CRM Watchlist 2014 Winners: Upgraded to a Suite: Part I

The CRM Watchlist 2014 winners have been harder than ever to characterize. But there are some vendors who, for example, provide product suites that won so I created the Suites category. Today, we look at CRMnext, Infor and NetSuite and Wednesday, SAP and SugarCRM. Let's get crackin'.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Previously on The CRM 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 

I have to admit, this year has been insanely difficult finding categories to group companies in and except for small few, I didn’t really.  But I did find some – marketing, customer engagement, of course, the remaining consulting/SI firms, and suites which is a euphemism for companies that have packages that do more than one thing – a lot more, for the most part.  The rest of the entries are so diverse that the best I’m going to be able to do is order them in alphabetical order when it comes to how I treat them.  But that’s a problem for another day and another time and another entry.

This entry is somewhat cut and dried. It’s the five winners (excluding the Elites) who qualified as suites – those providing a diverse range of products and services or a platform that was tied together in a unified way and extended beyond a single category. 

We had five winners who fit this description.  Oh, and let me make this clear, they didn’t win in this category. They won the Watchlist 2014 award. Period. There are no categorical winners. None. Nada. Zero.  Please don’t claim to have won your “category” because to me categories are convenient envelopes that give me a way of doing the reviews. No more. No less. That means I can group things. So, to reiterate, there are no category “winners.” 

Okay, let’s move on.

What makes this group so interesting is that each and all of them provide something comprehensive.  Like most CRM suites, the central focus seems to fall on sales but each offers more than that and nuances to CRM that make them truly interesting and also valuable options for customers to consider when looking at selecting a vendor.

The impact these players had this year – and by these players I mean – CRMnext, Infor, NetSuite, SAP and SugarCRM – was pretty extraordinary and in a couple of cases, it was small things they had to do to gain the Elite status next year.

This was such a long post, over 8300+ words, that I'm dividing it into two. Today, you get CRMnext, Infor and NetSuite. Wednesday, you get SAP and SugarCRM.  You down with that? Good. 

So let’s see what we got here and where these winner are going and what they have do, shall we?


Every year there are a small number of surprise winners who are just starting to have an impact in the marketplace and get the visibility they deserve.  CRMnext, a strong player in Asia is one of those companies. Acidae Solutions Private Holdings Ltd, the parent company is based in Mumbai, India but the company has offices in multiple countries including in the United States. The offices are in fact indicative of both their current state and their ambitions for expansion.

Even though they tend to type themselves as focused on financial services, insurance, et al in the cloud, what makes CRMnext an impact player is the breathtaking range and depth of their product. They do themselves a disservice by focusing their public posture around so narrow a band because it has value so many more markets than that.  It covers all aspects of CRM in the sense that I’ve most recently defined it.  They take it to the devil’s details when it comes to the features and functions covering:

  1. Salesforce Automation
  2. Customer Service Automation
  3. Marketing Automation
  4. Social CRM
  5. Partner Management
  6. Online Sales Manager
  7. Business Rules Engine
  8. Competitor Management (PG Note: new one for me here. I’ve never heard of this covered quite in this fashion)
  9. Business Process Control
  10. Basic Inventory Management
  11. Enterprise Administration
  12. Autonoma IntegrationEngine (Their trademarked name)
  13. Security
  14. Mobility

Make no mistake about it, each of these is deeply functional and all is focused on the enterprise market. They have proven scalability with a deployment with one of their financial services customers of over 40,000 users across more than 3000 branches in more than 1500 cities and towns.  

With all that, the products are able to emphasize both flexibility with their self-described “shape-shifting architecture” and usability with authoring tools that provide a way of customizing integrations through a friendly interface. Both the architecture and the integration customization (called Autonoma Integration) are characterized as “automated” and “codeless” which seems to be watchwords for the company).

Historically, they have been very laser focused on the Asian market but more recently have begun to look at the African and American markets – which while a potentially good move, for a company as small as they are could be something that is troublesome – unless they plan and execute carefully – and – I can’t emphasize this enough – patiently.  More on this later, though.

Their historic laser focus on Asia has given them a market presence that exceeds their actual size, which bodes well for the future, given the quality of their suite. They have won a number of Asian and international awards including of course this one and were named in the Gartner 2013 SFA Magic Quadrant (a new entry). 

