Previously on the Watchlist:
And the Winners of the CRM Watchlist 2014 are....
CRM Watchlist 2014: Winner of Lifetime Achievement - Amazon
CRM Watchlist 2014: For the 1st time ever: The Watchlist Elite, Part I
CRM Watchlist 2014: For the 1st time ever: The Watchlist Elite, Part II
CRM Watchlist 2014: For the 1st time ever: The Watchlist Elite Part III
CRM Watchlist 2014 Winners: Upgraded to a Suite Part I
CRM Watchlist 2014 Winners: Upgraded to a Suite Part II
CRM Watchlist 2014 Winners: Customer Engagement Hottest Market
CRM Watchlist 2014 Winners: Going Marketing
CRM Watchlist 2014 Winners: We are Family, Jive, Lithium, Community and Me
CRM Watchlist 2014 Winners: The Onesies – BPMonline, Janrain, and Lattice Engines
CRM Watchlist 2014 Winners: Finishing the Onesies – NexJ, PROS and UserVoice
Okay, people of Earth, this is it. The last one. I’m sure you ALL watched the NCAA college basketball tournament, right? I know you did. And how many of you won Warren Buffet’s $1 billion prize for your brackets? That’s right. None of you.
What’s this have to do with the Watchlist, you might ask? Not much really, but to stretch the NCAA basketball analogy as far as I can, this is my Final 3 — the consulting and SI companies that made the winners list — two repeats and one for the first time. The irony is that it is the $104 billion gorilla, IBM, that made it for the first time, while their tiny dancer brethren, Solvis Consulting and The Pedowitz Group (TPG), took it home for the second year in a row each.
What characterized all of them, size notwithstanding? All of them are great companies — they don’t just do their jobs well. Each of them, as you will see is quite different in the things that make them great, and each of them has unique challenges to face in the coming year or so but all in all, they made the grade where 35+ others of their ilk didn't. So that tells you a lot about their chops, which in each case and in very specialized ways in two of the three, they have made a significant impact in their market.
Let’s dig down in this, our final CRM Watchlist review for 2014.
IBM, you would think, becomes a Watchlist winner simply because it's so big, it's bound to have an impact. While size having an impact is generally true — and if there is one thing generally true for this $104 billion, 100+-year-old behemoth — is that it…is…BIG, that isn’t the case when it comes to winning the Watchlist. Size is only a tiny consideration in how much of an impact I think a company has to have to make the Watchlist. IBM has so much more going for it.
Before I get too deeply into IBM, it pays to take a quick look at the market they're participating in, because their contemporary strategy is determined by that market and, the market itself is impacting how IBM does what it does, and how it has to do what it has to do.
This is a market that is dramatically changing. The watchword for companies at the scale of IBM — either on the consulting side, the technology side, or the buyer side is “digital transformation.” The consulting companies — especially the big boys — are “re(business)modeling” their practices and altering their revenue models, based on a lot of industry movement, and changing business requirements. For example, in the last year, we’ve seen Accenture, one of this year’s Watchlist Elite winners, accelerate the growth of their Accenture Interactive practice, which is a creative/digital agency. We’ve seen Ernst and Young Advisory, another of this year’s Watchlist Elite winners, develop a 2,500-person digital transformation practice. Capgemini followed suit and announced a “consolidation of their digital efforts” in February — a wise move on their part. One of our winners this round, IBM, has IBM Interactive, which you will hear more about below. In other words, these larger firms are fully aware we have entered an age where the customers have transformed from the much smaller base of social customers, to digital customers who, truthfully, might be a majority. Look at the numbers that are easily available after a ten second (or less) search.
That was a quick search that almost overwhelmingly proves the point. The digital customer, who represents a majority of the customers out there, is replacing the social customer, who was a powerful minority player — but was still in a minority. More and more of business/customer interactions are being conducted online and an increasing percentage of those are being carried out via mobile devices.
IBM is aware of that and, under ordinary circumstances, you would (and should) ask, so what? But when this is combined with the active execution of their expansive and incredibly smart (and almost beautiful) vision and mission, with a serious dose of their available resources, and you have something that can potentially provide mind-boggling results.
Their vision and mission is focused on being a great corporate citizen – and training and educating their staff to be great corporate citizens. Their values statement is based on the belief that “a company culture based on core values not only helps our business, but also defines the role that we can and should play in society.”
If one were a cynic, one could say, "Okay, so what? Companies say stuff like that all the time but they don’t do anything like that." But, in the case of IBM, they say and do what they say they are going to.
