CRM Watchlist 2019: And the winners are....

It's that time again: The 13th annual CRM Watchlist award winners are here. See which companies not only had the most impact in the customer-facing technology world in 2018 but are likely to continue to have it for the next few years.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

"Once again, it's the time of the season, when love runs high. And this time, give it to me easy and let me try with pleasured hands, to take you in the sun to promised lands to show you every one."

OK, how many of you recognized the lyrics to the Zombies' "Time of the Season"? But is that time again: to announce the CRM Watchlist 2019 winners,  to explain some of my findings, and to explain why I did what I did.

So, let's begin with some observations about this year's award – and some of my gleanings from the submissions that might be of interest to you all reading this. Here's the order of things:

  1. The context for the CRM Watchlist in 2019
  2. Differences with the CRM Watchlist 2017
  3. Observations on the awards
  4. "Trends" of interest from the submissions
  5. What all the winners and all others can get from me
  6. And the winners…
  7. The 2020 awards  & registration
  8. Other notables

The Context for the CRM Watchlist in 2019

One thing must always be front and center when it comes to the CRM Watchlist, now in year 13: the Impact award. This is not an award for a great technology, nor for a great social program, nor for the size of a company's submission, nor for excellence in a particular category of things.  To emphasize the point, one company in the course of their submission indicated correctly that they had won the Watchlist one year – but said they qualified for "winner with distinction for customer engagement". There is no "winner with distinction for customer engagement" – it was simply winner with distinction. You win for your impact on markets, society and people. Your win can be a result of your impact on a specific market – say a geographical area, or a domination of a market in a specific domain. But while you might win because of that highly specific market domination, you aren't winning in a category. Ever. You are winning because you were a powerful force of influence and effect in either a global domain or a significant local domain that has global implications. 

For example, one year, Solvis Consulting, the remarkable tech consultancy, won for their impact in the Latin American market. However, they didn't win in the "Latin American" category. They just simply won.  Your impact in a market is the basis for this award. If your company wins, it's because they not only had an impact in the prior year, but that impact will be sustained for at least two or three more years.

For that impact to be sustainable, the company must be a complete company that has been doing this long enough to have established a rhythm. The company has to be well-rounded: it has financial stability, solid management, excellent products and services, superb culture, and a strong partner ecosystem to help sustain its efforts. It has to have a clear vision and mission and also clear-cut strategies for outreach to get external forces - customers, analysts, journalists, prospects, influencers, etc. - engaged. That takes a complete (and complex) set of tools and activities, which could include marketing, analyst relations and public relations programs, the subject matter expertise via the content produced and distributed for consumption, and the "theatrical" activities that establish the corporate identity necessary to stay top of mind, as well as capture share of wallet.

That has to be coupled with the impact that you have proven to me you did have as a company the prior year to the award (meaning the CRM Watchlist 2019 is based on the calendar year of 2018 – and forward).

The other factor that weighs heavily – and not positively – even though it might have been a good thing that happened – is uncertainty. If you were acquired and there was management turnover going on or if you were addressing a new market that you didn't have much history in – you had a significant penalty to work against. Sometimes, all other things being equal, the company would have won the Watchlist but the uncertainty was the deciding factor. I have no way to see an impact two or three years out when I don't even know who is going to be your management team or you gave me no discernible proof of the results of your bold move into a new market and thus I had no way of knowing if you were going to be successful there over time – even if you were successful in your existing markets. Again, this is an impact award, not a "smart strategy" award. I might think that you made the right move but you rarely are going to have impact in the new market in the first few quarters you are in it.

For example, several years ago, one of the winners of the Watchlist went into a new market that I had suggested to them to go to.  The following year they didn't win because they listened to me. They went into the new market, but neither their submission nor my independent research showed me that they impacted that new market year one. The following year, their submission and my research showed they did and they won again – in the new market.

This year, one company lost the Watchlist strictly on a major management transition. If that hadn't happened, they would have won the Watchlist.  Much as it's painful, there is no way to prove to me the impact they will have in a couple of years given the radical change in leadership and despite their good intentions. They had an impact in 2018 but the change doesn't provide me with the definitive confidence needed to see the impact sustained in 2019-2021. And I'm sorry for that.

Differences with The CRM Watchlist 2017

As many of you who care at all (that means both of you), I didn't have the Watchlist last year. I had to refresh it to reflect  changes in the market, changes in what constitutes impact, changes in what makes for  a successful company and how they execute accordingly and the changes in the requirements to participate.   As always, though not related to the revamp, the weights of the categories and the questions and the nature of the hidden "questions" and "characteristics" I was looking for changed too – but these are a constant year to year.

