CRM Watchlist 2012 - Let the Reviews Roll: The Top of the Top

Okay, we've done the Big 4 and the winners have been announced. Now we get into the heavy lifting.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Okay, we've done the Big 4 and the winners have been announced. Now we get into the heavy lifting.

Here are all the CRM Watchlist 2012 posts so far:

CRM Watchlist 2012 Part 1A - The Big Guns

CRM Watchlist 2012 Part 1B - The Big Guns Again

CRM Watchlist 2012 - The Winners List

This begins the rest of the reviews.

I'm covering the first five - the top five winners this year for varying reasons. It ranges from the highest scorers to the Lifetime Impact Award winner, with the CRM Idol 2011 winners in between.  What makes this a special group is that they even stand out from the winners of the CRM Watchlist this year.  You can't get much better than that - at least with me.

First a Couple of General Hints

I've gotten a significant number of inquiries from companies who were on the candidates list that didn't make finalist or were on the finalist list that didn't win who are asking me why they didn't move forward.  In the case of some, it was because I just don't think that they will make the impact needed in 2012 for one reason or another.

But in the case of others, it was a matter of degree and frankly, had they taken steps that were offered to them, they had a better chance to win than they otherwise did. No guarantees, but a better chance.

I offered up an opportunity for those who I hadn't considered at all, to become candidates by submitting a questionnaire to me with details as to why they should be added to the candidates list. There was NO way to get on the candidates list if you weren't there to begin with without filling out the questionnaire.  The benefit? CSC and Nexj won, for example.

There was ALSO an opportunity for the candidates already on the list to submit the same questionnaire with the details.  Since they were on the list, what's the benefit, you might be thinking?   Simple. When I'm judging who is going to be a winner, I go on the research I've done over the year that ranges from conversations to reading to demos to primary research etc.  But I'm one person. Thus, I can't possibly find out everything out there.  Consequently, if you are a candidate and filled out the questionnaire, you might have presented me with information that I didn't know that would have an impact on my thinking about the winners later. Take my word for it, for those who did fill it out, every single one had some information I had no knowledge of and when it boils down to it, the biggest winner, Blackbaud, had enough in there to put them at the very top of the heap.  If you take the time, then you get the opportunity to sway my thinking. If you don't, then I go on what I got, which you didn't provide me so its my coloration entirely, not yours at all.

Think about that.

The other thing is a simple human, behavioral one. If this award matters to you at all - show me that it does. During the selection process, I tweeted the following out to all the finalists via the #crmwatchlist hashtag: "please acknowledge via email that you know you are a finalist." I did that after I identified the hashtag in blog posts as a place to monitor the progress of the Watchlist, which I faithfully kept up. Know why I did that? I wanted to see if the Watchlist mattered to the people I was spending time learning about. My logic, twisted as you may think it is, was that if it did, you would have read the blog posts about it, then followed the hashtag and then spent 2 minutes sending me an email (an explicit instruction that took more that a tweet reply) and that would indicate to me that this might matter to you.  If you didn't, well, I'm human. Doesn't matter to you, matters less to me.  That said, the bulk of the winners didn't respond but many did. With the scoring, there was a grey area that allowed me to make a judgment call on whether or not the company won. So wrap your arms around this.  If part of my criteria scores/weighs how well/much you are involved in engaging thought leaders and analysts/influencers, your response to the tweet or lack of, would be something that would give me some idea, at least from an anecdotal standpoint, of how  you think about that engagement with the influencers.  Don'tcha think?

So here's another thing. Pay attention and be responsive, which kind of goes to the heart of the questionnaire hint too.

I wasn't making this easy on anyone. Toughest judging I've ever done.

2013 is only a year away, so chew on what I said here - including those of you who won in 2012 and we'll take it from there.

Now on to the awards.

Special Lifetime Impact Award: Peppers & Rogers Group

Back in 2001, right after CRM at the Speed of Light's first edition came out, I was asked by my publisher, McGraw-Hill to participate on a panel on CRM in front of the McGraw-Hill Cos. executives, among them Terry McGraw. The two speakers at this event were to be Michael Maoz of Gartner and Martha Rogers of Peppers and Rogers.

