CRM Watchlist 2019 winners: The big engines that could part one -- Infor and SAP

SAP and Infor won the CRM Watchlist 2019 -- and they did so with some power. They both have some similar and some very very different reasons for their victory, but a victory nonetheless. SAP won, and they win more often than not, and here's why. Infor won, and they won for some truly distinctive reasons for their impact. Why? Read on.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

So, the little engine that could -- meaning, what passes for my writing skills -- is still chugging along, and thus the two winners with distinction, Adobe and Salesforce (see below for links), are done.

  • CRM Watchlist 2019 Winners with Distinction part one: Adobe
  • CRM Watchlist 2019 Winners with Distinction part two: Salesforce
  • An admonishment and warning

    In order to proceed with the final eleven winners, I need to make something clear. Every single year, when I announce the winners, I make a point of saying that there is no categorical winner. The winner that appears first on the list -- other than the top scorer -- is first, alphabetically. There are levels of winning, driven by the final, weighted score: Elite, with distinction, and winner. But there is no category that you win, like Marketing Automation or Enterprise or SMB or Analytics. There is only "winner" at whatever level you were.

    That said, when I do the posts, for my own benefit, I tend to group them together. Again, these aren't categories that have any meaningful existence other than to allow me to group how I present the "why they won" to you. For example, there are four multi-billion-dollar companies in this round of posts. I'm breaking them into two posts -- one that will include Infor and SAP and another that will include Microsoft and Oracle. This isn't even alphabetical. You know why I'm doing it that way? Because I want to and that is literally the only reason. There is nothing scientific. The four largest remaining winners are grouped together because I think the comparison between equivalently large companies can be useful. There are two posts because they get big. The first (Infor) and the last (SAP) in what would have been alphabetical order are in the first one, and the two middle ones are in the second, mostly because that's the way the dice rolled. So please, please, please don't think there is anything more it than my grouping for comparison's sake only. Because that's the only reason. The rest is pretty random.

    Also, one caveat. Because Adobe and Salesforce were the winners with distinction, they each got a post of pretty decent length. These posts from here out from the winners are shorter per company. Still pretty, big but a little shorter. (For example this post is more than 7,000+ words for SAP and Infor combined -- big. But not as big as Salesforce or Adobe combined, which they weren't. Just so you know.)

    OK, now, let's get on with the good stuff. In this post, why SAP and Infor were winners, and, of course, what they can do to sustain impact.

    Let's start with SAP.


    SAP is always fascinating. Brilliant in so many ways, a powerful force in the technology business universe and yet, as much as any other major player if not more so, not quite achieving the enormous potential they have. Yet, I must tell you, peel away the onion skin and you see the sheer depth and breadth of the company, and it's always remarkable and at times breathtaking. But what's really very hard to do, and it often obscures much of what they are doing, is peel away the layers of that rather large onion. I'll attempt that, because I got to see more than the norm out there with their Watchlist submission, and aside from being the second-best quality submission in the entire competition (meaning how well it was written, the quality of the content et. al), it revealed some of what makes this a brilliant, enigmatic company that has some real impact in the real world.

    Interestingly, and this makes their victory even more significant, SAP actually had a more difficult road than most to be able to win this year. In May 2018, they announced an all-out pivot of the company, which put all things customer-facing at the core of their entire being as an entity. That meant not only did the then-rebranded and refreshed SAP hybris become SAP CX, and the focus of the entire practice became how to engage customers so that they have the quality of customer experience that they need to become sustainable customers, but they also pivoted the SAP company culture toward the front in their effort to become a much more personal and personable company -- one that is focused on interacting with their customers and to a greater extent than ever, though a work in progress, the world at large.

    Before I get into the details, keep in mind that this is an impact award that depends on you having serious impact in your chosen markets and direction. If you are a company making a significant change to something you are doing, that impacts the markets that you have been in and are starting to be part of. That impacts what and how people think of you. That means that, as a Watchlist "contestant" you must prove your impact in your new direction, not what you were. Very hard to do. Yet, SAP did it, and at the same time showed enough to give me enough concrete evidence to show me that they could sustain their impact. Additionally, my independent research, which in their case was a bit more than normal due to the pivot, led me to conclude that they were on the right track. But I did see some things that they had to do to maintain their newfound direction and thus, their impact over the next three or so years -- three of which I'll reveal later on. Not the complete list but a start.

    SAP in the light of day

    There is no question whatever that SAP has some remarkable strengths -- the ones that won them the Watchlist this year. I'm going to spend a bit of time listing and describing six of them for you so you can see what powers this industry leader.

