CRM Vendor Thought Leaders - Thinking, Thinking......Hmmm

Since I was totally disappointed in the performance of the NY Giants about 10 days ago, (though happy the Eagles and Ravens had their butts whupped last weekend),  I have had little to look forward to this year, (other than today's incredible inauguration of President Obama, which I am ecstatic about) so I did some thinking instead. That's kind of how I do my thinking - between sports events and errands....

Since I was totally disappointed in the performance of the NY Giants about 10 days ago, (though happy the Eagles and Ravens had their butts whupped last weekend),  I have had little to look forward to this year, (other than today's incredible inauguration of President Obama, which I am ecstatic about) so I did some thinking instead. That's kind of how I do my thinking - between sports events and errands....and eating.

I like to think that I'm seen as a thought leader in CRM - I hear it said enough to warm the cockles o' me hearrrrt. But regardless of whether its true or just another instance of "approaching-60-years-of-age" self-delusion, doesn't really deal with the bigger issue of thought leadership in CRM. Though its nice to contemplate personally. What got me to thinking was the extraordinary lack of thought leadership that comes from the CRM vendors.  Something that in the earlier eras of CRM was pretty common, but now has deteriorated to the Oddly, though it might seem, ahem, counterintuitive, vendor leaders are well positioned to actually take some. Especially in a time of uncertainty when people want to know that there are people out there who have ideas on how to get out of the recession that go beyond "buy my product." They also want to see visionaries who can make the case for ideas that, while not realized now, or even realizable in the immediate future, provide some hope of a really fascinating, valuable and important future. The "visionary thing" gives their customers and potential customers a.k.a. their target audience a sense that they know what they're talking about with the products they are offering - that there is something more than a wish for dollars behind those products - and there is a future for them. But even more so, it says, that "I vendor person, get the way the world is going and what can be done in the world and see some of those brilliant ideas so clearly that I can explain them to you in a way that is commanding and intelligent. That means I vendor person am not just a product pusher but a thoughtful human being who can excite others about ideas that while they may be appropriate for my company's products are actually ideas that extend way behind my company's products. They are ideas that ignite you and get you thinking."

The value of this is immeasurable. Visionaries, wherever they come from are so important to a community because they provide a lifeblood to that community. Without visionaries to represent ideas that can be made real, the communities die or are zombie-like dull - might as well be dead. I think we have proof of that with President Obama (I'm not waiting until Tuesday) - he was elected for his abililty to inspire hope in a future that had some firm foundation - so it could be seen as possible. As a result, the NY Times reports that 79% of the country are optimistic about the next four years under Obama and yet, 2/3 think that it will take more than a year to solve the problems - but they'll give them a chance because he is a visionary with brilliant oratorial skills who can inspire hope.

That got me to thinking for no apparent reason other than it did, about who the visionaries are that come from CRM vendor ranks. Not the great marketers but the thought leaders. There are plenty of very good marketers and an occasional great one. Marc Benioff is perhaps the greatest marketer I've ever run across in any industry bar none - and he is a quality thinker who, for example, takes corporate social responsibility extremely seriously. Extremely seriously.

But I'm talking about thought leaders willing to put ideas out there that don't end in "that's why you should buy my product." I have to tell you its a sparse group. A lot of them have thought leaders who do work for them and I applaud them for that. Because I'm one of them. But those are independent thought leaders who they sponsor. I'm interested in the ones who are either original thinkers or willing to talk over things in the realm of ideas without a pitch attached. I've only come up with a very small group so far, though I can't say that I didn't miss anyone. I'm willing to be told I'm an idiot -god knows I've heard that often enough. Give me others that I've missed and point me to them. No problem there. But until someone is willing to take the time to do that, here are senior management leaders at companies who fit the role of thought leader in the sense I've just mentioned. Oh yeah, plus they have some reach too.  I'll point you to something they've said or written worth listening to or looking at respectively.

The CRM Vendor Thought Leaders (Cutting Edge)

These are the two that I think are willing to step out and expound on the key ideas of CRM 2.0/Social CRM - the cutting edge of the industry, with their own takes on how to conceptualize it.
  1. Anthony Lye - SVP Oracle CRM - Anthony Lye is a long time CRM guy - veteran of many companies, notably Siebel and has been leading the renaissance of Oracle CRM over the past couple of years. Anthony is the core driver behind the Oracle Social CRM push and the creation of their social products. He not only understands the nature of the communications revolution that struck the world over the past five years but he is able to articulate it, has clear thoughts on what he thinks the value of it is and how it can move forward - including what the pitfalls may be. He understands not just the features and functions of Social CRM/CRM 2.0 but the ideas that drive it and their origin. He is also very strong in his beliefs - but that comes from study - not from just gut feelings. He is able to put forward ideas that are striking in how they are presented. For example, I've gotten a clearer picture from him about what I call "outcome-driven communities" - social networks or communities created for a specific purpose that has a specific endpoint. Something I hadn't considered that much until he mentioned the idea (not the term) in a discussion one day. I was convinced. Listen to him here on Brent Leary's Technology for Business Sake.
  2. Dave Van Toor - General Manager, CRM, Sage - Dave is not only the GM of Sage CRM but he is a sage CRM thought leader. While most of his work is aimed at the components of what goes into Sage, Dave has a wide ranging mind that goes to things like pricing and cost, and  the fallacy of customer satisfaction surveys. He speaks not only at Sage events where he is able to address the cutting edge of CRM 2.0 and the demands of the neo-customer, but he is tied into the prestigious Liminal Group Executive Speakers who include luminaries (Liminal luminaries - alliteration?) like Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Aspen Institute's Edward Bastian.

The CRM Vendor Thought Leaders (Filling Out the Middle)

  1. Greg Gianforte - CEO RightNow - Greg gets CRM as it needs to be gotten, built around what the customer is demanding. He has done seriously industrial intellectual work on customer experience, his focus for a long time. He has a blog devoted to it, and put out a book on it last year that isn't just a pitch for RightNow services.  For example. take a look at his eight steps for a "superior customer experience"-a summation of the book to a large degree.

That's about it frankly.  That doesn't mean that there aren't articulate and intelligent vendor spokespeople who represent their companies exceptionally well. This also doesn't mean that there aren't writers who blog in the industry who don't have good ideas but part of thought leadership is the ability to expose it to a wide public audience. These three are able to do that.

Just two footnotes though. SAP has no one person that fills this role yet but they have what I consider the best thought leader outreach program in the enterprise world.  Its called the Business Influencers Group and it operates cross-industry and cross-product.  They have a number of dedicated staff to do nothing but find thought leaders in academia, among the analysts, in the media and anywhere else that they could think of.  They've involved me in their work to some degree as a consultant and I'm impressed. But I'm planning a future post on the outreach programs that CRM vendors run.

The other footnote is on an up and coming thought leader. That would be Chuck Schaefer,  CEO of Aplicor, who I would have included in this list if he had more public visibility. That said, his thinking on CRM 2.0 and SaaS, expressed through his blog, is intelligent and innovative. He is well enough thought of to have been appointed to the 2007 Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldridge Awards for Excellence, a genuine honor.

For now, the ranks of actual CRM related thought leaders among vendors is small.  I hope that 2009, which now brings us President Barack Obama and at least an inkling of an era for hope, brings us some new voices in CRM 2.0 from the vendors.

Yes they can.