Their core values are geared around the following:
Again, words. But they back it up with actions. The best known initiatives are their Smarter Planet and Smarter Cities initiatives, which are focused on the use of technology for environmental improvements and increased efficiencies in the cities and on the planet more generally. Less known, though, is their program to send selected IBM employees to poverty stricken or underdeveloped areas of the world to use IBM resources to support the construction of improvements in areas that need them — e.g., water resources, schools, etc.
I could wax rhapsodic all day about the good works of this rather remarkable company, but at the end of the day, they are a business and I have to look at this through the lens of their customer-facing actions and their impact on the market and with future and present customers.
This is where this giant gets interesting because if they do some of the things below which will bring them into conjunction with market conditions, and, maybe Jupiter (just kidding), they can be more than just a big player, they can skyrocket themselves to a leading position.
Aside from their astonishing culture, they are well positioned when it comes to thought leadership vehicles. The gem in their jewelry box is the Institute for Business Value (IBV) which is one of the most trusted and respected research organizations in the business world. In fact, they were the second recipient in 2013 of the CRM Watchlist Lifetime Achievement Award. If IBM takes advantage of this without impacting the vendor agnostic nature of the IBV, they can position themselves well for a huge future impact.
They also have a highly accomplished leadership that has been in the customer-facing business world for a long time. Leading the Digital Front Office practice is Paul Papas, a longstanding industry veteran who has been doing this for over 25 years. He is tied strongly to IBM Interactive, which is IBM’s digital agency — and the IBM Customer Experience Lab.
And there are some highly promising things to point out in this regard.
If you look at their Digital Front Office practice, this seems to be where IBM’s business future (at least in the customer-facing universe) lies. It encompasses CRM strategy (apparently), customer experience, creative work (e.g., user interface/user experience design), customer engagement and at least marketing, if not sales and service, technology. There may be more to it, but that’s unclear to me. At the moment, it is nascent but it is the right move in the right direction to bring IBM GBS into alignment with their competition and the market and the thinking of the buyers that they target.
CRM itself remains a bit of a conundrum, without any clear picture of what they are providing to the marketplace. But one place that they have an opportunity to put a stake in the ground — along with several other companies already doing that — is around marketing.
They seem to be making moves in that direction with their acquisition last week of Silverpop, known for their strength in email marketing and their personalization tools. This, in combination with their acquisition of Unica and their ownership of Coremetrics seems to point to something resembling a "marketing cloud" that will try and compete with those from Adobe, Salesforce, and Oracle among others. While this is a timely move, it remains to be seen if a) this is even true, and b) how well they pull it together. The time is short, and the companies they own are a unique set of companies that don’t really follow the path that the others have followed. However, it can be a smart move for a company with the resources that IBM has at its disposal.
There is no way to measure the impact that IBM has on the global marketplace because it's that vast and that important. Their commitment to being a great corporate citizen and giving their staff the empowered (or super-powered) capabilities to help them accomplish that citizenship is perhaps the world’s best effort. Nonetheless, there are always a few things that they have to do continue the market impact in the world of customer-facing technology, strategies, and programs. Of course, with my big New York mouth, here they are.
Solvis Consulting makes it again as one of those amazing companies that continues to gain influence and garner accolades in a highly specific market — that of Latin American (LATAM). They remain, after winning the Watchlist for the second time last year, the leading, most influential CRM consultancy in the region.
In the last year, their momentum continued unchecked — in most areas. For example, they won deals throughout Latin America with big names like Aeromexico, Telvista, Movistar, Unitec, and I can go on. What makes many of their deals interesting that they have long-standing ramifications. They're an ongoing source of revenue for Solvis.
Keep in mind, Solvis Consulting is a true consulting organization — and with one notable exception (more shortly) — take the same organizational direction as most of the larger consultancies in the area of partnerships in particular. They choose their partners incredibly carefully and incredibly well. They vet them for the Latin American market specifically. That doesn’t mean just an understanding of Spanish and/or Portuguese but they also consider the vendor’s knowledge of Latin American cultures, their ability to support the technology in the region, and their willingness to be partners as opposed to their willingness to let Solvis be a reseller — a huge difference in perspective. Solvis isn’t just implementing technology — though they are doing that — but they are strategists who are developing CRM (aka Social CRM) programs for a particular market that they understand deeply and live in.
What makes a company like Solvis successful is that they believe in their approach and themselves. They have no qualms about characterizing themselves as the experts they actually are, without arrogance.