    The Overarching: Vision, Mission, Social Conscience... -- Back in 2018, when SAP pivoted, they also unveiled a more certain (at least in principle) direction, and thus a newly minted mission and vision, as well as new, far more appropriate (for them) messaging at the global level and manifested a deeper and heavily revamped connection to the world at large. Some of that was just a reshaping of their messaging -- without any necessary changes to the outlook. Some of it was a rethinking of how they were going to interact in the world. This could arguably be their most dramatic change, though I imagine many analysts would argue, which is why I said "arguably."

    Without going into their past submissions per se, I will say that they seem to have a renewed sense of purpose and their stated vision is strong and appropriate to the 2018 pivot. The way that they put it:

    "At SAP, our purpose is to help the world run better and improve people's lives. This is our vision, cause and enduring higher purpose….

    To our core, we believe in a future where technology helps the world run better. Where responsible, healthy business and empathy for one another, are just as important as the bottom line. Where our economy, environment, and society prosper together."

    Noble words indeed, and, as a glass three-quarters full type of guy, I want to believe what I see. But what I need to corroborate that statement is to see a combination of what they are willing to be accountable for in word (statements to the public) and deed (what they actually do to make this real).

    Well, again, this is a post on why they won the Watchlist and when it came to the realization of their vision in actual deeds and public proclamations, they were able to make the case. As one example, they actually told a rather moving story about their work with an organization dedicated to stop rhino and elephant poaching, a.k.a. murderers. Elephants, Rhinos, and People (ERP… ironically) working with SAP have drones -- "eyes in the sky" -- that are monitoring herds and using SAP's IoT framework, capturing, and harvesting data from the collars on animals in the herds and transmitting the data to park rangers to then be able to spot and stop poachers and protect the herds. SAP, as I have found prior and since, does a fair amount of this kind of good, but reflective of their historic problem, does very little to communicate it. However, that doesn't take away from the good that they are doing nor the impact it has in the areas that they are doing that good.

    The other thing that reflects their commitment to this vision, at least in word, is, oddly, a commercial. Time to explain.

    SAP has always had a strong commitment to sustainability. But their messaging around sustainability wasn't really all that inspiring, though the dedication was honorable. I remember a SAPPHIRE (SAP's annual conference) several years ago (I don't remember the exact year) where they were exclaiming, rightfully, about the importance of reducing the carbon footprint -- and they had in fact, both reduced theirs dramatically with a significant amount of employee participation -- and also had developed some sort of technology that would support that effort. All good. Except their reasoning was reducing the carbon footprint-made businesses more profitable. While that is I assume true, that is hardly what the world needs to hear from SAP when it comes to the good that they do. Just so wrong.

    Fast forward to now, when SAP's transformation efforts as a business are ongoing. Now watch this commercial with the brilliant (and brilliantly chosen) Clive Owen as the SAP spokesperson:

    There is something in this commercial significant to understanding the change in SAP. This commercial talks about how business can help solve the big problems of the world. Sustainability, in this context, is seen as something that can help solve multiple damaging world problems (environmental, etc). SAP is not talking about profitability or SAP tech running business, but about business, as Marc Benioff says, being a force for change. And it's done in that brilliant Clive Owens, self-deprecating, droll wit -- which, as a corollary, also humanizes SAP. But the framework is now truly solving the world's problems for the world's sake, not the profitability of business. That is something that the world needs to hear, and, even more germane to this post, SAP needed to say -- and do.

    … and Messaging They have revamped their messaging, which for the last several years, suffered under the "SAP Runs Simple" mistake, to one that I think expresses the overarching value of the offerings of SAP exceptionally well. That is "Intelligent Enterprise." What this does is show what SAP S/4 HANA and C/4 HANA combined provide end to end for enterprises. The only other companies that I think can make at least a similar claim are perhaps Oracle and Infor. What this does, if you incorporate the framework that should be around their pivot, though, is bring to light business units at SAP like their Digital Supply Chain (under the ownership of the brilliant Hala Zeine), which is distinctly a technology that supports and enables an effort whose success and failure has a substantial impact on customers. But the idea of "Intelligent Enterprise" goes to the heart of what SAP has immediately available to particularly large enterprises -- an end-to-end technology ecosystem that can sustain a complete business -- and the means to align it to the needs of the 21st century customer via the smart technologies (like IoT) that are available. The alignment of their messaging -- and alignment for SAP as they pivoted is a big deal -- is important to SAP's ability to gain the trust of their customers and prospects and the world at large, and show that they are doing what customers are looking for companies like them to do: Be a trusted adviser and resource for enablement of outcomes up to the largest enterprise possible.

