CRM Watchlist 2020: And the winners are...

Finally, the CRM Watchlist 2020 winners. Here's how and why they got there.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

With every edition of the Watchlist winners, I explain my choices,  identify the patterns that emerged from the entries, and to identify some of the changes that I made this year and am possibly making for next year.  So, here's how it's going to go down:

  1. The Watchlist  context & criteria
  2.  How I score
  3. The differences between the CRM Watchlist 2020 and the CRM Watchlist 2019
  4. The data
  5. Observations/gaps
  6. Observations/patterns
  7. The winners benefits
  8. The winners
  9. The CRM Watchlist 2021
  10. A big thank you

So, let's get this show on the road. Though I suspect you've already demonstrated you couldn't contain your excitement and have checked the "And the winners" part.  [Sigh.] You kids.

The Watchlist Awards Context and Criteria

I've said this every year about the CRM Watchlist and it always bears repeating.

It is an impact award. To win the award you have to show that in the year immediately prior to submission (same year) you had a significant impact on the market – and that you have the corporate infrastructure, strategy and resources to sustain that impact over the next three years. 

What do I mean when I say "impact?" That means significant influence in the market that you participate in. It doesn't have to be global. It can be specific – e.g. a vertical market, or a sized (small, midsized, enterprise) or a geographical market. It can be a market specific to your offering.  For example. The Big 4.8 (Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, and Adobe) are in global markets. Xactly is focused on Sales Performance Management – our newest official (no longer other) category – though they were judged for their impact in the "value add" part of the sales technology ecosystem – not just SPM.  A few years ago, when consulting companies were still part of the competition – Solvis Consulting won because of their impact in Latin America.  Veeva won for their incredible dominance in the Life Sciences market.  It can be specific.  

However, at the same time, there is no winner by category. If I group together a set of reviews it's because it is convenient for me.  You cannot be #1 winner in CX. There is no such thing. You win. Period. And if there is more than one in a grouped review (which by definition, there is), the listing is alphabetical, not in order of importance. There is also no ranking revealed beyond the #1 scorer in the entire competition regardless of market.

Additionally, though it's been called the CRM Watchlist for the last 10 years of its 15- year existence, it is open to all that provide customer-facing technologies. There are 53 categories to choose from on the registration and the questionnaire and something called "Other" in case you are doing something that doesn't fall under the 53 other choices.

Several of the winners used the following paragraph last year in their press release on the victory (I'm  telling you that in advance because I don't give out individual quotes) to show what it takes to win so I'm literally putting it in here and if you  want to issue a press release on this and want to use the following paragraph to show why you won, then go ahead.

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.

How I Score

Ultimately a company has to prove that it had impact in the year that they submitted for (2020 = calendar year 2019) and that they have the infrastructure and resources going forward to sustain that impact three years further.  If you can't prove them BOTH, you lose.  So, this is not only looking at achievements, but more importantly how you are building your company for the longevity it needs to succeed in the market.  This is about sustainable impact. That eliminates a one-hit wonder that lucked into a big year.

Another thing: While I do independent research on each qualifying candidate and also take note of how much I have run across them during the year, ultimately it's the quality of the submission that counts. If I have to give it relative weight it works something like this: 30% for my independent research and anecdotal and quantitative information I've gathered over a year in the course of my work as an analyst. The other 70% is the submission itself. The submitting company has to make the case for their impact. You may have had it and if my 30% doesn't put it over the top because you have made such a poor case for it (and that does happen) then you lose. A couple of years ago, two companies that should have made it given my research and what I already knew of them in the market would have made it but the submissions were so poor that they didn't make it. 