Now, I'd been a fan of the writings of Peppers and Rogers forever - with 1to1 (future, B2B, enterprise, etc) and just worshiped what they said about the human side of business and how that had a real impact on how business was done. They were the first that I knew of who were showing actual results from a relatively right-brained approach to what was contemporary business at the turn of the millennium.

I was pretty nervous because this was the first time I ever had made a public appearance (except for a few rounds on the bullhorn on behalf of SDS in the 60s) and I was going to be with all these industry giants. Gulp.

When I got to their HQ in Manhattan they took me into a conference room that the speakers were ensconced in and I went and sat down. As soon as I sat down, this woman came over to me and said, "Hi, you're Paul Greenberg aren't you? I read your book and I loved it!"

Wow. That was Martha Rogers. I've never forgotten that lovely gesture - one that gave me a lot confidence in how I publicly conducted myself on a stage ever since.

But...as great a thing as that was...it's not the reason that the Peppers and Rogers Group wins the first ever CRM Watchlist Lifetime Impact Award.

I mean, come ON. Think about this. Martha Rogers along with her close friend and business partner Don Peppers have been among the top influencers in business for over 25 years and were named by, lets just say, far greater, more powerful organizations than me as among the top of all time.  They've fundamentally shaped the customer facing part of business and were not only among the first visionaries but the first to build a consulting business on what is the core principles of their belief and all its formats - personalization and what they later called ""=""> They took the industry away from mass marketing and product centric thinking to the notion of an individualized customer knowledge and customer centric behavior.

But, you say, that was so in the 90s and early 2000's they did that.


You don't think they stopped there, do you?

I"m not sure how aware you are of 1to1 Media, which is run by one of the best editors in the social and CRM world, and a thought leader in her own right,  Ginger Conlon.  If you're not shame on you (though a little bit shame on them too, because its something they need to be considerably more vocal about than they are). As far back as 2008, PRG outlined the visionary thinking around the alignment of marketing and sales (not the integration of the two). In the technology world, this led to the transition of marketing automation to the concept of revenue performance management (a horrid term - not PRG's - but built around the alignment of sales and marketing). 1 to 1 Media not only stays on top of trends in CRM and social channels but looks at contemporary thinking in the world of business as it is impacted by the communications revolution that has begun to transform the world as we know it.  They are au courant, even if there is a perception sometimes that PRG is "old school."  If you mean, stodgy, nope. If you mean, practical, then sure.

Beyond 1 to 1 Media,  they have been active (proactive really) co-sponsors with Gartner of the Customer Champion awards that are given out at the Gartner Customer 360 event every year.

Additionally, each of the primaries - Don and Martha have been publicly listed as among the great thought leaders of the last century in one way or the other.

Okay, you say, thought leadership aside, what else do they do. Oh, you unbeliever, you.

They have run a successful global management consulting practice for years that, even with the normal ups and downs of the economy and some difficult ownership changes, has been successful. Most of the Fortune 500 has been its clients. They have done work in 30 languages and on 5 continents. In other words, not only do they get around, but so does the word about the work they do.

Because their focus is on management strategy, they have a wide variety of services that they provide to their clients ranging from customer data strategies, segmentation and CLV measurement to sales, marketing and service modeling, channel management to change management and communications planning. I'm merely touching on a few of their offerings to show you what they can provide. Formidable.

Do I think that there are things they can do to drive their ideas to a wider audience, gain more mind share?


I think they need to spend more time working with the other influencers and analysts on things that benefit the customer facing industry and be a little less insular (though that might be a bit unfair of a term). I think that they need to be more visible and aggressive about speaking with the newer conduits for information and knowledge - some of the newer journalists and influencers in addition to the existing more seasoned folks - and in fact provide some mentoring for them.  But that's about it.  They have some real presence now but, false or not, they need to overcome that old school perception.  Just 'cuz I don't call them stodgy doesn't mean that they aren't sometimes seen that way.

They feel that their current focus on privacy, trust and transparency might help them with getting past that image. Add the relationships I'm talking about above in addition and they might be right.