    But what makes this equally important is that despite their historic issue -- getting across a message that resonates - they have always been well prepared when it came to the media to broadcast their message. From TV to social to content portals to communities to radio to Instagram, SAP has built some of the best organized communications media that I've seen, with some real proficiency in social communications. They have a strong presence in traditional media such as TV -- advertising frequently on national TV and regional TV with ads like the Clive Owens commercial. Of the big guys, only Microsoft -- at least in my non-scientific observations -- advertises more than SAP. "Big deal," you say (or if you are a Lewis Carroll enthusiast, "Piffle") "TV is old school." Yeah, but guess what? Traditional TV is still considered the most influential advertising medium by a very large segment of the population, including, in some studies, millennials -- so the power remains. Plus, a lot of what you do and say is still shaped by TV -- and that you grew up in the medium. Think current YouTube video production values. Where do you think you got your view of what constitutes quality video from? SAP is making a wise bet on the medium.

    But fear not, contemporary digital cognoscenti. SAP meets the standard and then some in their social media use too. The combination of an active presence on Twitter via active participation in ad hoc conversations, quick responses to tweets that relate to them, a large number of people consistently monitoring its traffic and organized and enjoyable tweet chats with thought leaders (which are a lot of fun... I did one of their first ones with them) put them far ahead of most other vendors in the category. One simple benchmark if you are an active business tweeter -- how much (relative to the others) does SAP (not the fans of SAP) show up on channels and in conversations that aren't around their conferences. How responsive are they during their own conferences? I was at another conference recently at the same time that SAP CX Live/SAPPHIRE was going on and tweeted some things related to both conferences. The conference I was at normally had maybe one like and maybe a retweet. No direct responses in any way -- and I put out about 100 tweets. The SAP entries had about 15-20 likes and 10-30 retweets and SAPers responding to me via public tweets or DMs. Totally different and I wasn't even there. But their social comms presence in-conference and non-conference is impressive. It is far and away, head and shoulders, miles, galaxies better in its use of social than about 95% of the vendors. They are not oblivious to the results that they get either. They have KPIs set around interaction with their customers but also the world at large on social media.

    There is much more to say on this, but as I said, this is some of the reasons, not all of the reasons that they won. If you want more, ask and maybe I'll tell you. But maybe not.

    A Set of Products by Any Other Name Would Smell as Suite --A company and its offerings when well aligned to the markets it targets, can greatly extend its impact.  In an effort to do just that, SAP made a significant effort to both rename their products and also rename the practice that handles its customer facing efforts. Historically, SAP has had a very difficult product naming convention. I was once asked to help them name something and after all the conventions were satisfied -- meaning the things that had to be in the product name, there were literally three letters left to work with. No joke. I swear. But again, to SAP's credit, realized that this wouldn't do in an era where the distribution and consumption of information needs to be immediate -- and the ability to find that information via search is a significan convenience for their potential customers and of critical importance to SAP itself. .What did they do?  They renamed their products Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, Commerce Cloud, and Customer Data Cloud, among other things. But you might say, what's so great about that? Everyone's sales offering is Sales Cloud, everyone's marketing offering is Marketing Cloud etc. Exactly! I am of the mind that when someone is starting to search for a salesforce automation solution, they are not typing in really clever names for things. They are typing in Sales Cloud because that's what they hear and know, regardless of its lack of poetry. A really clever name doesn't show up in the search unless someone literally knows it in advance. Sales Cloud does. This was an extremely important move for SAP's alignment with the market -- and it works. It almost automatically increases their footprint. Because their footprint becomes more luminescent in search.Oh, one other thing. Thankfully, they finally got rid of the name SAP hybris as their customer-facing business unit name  and renamed it SAP CX -- much better aligned with the world as it is and how they need to address it.

    Brilliantly Acquisitive -- I said, acquisitive, not inquisitive. SAP's acquisitions have been consistently brilliant. One reason for that, despite many other things that may need to be fixed, their view of technology ecosystems that are built around supporting their CX portfolio, are not one of them. They have been making significantly important additions to their CX offering for a long while, starting with hybris (2015), continuing with Gigya (2018) and CallidusCloud (2018), and followed by Qualtrics (2019) -- all of which provide them with exceptional technologies that enhance their CX offering. The core functionality -- the sales and customer service and, more recently, the marketing basics have been an SAP staple since roughly 2007 -- when Bob Stutz led the SAP CRM practice and built SAP's first true CRM solutions (called, unmagically, SAP CRM 2007). But what all these acquisitions did is make the case for SAP to compete with tools and solutions that support and enable customer engagement at scale and support the operational requirements for all the customer-facing departments of a business.

