CRM Watchlist 2015 Winners: Customer Engagement Part 2

NICE, SAS and Verint have one thing in common: Customer engagement analytics and optimization solutions. Beyond that, they are all different. See why and what they have to be do to be different and even more successful.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor
First, an apology

I am sorry that these reviews are taking as long as they are. While I have no excuse other than I am swamped between client work, trying to write my book and travel and a few sundry other things, I do ask that you forgive me for the length of time these are taking and will continue to take, and indulge me in letting me continue to do this. Thank you!

Announcement: CRM Idol on hiatus

Among the 8 customer engagement winners, I did find three -- NICE, SAS and Verint. -- that have something in common: - Customer engagement analytics. On the surface, they look like an odd...trio (can't say couple here, much as I'd like to make the pop reference) but they are really musketeers - and you know how many popular lore has of those (though actually its four).

Thing is, at this stage of the game, we can't underestimate the value and power of customer engagement analytics. We are in a period where a personalized response to a customer is the response expected by the customer. In order to "know" that customer well enough to provide them with an adequate personal response - adequate in this case, meaning good enough - we have to have data on them, be able to analyze that data to determine both personality and anticipate behavior and then have the mechanism to communicate with them "personally" which really means apparently personally enough for the customer to think that the company has sufficient personal interest and knowledge about that customer to make the customer want to continue the conversation or start a transaction or both.

Customer engagement analytics takes care of part of this. It is a macro-analytic effort that provides companies with a large amount of data about the activities - interactions - of a large amount of customers. At its most sophisticated level, its able to take that data and the data available on an individual and parse it all and determine the optimal interaction with the customer given all this information that the company has gathered about its customers overall, customers that are similar to this particular customer and the customer him or her self.

NICE, SAS and Verint (in no order other than alphabetical) have done at least some of this in their offerings and because they have risen above the masses, they are having an impact in the marketplace as companies. Thus, they won! Yay!!

Okay, now, back to my soberer (I mean more serious, not less drunk) writing. Let's take a gander at our winners.


I'm gonna start this review with a couple of "did you knows."

Did you know that the total revenue of NICE is close to $1 billion U.S.? Yeah, really. I was as shocked as you (actually, not really, but I like dramatic effect now and then) to hear this from them. Now, true, the bulk of their revenue is from their Workplace Performance Optimization (WPO) product suite, not customer engagement, but even so.... that's a lot of dough, wherever it comes from.

This has given them the time, money and labor to build a very good customer engagement analytics package and, establish a business unit doing only that.

All that's good but that doesn't get you the victory lap for the Watchlist.

But there is a lot that NICE is doing -- given where the market is going and how they are aligning to the market --- to build for the long haul.

Interesting, while they have a solid product portfolio, it's not the portfolio that makes me go wild with excitement about them. There is no doubt that their cash cow has been Workforce Performance Optimization and they do a remarkable job there. But that is a product suite that doesn't even get you entry into the CRM Watchlist. It is employee focused, not customer facing and while we can blah blah blather all we want about the need for employees to interface with customers - that's a product that serves the company more than the customers (other than indirectly). I'm not demeaning it. Those are necessary every bit as much as the customer-facing ones. But, for the purposes of the Watchlist, they are moot. But, lucky for me, NICE has a very, very good foundational product with their Voice of the Customer suite - which includes three strong components:

1. Real Time Customer Feedback - This is pretty much what it sounds like. Interaction with customer occurs, product responds with a survey or some vehicle for feedback through any number of channels e.g. text, email, mobile app, or even IVR. The responses are then immediately categorized and analyzed. Slick.

2. Voice of the Customer Analytics - This is the separate signal from noise product, the high volume analytics package that says "we take lots of interactions/conversations and mine them and some magic mathematical way come up with gold. Transmutation for the 21st century."