There is a reason that they are the recipient of my very first CRM Watchlist Lifetime Impact Award. Its because they deserve it.  All the talk about personalized experience and customer-centrism and the chatter about customers as business stakeholders might not exist if it weren't for them and their work over the last 20 years - and the last couple of years, too.

And THAT, dudes and dudesses, is a damned good reason.

Top Overall Scorer: Blackbaud

I have to say; I didn't see this one coming at all. Not that I didn't think Blackbaud was going to be a winner. Even with the much tougher criteria and scoring of this year, they had so much going for them, I saw them as a definite winner.

What I didn't see was that they were going to be THE highest scorer of the entire group. #1 among all the finalists including even the consulting/SIs.  Wow.

But, when you begin to look at it, Blackbaud deserved to be just that.  There is very little they haven't done right, but there are some things they have to think about.  We'll get to that.

Blackbaud dominates the non-profit sector. That's not to say they are the only significant player - there is Convio for example. They aren't the most contemporary player either - for example, Avectra has a considerably more social platform than they do (though not nearly as deep).  But they are THE company to beat in non-profit.

They've been at this for 30 years with an incredibly experienced management team, most of whom have had enterprise level experience at vendors like Oracle or practitioners like Los Alamos Labs.

Their knowledge of the non-profit world allowed them to create a technology platform and application suite they call (rather cleverly) Raiser's Edge that encompasses a complete stack for the non-profit sector.

Keep in mind that CRM in the non-profit world is not precisely the same as CRM in the commercial sector.  Blackbaud (and me and others) call it Constituent Relationship Management. Where in commercial venues, the customer is someone who buys or who can influence buyers, in non-profit the constituent is a donor, volunteer, an organization that provides grants, it can be the provider of planned giving (different somewhat than a donor) and much more.

I've had long experience at multiple levels with non-profits too lengthy to go into here. But suffice to say what I like about non-profits is that they are organizations who typically are attempting to do good in some way or to represent a membership. Profitability is not their concern (duh).

But that doesn't mean they don't have business concerns. They most certainly do. But business is what non-profits have often had trouble doing because they are mostly conscience-driven organizations. So you'd see (though less now than in the past) organizations that had as many as 7 or 8 databases for each category of constituent. The constituents who volunteered and gave money were seen in two databases and would get two phone calls. Let's just say not optimal.

Blackbaud was one of the pioneers in enabling coherent business processes and strategies for non-profits and have been wildly successful at it.  How successful? Their 2010 annual report says $327,094,000. That is immense, especially for a company catering to is a notoriously frugal vertical.

It doesn't stop there however. They have more than 25,000 non-profit customers in 60 countries that raise over $100 billion in donations in aggregate, annually. Their self-stated target market is "built for the largest non-profits with the most complex needs."  Just to size it properly, the largest non-profits are seen to be $100 million and up.  More toward the lower end of the midmarket in the commercial world.

Their technology stack is nearly complete.  The applications are built around the jobs that non-profits generally do - fundraising, volunteer management, core operations, and communication (through stewardship).  The platform back end is as strong as any platform in the enterprise software world (except perhaps the biggest of the Big 4) with strong administration, security, auditing and an open standards API, plus a business rules and workflow engine.

But they don't stop with that.  They also have a professional services organization that provides not only implementation services, which includes planning but post implementation services including business process improvements for the non-profits.

There seems to be one weakness though. The social components of their technology stack and service offerings seem to be custom, not native. That is something that they are going to have to consider changing in the future. With the pervasive use of social channels among all institutions - ALL institutions, making this a part of the standard offerings - both technology and services - seems to be the way to go in the near future. They have one interesting application that is offered called "Friends Asking Friends" which is a peer-to-peer donor management module.  Smart thinking and a good start. But nonetheless only a start.

They have a phenomenal presence in the industry. BBCON, their user conference, drew 2100 in 2011. They hosted 432 virtual events and attended 162 conferences. Their effort to get out there should be emulated by other CRM vendors.

Because they are focused on non-profit, their culture is something I put some extra emphasis on looking into. No problem. They aced it.