    Vertically Remarkable -- SAP, largely on the back end, has been a dominant force in verticals -- a.k.a. specific industries. They have roughly 24 industries that they have covered -- and thus -- established the best vertical process maps in the entire tech world. Unlike most of their competition, they also understand the value of industries penetration that goes beyond monetary. For example, one of my favorites in fact, is their very deep commitment to the sports industry. They have a strong practice lead who came from the sports world, Scott MacIntosh and they are putting the time and effort into working with and sponsoring teams. As an interesting corollary, a former SAP Global CMO (one of the best in the entire industry when he was) Jonathan Becher, is now in fact, the president of the San Jose Sharks National Hockey League team. (thanks to him being there, now my second favorite NHL team after the Rangers. Hey. I'm a New Yorker. What do you expect?) Nonetheless, sports while laudable, is a small part of the SAP vertical strategy. Their strength historically lies in areas like public sector, oil and gas, (and other regulated industries) manufacturing, and, of course, financial services.

    Thought Leadership -- The CX thought leadership portal, which goes by the acronym CEC (Customer Engagement and Commerce) is the best in the industry. The quality of the content, the look and feel and ease of use of the site, pushing out of the content to the various audiences who value it, all are done consummately well and highly professionally. The writing, more often than not -- is not boring and in fact combines useful information, with the writer's voices often clearly there -- meaning SAP's legal department is more likely than not hands off now -- though I imagine they set out the initial parameters for the site. The posts are even sort of funny at times. CEC is a textbook case study on how to do this particular type of thought leadership, they have significant initiatives to drive good quality content via video, audio and even radio programs. They have for many years. Are there missing pieces in the thought leadership strategy and execution? I would say so. One example (and the only one I'm giving here), they need to (this one I don't think is optional -- but, then again, that's my opinion) expand the scope of CEC to thought leadership around broader customer facing things that go to their Intelligent Enterprise message -- e.g. supply chain and impact on customers -- one of a zillion examples of what they could do. The pivot made this particular thought leadership portal the most significant at the company but also expanded its scope as a result. They are touching on that more expansive effort, but not nearly enough. But they still remain No. 1. Only CMO.com comes close.

    Ecosystem Magnus -- The SAP ecosystem has had years to develop. It's had its ups and downs (see Vinnie Mirchandani's excellent book on SAP Nation 3.0 here for details), but one thing has been irrefutable. They have had a framework and a global strategy to evolve an ecosystem that encompasses partners, competitors at times (coopetition) customers, employees, agencies, academia, and even governments on occasion. Over time, it's led to the creation of communities like SDN, which is a community five million strong of developers, SAP employees, and others in the technical heart of SAP's products. It's supported the creation of and participation in initiatives like the Open Data Initiative (ODI) -- an alliance between SAP, Adobe, and Microsoft for the creation of a data standard that provides their joint customers and future joint customers with common data attributes and components and interoperability. It isn't meant to be a global data standard (not at the present), but something for all three companies to work on that defines data for their three companies. Over the history of SAP, it produced things like the Customer Value Network (CVN) of the amazing Jim Goldfinger (no longer at SAP), which was easily the best customer network I have ever seen at any company bar none. The ecosystem outlook even drove co-creation with customers such as Siemens and Salesforce. All in all this is a huge strategic advantage for SAP that will have repercussions (in a good way) for years to come.

    These are only a few of the reasons that SAP won but, like everyone else, they could do something that either they don't do or do them better in order for them to sustain their impact over the next few years.

    Three things to consider

    Upgrade and Update the Marketing Cloud -- It is clear that in the marketplace for CRM, CX and customer engagement, marketing is a key component -- and has been subject to tech overkill for the past 5 to 6 years. MarTech has gotten its own designation and the famous Scott Brinker MarTech infographic is up over 7,000 companies that are considered MarTech providers at the moment. Which is north of ridiculous. And galactically north of the completely confusing to a buyer. That said, the stakes are obviously higher than they ever have been when it comes to what a marketing cloud needs to provide. SAP's Marketing Cloud, despite some strong capabilities falls short in both the core functionality and the needed value adds, though they are moving to improve it. But, last time I saw it, it was not competitive with Salesforce or Oracle. Certainly not with Adobe/Marketo. I would redouble the investment in the SAP marketing cloud. Retriple it? Either way bring it up to par with their other offerings.

