Previously on the Watchlist:
We’re getting ready to wrap up the vendor part of the Watchlist with this post. And, I have to say, we’re going out in style. We’ve got three reviews this time — well, honestly, 2.5 (I’ll explain. Hold your horses) and they are really, really interesting. And definitely Onesies. Though if I were to try to find something in common, I’d say each has a place — a significant place to be sure — in a niche in which they can potentially dominant if they do their work and continue on the path they're already going down. This week, ladies and gentlemen, we have three companies that I’d like present. May I introduce to you:
- NexJ — a solid performer in the financial services space that actually has another place it needs to go to be serious impact player.
- PROS — a company I didn’t really know before the Watchlist but at the same time is an impact player in a specific niche that we’ll be chatting about in a few. Hey, just cuz I didn’t know them doesn’t mean that they aren’t a big deal. I’m not that smart or well read.
- UserVoice — suffice it to say the winner of CRM Idol which means, almost by definition, that they are an up and coming potential powerhouse — if they play their cards right in the marketplace.
But what does stand out among the three is that, like their vendor brethren before them, they are exceptionally good at what they do and they are noticeably important in their space. Those two things get you a long way in business — and these are companies who are in the process of getting that long way — if they continue down the path they currently are on.
What is that path? For each of them, it varies. For each of them, there are things they have to do to improve their chances of either success or phenomenal success. But all of them have that opportunity staring them in the face and they seem to be embracing the chance to make something of it wholeheartedly.
Let’s see what that means.
I ran across NexJ in 2012, back when they submitted their CRM Watchlist questionnaire and won. Then they won again in 2013 and they won again in 2014. They are the only company that came in as a walk on — someone who I wasn’t tracking and had to, thus submit a questionnaire (now of course, everyone has to submit) — and who has won every year since their walk-on. No other company can claim that distinction.
That goes to the heart of this Canadian CRM business. They do things in a sufficiently interesting way and change up or enhance or accelerate their approach, tools, and direction each year enough to maintain a certain level of impact in the industries that they participate in.
For those of you who don’t know the NexJ basics: They are a publicly traded $20+ million company that specializes in CRM related solutions for financial services, insurance and health services including wellness. Their legacy applications — which are the bulk of their current business, are the financial services applications. In fact, in the wealth management world, they have four of the top six (up one from 2013) wealth management firms as clients. They have won a plethora of awards from publications and from analyst organizations for their financial services applications — and have even placed in the Forrester Wave for midmarket CRM applications.
All of this is well and good. (If you want to read more on this, their very experienced management team, and their significant presence in the Canadian market, see what I said in 2012 and . Also, go to the very well done NexJ website and read about their financial services/insurance applications.)
But, I’m going to do something I’ve done for the past two wins prior and something I haven’t done with them, and that’s to emphasize where their actual real future opportunity lies — which they know, and you can probably guess. Plus if you’ve read what I’ve written, I’ve already said this now three years running.
The NexJ opportunity lies in their efforts in health services particularly because of their inclusion of a major Wellness platform as part of their offering.
I don’t know how to emphasize this any more than I have done and just did. This is a company who should begin to bank its future on health services. Not ignore their prior business. That would be foolish. It’s why they are $20,000,000+ so far. But their, let’s just say, “less-than-white-hot” effort in the health services market, that they could be a major force in, led them to drop out of the fastest growing companies in Canada even though they did grow a small bit in 2013. That may be a simplistic view of the slowdown but it makes my point in any case. Healthcare services IT, for this company, which has exceptional health services application and a platform, is where their accelerated growth of the future lies.
Why am I being so emphatic, when I see a company that, as far as I’m concerned, has enough chops to make a strong impact year over year in financial services?
Let me count the ways:
- The Healthcare services market is projected by Global Industry Analysts to reach $3 trillion by 2015. While that may be a tad optimistic (I have no idea, really. Maybe not.). But more germane, according to the ever present Marketsandmarkets, the Healthcare IT market is expected to be a rather whopping $56.7 billion by 2017 — something companies like NexJ can look forward to.