One requirement for non-profit technology (at least in my eyes) is that they participate in corporate citizenship - give back to the communities that they benefit from.  They do.  For example, 90% of their employees have volunteered for almost 100,000 volunteer hours equal to more than $2 million in service to nonprofits. The company has participated in a significant number of charitable and other volunteer efforts with combinations of labor and funds to support them.  Headquartered in Charleston South Carolina, they work closely with local and state agencies to support varying causes including funds to disadvantaged youth.  They have created the Blackbaud Fund which gives grants to different agencies for different things. What makes this unique is that the employees are empowered (and trained) to decide on the distribution of those grants.

But it doesn't stop there.  They have been named one of the best companies in North America to work for by Best Places to Work. Forbes, Fortune, Software have recognized them as one of the best companies.

What can you say? This is quite a company.

The question that they have to answer comes from their strengths, not flaws. Do they want to stay where they are as a dominant player in non-profit, expand their non-profit dominance or begin to potentially seek out other areas to go?  I'm not suggesting which of these options is right but it does give context to the two things they need to address in 2012 regardless of their decision.

  1. Blackbaud has done an extraordinary job at their market presence and thought leadership in the non-profit world. But they are nearly invisible in the CRM world. That might have been a conscious decision since they serve only non-profits but there is always a benefit to participating in the part of your world that defines the technology because non-profits might look to CRM technology before they look to non-profit CRM technology.  If they are going to move into other arenas, this becomes a necessary decision.
  2. The only other thing, make the social and mobile pieces, part of the technology stack.  Its time. It doesn't matter which choice you make. This is necessary. Just because they are dominant now doesn't mean guaranteed future dominance.  Communication in, data capture from and analysis of social channels is now de rigueur.  I wouldn't skip this one. They have some social/mobile capabilities but not even real table stakes at this point, given the maturity of the rest of their offering.

These guys rock. The first company other than salesforce to be #1 in my scoring and I have to say while I was surprised at first, I'm not now.

Top Consulting/SI Scorer: CSC

What makes this particular winner fascinating is that they were a walk on. In fairness to them, their omission was due to a brain...freeze on my part, I left them out by accident.  But, it turned out to be fortuitous for them because they were required to send me the questionnaire. The questionnaire answers which I verified blew me away. The combination of the questionnaire and other information I already had put these guys on top, with the highest score of a consulting firm in the competition. What that means is that I think they are incredibly well positioned to have a major impact in 2012.

Let's start with sheer scope.  They have reported their revenue for the 12 months ending September 30, 2011 as $16.2 billion. They have 97,000 employees. They have a highly experienced management team, many who have been at the company for more than a decade. They are one of the most prominent players in the world in the public sector - a difficult vertical that needs deep expertise and, due to regulatory requirements for participating in that sector, a level of governance that is otherwise rarely seen in other sectors. This has been a core for CSC for years. The benefit is that the practices resulting from the deep expertise and knowledge necessary spill over to parts of the company.

If I had to characterize their CRM practice, I would have to say they are a laser focused organization. I've known them a long time.  In fact, since the millennium began. I've partnered with them in my sorta distant past.  For all the years I know their CRM practice (and it goes back to when the incredible Steve Olyha was running it) they have always been very targeted on creating solutions for smaller slices of larger verticals, though of course addressed some of the larger verticals too (witness Public Sector).  For example, back in 2004-2005, they weren't focused on the food industry; they weren't focused on CRM for Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), but instead carved out a smaller slice around trade promotion - which they then OWNED.

They are continuing that practice today. They still handle some of the larger verticals like Life Sciences and of course, their bread and butter, Public Sector, but the tradition of laser slices continues via CSC Boomerang, which aims at rail transport companies - an area of interest to numbers of vendors such as Oracle, too. Even in Life Sciences, while they don't focus on a particular segment, they focus on a particular set of job outcomes -  sales and marketing effectiveness and alignment. This is much more in line with contemporary thinking on how to approach enablement via technology - jobs based thinking and outcomes.  But still reflects CSC's incredibly deep focus.

But being this targeted doesn't mean they are wearing blinders.  They are also among the more forward thinking consulting organizations in the world.