    Bring Back the Customer Value Network -- Jim Goldfinger's tour de force was not just the most advanced customer network I ever had the pleasure of interacting with -- but the most collaborative. What Jim did, partially due to his genuine love of people and thus customers -- who despite all protestations to the contrary -- are people, wasn't just the creation of an SAP customer success team outreach to the customer base. Well beyond that. The customers and SAP were bonded at the hip and with Jim's knowledge of SAP's partner network, he was able to incorporate them both strategically and opportunistically with the CVN members. Jim also was able to get incredibly valuable feedback from the customers who trusted him and those associated with CVN. There are/were several employees at SAP recruited straight out of the CVN. The relationship was unique and fascinating. Since Jim left, SAP's attempts at recreating this have failed pretty dramatically. Some of that is due to the network being run by someone else. But most due to lack of knowledge on how to recreate it. Especially in the age of the demanding and even entitled customer, this level of interaction with customers isn't only a differentiator but it drives advocacy and revenue.

    Influencer Relations, Corporate Communications – SAP, like any other of the big 4.8, has the standard analyst relations/public relations model. Uniquely, until recently, they had a business influencer program, which, in its heyday worked with independent analysts (I was in this program), academics, business influencers, etc. Analyst relations worked with the Gartner/Forrester/IDC "cohort" and public relations worked with agencies and media (journalists). Now the business influencer program is either gone or on hiatus and though I hear it's coming back, we shall see. I hope so. What I'm proposing here for SAP's benefit is something that is slightly different. I'd like to see SAP start framing their program as Influencer Relations -- or something like that. The reason I think that the Salesforce model -- because this is what this is to be entirely candid -- works in the case of SAP is that SAP already has the elements in place. But if they are taking their own pivot seriously, they need to broaden their outlook. Salesforce takes a more customer success like approach to the influencers -- characterizing Gartner, Constellation, Paul Greenberg, Professor V. Kumar, etc -- as one and the same in terms of the time effort and engagement they provide. Note I didn't say their investment in -- I said their approach to. I understand that they are going to want to invest more dollars and time into Gartner, Forrester, et al due to I would say two things. First, that Gartner particularly and Forrester get the most customer inquiries. Second, they all feel compelled to be part of the Magic Quadrants and Waves of the world. Understandably. Of course, they should invest all that in all of them at the levels that they require. Like anything else, they have limits of course -- on budget, time, number of people, etc. But where they need to do a bigger job is to expand the importance of the "others" beyond Gartner, Forrester. It will give corporate communications more control over something that occurs anyway. SAP leaders and influencers of all kinds commingle all the time. Been happening for a long time. To be clear, this is not a criticism. Again, SAP won the Watchlist and their AR/PR/Corp Comms helped them get there. And there is a lot more nuance to it than I am presenting and someday I am going to write about it, but SAP, who has the talent in the manpower they do devote to the effort already, needs to broaden the thinking around influencer relations and then institutionalize that breadth. But they need to think more inclusively and institutionally in their deliberations with an understanding of the value of each influencer segment.

    SAP is a company that had a real impact on the whole world, not just the tech world. As ironic as this is going to sound, now is the time for that world to find out about it -- and for SAP to sustain it.

    Now, we go to Infor, my year's biggest surprise.


    To be entirely candid, Infor was not just the biggest, but my most pleasant surprise. Despite the fact that I'm the only judge (or as they, whoever "they" may be, say in a more dire way, sole judge, jury and executioner), I don't actually know how a company is going to do with the Watchlist due to the rather complex weighting system that I've developed over the years. (I mean complex to someone with the mathematical skills of a moth. That would be me). Infor was one of the companies that I have held out a lot of hope for but hadn't quite seen the company's evolution or growth at the level I expected -- or so I thought.

    But I was surprised that the problem wasn't Infor, it was clearly me. Infor had made enough strides to win the Watchlist and given my SOB-ness this year, that is quite an achievement. Hey, I was fine cutting the hearts out of the contestants at the slightest misstep.

    But I'll tell you why they won and what I was wrong about. I'll also tell you what I am going to suggest they do to either continue to prove me wrong or to make me a stronger believer. Keep in mind, I like this company and have for years. They used to be my client in their customer-facing heyday under George Wright's CRM leadership. They have been on my radar for a long time and continue to be long after any active engagement with them ended. They own one of the iconic products in the customer-facing world -- Epiphany now called Interaction Advisor -- a still excellent real time interaction management (RTIM) engine. Until Thunderhead came along, it was literally my favorite product ever.