Conversely, the case is the case, regardless of the quality of the writing. I place a real value on the presentation – the quality of the writing and the look and feel. You can gain a marginal part of a point if it is really good but not lose if it really isn't. Though I will notice it and I'll let you know. But you can write poorly and sloppily and still even if it seems accidental make the case.  This year one of the winners submitted a lazy submission (and I'm being kind about it) and yet…they still won because their case was irrefutable. As the sole judge, I have to separate that from the "facts of the matter."  So, I do.  But that doesn't excuse something written badly.  Companies that submit are companies proving they have an impact. If they do, the face they present to the public should be something that engenders trust because the company clearly put an effort into it.

Think of it this way:  When I write on customer engagement, I define customer value as "feeling valued." In other words when the customer feels valued, they are more than likely to continue to be your customer.  To do that you have to show the customer that you care enough to about who they are to make them feel as if you value them.  The same goes for a Watchlist submittal or anything a company does in analyst or public relations. Make the recipient feel as if you value them. Learn the lesson, please. It's important. That means not just tell the truth, but make sure that you tell it well. The failure of many companies is their inability to present and stay true to a corporate narrative. They lose the trust or don't gain the trust of those they need to trust them – meaning not just their customers but their potential customers.  In the case of this submission, the facts were indisputable, but the submission seemed to be an afterthought.

A factor that weighs heavily (and not positively) – even though it might have been a good thing that happened to create it  – is uncertainty. For example, if you were acquired and/or had significant management turnover or if you were addressing a new market that you didn't have much history in – I penalized you – as harsh as that sounds. Sometimes, all other things being equal, the company would have won the Watchlist, but the uncertainty was the tipping point in their loss. Sadly, I have no way to see impact two or three years out when I don't even know how your new management team or new CEO is going to perform in their new environment,  or you gave me no discernible proof of the results of your bold move into a new market. I have no way of knowing if you were going to be successful there over time – even if you were successful in this year. 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. Also, it's impossible to say that the new person or people are the right choice until they are. Even if I think that.

This year there were two companies that unfortunately suffered due to transitional uncertainty. They would have won if it wasn't for significant management turnover that led to the uncertainty.  Both companies had,for the most part, important and positive changes but for the purposes of the Watchlist it damaged their ability to prove that they were going to be able to sustain the impact that they  had this year.

The score is also driven by a raw score and then a weighted score and the weights vary year to year depending on macroeconomic conditions, industry movement, and trends that are discernibly more than self-serving justifications for hiring a "thought leader" or buying a vendor product.  Based on that the weights vary every year though the raw score perfect total and the weight's perfect total never does. There are some 40-50 "intangibles" that I am looking for that are not indicated in the questions asked – mostly negative but some positive. There is one larger question (I'm not telling you which), two if you stretch my definition, where you can gain some positive intangible points. Keep in mind, the intangible deductions or additions come off or are added to the final weighted score. Because they are so important to the outcome most of the time they are incrementally small though on occasion can be substantial (e.g. transitional uncertainty)

The CRM Watchlist 2020 versus 2019

This year as the questionnaire makes clear, privacy and corporate social responsibility -- aka philanthropy or community participation -- makes a lot more of a difference than it ever had.  They weren't questions or parts of questions last year. This year they are. Also, customer success and the organized programs around it (and their KPIs – big and important part) are additions to the effort.

These changes are all playing a much bigger part in gaining and retaining customer trust, which is why they are now standing out in the crowd rather than either a part of the crowd or not even in the crowd – as they were in the past.

The only other real changes are along the lines of changes made each year. I changed he weights for each category and the absolute positive or negative increment for some of the intangibles based, as I said, on current  macroeconomic, market and sociological conditions. I also added one other factor to the scoring that made it once again MUCH harder to earn winner with distinction and almost impossible to win Elite.  What won even last year would no longer be sufficient to win this year – by a significant amount. However, to alleviate the almost suffocating difficulty in winning this, I now vow there will be no change in the scoring ranges for the remaining two years of the Watchlist. (You heard me!)