They have a clear perspective on where they want to go with CRM.  Social business, organized around collaboration and innovation, two continuous themes that runs through their literature and their work. That defines their future. But they don't see it as fluff. They have a clearly delineated process and framework for social business - well beyond the scope of this review but well worth understanding. Not only do they have a framework but specific target markets (e.g. multichannel retail), specific consulting and technology initiatives and programs associated with that.

To make sure that they are aligned with their objectives to provide the components of a social business to their clients, they are realigning themselves internally and transforming themselves externally.

Internally, they are creating a collaborative and relatively open culture that, at the same time, understands that governance and compliance do actually matter in the real business world, which is not flat nor will it be in any foreseeable future.

For example, at Sapphire 2011, the CSC CTO David McCue, spoke to the changing requirements in the workplace and the consequent change in culture it created. For example, they recognize that the younger generation of employees is going to use the mobile devices they use at home.  So, they've allowed that. But they've also put a system in place that secures the CSC data that will reside on the device. On the one hand, there is no problem whatever with the employees using the devices at work for personal reasons and for business reasons. But the business data and activities on the device are secured.

This is just a nugget that reflects the contemporary thinking of this multinational firm.  Intelligent enough to adapt and experienced enough to know where the constraints will continue to exist for awhile. Yet, they have an answer for the apparent conundrum.

Additionally, they've implemented a successful internal collaboration platform (based on Jive) called C3 that has 91,000 users actively communicating in over 6500 groups so that they can maximize their corporate knowledge, rather than leaving it in the synapses of their employees.  Smart, smart move.

Externally, they've launched a Digital Transformation initiative which goes to the heart of their perspective around social business and is aligned with the internal initiatives as well. Among their efforts are an external collaboration community, social media monitoring and management, and revamping/creating platforms that will support sales and marketing efforts through both increased knowledge of individual prospects and customers (individual can mean a company here, too).

They are also staffing up at senior levels to achieve this transformation.  For example, in late 2011, they brought Mark Walton-Hayfield, an up and coming SCRM influencer, from Capgemini to run their Social Business initiative and practice for the U.K/Ireland.

One last thing before we get into what they have to improve in 2012.

Their partnership strategy and partnerships are impressive - in fact, one of the things that they scored exceptionally well in.  A simple list will suffice:

  1. CRM - Oracle, salesforce.com, Microsoft and SAP (the Big 4 winners of the Watchlist 2012)
  2. Social Business - salesforce.com, Jive, Microsoft, Sword Ciboodle (another Watchlist 2012 winner); and BeeMedia Technology (mobile).
  3. Customer Intelligence - SAS, Business Objectst (SAP owned), Cognos (IBM), Oracle and EMC GreenPlum.

These are their categories, BTW.  The only one I'm not entirely clear on is why Microsoft is considered a Social Business partner. But this is a golden list of partners and incredibly well chosen. Because Sword-Ciboodle has been a client of mine, I'm well acquainted with that particular partnership and I can tell you it has been a good one for both companies.

So what is it that they have to do in 2012?

  1. As I've outlined, they are a forward thinking company.  Their stated values are built around collaboration or innovation.  But their corporate vision reads: "To become the world's leading independent provider of IT services by delivering opportunities to our employees, results to our clients, and value to our shareholders."  While the sentiment is nice, this is about as bland and generic a vision statement as I've seen in awhile. To be honest, it doesn't reflect the actual nature of the company nor is it adequate to differentiate them from anyone else. Vision statements are important and not just marketing.  This might be asking too much, but it needs to be changed.
  2. CSC is good at providing thought leadership from the inside out with assets like the Leading Edge Forum, which functions as a think tank and as an academy for the next gen discussions that need to go on in the corporate world.  But they don't generate anywhere near the buzz with it that IBM does with for example, the Institute for Business Value. In influencer discussions, CSC is rarely if ever top of mind.  There is a reason for all this. CSC needs to spend 2012 engaging influencers and being present at events that they don't run far more than they have ever done. At least in the CRM world.  Take my word for it, LEF's work (and CSC) would be considerably more top of mind if they do.

But while they are daunting tasks to some extent, this doesn't deter from them being a Watchlist winner in 2012. They deserve it.