    But needless to say, it isn't only Epiphany a.k.a Interaction Advisor -- in fact, it isn't really Epiphany at all that got them the winner's mantle. There is so much more.

    Infor wins. Why?

    Well, they are a leader in design, they are a leader in end to end industry solutions; they are social activists that have a significant impact. I'll keep going later but let me elaborate a bit.

    Infor describes itself really well in a press release announcing their AI layer Coleman in 2017:

    "Infor, a leading provider of beautiful business applications specialized by industry."

    I don't think that I could have said it any better than this. If you read that and then read on, you will understand why Infor was a CRM Watchlist 2019 winner. Man, I really love that self-description. Concise. Perfect.

    Just the numbers alone impress

    Even though in the customer facing world it tends to be a bit of a best kept secret, better known on the back end, Infor has just "dang" (never used that before in a sentence) impressive numbers. Let's cap (recap would be repeat right? LOL!):

    • 68,000 customers
    • 15,000 employees
    • 60 offices
    • Customers in (get this) 170 countries
    • 71+ million cloud users
    • 176 new products
    • And near and dear to me -- Global HQ in New York. (How great is that? Coming, of course, from a born and raised New Yorker)

    This is foundational impact. That level of penetration of markets and companies and that level of use tells you off the bat that this is a company that should be reckoned with.

    But it is only the beginning of what Infor is as a company with impact (Note: I am never going to use "impactful" -- though it is, shudder, recognized as a legitimate word now).

    Design thinkers par excellence

    One area that Infor has always shone -- and I mean bright and blazing -- has been their industry leading UI and UX work. For many years Hook & Loop, Infor's internal design company, led the way to what I would now call contemporary user interfaces and user experience. They were not only cutting edge but really the industry's best. Infor founded them in 2012 by hiring in a short time, over 100 creatives, not tech people, including if my memory serves me, one of Michael Kors' chief designers and the guy who did the special effects for the earlier Transformer movies, when they were actually good. They designed stunning UIs and they designed the interior of the global headquarters that Infor resides in, and they worked with customers to make sure that the omnichannel user experience and navigation was easy, convenient, and so good looking. But at that point, their entire raison d'etre was to be a digital agency for Infor's internal purposes. They weren't competing in the marketplace.

    But in 2016, that changed, as did Hook & Loop's scope and name (Hook & Loop Digital) and vision. They went from internal design to a customer-facing digital agency that sold not only design services but design strategy services and technology services that were focused on a data extraction layer that would allow integration into core applications. This was very well put by Derek Du Preez in a Diginomica article at that time.

    Essentially, Hook & Loop is now also a customer facing agency that not only strategies with companies around what 'digital' means for them, but also integrates companies' systems into a structure that works for a digital environment (creating an extraction layer for data). It then also builds and runs the applications for Infor customers as-a-service.

    But there is more to this than meets the eye. This isn't just about Infor building out a new revenue stream from the capability that it has created by investing in Hook & Loop. This is just as much about Infor further creating 'stickiness' with its customers, by H&L Digital further co-creating key services with customers that can then be integrated into core products.

    This didn't stop them from producing borderline beautiful -- meaning if you can call tech interfaces beautiful -- interfaces and mobile products. Not at all. But it allowed them to sell services that would be both a true value add to the customers that bought them and at the same time create pathways for other things with the customer. Wise move for Infor, though I have to admit, I liked the purity of the original intent. But the value proposition of Hook & Loop went from design services to transformation services and that is powerful indeed.

    Here is an example of their work:


    The Infor CRMCE Dashboard is an example of the beautiful enterprise solution grade user interfaces that Hook & Loop Design does -- making the user experience that much better.

    Published with permission of Infor (2019)

    This visual of the Infor CRM Dashboard is a perfect example of what the founder of Hook & Loop, Infor former Chief Digital Officer Marc Scibelli, once said about UX: "Sometimes the best UX is no UX at all." A sort of Phillippe Starck minimalist worldview. but for technology and user interaction. This CRM Dashboard screen says it all with its incredibly attractive and clean and seemingly easy to use look. To me at least. I'm not an artist, nor even a vaguely competent art critic, but this goes to the 'I know what I like" realm.