- Patient participation in their own care is on the rise and creates both a major point for engagement between the health care institutions and the patients. While customer engagement is becoming the operating principle of the evolution and maybe even the subsuming of CRM, patient engagement is not in some distant future, but is the present and near future of health care services. According to that same Global Industry Analyst report (see #1): “Investment in sectors such as home healthcare, healthcare IT, and telehealth are expected to continue fuelling market expansion.” Think about that — and throw Wellness into the mix (see below).
- This transformation also creates a whole new management dilemma for an industry being severely regulated (for good reason, since people’s lives can be at stake). While it is a good thing for patients to want to be involved in the decisions around their own health, there is an enormous increase in the pressure that it places on the health care organizations ranging from medical practitioners to pharmaceutical companies to clinical to special care providers to a drug store in a small town. How to manage this increased, not just desire, but expectation of participation by patients and, balance it against the information that the provider provides given what the patient may have found on the web — creates huge possible compliance or other regulatory issues. Look at things in years past with pharmaceutical companies — they were deluged with requests for information and they weren’t allowed by law to make a mistake on what they distributed, for obvious reasons. Multiply this by new manifolds of volume and complexity and you can see what the 21st century’s healthcare management dilemma is – and what an opportunity for a company.
- The other aspect of the opportunity lies in the Wellness world — the world of preventing health problems. What do you have to do to always be well? That isn’t just a health choice, it’s a lifestyle effort. It’s not just going to the gym, but having the programs, tracking progress, and monitoring the efforts. We’ve seen the cultural success of wellness programs manifest in so many ways via technology; it's staggering. The popularity of fitness applications (e.g., MyFitnessPal) and hardware (Fitbit); the use of gamification — win badges as you get fit. We’ve seen the addition of the admittedly horribly kludgy iFit as an opening gambit in the “cloudification” of fitness via the machines. As the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT) gains ground, we are seeing companies like Precor, maker of fitness machines, start to fit their new models with synchronization in the cloud so that, for example, you could develop a fitness profile at home and monitor your progress there. Go on the road, get to a gym at a hotel with Precor machines, and simply synch with your machine to activate your profile for your session on the hotel Precor machine and thus continue the charting of your progress. We’ve seen the online health record repository that Microsoft owns, HealthVault includes if you want to, not only test results and medical images, but wellness data and insurance records. To the IoT point, HealthVault syncs with 226 devices and 141 applications.
There are few technology companies positioned better than NexJ to take advantage of this. Let’s take a brief look at their existing applications.
- Health Exchange — This is their platform for interoperability between proprietary and standards-based health information systems. It functions as an integration platform for legacy systems, different repositories, competing standards-based data, etc. It is highly customizable so it allows for new standards; And, of course, is compliant in all cases.
- Connected Wellness — This is a cloud-based technology ecosystem with multiple pieces with patient engagement at its core. It ranges from the mundane tasks (i.e., scheduling appointments over the web with a particular healthcare provider) to the more complex (providers working with patients to create personal care plans during varying transitions such as post-hospital discharge or even what to do between doctor’s visits (Transitional Care Management)). It allows patients to take, complete, and submit pre- and post-clinical assessments online and then have those assessments associated with the proper patient records (Assessments). People get connected to health coaches to develop programs, manage conditions, achieve fitness goals. The biometrics (glucose levels etc) are captured by the application via a smartphone or tablet. Feedback from coaches can be broadcast to the patient/client (Health Coach), which helps medical professionals or health coaches monitor patient medical intake and supports the patient’s schedule via reminders, etc. (Medication Acceptance).
- Contact for Health — This is the 360-degree view of the patient.
- Contact for Health Provider Management — This is the systemic aggregation of transactional information and operational data, e.g., insurance systems, payment records, etc. that are tied to patient records (contact information).
- Contact for Health Member Management — the automation of all customer facing processes including loyalty programs and promotional campaigns. The “marketing” application, more or less.