The Data

  1. Registrants – 71
  2. Submissions – 66
  3. New Submissions - 26
  4. Dropouts by withdrawal deadline - 3
  5. Dropouts after withdrawal deadline – 2 (penalized)
  6. Disqualifications – 1 (they didn't check a box that was required, and it specified automatic disqualification if you didn't)
  7. First time winners – 2
  8. Pages total – 4309
  9. Average submission – 61 pages
  10. Largest submission - 213 pages
  11. Submissions over 100 pages – 3 (Oracle, Verint, SAP)
  12. Smallest submission - 18 pages

Best Submission(s)

Overall Best Submission –  THREE WAY TIE: SAP, Verint, Pegasystems – No one was perfect (Oracle was in 2019) but these won because of a combination of most well-articulated narrative and the fewest "not answered" questions.  In other words, their submissions made the best case and paid attention to what I asked them to, please. 

Most Creative Submission – Oracle (including an overview video and a submission that was substantially visual as well as informative)

Highest Score in a category

  1. Impact Statement (vendor's own view of their singular or multiple areas of impact) -  Creatio
  2. Financial Statement (multiple factors, not just revenue) - Microsoft
  3. Management Team – Nuh uh. Not touching that one. Too personal.  
  4. Mission and Vision (quality and focus, and how accurately the vendor defines mission and vision)  - Salesforce
  5. Technology/Product Portfolio (self-evident but keep in mind, larger suites and platforms have no inherent edge on single products) - Thunderhead
  6. Customers (covers how they work with customers and what customers think of them – outside research comes into play here most heavily) - PROS
  7. Privacy (compliance, but also how well companies help customers achieve compliance) – Thunderhead
  8. Partnerships (the program, thinking and long term strategies) - Oracle
  9. Marketing Strategy (multiple factors; scope of program less important than depth and specific targeting) - Pegasystems
  10. Market Impact (focused on year, not long term sustainability) – Veeva
  11. Outreach (really corporate communications all in all - Larger Program (more than 1 person) - Salesforce; Single Person program (duh)Zoho (Sandy Lo)
  12. Thought Leadership (this is a very important one and most companies fail or are mediocre on it) - SAP
  13. Culture (the most important single factor in sustainability of impact because it goes to the heart of how a company treats its employees, customers, and the world) - Zoho

Observations/Submission Gaps

There were several noticeable gaps and weaknesses in general in the submissions that stood out.  They weren't universal – meaning in most cases, except the privacy one, there were some standout but all in all it was too frequently an issue to not make mention of it.

Privacy – Almost all the submissions were missing any mention of a Chief Privacy Officer anywhere.  In fact, the ONLY submission that mentioned a Data Privacy officer of any kind was Thunderhead. Given that I know that several companies who submitted have them in accordance with GDPR requirements – it was head scratching that they didn't say so and makes me wonder how they think about it.

Marketing Strategy, Outreach, Thought Leadership – A Trio  – Marketing strategy, outreach  and thought leadership were a trio that a significant majority were poorly prepared for. The vast majority of the time – but not always – all three were weaknesses simultaneously.  The strategies lacked focus, direction and at times were disorganized to the point of random.  The outreach was noticeably short-sighted and misaligned with current market realities. For example, while many of the companies had a Gartner, Forrester relationship, their lack of relationships with boutique firms, independent analysts and outright influencers tells me that they don't seem to have a clear picture of how this all works these days. The claim of thought leadership was there but the assets and the game plan weren't when it was discussed. Again, this was a significant enough plurality or majority to be weak or misaligned in all three to show me that the concept of being a trusted adviser, while given lip service when it is raised, is still foreign to a lot of companies

Social Good/Corporate Social Responsibility – As you will see in the "trends" part social good or CSR or philanthropy is on the agenda of almost every company that submitted but on the downside of that is a severe reluctance to include it as part of their public discussion.  I suspect that's due to a fear that it would appear "markety." Let me put it this way. A company spends $130 million (let's say) on grants, free software and professional services, community effort time etc. Then they say nothing about it because they fear it will be seen as marketing if they do talk about it – then I'd worry more about their perception of what marketing is. Who spends $130 million on a marketing campaign and then doesn't say anything?  You could not say anything a lot cheaper. Like for free.   But the value of actually showing that you are a company who cares about people and the world and solving inequities and doing good says volumes to the world about what kind of company you are.  People aka customers are looking for companies that support philanthropic good and they won't know that you do unless you tell them. If you want companies that communicate it in a way that doesn't feel like marketing to them and thus, their customers, or observers then look at what Sandvik AB (here is one of many examples) is doing. Or closer to home, what Salesforce and Zoho do and say.