3. Customer Journey Optimization - This is almost literally rubber meets road, finds buildings, goes inside buildings, watches people, talks to them when they stop for a second somewhere in the buildings." To put it more in techie terms, they watch the customers behavior on each and all channels, see what the customer is doing and based on those and other existing behavior patterns, try to anticipate the customers near future behavior. Based on that, they suggest what they and everybody else actually incorrectly calls "next best action." Pitney Bowes, who have their own excellent engagement suite, rightfully calls it "best next action." The former suggests the second best possible thing, while the latter suggests the best possible thing. Vendors take note. Grammarians take note. Pitney Bowes, congrats on that one. Regardless, NICE's product provides that fount of goodness, actionable insight.

NICE also has some ancillary customer facing products that are associated with Interaction Optimization and Sales Optimization. They don't make a big deal of them, so I won't either. The only notable surprise, which upon reflection shouldn't have been, is that the Sales Optimization product has a compensation incentive management piece. It shouldn't have been because if Workforce Performance is your historic raison d'etre, then what optimizes performance on the job more than good, smart compensation programs? Answer? Nothing! Duh.

But it isn't the product, the partnerships, the corporate culture per se that defines their impact. They do what they have to do in general better than most or they wouldn't have won the Watchlist. But where they are standouts is in their thinking in and around mind share i.e. thought leadership.

Look, most companies I deal with have at least a modicum of thought leadership assets. That's a given. They are at least peripherally aware of mind share as important some way. But normally, they stop short of understanding the deep value it has because it doesn't produce a tangible, monetary ROI right away and in fact costs them something to do.

Most companies I deal with give it a little more than lip service, but that means they add a couple of front teeth to the mouth. NICE is a full mouth with a game plan for dental health. Unlike any other company that submitted to the Watchlist, NICE showed me a solid, working framework for thought leadership, with a clear cut strategy and execution plan and metrics associated with that. There was a defining vision for the thought leadership specifically "NICE is a value adding thought leader" which actually had substance behind it.

The execution plan (I'm leaving their strategy private) was built around content, a target audience, the distribution and promotion of the content to the target audience and the engagement of the target audience once the content was deployed. The KPIs were associated with, in effect, proof of engagement. They also understand the value of internal thought leadership, not just hiring guns like me and others to write (to be clear, that is example. They are not my client), and shoot (video) so they had a strong component of internally developed content in addition to the both engagement of external parties and the capturing (with attribution of course) of third party ideas that are relevant to the vision and strategy.

They build the content around highly specific themes ranging from customer experience, engagement and service to behavioral analytics and company leadership. One number that stood out was the combined number of posts that they did via various communications media per month - 400. Yep. Four hundred per month. Take note, laggards. Their estimated reach via one avenue on LinkedIn is six million. That's how to think about thought leadership.

With their other capabilities which are more than good enough, this is precisely the kind of thing that puts them into the impact winner's circle.

But of course, there are other things for them to do.

What they can do

Much more around partner ecosystem

I've spent enough time talking about the value of ecosystems in the 21st century to, I hope, not have to make the point again. Trust me, I'm pretty sure I'm right here. Interestingly, when it comes to customer engagement, NICE, which has the product to fit well into the engagement ecosystem and to form a strong, well constructed partner ecosystem of its own, hasn't really chosen to take that approach. Instead they have what sounds to be a good idea - partners to complement "market reach and completeness of solution" exactly what you would expect of an ecosystem. But in reality, while they have something, they are kind of dithering around not really taking advantage of what is sitting there in front of them.

For example, if you took at their tech partners, the bulk of them are hardware or hardware related software - Cisco, Avaya, Siemens, Genesys and IBM. Their "strategic partners" are the systems integrators who "include NICE in their turnkey projects." Among them, Cisco, IBM, and Amdocs, PwC. Plus resellers.

For a company of the size, scope and potential of NICE around customer engagement (I'm for the purposes of this, ignoring their "other" business) they are seriously deficient in their efforts around either building an ecosystem or participating in the partner ecosystems of others. Salesforce, NetSuite, maybe Microsoft are all possibilities as more specifically go to market relationships. The same goes for Accenture, Ernst and Young Advisory and Deloitte - not as just part of a turnkey solution, but as strategic partners along the lines that EY is strategic partner to SAP or Microsoft or Accenture to multiple companies. NICE has a great opportunity here - and 2015 would be the year to exploit. It.