    Vertical power

    Throughout its entire history, Infor end to end has been a major player in multiple industries. In fact, it's so refined a strategy and effort, that Infor calls what it has a "micro-vertical" focus -- and that's a fair self-assessment. They not only the basic stuff -- industry process maps, etc -- really well, but they also are incredibly smart about using the vernacular that each of their target industries use and, something I find very powerful, they have industry specific analytics.

    Because a lot of what Infor has done historically has been back-office specific solutions (e.g. ERP), many of the industries that they are strong in are the less sexy ones but backbone industries. Manufacturing and distribution great examples of what I mean. They have an extraordinary set of logos -- marquee customers in those industries -- that are a testament to the strength of their offerings and to the relationships that they have.

    Don't get me wrong. They have some other highly visible specific industry logos too, though not necessarily deep penetration into those industries. Sports, which is one that I love to highlight, because it is an immensely valuable industry for impact though not as much for revenue is a great example for Infor. The New Zealand Crusaders, the Super Rugby team uses parts of the Infor CX Suite -- particularly CRM and campaign management and have seen a ticket sale increase of 10% with an ROI of $7.66 U.S. for every dollar spent on Infor CX. This is a high profile, high visibility logo, but not in an industry that they participate that much. But the fact that there is a real value proposition and a solid outcome means that the Infor CX Suite is extensible enough and flexible enough to handle a diversified set of industries, not just the hardcore operational ones.

    Infor's industrial breadth is mind boggling. Here are the industries they serve:

    1. Aerospace & Defense
    2. Automotive
    3. Banking & Financial Services
    4. Chemicals
    5. Construction
    6. Distribution
    7. Energy
    8. Equipment
    9. Fashion
    10. Food & Beverage
    11. Healthcare
    12. High Tech & Electronics
    13. Hospitality
    14. Industrial Machinery & Equipment
    15. Industrial Manufacturing
    16. Logistics & 3PL
    17. Professional Services
    18. Public Sector
    19. Retail

    Another reason for their victory. They impact vertical markets broadly and deeply. Do NOT underestimate what they can do here. They have a meaningful strategy, and a powerful set of products that are more platform-like than any other part of their portfolio.

    Front of mind social conscience

    Interestingly, one of the things that gives Infor a leg up upon those who didn't win is, that despite their not-as-visible-as-Salesforce-social-conscience, they have one, it is visible, and they are an activist organization -- not just donating to charitable causes with money and services but involved in active outreach to other companies to jointly not just support but work together to solve problems. Here is just a sampling of their diverse (in the sense of widely disparate, not the political sense, though that too, in spades) and conscientious active good works.

    Habitat for Humanity -- Infor partners with them nationally with a combination of donations and active volunteerism.

    GenOne -- They have a national partnership with #YesWeCode that launched the GenOne initiative. The objective? Increase the diversity of the workforce in one generation. Started in 2018, this is coordinated with the Infor Education Alliance Program (EAP). The game plan is to recruit and train and employ underrepresented talent in the tech world. It's a four-month high intensity boot camp that prepares and then finds employment for its graduates. The EAP overall, has already trained and placed more than 1400 students, of which 200 work at Infor.

    Networks -- They have the Women's Infor Network (WIN) and the Veteran's Infor Network (VIN). Fifty percent of all of Infor's female employees are WIN members and there are more than 50 chapters who are hosting monthly events and publish a quarterly newsletter and keep an active Intranet site. There is 1:1 coaching for men and women. VIN is described by Infor as "…dedicated to the enablement, advancement, and retention of Infor's veteran employees through recruiting, community, awareness and mentoring support."

    Diversity -- Infor and CEO Charles Phillips personally (through his Phillips Charitable Foundation) work with and support STEM related initiatives for minorities, women and work with veterans. There are dozens of organizations ranging from CodeNow to Big Brothers & Sisters of NYC who are engaged with Infor through donations, volunteers, and outreach. They are actively reaching out to other tech companies to form a joint initiative among tech companies regardless of whether they are competitors or not.

    All of this which amounts to many millions of dollars in donations and grants and thousands of hours of volunteer time and outreach for joint actions at the highest levels of the company.