Customer Journeys – Customer journeys are very much in the conversation (see below), but not so much in the offerings. At best there are a few companies offering what I would call journey builders, not journey tracking. Some are confusing personalization at multiple touchpoints with journey tracking and orchestration. And those are the good ones. Most give it lip service and then just talk about personalization and hyper-personalization. The offerings need to be there for aligning with customer engagement and CX. They aren't there .

Market Impact – Question 2 says the following – "In 2019, in your own view, what impact did you have on what market and what form did it take? Multiple ways you impacted the market are perfectly alright to describe. This means that you might have developed a staggering product that changed the way that people thought of things, you might have done something for the social good, you might have become a company that changed the way that something was done. You might have achieved a dominant market position; other companies were so impressed by what you had done, they imitated you. Whatever you think regarding your own view of your own impact, works for me."  This was a bit of a trick question. The result was pretty much astounding and a bit scary – One short of 100% outlined only their technology and nothing else. That is NOT what I hoped for, because it indicates that the company is seeing itself through the eyes of its products not as an entity that is multi-faceted. Instead of taking the big picture view of the company as a whole and its impact in the world via specific areas, they outlined how important their technology was and their road maps – which is actually question 6.  A few of the companies ALMOST broke out but all but one only mentioned the technology ultimately. 

The purpose of the above is to provide guidelines about where companies can look for holes in their evolution as  organizations that will impact markets that lead to more revenue and a better world and the company viewed as a trusted adviser. There is nothing to be judgmental about – the gaps are the gaps and they should be considered as means to identify areas of improvement.

But now, on a more positive note, patterns emerged that would be called trends under other conditions.


If I had to make a 30,000-foot observation of the submissions and the market,  I would say that, first, they are well aligned with each other. Second, and most important, the 30K view of that movement is a move to the right-brained. Not the right. The right-brained.  The market and the companies that inhabit and compete in it,  thanks to the ongoing digital communications revolution, are now finally getting it – human behavior and the likes, dislikes and efforts made by individual human beings to be happy are what drives customer behavior today. They now also recognize that they have to anticipate and then accommodate that behavior to stay competitive in the market.  The Watchlist 2020 trends absolutely support this supposition.,

CX and customer engagement are now standard to the thinking of companies – Eighty percent of all submissions -- and ALL the winning ones -- focused their efforts on proving customer experience and customer engagement, not CRM. It permeated everything they wrote and all that they offered. From the marketing, service and sales the pre-eminent theme was the improvement of the customer's experience. From the actual technology portfolio, the platforms were being rejiggered or evolved or developed around engagement, with the exceptions of Adobe and Oracle CX which are building out the technologies that foster consumable experiences (e.g. Disney-like). Not the overarching experience, which can't be enabled by technology. But it was enlightening to see the transition in thinking over the past five years of Watchlist entries to see that it has shifted from more operational solutions and thinking to ecosystems, and platforms designed to improve customer engagement and thus the overall customer experience due to the improved engagement. This was MANIFEST throughout nearly all the submission.