Some of this can be attributed to a highly experienced management team, whose six members each average just short of 20 years of experience. They each are expert in their particular areas which makes for a set of synergies that can only benefit them. Plus at least one of them, the only one that I’m acquainted with Raul Sheth is a really nice person. I had some interaction with him during their CRM Idol participation in 2012.

Their work and presence is reinforced by their culture, which is as meticulously crafted as their product but at the same time is applied in a way that keeps 250 employees apparently very happy.

This is a company that is already having an impact in Asia and I foresee that continuing in Asia in 2014 and beyond.  But what about their ideas of international expansion? What will they have to do to begin to create the conditions for both international success and continued impact both in Asia and a broader sense?

Ah, now we get to what they have to do.

What they have to do

  1. Must revamp mission and vision to something that both defines the company and meets the needs of a changing market – They have a vision and mission statement but without going into details, they need another one of each. Their mission can be as simple as one part of an overly long statement – “We want to enable companies to do more with their CRM platform delivering a high impact business performance to our customers.” I’d clean it up but this would do for what they are. They have a mission statement that is many more words than that. Their vision needs a complete rework. I’m not going to repeat it here because it is something that represents the ambition of the company not a vision for the company. An idea vision statement – Elite winner EY has one that goes like this – “building a better working world.”  Simple, elegant, makes a statement somewhat poetically about a vision for the future that EY can help realize. This is something that CRMnext needs to emulate.
  2. Completely revamp their messaging – There is no question that their applications are deep and feature rich.  But their messaging about their products tends to be overly technical. Actual human behavior coupled with the 21st century customer’s desire to have a personalized experience with a couple, indicates that effective messaging has to be outcome based. To put it in simple terms. “I am a potential customer evaluating your applications. I’m interested in how it will help the company – AND how it will help me achieve what I need to achieve in my work environment. It not only should have value to the company, but to me too.  Show me how this is so.”  Their marketing is very much the old-school product marketing trumpeting the features and functions rather than the value and the outcomes.  This needs to be fixed, especially if they are to be in the Americas successfully.
  3. An analyst relations and PR program is a must – Ordinarily for a company this size I wouldn’t suggest an AR program.  But with their ongoing growth and their expansion to new markets, an AR program, which, in their case, is currently non-existent, is mandatory to start building market presence.  Plus they need to expand their market visibility. A perfect example? They are a winner of the CRM Watchlist which at least gives them some American market leverage and a good story to tell if nothing else.  Yet, not a word from them anywhere even an email to me, mentioning it. I use this as an example, not as a hurt ego. J  How would you not leverage this or mention it anywhere? Or do they even know they won?
  4. Be super-cautious about their expansion especially to the Americas – One of the great strengths of this company has been their laser focus on Asia, where they have had an impact far greater than their size. But they are ambitious too. Expansion to Africa and especially Americas, implies a whole new era for this company and will necessarily dilute the Asian focus of the company, given the small size of the company. Am I saying, don’t expand? No, of course not. But it is astonishing to me how many companies underestimate how much time, effort, money and patience it takes to realize results in this potentially very lucrative, but mature, market. CRMnext shouldn’t repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past by so many other small companies with ambitious plans.  Be patient.


Last year, I thought Infor could become one of the Big 5. What a difference a year makes though. While Infor has not become a Big Fiver, they have continued to make significant breakthroughs, innovate in ways that other companies can only try to replicate, and put forward a fantastic portfolio of customer facing products that still don’t get the due they deserve, but have impact where they become known.

Before I get into this, keep the context for what I’m about to say in mind. Infor, like NetSuite, is primarily an ERP company, and like NetSuite, still win a CRM Watchlist. Honestly, Infor makes an extraordinary case as to why they deserve to win.

Why should they be a 2014 CRM Watchlist winner?

First and foremost is something that Infor is doing that is brilliantly innovative and borders on disruptive – a word that I never use lightly.  It is something that they are doing as a company, not just their CRM practice.

It all starts with a mantra of theirs that is unlike any other enterprise software company in the entire industry – “Beauty as a core competence.”   Whoa! What? What? Beauty? What’s that got to do with software, applications, the cloud, on premises stuff, the front or back office? What’s that got to do with customers, employees, computers, tablets, and smartphones? What?


One of the most important changes in the 21st century was what has been called in a reductionist way, “the consumerization of business” or even more narrowly “the consumerization of IT.”  Without boring you with all the details, this, which I have been preaching since 2006, the basic idea is that human beings who are living in the world that we do, want to be able to move through that world in a way that they find enjoyable and consistently so.  Consumer applications, in part driven by Apple products, Facebook’s look and feel, and what passes for coolness, are what generations of employees and customers – who are those same human beings using iPhones, and iPads, those same 1.23 billion participants on Facebook – like to use to navigate their digital life with and in fact, find a great deal of comfort with.  They know how to do it, and feel good using it.