    Three Things to Consider

    1. Bolster the CX Suite -- The Story, the Product, The Ecosystem -- What makes this a bit difficult to talk about is that a very decent chunk of what Infor provides with its CX Suite is certainly technologically sound and a solid contender in the market. But there are gaps in the product, and the story that would be wise to correct. The portfolio is strong enough in the areas that you would expect -- vertical solutions, real time interaction management, sales, and marketing resource management (due to their 2012 acquisition of MRM powerhouse, Orbis Global). But there are two obvious needs they have. First, they have had a strong overreliance on Marketo and even with the acquisition of Marketo by Adobe still seem to rely on Marketo more than they reasonably should -- thus reflecting a weakness in their own marketing automation product. That needs to be fixed and fast. Second, their service offering while decent in traditional customer service capabilities such as case management and newly traditional self service (e.g. Infor Concierge, lags behind in other significant areas significant areas such as conversational interfaces, chatbots, etc., which are becoming table stakes if they aren't already. In fact, they don't even advertise customer service on their CX Suite landing page. If you are claiming CRM, this is a must have. Finally, they need to begin to examine what they do from the standpoint of an engagement (or CX if they insist) ecosystem. How their offering provides what their customer base needs from end to end. They have a solid portfolio that is built around their cloud platform, Infor OS. But they need to do the work that gives them an idea what their customers want end to end -- the customer ecosystem and the overlays with the enablement necessary to provide the outcomes the customers/prospects are looking for.
    2. Aggressive Behavior -- Up… It - If I go to an industry event -- a Gartner conference, CRM Evolution, a CX related show, I see more often then than not, Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft and Oracle. I see Adobe showing up more and more than in the past. But I never see Infor. Never. This is a company that has had an impact, or they wouldn't have won the 2019 Watchlist. I am reasonably certain that they can sustain that impact over the next couple of years, or they wouldn't have won the 2019 Watchlist. But they are not terribly aggressive in their pursuit of visibility in the industry in which they reside (CRM/CX/Customer Engagement). Not the verticals… they do show up at the shows for the specific industries, but the horizontal industry that they are part of. They have a very good analyst relations program that covers not only their ERP, logistics etc. offerings but CRM and CX. To their great credit they fully understand that the world no longer consists of influencers from institutional analyst firms and that's it. They see that boutique firms, independent analysts, and even non-analyst influencers are part of the mix that is required to maximize company impact. If I was looking for anything for them to do better in the AR side, and there isn't much they could, I would think they should engage the non-institutional analysts more formally than they do. Thus, while they are very good at establishing a cadence with analysts, and that provides them with some industry visibility, they are not showing up in places that I should be meeting them in person…unless its their own event. Salesforce had that problem for awhile many years ago -- now they are everywhere. I think Infor and I need to meet up in person somewhere that I've never seen them before. For real.
    3. Thought Leadership? CX Storytelling? How Do You Like It? More, More, More - Infor's corporate vision and mission is solid -- and honorable. They see their vision as "a business world where technology plays an integral role in success, providing automation, streamlining processes, and offering intelligence so that personnel can focus on creative problem-solving, product innovation and creating meaningful relationships with customers and company stakeholders." Solid. Infor's mission is "to help companies achieve conscientious global citizenship." Noble. Then it goes here. "By setting examples, producing thought leadership, education and solutions which support achieving human potential…" Education and solutions? Check and mostly check. Thought leadership. This is where they need to step up their game. Simple proof of point. Go to the Infor site. Go to the Resources section. Go to the White Papers. When you get there, go to Search and you'll see your choices are by Industry and by Product. When you go to By Product, you see a dizzying array of products and sandwiched in there are some general offerings like Customer Experience Suite or Customer Relationship Management. Click on one of them. You get a "fill in the form" page saying a business representative (implied salesperson) will contact you in 24 hours, not a choice of thought leadership material. Or pick a product and see what crops up. Maybe one of three pieces is actually thought leadership piece and the others are a product piece. The game needs to be played before it's stepped up. Time to play, playa.

    Get the picture. They are doing some great things at Infor and deserved to win the Watchlist. To sustain their impact, though I would suggest that they improve their thought leadership, involve themselves more in the industry they are part of and examine, and decide on the full end-to-end product offering they need by identifying the customer/prospect ecosystem and what would be required to fulfill the needs of those fine folks.

    These guys have one of the strongest industry presence in the tech world and are only improving day to day. They have an eye-popping set of customer logos that any company would be proud of. They are great corporate citizens impacting the world at large as well as the world they serve directly. They are a company with arguably beautiful technology and visionary designers. Mind the gaps and they will be a force for years to come.

    Next up: Microsoft and Oracle.

    Note: If you are interested in participating in the CRM Watchlist 2020, please email me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com and ask for registration form. Remember, you will have to qualify to participate. There are criteria. Also, if you are interested in reading my new book on customer engagement, The Commonwealth of Self-Interest: Business Success through Customer Engagement (2019), please go here.

    Editorial standards