Personalization and Humanization – Personalization -- which tends to be defined by the vendor submitters as "data driven individual insights used for optimizing offers" -- is now part of pretty much every single technology portfolio and also all discussions around marketing. There is a market awareness that the individual customer's interests and concerns have to be addressed, not just some broader demographic. In the technologies there are dozens of analytics applications, personalization engines, and engagement options that are offered to provide individual attention to the customers as per extant thinking in the marketplace. In marketing, a lot of the 1:1 thinking is reflected by the adoption of Account Based Marketing (ABM)  by most of the best in class and even beyond that to the mid-level performers.   Humanization is beginning to show up more frequently but is nowhere near as ubiquitous as personalization – nor is it the same thing. Here is a piece I wrote on it if you'd like to dig a big deeper. Several companies are beginning to make that distinction – notably, Salesforce, Oracle and about 10 others. While personalization is ubiquitous and embedded in the offerings of almost everyone – humanization of culture and the externalization of that is just beginning  to arrive on the scene.

User experience as a matter of culture – Throughout the submissions, noticeable attention was paid to the look and feel of the user interfaces and the user experience.  That has been apparent for the last two or three years. There is an evolutionary trend that is peaking out (meaning in enough of the submissions to be something to pay attention to) which is the interface between design and the culture of the companies.  Which of course goes back to humanization. While I first noticed the intersection of design and organizational culture as far back as 2013 with Infor and their creation of internal design agency Hook and Loop, it is only now we are seeing mostly the largest companies beginning to incorporate design thinking into their actual cultural imperative so that it permeates not only the look and feel of their technology but also the design of their offices, the principles of their employee interactions etc.  Notably Hillel Cooperman and Oracle and their Redwood initiative is a prime example of this. But far from the only one.  

Microservices Architectures The most far-sighted companies are developing their own variations of a microservices architecture and platform.  While sparse and almost non-existent in the CRM Watchlist 2019 (meaning 2018), this year, there were a noticeable spike in the number of companies who either were well along developing it or had it on a roadmap that started in the near future.  The best example of microservices done well is the WeChat "apps" market which has what appear to be apps but are actually microservices offerings for the consumer numbering in the millions.  This article doesn't really explain the concept well but tells some stories that do.

Ecosystems & Platforms  –  For years, Esteban Kolsky (so VP of Strategy at SAP CX) and I among others have been pushing the importance of ecosystems and platforms.  Esteban wrote this in 2018 and I wrote this in 2016. We are redeemed. LOL!  The vast majority of the vendors who submitted made at least a platform claim for their technology and most of them met the standard – some not quite but they all understand that providing a platform at this juncture is pretty much the way that they will succeed with their offering. Ecosystems are a tad (scientific term for a little less) ubiquitous but they are both explicit and implied (via GTM partnerships to fill holes in their end to end customer requirements or something like that) enough to see that the age of ecosystems and platforms has arrived – meaning that no one has to be convinced – or almost no one – any longer and now its who does it better.

Hopefully, these are helpful. They are a clear indicator that we are in the age of the customer, the age of CX or the era of engagement or whatever you want to call it but the stars and the markets are aligned to it so tightly that it is a prerequisite for success and at least, the companies that submitted know that, if not the broader market yet.

The Winners' Benefits: What They Get

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 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.

There is a caveat to this though. Whether or not you won or not, you have until March 31, 2020 at 6pm ET to schedule the  hour or half hour. After that, tough luck. You're outta luck.

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!

And the CRM Watchlist 2020 Winners Are…



Winners with Distinction

  1. MicrosoftHighest Scorer - Congratulations!
  2. Salesforce
  3. Thunderhead


  1. Adobe
  2. Creatio
  3. Episerver
  4. Freshworks
  5. Oracle
  6. Pegasystems
  7. PROS
  8. SAP
  9. Veeva
  10. Verint
  11. Vlocity
  12. Xactly
  13. Zoho

An important note: They Would Have Won, but for Transitional Uncertainty

Two companies would have won if it weren't for deductions for transitional uncertainty.  Given that there will be a year of the story under their belts by next year, they are most likely to win, barring significant unforeseen things (which happen) or a bad submission (which happens too) and while they don't win, they should be at least called out. The two companies most likely to make it next year are:

ServiceNow -  The only reason they didn't win is the transitional uncertainty generated by the departure of their CEO and the installation of the new, very different CEO. Here is where the analyst side of me and the Watchlist side of me diverge – and it's a good example of how the Watchlist works. As I've repeatedly said,  to win the Watchlist you have to be absolutely able to prove that you have had the impact in the year you submitted and going forward for a three year period, the infrastructure and the plan to sustain that impact.  A new CEO (even if as an analyst I think it's a great choice)  is unproven in the role until he/she is proven in the role – and needs a good year at least to establish himself or herself. Thus, there is a significant deduction for the uncertainty that is there since there is no history at the company to prove the case one way or the other. In the case of ServiceNow, their hiring of Bill McDermott to replace John Donahue which as an analyst I applaud, still provides that transitional uncertainty and if it wasn't for the deduction for that, ServiceNow, would have won in their first year. In fact, they would have leapt ahead of some of the lower scoring winners.

SugarCRM – This was a different case that actually went deeper. They were acquired in 2018 by Accel KKR who has a vastly different model than SugarCRM or other PE firms have. Episerver, one of this year's two new winners, was sold in 2018 successfully by AKKR with this strategy.  It is a strategy that as an analyst, I like a great deal. But that sale led to a significant number of senior level management changes in 2019 and that creates that transitional uncertainty that is unavoidable. But for the changes, SugarCRM would have won.

So, as a human being, I apologize. I know how hard that these companies worked on their submission and each made a good case. They didn't win but they are being recognized.  As a Watchlist judge or…the ONLY Watchlist judge, it's a reality that has to be considered when it comes to identifying one of the many factors that go into sustainable impact in a marketplace.  Though I'm still sorry.

If these two companies enter next year, their chances are good if they had good years and the uncertainty has vanished in the wake of a good or great effort by the CEO or those other newly minted execs who were fresh during the company's Watchlist submission year.

Keep an Eye on

There were, if you do the math, 55 companies that didn't win. Two of them you already heard, would have won if it wasn't for transitional uncertainty. They deserved to be noticed even if they weren't winners. There were a couple of companies that didn't win that had genuinely interesting technology even though they didn't have the maturity necessarily to either have had an impact in the market in 2019 nor could they sustain it three years out. But their technology is worth calling out because of its combination of intelligence and use value. 

That would be:


In their own words from the submission:

"TechSee's cognitive visual engagement platform is built on multi-patented Computer Vision AI. The system recognizes devices, their parts and issues, with accuracy levels of over 95%, and delivers Augmented Reality guidance on customers' smartphone screens to resolve a huge range of issues.

TechSee Live for Contact Centers enables agents to remotely guide their customers in interactive video sessions, while the system automatically diagnoses issues and suggests steps toward prompt resolution. This "Smart Assist" feature works by cross-referencing each issue with a vast image knowledge base.

TechSee Live for Field Services provides field technicians with guidance from remote supervisors or other field agents via smartphone or smart glasses, enhanced by Computer Vision capabilities that can shorten costly training time and reduce time to resolution.

EVE, the world's first visual self-service assistant, enables consumers to receive visual guidance through their smartphone screens while interacting with a conversational visual tech assistant that can correct them if needed."

I will literally say no more because they didn't win, but they are worth paying attention to.

The CRM Watchlist 2021: Registration is now Open

As always with the announcement of the CRM Watchlist 2020 winners, the registration for the CRM Watchlist 2021 is now open. Nothing really has changed from last year though the questionnaire will be tweaked (e.g. Sales Performance Management will be added as a category on the registration form and the questionnaire) The format for submission remains the same.  Request the registration form, once received, you have 14 days (not business  days, total days including weekends) to return it or you will not be able to participate in the CRM Watchlist 2021. Once you return the registration form you will be getting the questionnaire that is due on December 31, 2020 by 6pm PT or you will not qualify.