Yet, despite the look and feel on the consumer side being great, and sort of an obvious choice for the paradigm of navigation for business applications, there are still considerable differences between business applications and consumer apps.  For example, security is a great concern as is governance in business apps, where it is far less important for a consumer application.  Even more, business apps typically require a great deal more access to high volumes of information that are applied to the business and have to be made available over time. That information might have to be manipulated, analyzed, edited or modified or deleted – or prevented from all that. Its purpose is different.

But regardless, people are people. They want to enjoy their life and their work in particular and if the applications are fun to use or at least easy to navigate, they are likely to use them with more verve and interest – which means more productively.

Enter Infor. Enter Hook and Loop.

Infor, realizing how much more productive happy employees are and how much more work gets done with tools that are easy to use in all ways, decided to do something productive at the root and viscerally attractive on the front. To get there, not only did they adopt that lovely message “Beauty as a core competency” but they created a strictly internal (unlike the competitive Accenture Interactive) creative agency of what is now 100 employees called Hook and Loop.

What makes Hook and Loop, run by the remarkable Chief Creative Officer Mark Scibelli, unique is that most of the staff, who occupy a specific area in the beautiful Infor New York HQ (which they designed), are creatives who are not machine user experience design people. They are designers from fashionista outfit, Kenneth Cole, or the special effects designers from the Avengers movies - people who may lack the knowledge of how a computer’s inner workings are crafted but know how people feel about what they use and what they want it to do for them, whether they are highly skilled in the use of the devices or a complete baby.   They can learn the computer stuff. But they know how we all want to move and how we want to feel about that movement.

As a result Infor’s entire product line from ERP to CRM has been refreshed with the new entirely beautiful user interface – one that is device agnostic and organic in its use.  Click on this sentence and you can see the interfaces.

But, if their UI/UX work was all that they did, odds would be that they wouldn’t win. This is beauty and brains, so to speak that I’m looking for.

What Infor also offers is a great product set, a solid as a rock smart management team led by the excellent George Wright, a long time industry veteran, and some strong customer wins.

Their CRM portfolio is driven by Epiphany, the customer interaction engine that has be perhaps the most well regarded, iconic CRM product in the industry’s history. Infor has invested in building out Epiphany’s capabilities by increasingly its scalability to near infinity, by providing core products and services through customization of the engine e.g. a churn management interaction advisor (the branded name for Epiphany related products) for Telcos or an email offer optimization product.   But what makes them a powerful option as a company with impact, is that even without Epiphany their products such as Infor Marketing are strong, competitive offerings and with the new interfaces and user experience, more interesting an option than ever.

Their newest and most important piece in their portfolio is what they are calling their Customer Interaction Hub.  Essentially it’s a framework, an infrastructure and a centralized area for uniquely combining the operational strengths of more traditional CRM capabilities, strong analytics at the back end and Epiphany products so that you can manage customer interactions and be responsive with the actionable insights gained about your customers to the personalized needs of your customers.  This might sound a bit jargonistic and it’s only because I can’t give it its proper due, but their CIH works. I’ve seen it and I am impressed.

Think of it this way. If you have millions of customers – all of whom are demanding that you respond to them in a personalized way, the purpose of the CIH is to give you the insights to understand that in each case and the management capacity to act on it.

But their product offering doesn’t stop there.  Due to the very smart acquisition of Orbis, the company run by the brothers Grant and Brent Halloran – a great tandem – Infor also offers marketing resource management (MRM) which adds to the value of the Infor portfolio. At this juncture, the only players whose names are mentioned in this area are Teradata Applications (formerly Aprimo) and more recently Microsoft due to their acquisition of Marketing Pilot. Infor needs to be in the mix because the quality of their application rivals their competitors at least in the MRM part.

Infor is one of the companies out there who are underestimated for what they can provide with CRM.  While I saw them as a possible fifth wheel in a Big 5 that didn’t happen and with all the strengths of Infor and the impact they’ve had on the market in the last couple of years thanks to George and his team and their extraordinary strength of product.  But there are reasons that they aren’t Big 5 and still have a shot at being.