Analyst relations pro forma not pro-ductive.

While NICE claims a formal analyst relations program that "extends to other influencers such as consultants and bloggers" (their wording) an informal survey of customer-focused consultants/advisors, bloggers and analysts especially independents doesn't find much interaction with them beyond press releases. In fact, in the submission, NICE mentions 6 analysts by name, one of whom is boutique in size; the rest traditional analyst firms (3 other firms). It clearly isn't top of mind - at least on the customer engagement side (I can't speak for what they are doing on Workforce Performance Optimization). But for NICE it needs to be something foremost in their thoughts. They have a very good foothold in the customer engagement analytics arena and they have the revenue to build out the kinds of programs that can do things like capture mindshare, provide regular briefings, and build an ecosystem. But their revenue is garnered more from their legacy business - workplace performance optimization - something that a case can be made is market leading. But just because they make more in their legacy business, doesn't mean the funds and efforts that this would allow can't be applied elsewhere - i.e. customer engagement optimization.

All that said, they need to spend the time and the money and gather the information they need to bring their analyst relations to the level that a billion-dollar company is expected to have and to the scope - in all of their business arenas. That is something that needs the work. That is something that will have results that will increase their impact. So it's a good thing to do, plain and simple.


SAS is in its own unique way, a remarkable company. For their entire lifespan, they have had two things that characterize this company - quality products strongly focused on analytics and an extraordinary culture. Over the last few years, they have solidified the customer facing components of their large portfolio. Their customer intelligence applications are built around a smart, contemporary outlook - decision management and optimization of real time activity with real time results. They base their applications on data science and mathematical modeling but have, despite, shall we say, less than intuitive efforts a while back, managed to make the applications considerably simpler to use, especially given the depth and complexity of the engine that drives them. With the operational aspects of marketing accounted for through their SAS Digital Marketing application, they have managed to capture a significant market share in marketing applications worldwide, 7.0% only superseded by Adobe, IBM and SAP (according to IDC data) (the link is to the report page, not the data). Oddly, they've done that relatively quietly, which speaks to the quality of their product set.

But the true beacon, SAS's true north star, has always been their culture. They have what has been both THE most employee friendly culture in the world or at the very least, one of the most employee friendly cultures in the world. This is a company that over its entire history has operated from a simple principal kind of well stated by founder, Chairman and CEO Dr. James Goodnight: "95 percent of my assets drive out the gate every evening. It's my job to maintain a work environment that keeps those people coming back every morning." In that spirit, that the most important part of SAS is its employees, the culture on the Research Triangle, North Carolina based campus is designed to get them in the door in the morning and out happy at night. There is an onsite, doctor staffed health care facility, full day care facilities, a fitness center and a "Worklife Department" whose staff's sole responsibility is to help the employees achieve work life balance. Thus, against an industry rate of 15% churn, SAS's historic rate is 3.6% - one fourth of the industry average. That's astonishing and remarkable. They are lauded publicly with multiple awards for their being one of the best places to work in the world. In 2014, Fortune Magazine, which publishes what may be the most recognized and may be the most prestigious "Best Places to Work" list every year, had them at #2. In case you're wondering, the only one who beat them was, Google. In 2015, they are #4, making that 12 times in the top 10. They are lauded by their own employees publicly. Their benefits are above and beyond. They impact their employees' lives. Here's a post by one of those in the Huffington Post to give you an idea about how much impact SAS culture had in the wake of a family tragedy. Mind blowing.

Another great strength they bring is not as tangible but is exceptionally important. That is that they align their vision and mission to the marketplace. Not only do they have a mission and a vision, but they have a specific set of outcomes that they see as associated with the execution based on the mission and vision.