For example, in the past I had not included customer success programs which are now a major part of almost every company in the maturing tech industry.  I had to get some serious details from each submitter on how their customer success program worked. That of course, by itself, changes the nature and weight of the questionnaire category it falls under. 

The other change was a huge one: I created criteria to eliminate all the immature companies (not in personality – in evolution) that had been participating year after year.

Let's face it, this is an impact award. An immature company -- with a small revenue stream and more than two-thirds of the company devoted to engineering their product; and with no skills per se in marketing or outreach  or strategy; and with no discernible culture – simply had little to no chance of ever winning the Watchlist. It was unfair to them – and took up a lot of my time reading and scoring entries that would score abysmally low simply due to their newness and thus lack of impact.  

But the emerging companies deserved their own day in the sun so I created the Emergence Maturity Index Award 2019 (EMIs…pronounced "emmies." LOL!). This award is based on an index I'm creating that overlaps -- but is not the same as -- the Watchlist for emerging technology companies on helping to define who is the likely breakout candidate based on what they've done to date, how mature they are as a company  - as distinguished from the many emerging tech companies that I call technology products with an institution wrapped around them.  Tomorrow or Wednesday I will announce the winner of the 2019 EMI Award. More on them in that post. There is only one winner there, unlike the Watchlist which can have multiple winners.

Observations on the Awards

What has the new CRM Watchlist 2019 award process shown me? How hard does this make winning? Well, each year, I said it was harder than the last time I did the award. This year, I had the fewest winners of the Watchlist since I changed the name to the CRM Watchlist from the Steppin' Out Awards of 20 years ago.  And there were no elite winners at all for the first time in the history of the Watchlist since I announced the designations of Winner, Winner with Distinction, and Elite Winner.

The number of submissions was down under 100 this year – not surprisingly given that the emerging companies were no longer eligible nor were companies that couldn't prove significant customer-facing technology offerings, nor were, for the first time, consultancies.  I kept it strictly to companies that could provide technology.  They could have professional services including consultancies as part of their company, but there had to be technology products associated.

Here's the data I can provide this year:

  1. Registrants - 78
  2. Submissions - 73
  3. Dropouts by withdrawal deadline - 3
  4. Dropouts after withdrawal deadline – 2 (penalized heavily)
  5. Disqualifications – 1 (they didn't check a box that was required, and it specified automatic disqualification if you didn't)
  6. First time winners – 1
  7. Pages total (approx.) – just short of 4000
  8. Average submission - 50 pages (this is approximate, not precise)
  9. Largest submission - 111 pages
  10. Submissions over 100 pages - 3
  11. Smallest submission - 15 pages

The submissions had a few interesting quirks – one in particular which was not the best.  The second question in the Watchlist questionnaire asks for an overall impact statement – not a detailed one. It's basically a question on how you think you impacted the market most substantially. The vendor could tell me about things they did that got serious recognition – and that could be for their products, their social good, their brilliant campaigns, whatever. It was truly astonishing to see how many of them focused on describing their technology advances – which is of course not what I was asking. They seemed to be confusing what was exciting to them internally – their product iterations – with how the company was impacting the larger world around them.  I would say that considerably more than 50 percent of the submissions emphasized their products.  Let's just say it was both the wrong answer and unimpressive to me. A hint for 2020. While you are welcome to talk about the technology – please show me its impact on the greater world, not tell me how good it really is.

There were some product gaps noticeable in the submissions too. Three really stood out to me:

  1. With all the talk of their adoption of ABM as marketing theory and practice, very few vendors offered ABM as part of their marketing solutions.
  2. With all the talk of customer journeys, with the exception of Thunderhead (which offers customer journey orchestration) and Salesforce, which offers Interaction Studio (a large subset of Thunderhead's offering), there was no actual customer journey orchestration offering by any company. Multiple companies offered journey building but few offered journey tracking or interaction with customers on the journeys.
  3. Despite all the companies having customer success programs, few (beyond a couple of entries who did CSM for a living) offered it as part of their larger technology portfolio. They all tend to use the CSM vendors like Gainsight or Totango as their offerings internally, though I found no evidence that they offered them to their customers via their partner ecosystem.  That doesn't mean they don't. It simply means it wasn't mentioned in the submission.

This was an odd CRM Watchlist with fewer surprises than in the past. You could see, via the submissions, that the market was converging and becoming increasingly competitive – with more and more companies gaining ground and realigning accordingly to keep gaining ground. The messaging and the road maps and product releases reflected that.