However, before I get to the calendar I'm going to make a point that I want any potential registrant to pay CLOSE ATTENTION TO.  Part of the process is that if you haven't withdrawn by a designated date (see the calendar below for the date) you will be penalized. The reason is that the day after the final withdrawal date, I start doing corollary research for all the expected submitters. That takes me weeks. I mean, weeks of work that take me away from any leisure time, family etc.  My expectation is that you will submit if you haven't withdrawn by that date. I send notices out to companies who have registered as we get close to the withdrawal date telling them it's coming up and please withdraw by then.  Every year a few withdraw by the date and I'm sorry to see them go. But every year there are several who don't withdraw and at the last minute tell me after I've done HOURS of research on them that they aren't submitting, which I find incredibly disrespectful given I've made it very public and sent reminders more than once – and yet they choose to ignore them and let me go on with the research. I realize that things happen and I'm pretty reasonable as those who know me. But now that I'm 70 I get to be crotchety -- so I have penalties that I exact.  

First penalty: The company can't submit for the next year's competition. That's not a big deal really is it?  Also, as an analyst, I will not cover  you at all and I don't care if you are my client, my best friend or my parents – I ain't showing up at the house for a full year. And worse, while I won't proactively do anything if anyone asks me about the company, I'll tell them why I'm not covering them that year. All of that, of course, given that it can be a multi-billion dollar company that does it (happened this year – though they apologized to their credit – it was a company that I had a good relationship to and a former client) it is relatively a yawn-inducing penalty. But the optics for you aren't real good.

The reason I'm spending so much time talking about this is that if you have any reason that you think you might not submit that is palpable then don't register please. I spend hundreds of hours ultimately on the Watchlist – including once you register I begin tracking you throughout the year. So please note – this is a competition for serious companies.

That said,  I truly am honored that companies have been submitting for the last 14 years. This is year 15 but competition #14 because I skipped one year to revamp the Watchlist to reflect what the world now looks like and change the questionnaire significantly and tighten up and make the scoring much tougher. So thank you for all of the companies that have been submitting for all of these years.  I know I can be hard on you but I truly appreciate the effort that you put into this – its not just my effort – its yours too. I also appreciate and am honored that you even care enough to submit. Again, my thanks and I bow my head to all of you who have been supportive along the way.


Here is the calendar for the CRM Watchlist 2021 (the time is always 6pm PT)

  1. Registration opens – February 11, 2020
  2. Registration closes – October 31, 2020 (exceptions MAY be made on rare occasion)
  3. Withdrawal from the Watchlist deadline – November 15, 2020  (there will be penalties for not submitting following that date. See above. No exceptions.)
  4. Submission deadline – December 31, 2020

If you're interested in the submission criteria for 2021, here is a brief version. If you want a fuller detailed version before you request the registration form, please email me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com and I'll be happy to email you with them.

CRM Watchlist 2021: Criteria for entering

The 30,000 foot view: Be a company that produces a customer-facing technology and have $3 million or more revenue (USD or the equivalent) in the prior fiscal year.   Note the big change is that the revenue requirement is up from $2 million to $3 million this year.

Here is a simplified set of details:

  1. Existence and revenue: You must be able to, if asked, show a legal corporate existence for a minimum of four years to be a participant in the Watchlist. You also must be willing to show or at least to stipulate that you had $3 million U.S (or its equivalent) in your immediate prior fiscal year. Not a run rate, actual revenue recognized and reported. You also have to have a minimum of 75 employees to participate.
  2. Ask for an exception: You can, if you are close but don't meet the submission criteria for the Watchlist, ask for an exception, but be prepared to say exactly what you think qualifies you for the exception. So, for example: "We had $55 million in revenue in 2016, but in mid-2020, we sold a division of the company that was responsible for $53.5 million of that, and thus, our revenue in 2020 fell off, but our impact didn't." OR we have $31 million in revenue, but we have managed to do it with 56 employees. OK, I'll take that or other reasons that you can make up under advisement, with no guarantees but please don't be shy. Try.  I'm pretty easy going on this one – though not on revenue. If you don't meet the $3 million, you won't make it. If you want the exception, email me and we'll see how it goes.
  3. Two weeks to return: Once you request the registration form, you have two weeks (14 days) from the day I send it to you to return it to me. That means, if you receive it on Feb. 19, 2020, then you have until March 5, 2020 to return it. If you have it and don't return it by then, you will not be eligible for the Watchlist for the year. I may or may not send you a reminder if I haven't seen it, but I'm not assuming any obligation whatsoever to do that. I'm honestly tired of chasing down companies that then tell me, "Oh, it got lost in the shuffle" or "Oh, we were busy." So am I, and I don't want to spend my time tracking companies that clearly aren't all that committed to return a simple registration form. There's no longer an unlimited amount of time to return it.