- Disease Screening — The ability to identify the right screening program for the right people; the means to measure the success of the program.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is a company with just great technology. They have a solid, experienced management team, a significant number of them Janna veterans, led by CEO William Tatham; they have an excellent AR person, Matthew Bogart, an industry veteran who oversees both analyst relations and public relations; their partnerships are a prototype version of an ecosystem built around them with OEM partners (Winfund), consulting/SI partners (Deloitte, Capgemini), Technology integration partners (Oracle, Microsoft), Healthcare partners (York University, Orion Health) and of course, referral partners. They could do with more CRM technology partners, since they service market niches so well, but on the whole they are quite strong.
Yet they still need to do a few things, not just to continue to impact the market they are powerful in, but to start impacting new markets and new places including health services and CRM.
What they need to do
- Get off the dime…get off the schneid…stop running in place — To be entirely candid, I thought they would be a good deal further than they are – and I’m not saying they didn’t make progress. But they have a recognized, gigantic opportunity and a margin of advantage in an area that is just beginning to flower — and that is health services. Yet I get the distinct feeling that they aren’t entirely sure of that opportunity. I see companies like Cegedim who encompass life sciences, health services, wellness, pharmaceutical with revenues in 2013 of roughly $1.2 billion, who are fully aware of their opportunity, or small companies like hc1 who are now focused on health relationship management (HRM) for the clinical labs space. They've hired former SAP CRM jefé Jeff Lautenbach to take them to the next level and to expand their reach into what is often called the health care continuum – the ecosystem of health services. But most of NexJ’s examples of awards mentioned analyst rankings that were all for financial services and insurance. It mentioned selling to the healthcare industry in the next paragraph. It wasn’t a lead item. This is an area that I have to say, is, as I said last year and above, one of the most significant vertical opportunities I’ve seen in years. NexJ, because of both the foresight they’ve had when it came to putting together the right technology pieces, and the high quality of what they’ve produced, has a major, possibly even market-leading advantage, if they just get off the dime and get moving on it. I can’t be more emphatic than that.
- Analyst relations need to grow newer — NexJ tends to the old school when it comes to analyst relations. It’s time for them to realize that we are long past the days when the only game in town was institutional analysts. NexJ prides itself on the structured analyst program that they have — and I'm sure it’s a good one. They specify they “actively seek opportunities to participate in conversations with key influencers and experts and build our credibility among the analyst and blogger communities” and they are strong and legitimate claimants to the CRM space. Yet, outside of Gartner, Forrester and the like (Aite Group for example) I see no evidence of any regularized presence with the rest of the influencer community in CRM. I am honored to hear from them once a year when it comes to the Watchlist – and I truly am – but that’s it for my interactions. And I have one more than most of the CRM influencers, boutique, independent, i.e., “non-Gartnerseque” that I’ve asked (which is a considerable amount). So it’s time for them to fulfill their interest and actively seek those conversations. They are there for the asking but it takes a change in mindset to seriously ask. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The influencer world has changed. They’ve done an excellent job with who they are in touch with, but need a mindset change and an expansion of scope.
- Expand U.S. market presence – This goes to the heart of their opportunity. They have a multibillion opportunity in the US. I don’t think I need to say more about this.
NexJ is a company with a boundless opportunity that is staring at them. They have made a serious impact in Canada in financial services as is evidenced by being the recipient of countless honors. They have made a serious enough impact to win the Watchlist again – and again – and a third time. That says a lot about this terrific company. They are at one of those inflection points in 2014 which will impact 2015 and beyond dramatically. I think they will make the right decisions and do the right things. Three-time Watchlist winners tend to do that. Stars they are, kudos they get.
Every year, there are a few companies who not only show up out of nowhere, but also then go on to be one of the winners. NexJ, the company you just read about was one of those back in 2011 — and now, in 2014 we have PROS, which is arguably one of the most surprising ever. What is surprising? Not exactly what you might think.
Really, if you think about it, this is a company that is publicly traded, has over $100 million in revenue, has a market cap of over $1 billion, has been around 28 years and has some powerful partnerships that increase their reach significantly. You would think this would make them a prime candidate for a CRM Watchlist winner.
Yet, until this year, I never heard of them – except peripherally. Part of it might be that they own a very small, though highly strategic niche market – pricing optimization. Part of it might be that their visibility in CRM is minimal – in part, because they have just recently (in 2010) hired someone who seems to be a very dynamic and savvy CMO – though it is their first CMO ever – which means they went their first 24 years without one. That would explain why their visibility on a broader stage than just the pricing optimization theater in the round was at a minimum until recently.