What they have to do

  1. Stop thinking of customer service as an afterthought – This is probably the weakest part of their portfolio, not on par with similar competitors. The irony is that they clearly can play big time here with the Interaction Advisor in particular driving service experience in ways that other products couldn’t For example, take a look at how it can work with the Churn Interaction Advisor for Telcos.  If they need an adaptable approach, Infor would do well to look at Watchlist 2014 winner Thunderhead around customer engagement and the Thunderhead One platform as a great example. Minimally, they should figure out a go to market partner if they aren’t going to build it, which goes to the heart of the next item.  One way or the other, the suite needs to be filled out with a customer service offering. Period.
  2. Strengthen partnerships with other tech players – Infor’s strategy with partners to date is kind of “meh.” They have a strategic partnership with salesforce.com, which, from what I can tell, hasn’t really gone where it should.  The rest of their partners are functional and sort of at the level of bits and pieces. But what I don’t see is a strategy around a partner ecosystem that incorporates a small set of strategic go to market (GTM) partners. Don’t get me wrong. On the consulting SI side, they have a strong strategic set of partners with the Accentures, Deloittes, and Capgeminis of the world, which supports Infor’s enterprise scale focus. But the technology partnerships lack severely as does the ecosystem thinking around it.
  3. Greater top of mind presence – While Infor makes yeoman efforts in CRM AR/PR, they still don’t have the top of mind market presence that the Big 4 have - and they should. They need to establish internal thought leadership, not just provide external thought leaders. They need to have their team out in public even more at events on the stage. They need to build content that they disseminate far and wide.  They need to get CRM-specific visibility. There is no lack of corporate overall visibility with some extraordinary positive articles on the culture at Infor, which is open and engaging for the most part and lots on the innovative Hook and Loop. But CRM gets short shrift and it shouldn’t, given what they offer and the market size, which leads to the last and…
  4. MOST IMPORTANT:  Infor has to stop treating its CRM practice as a second-class citizen – I don’t mean to be harsh, but the only real thing that stops Infor from a major impact and revenue opportunity is the company itself. The product and services chops are there; the market opportunity is over $20 billion already and Gartner expects it to be $36 billion by 2017.  The CRM leadership is solid as a rock.  But the CRM practice is clearly treated as something that just is there, not to be considered on par with the ERP offerings because those ERP products are the bulk of the revenue. In its history that is true. But it’s becoming self-fulfilling prophesy because, despite their own internal apparent lack of interest, they’ve made a big impact in the market and can own a piece of it, if the upper echelons recognize and invest appropriately.

Okay, Infor. You are a Watchlist winner for 2014.  That means I think that the potential you have is big. But will you rise to the challenge? I know you want to, but will you?  I think so. It’s why you won. Prove me right.


Just a preface to what I’m saying here. NetSuite, much as I love them, never listens to what I tell them. They read it, they acknowledge it, but they have yet to do a single thing I’ve ever suggested. But, know what? I have zero ego investment in these things and NetSuite shows quarter over quarter and year over year improvements, and revenue growth and a fine product, so who am I to gripe?  But I’m going to go on suggesting things because I think they could be doing even better and are missing a big market opportunity, though given what I said above, it is understandable why they might not see it. 

At its heart, NetSuite, like Infor, has always been an ERP company. They make the claim, which I support that they were the first ERP company to be completely cloud based.  That is something to be proud of but also has a so-what quality to it. What makes NetSuite what it is, is the continuous product improvement and the reliable subscription based alternative they have provided to their competitors.  They have an extensive customer base – 16,000 customers. Their sweet spot is high growth mid-market companies and divisions or departments of enterprises.   While small businesses and the lower end of the mid-market does sprinkle their customer base, it isn’t where they shine. Get them to a company that is growing from the upper end of the mid-market to enterprise scale and they do it right.

What makes them so good is that they are exceptional at the blocking and tackling – the operational requirements of companies who are high growth and thus have fluid systems.  They simply take care of a lot of the things that need to be done day to day in a business.  I often tell the story of a NetSuite customer in the EU that I spoke with one day and we somehow got onto a discussion of VAT tax – which I deal with only because I buy single malt scotch in the UK that I bring back to the U.S.  But one thing he told me which stuck with me about NetSuite was that even in a multi-lingual multinational company with localized environments, if there was, say , a quarter percent increase in the VAT tax on Tuesday, by Wednesday it was reflected in the system without them doing any work and regardless of language and country.  Its those little things and the attention to useful detail, not anal detail, that make all the difference in the world to customers who don’t want to have to concern themselves with anything like this, given how overwhelmed they are with the day to day.

