation in the events of each day, this would have been a bust - even with the incredible efforts of CRM Magazine and particularly David Myron - I'll get into that in a bit.  But back to to the community.  What made it just soar this year - even better than last year - was that members of the community from thought leaders to vendors to practitioners were providing the content that just made this thing RICH.

Now if the content was presented to only other members of the community, then it would be self-congratulatory and pretty much not a success - or let's say, a limited success.  But there were 859 attending, many for the first time and many to learn - who were not known members of the active CRM community.  That's a good thing. A real good thing.

The community came to NYC and was the underlying glue for the conference - and noticeably so.  Thank you for that to all of  you - you know who you are.

The Conference

Okay, now onto the conference itself.  First some bulleted tweetable observations.

  • There were 859 people which was nearly double last year which was nearly double the year before.
  • The content totally ROCKED (more later) and the presenters kicked BUTT!
  • The networking was spectacular - though could use some more inclusive improvements. The opportunities were there for sure. But occasionally noobies were seen wandering aimlessly. We need to not let that happen next year.
  • The diversity of the audience - the breakdown between practitioners, vendors and thought leaders/analysts - was superb with a stronger representation than ever. A couple of things can be remedied for next year.
  • The venue will be better next year. But it was no impediment though could have been better than it was.
  • Vendors were finally treated with the respect they deserve rather than with the suspicion they often engender.  They were equal partners.  Finally.
  • The sense of community was incredible.

The Content

Jeez, man, the content was great.  Keynotes by Emily Yellin and Denis Pombriant were just profoundly educational and outright interesting.  Emily has a way of taking what actually is pretty complex when it comes to the interactions between customer service representatives and their customers - and making it obvious about what one should do - even if you have the technology to do otherwise. She drove home a fundamental message - whatever your business imperatives, whatever your available technology and willingness to invest in new technology, the best thing you can do for a customer and, thus, for yourself as a business, is treat that customer like a real human being with emotions. As she put it, "you have to infuse what you do with humanity." Aside from her great stories, she drove home the point when she distinguished between providing value and having values.  Of course, for me to hear that is awesome because Principle of CRM #1 is "value and values are given and in return, value and values are received."  Emily and I are joined at the hip there. For more on her speech - go here.

Denis, on the other hand, in his discussion on a sustainable CRM business, took the first half of his speech to scare the crap out of the audience with what he called the Interboom (a great name for his upcoming book on the subject) - a confluence of events that slam together: the end of high tech as a disruptive influence (though not the end of innovation in high tech); the aging and retirement of baby boomers (with the distinct exception of me. I'll never retire) and an energy crisis based around Peak Oil - which could mean $10.00 plus prices at the gas pump . However, in the second half of his speech - which did scare the crap out of me - he pointed out how this becomes an opportunity and that this confluence - this Interboom - can be taken advantage of.  For more on that, check out this article on DestinationCRM.

But there was so much more than that. What was great was the range.  It ranged from social CRM uses cases (Ray Wang) and Socialytics (Mike Fauscette) to case studies on how CRM was thought through and implemented (Marc God of DSM in Netherlands) and how customer care can transform a company (Ellen Filipiak SVP of Customer Care at DirecTV).  It looked at forward thinking stuff like Ian Jacobs, a thought leader and senior analyst at Ovum on how location-based Info is used for mobile customer interactions.

One thing that was new and I think heralds a breakthrough....sorta....is that we had two vendor panels this year - a super heavyweight industry leader panel on Enterprise CRM done by Greg Gianforte, CEO/founder of RightNow; Anthony Lye, SVP of CRM at Oracle; Jujhar Singh, SVP CRM Product Management SAP; and finally, Brad Wilson, GM of CRM at Microsoft.  Then to top it all off,  there was a social panel that had Katy Keim, CMO of Lithium; Chris Morace, SVP, Product, Jive; David Alston, VP of Marketing, Radian6 and Sanjay Dholakia, CEO of CrowdFactory.   Both panels were entirely different, both valuable but what they indicated was that vendors are no longer lepers with money.  They play a role that is important in the programmatic discussion on CRM and social CRM.

One observation - Check out Esteban Kolsky's assessment of the conference - one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I noticed that at this time, despite the almost white heat of SCRM discussion, traditional CRM is still what people bake into budgets and still generates some real concerns and nerves - even after two decades of increasingly successful deployment.  Right now, there is no question that SCRM is a topic of discussion and needs to be moved forward from theory to practice to take its next steps.  But CRM is still the dominant part of how money is spent. Social media projects, the SCRM baby cousin, are being dabbled in when it comes to discussing relative dollars - though the importance of SCRM isn't diminished because of the lack of execution. Just beware of being too dependent on it. I was  honestly surprised at the intensity of the traditional CRM discussion.

One other point.  Salesforce.com needs to start attending these events. They weren't at Gartner, they weren't here. It was noticed and not in a good way.  No one said sponsor. Just attend under your own name. I won't say any more.

The Conclusion

This was a substantially successful conference - from any standpoint, content, organization, and best of all the spirit of the conference was truly wonderful so that new folks were welcomed and went home with new knowledge and new friends.

Were there things that could be done better?  Of course, the venue, the Marriott Marquis in NY, while a really cool hotel because of its residence in the heart of Broadway, made lunch and receptions insane because they had bouncers who looked like they would haul off on you if you took a turkey wrap too much. They actually did admonish more than one person for taking a salad and wrap both by accident.

What about content?  Next year more on analytics, a possible unconference, more case studies - all things that the audience discussed during a closing panel that consisted of people from the audience.  Personally, I think that we have to make a more concerted effort to target small business and public sector which were woefully underrepresented.   That would be through content that they'd like to hear and see.  We had thought leaders representing both spaces there - Brent Leary for small business and my bro' Bob Greenberg on public sector.  We need to take more advantage of these areas.

But all in all, the combination of the CRM community and all its new social members, in conjunction with an amazing effort by the CRM Magazine staff, particularly David Myron, made the difference. Now its just got to be better next year - which means the community needs to get into gear asap. We got a whole lotta work to do for next year - when SCRM starts being a practical concern.

Other Coverage

The aformentioned Esteban Kolsky

Chris Bucholtz

Andrew Boyd

Denis Pombriant

Marcio Saito

A special - Jesus Hoyos actual presentation from the conference on managing International CRM projects

UPDATE: A new special. Mike Fauscette's Socialytics presentation.

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