One of the ways that this manifests itself is through their workshops and educational efforts. For example, they have an offering that they call “Social Media Education Services,” that has two core seminars. The first is called “How to Establish a CRM Strategy,” which covers core CRM fundamentals. The second is “How to Apply Digital Marketing and Web 2.0 initiatives…” which expands CRM strategy to the web. These are key concepts that Solvis Consulting has the confidence to teach, given how important these are to contemporary business efforts at any company. Though, given what they are teaching, I think I’d change the name of the Educational Services. Calling it “Social Media” is short-selling what they provide.
They have expanded their presence in Latin America, and beyond their existing activities in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and Colombia, they added an office in Venezuela.
The results of their careful thinking and planning has been the new deals that they won, often against much larger competitors. Defeating larger competitors has been a hallmark of this company as long as I’ve known them.
As I’ve mentioned before, they have the foremost thought leader in CRM in Latin America, Jesus Hoyos, who has a significant presence as an influencer not just in Latin America but in the United States as well. He has been more operationally involved in the company over the last year so his content production has fallen a bit, but his influence is as great as ever.
Okay, now that one difference between them and a large consulting firm – their culture. I’ve spoken about this every year and every year it bears repeating. They have the most tightly knit culture I’ve ever seen; a culture of family (literally) and friends. The partners and their spouses work for the company as do a significant number of veterans of the founders’ past from Cambridge Technology Partners.
For example, in 2013, to solve the good problems of growing pains, Solvis Consulting hired two senior folks – Valentin Valle as a Director of Business Development (Mexico) and Strategic Accounts, and Magali Vasquez as a Director of Delivery for all CRM/SCRM projects. What do they have in common? Both are friends of the company from the Cambridge Technology Partners days.
But this incredibly friendly — family-friendly — environment has forced what I think is an inflection point – one that has rolled over from last year. Actually, two.
Solvis Consulting continually amazes me at their straight-out clout when it comes to LATAM. They have a lot to be proud of because they have figured out what to do and the business model that works in the environment they are in. They do so much right and that’s why regardless of their decisions, they will remain a huge impact player in Latin America — for years to come.
What a pleasant way to end the Watchlist for this year (and last year too). I get to review a company that I have a great deal of regard for — both personal and professional. Like Solvis Consulting, they impact a highly specific area of the market but unlike Solvis, it’s not geographic. It’s all areas associated with marketing technology. In that arena, they are champs — unlike any other company who either specializes in it or has a practice in it.
They call themselves, a little awkwardly I think, a Revenue Marketing Agency, and for better or worse they are focusing their efforts around being just that. Their hypothesis (which bears out) is that marketing has to be transformed from a cost center to a revenue center. What makes this particularly germane to contemporary practice is that over the past five or so years, we have been seeing a change in the business world which has been leading to the alignment of marketing and sales efforts at company after company; one that has manifested itself by marketing departments being assigned revenue-related KPIs. Peppers and Rogers were the first to identify it in their white paper, The New Power Couple, in 2009 and the Aberdeen Group followed it with the market research called, weirdly, The New Power Couple in 2011 that both defined the trend and supported it with the research that justified the validity of the trend.
The Pedowitz Group (TPG) is the company that not only has embraced the transformation going on, but actually built a sustainable business model around that trend — one that they’ve been successfully executing on since it was identified.
What makes them unique is their willingness to embrace the full range of services that marketing technology suggests. That doesn’t just include implementation of marketing technology nor even just the programmatic planning that goes into optimizing the use of the technologies, though it does include all that. It also includes strategic services such as organizational design and change management.
What also makes them as successful as they are is that:
All of this leads to a company that has been numbered among the fastest growing companies in the US and has exhibited exceptional performance time and time again.
However, me being me, I have to end the Watchlist this year with some suggestions on what TPG has to do to get to the next level, and I mean beyond incremental.
TPG remains one of the most intriguing solutions providers/consultancies/strategy providers that I deal with year over year because they do what they do so well. I see little in the way of them continuing to grow and to impact the market they serve increasingly. The only question that remains is how much they want to do it in what period of time. It’s pretty much up to them.
Well, folks, that’s it. The CRM Watchlist 2014 comes officially to a close with this review and the only thing left to cap it off is the Yearbook which will be put together and made freely available in a few weeks — or as soon as I can get to it.
Thanks so much for sticking it out all these months and reading all this stuff. It’s a lot and I appreciate the fact that you actually read it.
Remember, the cycle continues with Watchlist 2015 which is now open for registration. Please email me at email@example.com. I’ll send you the registration form and the rest flows from there. Looking forward to your participation later this year.
I’m taking a day or two off and then on to CRM Idol 2014. Stay tuned for much more this year too. Something else to announce I hope by the fall. Should be a great ride in 2014 and beyond.