For example, their vision is "We transform the way marketers work. We give modern marketers "the Power to Know". Now, honestly, that's really probably more of a mission than a vision, but in this particular case, I'm not going to quibble over that. What they do with this statement of purpose is to show how companies who are involved with them on this are transformed. So, one or two bullet point examples:

1. Before: command and control; After: Planning and anticipation

2. Before: Hindsight; After: Foresight

3. Before: Customer relationship; After: Customer Intimacy.

Okay, three numbered examples. Whatever. But what makes this important is that each of them reflects a changed OUTCOME not a product feature or a pie-in-the-sky possibility. This is how you apply a vision or mission - a statement of purpose - in a way that can resonate with your customers.

These are the kind of things that make SAS an impact player. That would be their distinct culture, their mission/vision market alignment and outcomes focus, and their solid always market ready customer intelligence and marketing applications.

Once again, like every other Watchlist winner, I have some thoughts on things they might do to make their impact even greater.

What they can do

Grow, grow, grow the both

SAS, in the last few years, decided that there was more to life than just the institutional analysts and they developed a small program led by the always amazing Angela Lipscomb to talk to a few other influencers. But their scope is limited due to a small overall investment of personnel, time, and capital in this program. Yet, because Angela is truly good at what she does, they've managed to stay up with a few independents who have kept their coverage up. But one person does not a program make.

Its time to take that and push both the institutional analyst, and the influencer program to the next level. For many years they have sustained their growth and their market impact via their great product portfolio and their still extraordinary culture. Analyst relations and influencer relations has been a too tiny part of their strategy - especially for a company their size.

But the world has changed and the markets are morphing and the demands of customers more comprehensive and strident. That means that it's no longer proper to continue assuming that the influencers/analyst s only real value is to influence customers, because they influence markets too. SAS has a good position in an increasingly competitive market, where despite their head start and sterling reputation, they will begin to lose some ground, unless they face the market reality - these influential people matter. They need an expanded formal analyst relations program and especially, an expanded formal influencer relations program with more personnel, more budget and wider reach. There is only so much one or two people can do without the support necessary to sustain the company's place in a growing, competitive market. The support needs to be there. Time for it to be so.

Think journey...

SAS has, without a doubt, impacted the world of both marketers and quants with its deep, and rich analytics capabilities. With their current customer engagement product set, they are able to see the customers activities at different touchpoints (such a bad word. Any substitutes?) and provide some insight into what is happening. Yet, what is noticeably absent from their messaging is any real discussion of the customer journey - nor is that a clear narrative in their discussion around the product. SAS would do well to focus a lot more on this - and other outcomes based narratives. What does the product do for the customer, more than how does it work for the customer? How is the SAS narrative aligned to the contemporary marketplace? Customers take great comfort in thinking that the companies they want to deal with understand what they need to do and what they have to think about and concern themselves with. Given what SAS is providing, messaging around the customer journey and aligning the product narrative (which also means building the product accordingly) around it would benefit SAS greatly - and their future customers.

One more alignment...

This one is simple. SAS calls their solutions gathering a complete customer profile to facilitate personalized communications, Adaptive Customer Experience. It should be called Adaptive Customer Engagement. The whole idea behind engagement is bidirectional (at least) communications/interactions. That is what a system of engagement is all about in its simplest form. Customer Experience is a feeling about a company that a customer has over time. Personalized communications can help support a great customer experience but they don't enable it. It does enable the interactions. That's its purpose. Change the name.

SAS is a long time player - a big time player - in the analytics and marketing universe. They haven't stood still - they've evolved their pillars - great products and a fantastic culture - over the years and maintained their position as one of the market leaders. But the market is changing faster than ever before and for SAS, the next two or three years are crucial for them to speed up their rate of change. They won the Watchlist so clearly I'm a believer. Now they have to make other believers. They had me at customer intelligence.

Be visible...

The simple truth is that SAS doesn't devote as much time to making a splash as Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft or even Marketo does - among others. Time for SAS to answer. They need to be considerably more aggressive in the public arenas that their competitors are in. More top of mind than they are. That means more effort to capture mind share in their case - more content, more "culturally relevant" material that trumpets their culture and outlook; more conceptual material, more videos and more public appearances in the heart of the beast - the technology vendor world. More top of mind for a top quality company.