That's also a great segue into the "trends" I was able to identify, if you consider the submissions a significant sample. 

"Trends" of Interest

There were a significant number of not necessarily completely interconnected trends that were identifiable when it came to how the technology vendors were looking at and acting in the world. Here they are somewhat randomly.

Customer Engagement/Customer Experience…can't keep a good message down.

If the submissions are a barometer of anything, it is clear that CRM per se is just part of how companies are looking at the world. The name of the suites, the ecosystems, the platforms were often called customer engagement platforms (Pega Infinity) or customer success platforms (Salesforce) or CX for customer experience (Oracle/SAP). Verint would interchangeably use customer engagement and customer experience in its materials as what they are able to provide successfully with the use of their technology.  Interestingly and I think without knowledge that the other was doing it, both Oracle and SAP have started to focus their messages around "The Experience Economy," a phrase first popularized in 1999 with the seminal work by Joe Pine called "The Experience Economy" (I'd get the 2011 updated version). They are each, in their own way, updating the theme but the CX and customer engagement are taking major leaps and bounds forward.  A plurality of the companies, even those who are core CRM providers, were still messaging around customer experience and/or customer engagement.

Customer Success – I can't believe how grown up you are!

One thing that winners are characterized by almost universally is how organized and institutionalized their customer post-sale activity is. Each of them had a mature customer success program in place. The methodologies varied from company to company – the ancillary related programs that effectively enhanced customer success without being part of the actual program were quite different – but all in all, they had mature customer success methodologies, highly detailed processes, approaches and best practices when It came to ongoing relationships with their customers and a deep 24X7 commitment to their individual customer companies.  They are all highly mature, battle-tested, well-funded, with clear metrics for measuring success – none of which are based on revenue generation though almost all are based on retention. This is an account-focused approach to service that values the customer and allows the customer to see the vendor as a trusted adviser.

ABM – No, not Anti-Ballistic Missile – how old are you?

ABM, account-based marketing is the approach du jour of many of the Watchlist companies – winners and non-winners.  Ultimately, something like it has been around since 1993 when Martha Rogers and Don Peppers wrote The One to One Future (another classic worth reading). Peppers and Rogers focused on singular highly focused relationships with individual customers and companies. This has been institutionalized and adopted by almost all the major companies that have submitted, and by quite a few of the others. ABM is showing results good enough for companies to see it as part of their marketing theory, strategies and programs.

Integrated and/or Expanded CRM

Ever since Gartner announced that CRM, at $39.6 billion for 2017 was the world's largest software market – and that there would be continued double digit growth – the bandwagon started growing faster than the market – and that is reflected in the CRM Watchlist submissions. Several of the vendors in 2018 expanded their customer-facing area of focus from service to add sales and even marketing so that they had a full CRM suite such as Freshworks. They realigned their naming conventions along the lines of traditional CRM. For example, winner SAP changed their CX suite product names to Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Service Cloud to make it significantly more obvious than in the past that they had a full service integrated CRM suite that could be individually accessed but was more powerful when you owned all of it. Others, like bpm'online, have been integrated CRM suite providers for quite a while -- which aligned them to the market without a lot of additional effort.

Conjointly there is a renewed focus on the 360 degree view of the customer with Salesforce actually announcing Customer 360 as their new customer data integrated record drawing from all sources – allowing for a more tailored personalized idea of who the customer is. Similar notions abounded throughout the questionnaires – other vendors touting the same thing.

All in all, integrated CRM – not the usual "Oh-CRM-You-Mean-Sales" that I hear all the time – but Sales, Marketing, Customer Service fully integrated at the level of customer data and interacting between the three pillars – is becoming a real option for companies to offer.

The one other area that I think is one of the largest market opportunities – and apparently so do multiple other companies if the Watchlist entries are any indicator – is vertical industries. Two of the Watchlist winners this year – Veeva (the one new one – focused on life sciences) and Vlocity (Industry Cloud focused on 5 verticals) are focused on nothing else. Almost every other entry has highly specific industries that they are focused in. There are very few that have nothing more than a generic outlook. The era of industries (and the customer and social good and whatever you think belongs here) is upon us. 

Conversational Interfaces

The best way to put this one is that all the vendors are giving it lip service, several are actually focusing on it, and it's noticeable in areas that I am sworn to secrecy about but it is a matter of a great deal of interest to a plurality of the submissions -- the mid-sized to largest ones. But the actual level of accomplishment is very spotty: some good, most not far enough along as of now and given the interest. If you're interested in this area, read ZDNet's Brent Leary Voice's Carry.