Winners of CRM Idol 2011: The New Impact Awards

These are the CRM Watchlist awards that will go to the year's CRM Idol winners. Think about it. They've emerged onto an even bigger stage than they may have been on or stepped onto their first stage. They have been visible to and interacted with the most significant influencers - independent, institutional, boutique, vendor in the CRM world. They've won acclaim via thousands of popular votes. They got there by being the last ones standing, which is one hell of an achievement.

Get Satisfaction

This one is getting routine. Get Satisfaction has been on the Watchlist in 2010, 2011, and now 2012. This year they made it as the CRM Idol 2011 winner for the Americas but the reality is that the likelihood of them making itthe "normal" way was pretty much set in stone, I scored them and they were over the "guaranteed winner" threshold, regardless.  I've written about them so frequently that about the only thing I can tell you about them that I haven't written before is they got a new round of funding - a Series B round of $10,000,000 led by Interwest Partners bringing their total funding up to over $20 million since birth.

Okay, there are several more things. But I like dramatic statements, what can I tell you?

The most substantial move they have ever made was in 2010 when they decided to make the move from a customer service community to becoming a customer service platform.  Historically, they had (and have) been known for a unique model that aggregated company-focused customer service sites (e.g. Microsoft or Starbucks would have an officially sanctioned or unofficial service centered community hosted by Get Satisfaction). These sites could vary in purpose - e.g. solve service problems, capture feedback, but ultimately they are focused on service interactions between customers and either official or unofficial company representatives. This led them to 63,000 (yes, that's the real number) customers. That would be companies with communities. Now that's scale.

But when they made their move (as did another CRM Watchlist 2012 winner, Hubspot) to go from community to platform, it was a bold and probably nerve-wracking step.  To that end, rockstar CEO Wendy Lea and equally adept co-founders Thor Muller, Lane Becker and Amy Muller made the move to bring in one of the most powerful and influential thought leaders in the enterprise world Jeff Nolan, the acclaimed founder of SAP Ventures - and one of the nicest human beings you would ever meet. Jeff's savvy and contacts (and style) were critical to anchoring Get Satisfaction's product evolution.

But I challenged them in 2011 too. The platform space is highly competitive and because the stakes are really high, it is necessary to keep moving and expanding the integrations was essential to that movement.  In January 2010, they announced their first integration with salesforce.com (everyone's first integration) and by year-end they had Parature and Zendesk too. But that wasn't enough. Here's what I said last year:

"But there are concerns. First, 2011 is the year that this platform model is going to be successful or not.  They've moved into a highly competitive space with all the major CRM providers claiming platform hegemony is their 2011 objective.  For them, integration with CRM packages is key."

Well, I'm pleased to say that they didn't stop in 2011 They have strong technology partnerships and integrations with the three above and Assistly (acquired by salesforce.com in 2011); Google Apps, Google Analytics, Pivotal, GoodData, Jira, Facebook, Twitter, HootSuite, Involver, Velaro with several others in the works. The overwhelming interpretation of this set of integration and partner choices is that they are building out complementary capabilities to shore up their offering.

This is a company moving in the right direction without any question. But remember, this is an impact award and I'm looking for how a CRM(ish) company can impact the market. I have two suggestions, my friends at Get Satisfaction.

  1. I did say that in 2011 I thought that you had to integrate with more CRM systems. I respect your decision and will of course always support your decision to partner with and integrate with companies that will, from the standpoint of feature/function extend your offering. But you still need to be integrating with other CRM and CRM-related systems ranging from Microsoft Dynamics CRM to SAP and Oracle to Moxie and Hubspot so to speak. Maybe even take a flyer on a system like Nimble as it evolves.
  2. Thought leadership, thought leadership, thought leadership. Market presence, market presence, market presence. I'm distinguishing here between the thought leadership provided by Jeff Nolan, who has been an independent thought leader in the market for a long time or the dynamic personal market presence of Wendy Lea.  I'm talking a concerted organized program for analyst/influencer relations; a program that provides a visible presence on the stage of the CRM and service and whatever other industries that you want to be seen in via sponsoring things, webinars, digital guides to customer service, podcasts, video work, regular events, shows etc. Sometimes an explosive obvious presence, sometimes showing up. I have to say that I think that you can be too money conscious about these things and overly risk conscious.  Take a shot, spend the dollars and get yourselves out there in 2012. You're growing up in a big-ticket market that has a lot of competitors for all kinds of reasons. You need to show up in a big way - or at least in a bigger way and perhaps be, let's say, less frugal about it.

