CRM Watchlist 2013 Winners: Consulting and Systems Integrators hook up: Part 2

This is now truly the final post for the 2013 CRM Watchlist. It consumed 4 months of my life and thus, if you read my stuff, 4 months of yours. But it ends on a really good note. Today we look at the smaller impact players, two who affect particular markets. That would be Solvis Consulting and The Pedowitz Group. I'll make you read it to find out which markets they impact. Have fun and see you around.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

A couple of days ago, we took a look at the big guys in the consulting services/systems integrators side. Now, time for the little guys.

One final time, a word from our sponsors: The 2014 CRM Watchlist registration is now open.

On Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 7.00am ET, the CRM Watchlist 2014 registration process began. Yep, right in the middle of the 2013 reviews. Progress (and time) waits for no man (or woman). What that means is that if you are a technology company or consulting/systems integrator business that does "customer facing" things, which means software or services products/solutions, you become a candidate for the CRM Watchlist 2014. This means that:

  1. You can request a 2014 registration form from me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com

  2. When you receive it, fill it out exactly according to the instructions and in return, you will get the questionnaire for 2014 — either the vendor questionnaire or the consulting/SI questionnaire, which are slightly different

  3. You have until November 30, 2013, to fill out the questionnaire

  4. If you send in the registration form to me, I will presume that you are going to fill out the questionnaire by the due date and will start tracking you as soon send the registration back to me. Please don't waste my time and request the questionnaire and then not fill it out. I'm tracking you for the better part of a year if you do send it.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Small with big impact

The revenues of these two companies combined wouldn't even be the size of a big deal at one of the other three companies. Yet, Solvis Consulting Group and The Pedowitz Group (TPG) have a market impact that, while more narrowly focused, is also powerful in their specific domains. The two companies are every bit as worthy of the Watchlist award as the three other much bigger boys in this post.

Impact when focused well is impact with results. Both of these excellent companies beat out a larger group of smaller consultancies. In the interests of transparency, disclosure, compliance, and whatever other words need to be in a statement like this, I will say that each of the winners have a close friend of mine in a leadership position; but so did some of those who didnt make it. The irony is that the friend is a friend because they are so influential, I couldn't help but meet them. The rest followed a normal human path.

So, let's end the Watchlist for 2013 with a bang and talk about these two sector-powerful companies, the impact they are having, and the challenges they face.

Solvis Consulting

What makes Solvis Consulting powerful isn't its size. It's how it approaches its geography. When it comes to CRM, Solvis is a company that dominates CRM and related mindshare in Latin America (LATAM).

Solvis was founded almost 20 years ago (1995) by experienced consultants who all knew each other from Cambridge Technology Partners. What makes it unique is that the founders and their families are still involved in the company 18 years later. The culture is defined as a group of friends and family who enjoy working together. While that might sound too much like a marketing message to you, I assure you, having firsthand knowledge of it, it isn't a message. It is the culture.

What's interesting though is that it isn't just personal. That would just be a group of friends. It's a culture that permeates the business that is attuned to the specific requirements of the Latin American marketplace. Solvis has offices in Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia, and has done business in multiple other countries across the South American continent; yet even across country, it has retained the deep closeness that uniquely characterizes them. It has a business culture that actually encompasses lifestyle choices.

It's focus is obviously CRM, and to that end, it provides services and technology. If I had to place the company in a category, I'd call it a strategic services company. While it has technology partnerships — strategic and reseller, among others — with Radian6 and Salesforce, Get Satisfaction, Lithium, Fuze Digital, and FullContact, the bulk of its revenue is derived from defining models, strategies, and creating systems to support those models and strategies. The services range from educational ("How to Establish a CRM Strategy") to methodological (Social CRM Strategy service); to developing command centers ("Social Command Centers" to manage crises, do customer support; or even track and interact in the realm of social marketing).

What makes its approach so potent is that it does what other consultancies should do — focus on outcomes. It isn't selling technologies, even with its reseller agreements with some tech vendors. It is focused on creating the framework and defining the systems necessary to achieve specific business outcomes for its clients. To be clear, that goes beyond "solving business problems". Things that companies need aren't always repairs of drywall. Sometimes, they need to construct a new building or build an extension on an already lovely building. We have to get past the standard "solving business problems" drivel and start focusing on valued outcomes. Solvis doesn't — it already does that.

Its track record speaks for itself, with a marquee set of customers — over 80 of them in Latin America — and with some of the best known names on the continent: Telmex, Movistar, Aero Mexico, Ford, Social @Ogilvy, etc.