Yet, with or without their visibility, this has been a very successful company with a great deal of opportunity to be even more successful if they tweak what they are doing – and that’s all it probably would take. Not only would they continue to own their niche and expand their success there – because it’s a genuinely important business area that has quantifiable results – but they can expand their reach and thus their impact – and thus their revenues – with a few twists to their approach and an expanded view of their universe.
So what exactly is pricing optimization, you might ask, since it’s not something commonly discussed in the world of customer facing technologies and strategies? It is, as it implies, the science and strategy of choosing the best price for a set of or particular goods and services. What isn’t so simple are the factors that go into choosing the price that works for your individual product, product portfolio, service offering etc. In fact, it’s not only the business imperatives such as margin, etc. but also customer behavior. Segmentation is a big part of the analysis necessary to determine price. But not just, “the customer is spending this on this product” but anticipating customer behavior given an incredible array of factors in the market place. So you are dealing with historic data, traditional analytics but also predictive analytics anticipating future customer behaviors. That’s the tip of the iceberg. I don’t have the bandwidth or the experience to go into details but you can find some of them in this ebook by PROS, The Definitive Guide to Pricing, well worth reading. (I’d direct you to the Wikipedia article on pricing but, honestly, I do have enough experience to know that it sucks. So don’t bother). Their technology supports the choice of strategy and also the programs that are part of the broader CPQ market – configuration, price, quotation – market.
If you need to put them in a place that is more CRM-squishy warm, they are a solid player in the sales effectiveness or sales optimization market – I assume the reasons are obvious, especially when you are thinking CPQ which has long been associated with the salesforce automation market – since Oracle introduced quotation systems into their SFA offering in 2004. But even if you don’t see that, see it this way. What kind of improvement in the odds of closing a deal are possible if you have precisely the most attractive price for your PROSpective (get it?) customer which, at the same time, provides the best possible margin for your company? ‘Nuff said.
What makes this particularly interesting is that PROS just chose a small narrow slice of the sales optimization/effectiveness (your pick) market to focus on. This is, by the way, a time honored and often highly successful strategy that can work to your advantage. Years ago, when the amazing Steven Olyha, was running CSC’s and then Unisys’s CRM practice, he took a look at the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) market and sliced it laser-thin with an intense focus on trade promotion. Unisys, in particular, became the rock star for trade promotion strategies, programs and technologies and the practice was wildly successful. Steve’s not in CRM any more. I miss the guy. The strategy worked big time – and clearly has for PROS.
What does PROS technology do then? How does it support this highly complex strategic endeavor?
Effectively there are four components that they offer:
- Deal Optimizer – This is the one that comes the closest to the heart of sales optimization/effectiveness. It is an analytics engine that recommends pricing, discounts, and quotes to (hopefully) increase the chances of a successful deal closure.
- Price Optimizer – This is more general than Deal Optimizer and more strategic. The idea is to take a lot of information about markets, companies, changing conditions, competitive information, existing examples, pricing histories and a whole lot of other variables and use them to determine pricing strategies and price lists for a market. It also is able to take into account the business rules of the company using the tools and apply these strategies across all business units, according to PROS “by applying price lists based on business rules and optimization science.” What makes this module particularly intriguing is that it can modify all this pretty close to on the fly – meaning it can account for volatility in the market.
- Rebate Optimizer – This one not only create rebates, but analyze them prior to execution – showing what the financial impact will be on, for example, a pending deal.
- Scientific Analytics – These analytics focus on how pricing affects profitability. That isn’t as easy or simple as it sounds because to do that, you have to anticipate customer behavior, given the prices that you are suggesting to them. How willing are they to pay those prices – given their purchasing histories? What would be the impact if they weren’t willing? What kind of modifications have to occur with pricing to both get the customers to buy whatever it is you sell and to still provide the kind of profitability that you are looking for?