There is NO question in my mind that SAS has been a strong player in the market for many years - some years a little lower key than others. They've stepped up their visibility the last few years and with their positive assets made a serious dent in the customer-facing marketplace. Now they have to continue that. Can they? The data and some of my heart says they can. It is literally in their hands.


Verint, in its own way, had been, until recently, a somewhat difficult company to type. But that's no longer the case. Wait, you say, is that good? You can typecast them now? I didn't say typecast, I said type. That means that they are identifiable as an impact player in a market that is addressable. That is definitely a good thing. It means they are being noticed and creating the conditions to continue to be noticed.

I don't have to say anymore about the customer engagement market and its technology components. You can see that (as I've referenced before) in this post when it comes to what they are. (Note: I've since added an 18th component around customer lifecycle management). I'm sick of repeating myself. But what I will say is that Verint is aligning themselves squarely with that market and wisely so, through their acquisitions, shift in messaging and active involvement in this nascent market both as a participant and a contributor to the thinking.

The acquisitions they've made are key to their alignment with the contemporary customer universe. The two that reflect that alignment best are KANA acquired in January 2014 and Major Oak Consulting acquired in December 2013.

The acquisition of KANA was a game changer for Verint. What made it particularly valuable was not only KANA per se but the acquisitions that KANA had made over the previous years including Sword-Ciboodle which gave them complex enterprise level contact center chops and most importantly, in my eyes, the acquisition of Lagan an Irish firm which gave them the technology to make a significant impact in the public sector, particularly local government. The case studies that were in the submission were lets just say book worthy efforts in local government success including the City of Buffalo that won a Silver medal for Customer Service in the 2014 Gartner/1to1 Media CRM Excellence Award) (here is the ebook link with the award winners) and is so compelling that I probably will include it if I can get permission in my upcoming book on customer engagement in one of the chapters.

They took things even further with the acquisition of Adam Golden and John Soley's Major Oak Consulting - a big deal though not a big company. Adam, who recently wrote a guest post for me on this very site, is a specialist in mapping customer journeys from both the process and behavioral side, one of the best I know. That acquisition ties Verint even more to the engagement technology market that is growing by leaps and bounds.

Their marketing reflects that too. Unlike several of their brethren companies who insist on keeping their (doesn't actually exist) CX technology focus, they have wisely gone the way of engagement. You can have a technology enabled system of engagement. Its basically a bidirectional communication through some medium (air included). You can't have a technology enabled system of experience because there is no such thing as a system of experience. There is customer experience strategy and customer experience programs for sure. There are systems of record and engagement. But there is no technology that can enable a feeling over time about some business institution. Period.

Anyway, more fodder for another conversation. Verint has chosen the path of engagement. They call their product portfolio, Engagement Management solutions. They describe what they support in their work "systems of interaction and systems of engagement with both customers and employees beyond and around CRM." Not a bad description at all. They are focused on B2C verticals some of which have stronger emotional tugs like retail, financial services, travel and hospitality and education. They see engagement as physical and digital and think accordingly. They see the world as it currently is in omnichannel terms. A smart perspective.

That said their primary focus has been and remains interactions around customer service (see below) a place that with their Sword-Ciboodle heritage can be a place they can shine regardless of the complexity of the service interactions or the scale/size of the contact centers and other media involved.

This is a company that is aligned well, has the revenue and cash to do what it wants to do in the marketplace and has developed a product portfolio much of it led by the incredibly valuable Stephen Thurlow.

But as always, there is much to do for them to impact the market the way they potentially can for the next several years.

What they can do

Analyst relations, valiant but....