NetSuite is best characterized by its product quality.  But that alone isn’t enough to get them to a Watchlist win.  It’s the sound in the forest thing. To resituate that old saw, if you have the world’s greatest product and nobody ever heard about it, so what?  

Everyone who needs to, except those customers of the future that they haven’t met yet, has probably heard about NetSuite. This industry presence and impact comes despite a spotty Chief Marketing Officer history with frequent changes and inconsistencies at the CMO level.  But when it comes to the alternate approaches, the analyst relations and PR, their SVP of Corporate Communications, Mei Li gets it done. Her relationships with analysts over the years and with journalists too has been, by acclimation of those analysts and journalists, unparalleled in the industry.  To give you an example of what I mean aside from my personal regard for hater. Journalists are often treated as objects to pitch stories too, even when analysts are accorded some respect by a company. Mei Li treats analysts and journalists for who they are and with the same level of respect that any human deserves regardless of position or job description. Couple this with one of the most approachable CEOs in the industry, Zach Nelson, who, incidentally, also knows how to run a company, along with a brilliant technologist Evan Goldberg, driving the product as CTO and you have part of the foundation for ongoing success.

But this is the CRM Watchlist Award, not the ERP in the Cloud Watchlist award, so why them?

There is a conundrum that has to preface this.  At SuiteWorld 2013, CEO Zach Nelson, called CRM order management and ecommerce. While, to put it bluntly, in the larger scheme of things, he was wrong, he was putting forth the perfect ERP definition of CRM which is a back office efficiency focused version that involves the automation of purchasing and the follow-up after-purchase activities.  ERP CRM.   NetSuite is quite strong in both of those areas, so it is a bit self-serving.

However, the irony is that NetSuite offers CRM+ a competent traditional CRM offering that goes well beyond “order management, ecommerce” definition that Zach offered.  Because it offers a bit more than the pure play CRM it has things like compensation management as part of the offering.  Its mobile, it’s got some analytics, solid reporting, dashboards, SFA, marketing automation, all the basics, though not much in the way of customer service.  But it competes. 

What is fascinating is that they have a channel that they can activate to do the selling with 40% of all revenues coming from their channel partners.  It’s a traditional view of a channel – value added resellers etc.  – but, as NetSuite does so well, they have built a solid, devil in the details kind of program that seems to satisfy the needs of their partners.

They partner on the technology side with CRM companies who provide what they don’t, notably CallidusCloud, Pardot (now Exact Target/salesforce.com), InsideView, and LyntonWeb for a Hubspot Inbound Marketing connector. 

All this means there is an infrastructure in place to not only continue to be an impact player, but to actually grab their share of the $20+ billion market that CRM is in 2014 (Gartner says we can expect $23.9 billion this year)   No reason not to be able to do that.

But to get there…

What they have to do

  1. Take advantage of the CRM suite they do actually offer –The irony is that they have a competitive suite that they seem to be leaving to languish, or at least, not taking as seriously as they should.  Build out the product to conform to both contemporary standards and basic stuff (customer care application) and NetSuite can rock at least a piece of the market.
  2. Align their CRM messaging with the rest of the world – Much as their is a certain geometric consistency in their ERP definition of CRM as “order management and ecommerce” that’s not the CRM that the market understands. Even if it is self-justifying , it won’t resonate the same way to the broader CRM market, because the definition of what CRM is and what comprises CRM technology already is ubiquitous in that market. Plus, NetSuite already has the products they need to expand their customer base in this area they underserve.  The implication of realigning the message will probably mean some improvements to be made in the products but the costs of that are negligible compared to the opportunity
  3. Thought leadership weaknesses are manifest – Given their size and product depth and breadth, they are nowhere near the production level they need in CRM thought leadership. Luckily, a 2013 hire, Barney Beal, former executive editor of SearchCRM can be key to building out the content in CRM via videos, use cases, white papers, web apps, podcasts, conference presentations etc.  to support them.

I prefaced this with saying that NetSuite never listens to a word I say and continues successfully on its own merry way. They won the Watchlist because they power their way through the business world and show the annual progress few companies can - and continue to maintain a credible presence in CRM. But 2014 is the year that they need to decide to “use it or lose it.”  I say, “Use it” – but they don’t listen to me. 


Next Up: CRM Watchlist 2014 Suite Winners Part II - SAP, SugarCRM

Editorial standards