It doesn't ignore thought leadership either. The managing partner is Jesus Hoyos, the leading CRM mind for the region, and one whose influence has extended into North America and the Spanish speaking countries of Europe. With countless speaking engagements and writing, Solvis' name is getting out all over the world. Jesus is evangelizing by doing what good thought leaders do — aim at mindshare, not market share. He speaks of ideas and concepts, best practices and strategies; not Solvis and pricing.

But by its own admission, it invests very little in marketing. Which, of course, limits the ability to grow beyond a certain level. While you might think that this is due to a budgetary limitation, if that's what you think, then you are only partially right. The lightness of marketing spend is actually part of its fundamental dilemma — which is: How do you retain this incredibly close personal culture when you are growing in share of wallet and mindshare continually? It already has a powerful impact in Latin America, and has reached a level of business that demands staff growth.

So, what is it that Solvis has to do?

What it needs to do

  1. Make a fundamental decision from which all things stem — It has a great culture. Everyone knows and loves everyone else at the company. It is a truly customer-centered company that walks the walk. When it recruits, it recruits highly skilled, very competent professionals who they know, or who fit into the culture like a glove. But it is also a business that has reached a point, or will soon, where further growth will start depersonalizing the culture of the company, just because there are only so many people that it can hire, who fit the cultural norm before the skill sets needed become unavailable. In this lies its fundamental dilemma — and how it answers this is from what all other answers grow. Does it grow and lose something of its culture, or does it remain steady where it is and lose something of its business impact, limiting its growth to tiny incremental growth, but keeps the lifestyle. It has to make this decision soon because it seems to be at, or close to that point. I can't make it. This is one of the few companies that I can say that it will be truly a personal decision. It's just a very hard decision

  2. Partner with other consultancies — This is one option that is only being proposed if it is trying to both grow and to maintain its culture. By partnering with other highly effective consultancies, it may (and I emphasize may) be able to diffuse the growth via the extended staff available through the consultancies that it partners with. The consultancies do some of the work that Solvis would have done if it were aimed at exponential growth, and Solvis makes some margin without having to grow its staff. This, though, adds some operational headaches, but might be a way to not lose business while maintaining the family-friendly culture that it does have

  3. Spend more on marketing — I'm going on the assumption here that it is deciding to grow. If not, it really doesn't have much more it needs to do; it has an organic sales opportunity machine, but not one that provides the ability for huge pipelines. To get to that level, it will need to start spending marketing dollars in the markets that it is interested in, where it may not have traction. Perhaps some marketing spend in Peru (if it wants to do business there) so that it has some visibility, if no presence. That's just an example; I'm not suggesting this, per se, just that it seriously consider relying less on the idea that thought leadership is a substitution for marketing.

For a company this well balanced and this experienced, growth is inevitable. Not only does it have a profound knowledge of the LATAM market, but it has the precise expertise needed for that, and a clear cut strategy for capturing both mind and market share. That is why it is an impact player. But 2013, or maybe 2014, and the growth will begin to reach a point where the decisions have to be made. Whatever decision it makes may affect the kind of impact it has in the future, but it won't affect whether or not it will be a major player in LATAM CRM. That, it will always be.

The Pedowitz Group

While I was thinking through how to handle The Pedowitz Group (TPG) — what I wanted to say, what I think it needs do to — an image came to mind. This might sound peculiar, but it is a dynamic, elegant company. Yeah, elegant.

Why elegant?

Because there is very little that it hasn't done under the leadership of the three primary partners — Jeff Pedowitz, Bruce Culbert, and Debby Qaqish — that hasn't been smart, focused, and sophisticated in both form and execution. Thus, elegant.

But elegant doesn't mean light weight. That very sophistication leads to recognized results. In the last year, TPG has been recognized by Inc Magazine as one of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the United States in 2012. It won the Watchlist last year for the first time; it was recognized by the Atlanta Journal as one of the 50 fastest growing private companies in Atlanta. Meaning it is doing something right.

That all translates to revenues, too. It has increased its revenue during the past five consecutive years, and in 2012, increased its profitability by 250 percent. It is cash flow positive, debt free, and able to grow the business as the opportunities arise. You can't ask for much more than that if you're looking at a company with a future.

It calls itself a "Revenue Marketing Agency", which is important for two reasons; one is that it gives it a very specific focus around not only developing the marketing technology strategies that are needed to move marketing forward, but also ties it to the contemporary trend that we are seeing everywhere — marketing objectives and sales objectives are being aligned, which results in the assignment of revenue objectives to marketing. It is perhaps the expert in this in the US, and possibly, the world.

This gives it a unique perspective in what is the hottest sector of all customer-facing sectors in business — marketing. Marketing, which for several years lagged behind the other customer facing departments — customer service and sales — has exploded forward with the advent of social and content marketing in particular, and with the aforementioned alignment of sales and marketing in general. For example, a recent poll conducted by B2B magazine of extant marketers found that 96 percent had some involvement in social media. No longer is social either "wow" or experimental, but for marketing professionals, being involved with it either programmatically or individually is necessary.