Finally, Influencer Programs

This is an interesting one. While almost every single entry win or loss has an analyst program of some kind or at least someone in charge of analyst relations, only a few have influencer programs that go outside formal analyst bounds and do outreach to other groups. What I mean is influencer programs that don't just think of independent analysts like me, or Esteban Kolsky as "influencers" ; but programs like Salesforce's that will reach out to influencers in the world of organization change like Silvana Buljan in Spain; or SAP'S Business Influencer program which has had the foresight to reach out to academics and establish strong relationships to that community.

With the exception of those few, this is a missed opportunity for the vendors to extend their impact in areas that they have no reach otherwise. There's a noticeable trend in interest but a noticeable gap in execution.

The Benefits to the Winners…And the Not-Winners

Okay, now for a surprise.  I want to provide a prize for each of the winners (aside from a badge to put up on a website) and something for those that didn't win either.

For those that didn't win:  a free 30-minute consultation on why you didn't win. Hopefully,  it will be of some value in pointing out areas that will be better when strengthened and also explain at times why you not winning was a closer decision that you might think.

For those who did win: A free one- hour of consultation on any topic you want to cover. (That is an $1,875 value.) Plus, you will be getting a write up – either individually (Winners with Distinction) or grouped with one or two other winners – in the first half of the year.

The catch is that both the 30-minute and the one-hour consults will have to be scheduled after I launch the book and the website in either late March or, more likely, early April. You will be able to request my time via a scheduling section on the site.

If you are truly anxious to get the discussion scheduled, here's what I'm willing to do.  If you can email me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com by February 15, 2019 at 6pm to ask me for an appointment, I'll set it up with you previous to the launch. I'm gamifying!!  It'll prove to me you read this post and didn't just look at whether or not you won and that you are interested enough to query me and get it set up. Plus the window is short. So let's see how you do. The ONLY way to set it up is via email. Not Facebook, not LinkedIn, not Twitter, not ZDNet. The email here. Go!

Okay, now time for the big moment.

Pause to catch your breath.

And the Winners of the CRM Watchlist 2019 are…

We will start with the highest scorers this year – The Winners with Distinction – and the highest scorer of the competition is first in that.  Then we will go to the Winners – and they are in alphabetical order. There is no categorical winner. If you won, you won. That's it.


Drum roll………….

Winners with Distinction 

  2. Salesforce


  1. bpm'online
  2. Coveo
  3. Infor
  4. Microsoft
  5. Oracle
  6. Pegasystems
  7. PROS
  8. SAP
  9. Thunderhead
  10. Veeva
  11. Verint
  12. Vlocity

There you have it folks. The CRM Watchlist 2019 WINNERS!!

Time for 2020…

The 2020 Awards & Registration

With the announcement of the winners this year, I also want officially announce the opening of registration for the CRM Watchlist 2020.  As always you will be getting a registration form that you must submit within two weeks (14 days) of receipt of the form or you will not qualify at all for 2020.  Registration will close September 30, 2019 at 6pm PT. Upon return of the form, you will receive the CRM Watchlist 2020 questionnaire, which will be due December 31, 2019 at 6pm PT.  The qualification criteria for this year remain the same as they were for 2019.

Here is the calendar for the CRM Watchlist 2020 (the time is always 6pm PT)

  1. Registration opens – February 11, 2019
  2. Registration closes – September 30, 2019
  3. Withdrawal from the Watchlist deadline – October 31, 2019 (there will be penalties for not submitting following that date. No exceptions.)
  4. Submission deadline – December 31, 2019

If you're interested in the submission criteria for 2020, they are the same as 2019 which you can find here.

Other Notables:

USUAL RELATIVELY CHEEKY DISCLAIMER: Several of the winners are clients of mine; several of the non-winners are clients of mine; several of those companies who didn't submit at all are clients of mine. Several of the winners are NOT clients of mine; several of the non-winners are NOT clients of mine - and thousands of NOT clients of mine didn't submit at all.

Either tomorrow or Wednesday I'll be posting the winners of the Emergence Maturity Index Awards. If you are interested here is a discussion I did when I launched the idea in 2017.

I'm launching my website and my book, "The Commonwealth of Self Interest: Business Success Through Customer Engagement" in late March or early April. Stay tuned. Lots to talk about.

So, thank you winners! Well-deserved and I hope continued success!! See you next year!

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