In 2011 I also said,

"Now they instead are a really interesting contender that made this Watchlist two years running.  2011 here we come - I'm banking on Get Satisfaction making it in 2012 too."

I was right about that one. Now...I'm banking on Get Satisfaction making it in 2013.


This is perhaps the most pleasant revelation of 2011 for me. When the year started, I didn't know them. I hadn't heard of this Ukraine based company.   You could say, I guess, that "well, why should you have? They are in the Ukraine, you're in the U.S. You have a million better established companies to cover and follow and talk to. They were less than 18 months old. "

Yeah, but, know what? Now that I know them, it was my bad. I should have known them.

Know why? Because this small 50-employee company has one of the more complete, well thought out, realistic without being timid, clear cut approaches to success in the CRM space that I've heard for a long time.

Let me check off the reasons that they are going to be a company that has a real global impact in 2012 - if they do some things that they have never done before.

  • They have hundreds of customers in less than 18 months of existence - and they are profitable.  A great track record already.
  • They have a mission and vision that they have aligned with their actual day to day operations and their attack on the market.
  • They focus on specific verticals that where they know that their process-based CRM will be strong - banking, professional services, advertising, and telecommunications, among others.
  • They have a product that is geared toward users who are sophisticated but not programmers so that you can model business processes without being a designer. The processes can range from simple to complex. The design engine is easy to use.
  • They understand their limitations without being bound tightly by them.  Their highly capable (and very kind) CEO Katerina Kostereva moves the company by steps that allow for risk but don't get insanely dangerous.
  • Their go-to-market strategy is clear cut and well thought out. The details of it are up to them to tell you.

I'm not going to elaborate on their product here. You can read the CRM Idol 2011 EMEA judges' review of that here.  This is an impact award. There is no company here that produces awful or even bad products. You couldn't win this award if you did.

But BPMonline's victory in CRM Idol 2011 puts a different burden on them than the far more established GetSatisfaction has.  CRM Idol 2011 actually put them into the limelight and I don't doubt BPMonline will reap other benefits from their recognition.  But they have perhaps the most difficult path of all in 2012. I have one concern and a couple of suggestions as to what I think they need to do.

My concern is the same concern we had as EMEA judges.  I'm not sold on their perception of who their market is at this time.  They are, given their product's evolution best suited to the upper end of the midmarket. They have enterprise ambitions which will put them squarely in the competitive wheelhouse of Pegasystems and Sword-Ciboodle, SAP and to some extent, even Oracle, though I'm less concerned about the latter.  They are not ready to compete there yet even with the excellent product they have.  They don't have the resources.  I would think they MIGHT (and this is not a well researched suggestion) be an interesting technology partner for NetSuite who is focused on that upper end of the midmarket and has great traction there. NetSuite has declared for the enterprise and could be a way for BPMonline to eventually forge a path there. They have highly complementary features.  It's a thought. I'd be concerned regardless of how they proceed.

Now that they are in the limelight, in order for them to not be a one-hit wonder they have to take advantage of the position they are now in and build lasting relationships in the CRM community and an extensive presence in the market.  Remember, I wasn't the only one who had never heard of them in the first quarter of 2011. Now they are front and center. They need to stay front and center by allocating funds to marketing and public relations.  Even more so than thought leadership. They should jump through all the windows that are open to them while they are open and begin to show their faces in multiple places - events, online. Here's my advice, Katerina and company.

"Speak where you can.  Sponsor what you can.  Attend what you can. Take the influencer relationships you've now established and maintain them.  Piggyback them to others you don't know yet. Don't be shy.  But be careful. Like you always seem to be. Follow your profile - taking well considered risks - and you should be fine."

Okay, that's it. Top 5 done. More to come. Stay tuned over next few days.

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