Thing is, though, they don’t rest on their laurels when it comes to continuous improvement. They invest heavily in R&D to stay on top of the market and the latest thinking and also to create the best possible tools and techniques for pricing optimization. To give you an idea, their R&D spend, in 2013, on revenue of $144 plus million was around $32 million roughly 22% of their total revenue. Jeez.
The personnel and the culture that supports that staff are pretty remarkable. Aside from a deeply experienced and highly capable management team led by CEO Andres Reiner, an extremely business savvy leader, who took the company to its current heights, they have another layer of data scientists and 25 people with doctorates in various appropriate disciplines working full time on what they call transformational approaches to pricing optimization and more generally CPQ.
But the personnel are both the foundation of and only as good as the culture. One of the things that genuinely impressed me was their holistic view of culture (and their ability to support their story with stories). Unlike many of the submissions – winners or otherwise – they pay attention to all the things that go into creating a productive culture – one that reflects and sustains a company that likes its employees, values their contributions to the company and at the same time, understands the company’s social responsibilities as a significant institution that lives in a society that provides it with “sustenance.”
Among their actions:
- Keep employees aware/engaged – Two electronic newsletters produced a week – Java Jolt – sales tools, tips, techniques, stories; Watercooler – all employee news with the stories of the lives of the employees, not just the workplace
- Regular employee get-togethers– happy hour events (5 a year) at nearby bars/restaurants, at PROs expense; family celebrations; cultural holiday celebrations; health fairs. Thirty events like this held in 2013.
- Community Outreach – PROS gives time off for volunteer work; Their Community Outreach Program (COP) is run by employees; Local area support to Houston like the Houston Foodbank Drive; Paralyzed Veterans Clothing Drive; quarterly blood drives; mentoring young people – and this is a small percentage of their participation.
- Employees are valued – not only compensation with benefits and employee stock purchase, but investment in professional development for employees (PROS pays for classes); awards of varying kinds that come with bonuses and prices attached including referral based awards.
These are representative of a textbook paradigm for a company culture that yields happy employees and results – and a workplace that people want to work at. Since 2010 they have grown from 378 to 800 employees – and managed to sustain the culture.
They have a very significant set of alliance partners with Microsoft, SAP, salesforce.com, and Oracle as their technology partners and Accenture, Deloitte, IBM and others as their integrators. They partner with Wipro for energy and utilities work. They have the big boys, but because the thinking isn’t around ecosystems, I’m of the mind they are doing about ½ or less of what they could be doing here. (see below for a little bit more detail).
This is a company clearly on a trajectory upward. It shows itself in their awards won, their employees, their revenue increase, and their increase in impact. But they are so solid and so well organized and, while they represent a niche, it is such an important niche, that they could be even more than they already are by several magnitudes. But to get, among other things, they need to consider the following.
Things they must do
- Old school? Back to school – PROS is a remarkably progressive company as you can see from the description of their culture above. But they show their 28-year-old age when it comes to their handling of analyst relations. They have an antiquated understanding of the influencer world. Their dealings are with the traditional institutional giants like Gartner, Forrester and Aberdeen, and, at least judging from their entry and what little else I can find, that’s it. That needs to continue, of course. In fact, they should be expanding that to add IDC to the mix. But as I’ve said more than once in these reviews, the world is not a world of analysts per se any more but a world of influencers. That means that, in addition to the larger analyst relations and marketing research firms, there are boutique firms such as Constellation Research (with Ray Wang and Peter Kim, etc) who carry the same level of clout (though in a different fashion) as the bigger guys; there are independents out there – solo operators like Esteban Kolsky, Brent Leary, Denis Pombriant, Josh Greenbaum and Vinnie Mirchandani, who need to be reckoned with. There are content providers who are also major influencers like the folks at Diginomica led by Dennis Howlett who have to be accounted for. There are media guys, like David Myron, editor in chief of CRM Magazine (among others), who also have serious pull that can’t be ignored. Yet, I’m pretty sure that PROS doesn’t talk to the bulk of those I mentioned here – and there are many more. They need to bring their analyst relations up to speed to the 21st century’s version – influencer relations and start to deal with those that carry equal weight – though weight distributed in different places – to the traditional institutional firms. Time for a big shift there. PROS does so much else just plain right. Time to step up and put this into place.