All in all, this is a tough thing to win, and if you do, I think at least you deserve to be honored for it. If you win in any way, you will get a review on ZDNet about why you won and things that you could do to be even better, if I have anything to say about it. I say that every year and typically only get about half of them done because they are extensive reviews and I have to earn my living too but this year I'm going to do the Winners with Distinction first and then work to put out the repeat winners who haven't gotten reviews due to my failures to produce them. My way of apologizing.

This is hard to win but I hope that you feel it is well worth it. It's kind of a tough love thing.  Even with all the harsh behavior I'm really very touchy-feely.

CRM Watchlist 2019: Unbreakable Rules – the Short Version

The rules in this section are unbreakable. What that means, to be clear, is that if you break them in any way at all, there will be some form of penalty assessed, ranging from your final score being affected to disqualification and being taken off my radar.. In advance, I apologize for being so draconian, but at this stage, there are still too many registrants and submissions that are ignoring what I ask. If you'd like the full version of these rules – again, email me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com and ask specifically for the qualification rules for the Watchlist, NOT the registration form.

  1. Deadline: This questionnaire must be completely filled out and submitted by Dec. 31, 2020 by 6pm PT to qualify for the CRM Watchlist 2021. There are no exceptions to the rule.  None.
  2. Answer everything: I expect you to answer everything I ask -- exactly as it is asked, and not as you feel like responding.
  3. Acknowledgement: As a corollary of that, please understand that, whether you are my client or someone I have tracked or a past winner of the Watchlist, as far as you are concerned, I am a third party reading your submission.
  4. Notify me if you don't submit: If you get the questionnaire and decide that you don't want to submit, you must let me know by the November 15, 2020 at 6pm PT. There will be absolutely no exceptions.
  5. One submission: You only get one submission -- and no updates to that submission -- though I will allow what should be an obvious correction, and it's my discretion to allow or disallow.

My Annual Disclaimer

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.

One More Thing

My newest book, the Commonwealth of Self Interest was published in April 2019. Sales are going very well, thank you.  You can get it here if you really want it. If you are interested in bulk copies, contact me at (once again) paul-greenberg3@the56group.com and we'll make sure you get a significant discount.

I promised a website that I was launching last year (and the year before) but, alas, I didn't. It will be coming this year or else I'm going to can it. It's a great website but it's a lot of work and money to get it running the way I need it to run. So stay tuned. The site is The 56 Group, of course. If you look now, you'll just see my apology for not having it up last year.  Pretty much what you read here .

And, Finally, A Big Thank You!

Once again, thank you to all the Watchlist submitting companies for their effort. Even if you didn't win, I trust the exercise was worth the effort. The idea is that you get to step back and look at your company as a whole – rather than just the technology that you offer and see where your strengths and weaknesses are. If you of course want me to help you with that request the free half hour if you didn't win and the hour if you did – and I'll be happy to tell you – and hopefully help you by a pair of third-party eyes or -- given my glasses – four third-party eyes. 😊

But I truly appreciate the honor of having the opportunity to learn more about you – win or lose. See you this year!!

Related Coverage

Editorial standards