This gives TPG a leg up on any competition. It is focused on B2B marketing and has the in-house expertise to handle the end-to-end work from strategy to implementation for revenue marketing. (A parenthetical note: Eloqua and Marketo call this revenue performance management — which to me sounds like accounting, not marketing. I like TPG's characterization of it as "revenue marketing" way better. Eloqua and Marketo, please take note). It has served over 1000 B2B clients over the years and has the partnerships it needs to handle the technology aspects of the strategic services that it provides. So, for example, it associates with (mostly through partnerships) 13 platforms. Those that are strategic are Marketo, Aprimo (now Teradata Applications), Oracle, Eloqua, and ExactTarget. (Noticeably missing is hot marketing technology company Neolane, which is more visible in Europe, but is also becoming a serious player here. TPG might want to look into it if it hasn't already). But it has point technology alliances, too, with companies ranging from Jive and Lithium for communities to Demandbase and Omniture for analytics. In other words, it covers its bases.

But it doesn't stop with just the groundwork. It has an active market presence — how about that? A marketing company with a market presence — with visibility in print, on the air, and over the web well beyond the scope of this post. It provides thought leadership in the space, not just speaking on topics like demand generation, but also with a Revenue Marketing University dedicated to training and education in what it has its stake buried in. Its leadership constantly wins awards for being among the most influential in the world of marketing.

Most importantly, for both thought leadership and work, it has a comprehensive framework that covers both what is and what needs to be done. That means the "what is" of the Revenue Marketing Journey to the "what needs to be done" of the Revenue Marketing Transformation. Attached to the latter, in particular, are toolsets such as the RM6 assessment tool to see what stage of the journey you are at.

But that doesn't obviate the need it has to do a few more things that I think will increase its impact and skyrocket it to an entirely different level. What might that be, you ask? Let me tell you.

What it needs to do

  1. Take a small calculated risk or two — One thing that is very apparent after dealing with it personally, doing the research and reading its submission, is that it is not a risk-taker. Its commitment to "repeatable, predictable, sustainable" tends to not just be an outcome it is looking at achieving with its customers, but what makes it tick as a company — which is a good thing. However, most companies looking for dramatic leaps in impact and revenue have to take some calculated risks. TPG can take small ones. For example, if you look at its Revenue Marketing Journey, it is predicated on an old school look at where most companies are and could be in their marketing maturity. But given the numbers we are seeing, is the traditional starting point of the 4Ps going to be the traditional starting point for marketers in 5 years? If not, its journey model will break. So why not be a bit visionary (though not too much) and start prototyping the revenue marketing journey of five years from now? It's a bit of a risk, because it goes against its grain, but if controlled, can be a valuable addition to its arsenal of tools and frameworks at the point it's needed. Which isn't too far off. That's one example of a small calculated risk. There are many, and it should consider them

  2. Step up its analyst relations/influencer relations program — Interesting if you were to look at the "who it knows" list of analysts and other influencers, it would be impressive. In fact, from the influencer side, each of the three partners, especially Bruce Culbert, could be characterized as an influencer. But when viewed through the lens of a formal AR/IR program (not so much PR), it's a whole other story. To boil it down, it doesn't really have one. It has reached the stage where AR/IR can no longer be sustained as a personal effort — which it is with Bruce Culbert taking the lead. It needs to bring someone in or hire a company to start regularized interactions with multiple kinds of influencers. This company has a shot at being a long term market leader in demand generation and revenue marketing — in fact, the market maker in the latter. But that takes a sustained outreach that there is no way that the leadership of the company can do by itself. Time to bite the bullet and get out there.

I don't really think TPG needs to do much more than this. Elegance in this case, carries a lot of weight and a lot of sustainable impact. It is well positioned to be in the Inc Magazine's top 50 fastest growing private companies someday pretty soon if it can keep up what it is doing. But it needs to do the tweaking and, if it does, the rest will be history.

The end

Well, amazingly, that's it. I'm done with the 2013 Watchlist. My life has a big (and entirely welcome) void in it now that the god-knows-how-many words of reviews are done. But I'm already onto the 2014 registrations (we have a few more than 60 so far), and I have to turn all these into a yearbook, which will go out to those who are registered for the 2014 Watchlist and any of you who request it from me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com. Please ask for the CRM Watchlist 2013 Yearbook and I'll send it to you when it's ready in a couple of weeks.

Thanks for being patient. I know that this was arduous, but I also hope it was useful. If not, I'm sorry.

See you all next year.

Next up, CRM Idol.

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