- I should be able to see for miles and miles… - PROS has been a star for a long time, though they didn’t get a CMO until 2010 – which means 24 years after they began. That sets them back just due to the sheer length of their wait, though their current guy, Tim Girgenti, seems to be a mover and shaker type of CMO – just what they clearly needed. I don’t know the guy, but I’m impressed with his credentials. Nonetheless, while they have relationships with CRM vendors, they have no visibility nor do they seem to participate in the CRM industry, which is not a good thing. The CRM industry, as I have been told by many and certainly have observed, has some unique characteristics. Unlike any other high tech industry segment, it has a semi-organized but organic community that incorporates the influencers, vendors, buyers and media – all of whom know each other. Judge this any way you damn well want, as great and cool or insular and not so cool – I don’t honestly care. But it is what it is. Participation in the community isn’t mandatory, but it certainly helps. Given the value that PROS brings to varying sales and CRM ecosystems, and the partnership they have, participation would be invaluable to them.
- Think ecosystem, please – Oddly, with all these remarkable people, and this interesting matrix of partners, and fascinating valuable culture, there is a gap in their thinking that needs to change somewhat dramatically (and, to be candid, dramatically stated by me) – and that is – they need to start thinking in ecosystems. They don’t. That lack leads to their discontinuity of having this great partner network and a nearly complete lack of visibility in the very community that their strength lays – CRM.
PROS was the 2014 CRM Watchlist’s biggest surprise. They are an excellent company, making real impact now. Can they continue that? Can they accelerate their growth and increase their impact? I’m betting yes, if they make the improvements they need to. When you have a company with the culture they have and the smarts they manifest, it’s a pretty damned good bet to make. Plus, they won the Watchlist this year. That counts for something, I hope.
As is the rules of the game, UserVoice gets a winners slot because they are the CRM Idol winners for 2013 – the first to be the sole CRM Idol winners. And, as is the tradition, they win but they don’t get a full review, since, the thinking goes, they got that at CRM Idol (which you can read here). But I will tell you this, they are one of those companies that is already having an impact in the market and, if they can grow even approximately at the level that is possible, they could become a truly significant player.
For those of you who don’t know what they do – they are a contemporary platform for customer service that focuses around the agent and customer relationship – but not necessarily in the linear way that it always has been seen. This isn’t a “agent answers customer question” application – though that is one of the outcomes its provides. This is an agent, via the feedback provided by customers, and their ability to apply that feedback to the appropriate places, answers queries/solves problems via the digital channels that the customer chooses to use – ranging from the web to mobile devices. But there are predictive pieces to the solution so that they can handle the customer loads at peak times too – in other words, if you need 25 agents now rather than 125 or 325 rather than 125, they can help you figure that out. But this number doesn’t come from standard volume but response time. In other words, it is not “if you have 250 customers online, you need to have X number of agents available” its more, “If you have 250 customers online and you want to make sure that your response time is less than 3 minutes, then you need this many agents deployed this way to make sure that happens.” More complex, but based on solid research on what makes customer happy.
Richard White, their CEO is very much attuned to the transformation of customer service that we’ve seen in the past 10 years and has a vision to match that transformation. The company has a great customer base that proves that companies are buying into his vision – such as Sephora, CRM Watchlist 2014 Elite winners Blackbaud and Microsoft, HootSuite etc. There is a long way to go, but they’ve come a long way. The next step is to make sure that they sustain this growth and impact. I’m betting that they can. Not an easy thing to do, but UserVoice is a CRM Idol winner that can do it.
Well, that’s that for the vendors. We are done. Next week we have three more reviews – the consulting/SI firms:
Next (and last) up: IBM, Solvis Group, and The Pedowitz Group (TPG)
Registration for the CRM Watchlist 2015
And that will close out this year’s Watchlist. Remember registration for 2015’s Watchlist is already open. There will be some substantial changes to the questionnaire, making things not ever harder but a lot clearer than I have in the past. I realized that there were some pretty vague differences in two of the questions in particular and some things I needed to make much sharper – so I am doing that. If you choose to register for 2015, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and request a registration form.
See you one last time next week.