This is a bit of a broken record, given what I've said about many other companies who won the Watchlist. But, I'm going to say it again. Verint could do better with a formal influencers program that takes into account the changes in the market. I have to qualify this by saying that they have by far one of the best analyst relations people in the business, the inestimable Ryan Zuk, but there is only so much that one person can do. Beyond Ryan, the exposure that the independent analysts get to Verint is minimal at best and deficient at the least. Its hard to work without much of a budget (though I'm speculating here) and without a formal program behind him (not speculating here; reading more than tea leaves). Ryan is literally, not figuratively, doing about as close to 100% of that as possible, but the resulting effort is that Verint is being saved by Ryan rather than taking advantage of the interest of a group of influentials who would love to get deeper into the Verint efforts. Sad indeed, but eminently fixable by a conscious effort to develop a true influencers program and get away from the old school view of AR that was put to rest more than 5 years ago by the change in the way that influence was parceled out.

Make the vision 20-20, not 20-200

There is no doubt down to the marrow of my bones that Verint is poised to have even more market impact than it currently has - which is growing by leaps and bounds. Yet, to do that, you have to all components operating cohesively - and driven by a mission and vision that projects the power and impact of the company into the future.

If you read Verint's mission statement it certainly makes great sense - to empower organizations through actionable intelligence. I can't say I think its inspiring, but then, mission statements don't have to be - they have to be what you are setting about doing in the real world that is aligned with the resources you have to do it. So this is one component that makes some real sense.

But then there is the vision - "Customer Engagement Optimization for organizations supported by enterprise workforce optimization and multichannel customer service capabilities from a single provider"

The only thing I can stay, to start, is, would you, reader, want to live in a world like that? What kind of vision statement is this? This is marketing collateral that says "our vision is for us to be the company that you deal with."

Contrast this with my oft-repeated elegant example of a vision from EY, a Watchlist Elite winner this year. "To build a better working world." That doesn't say, EY needs to dominate a market, but instead is a participant in a world that is more productive and...read whatever else you want into it.

Vision is much, much bigger than what we have here for Verint. They are a company that is involved in helping to uncover and ascertain actual human behaviors under work conditions. Surely there is something a little more poetic and larger in scope there than what I see above.

The power of M. Benioff at Salesforce is that he not only presents the grand thinking but gets each member of the audience listening to him to say "I can see myself as part of that." So, Verint, you won the Watchlist because you are coming up and on strong. But there is no way I can see myself nor can anyone else but a Verint employee see themselves as part of your vision - maybe. Be more elegant, be larger than yourself, be a proactive participant - and come up with a complete rewrite so that you can have ever greater impact in a better working world.

Customer service and....

The quality of Verint's customer service focused offerings are excellent without question in most regards. But they are limiting their own scope given what they provide. One thing that we are seeing is the creation of an, at the moment, roiling customer engagement market. We are also seeing the expansion of marketing not just beyond its traditional message-pushing, demand-creating efforts, but even beyond its effort as the first line of engagement. Marketing is now evolving to both the first line of engagement and the producer and sustainer of subject matter expert content and a glue for customers to stay engaged with companies - around sales as much as service. I'm of the mind, that if Verint is planning to expand its portfolio around Customer Engagement Optimization, it will be time well spent and effort well worth it, to expand to marketing. They seem to have the messaging around "Customer Marketing" which is a relatively effective and interesting permutation of smart positioning. But the products don't really reflect that. That said, the opportunity is clearly there, because the products they have are at the cusp of alignment with marketing. Marketing itself is stretching widely into customer service through knowledge management and other means - and there is a natural fit for a company like Verint who sees the market around engagement quite clearly to make a splash here. Invest. The time is nigh.

Verint's victory this year is no fluke. They have the market smarts, they have the early stages of an excellent portfolio; they made wise acquisitions. If they are kind enough to take my advice, I think they will go a longer way than they even have come though it will of course take a bit of time. If they don't they'll still do well. One way or the other, they are here to stay. Now its their job to make sure they do.


Okay all, probably next week sometime, I'll be sending my assessment of Infusionsoft's ICON15 and SugarCRM's SugarCon 2015. Stay tuned. Then back to the Watchlist.

Editorial standards