CRM Watchlist Winner CallidusCloud & C3: When mission aligns with vision

CallidusCloud held its C3 conference a few weeks ago. This 2016 Watchlist winner veered a bit off course but remains a true player in the lead-to-money space. They are a solution/ecosystem, and well worth a close look.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

NOTE: I realized, while putting this post together, that I was attending a lot of conferences run by CRM Watchlist winners. Then it occurred to me that I could actually combine my discussion of the conference with my CRM Watchlist review though slightly out of order from my normal approach. So in the interests of efficiency, currency and laziness, I'm going to combine my CRM Watchlist reviews when possible with the conference coverage. So the next one I'm doing after this one --since CallidusCloud was a winner of the CRM Watchlist this year --is going to be CRM Watchlist Elite winner Lithium and their conference LiNC, and then SAP, who won CRM Watchlist winner with distinction this year and their conference Sapphire. Smart thinking, huh?

Callidus Cloud has been around in the compensation/incentive management world for a long time and has always been one of the big players in that world. But about six years ago, they made a practical decision to go the way the world was going - actually a little ahead of the curve - and in terms that their audience would understand went to an ecosystem.

What do I mean by that? First let me clarify what I am defining here as an ecosystem. If you go all formal, the definition of ecosystem - according to dictionary.com (not even Webster's Dictionary.com) is:

"a system, or a group of interconnected elements, formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment"

"any system or network of interconnecting and interacting parts, as in a business."

The latter one is pretty close to what I'm talking about here. But I'd add to it a little, my definition is:

"Any system or network of interconnecting, interacting and interrelated parts, acting cohesively."

I'm talking this when I talk ecosystem. The key to any ecosystem is that not only are the parts interwoven and interacting but it makes sense for them to be grouped into the ecosystem. For example, it makes perfect sense for an ecosystem that covers a business process end to end, such as lead to money/cash - and along the way covers the things that a company needs to be successful in that endeavor. There are multivariate approaches that can be utilized and different pieces that can be put in place, but at the end of the day, the end to end meets the outcomes needed by the customers buying the systems.

CallidusCloud entered that universe when it decided that rather than just incentive/compensation management, it would follow the money - from lead to money that is - as we shall see below.

But, of course, before we do that, and before I put on my analyst hat and pull out my Watchlist winner pen, I have to do what I know that you all love so much - present you with the Conference Scorecard for 2016 and the CallidusCloud C3 event. If you want to understand how I think about the scorecard, here are the details.

So, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present:

The Callidus Cloud C3 2016 Conference Scorecard (sponsored by CRM Watchlist)

Category Grade Notes
Keynotes (Content) B+ This was a well-constructed keynote. The messaging was focused (though more on whether I thought It was right or wrong later), Leslie Stretch is a very relaxed and good speaker and the supporting demos and product discussions were very well done - to the point and outcome based for the most part - not focused on feature and function. The only downside was a clearly artificially injected "visionary" patina, which I'll talk about later. This wasn't necessary and detracted slightly, though was there to prove that Callidus Cloud was "relevant." Trust me, they are relevant and that was a jarring note, not a good one. But all in all, very strong and focused.
Keynotes (Presentation) A- The supporting stuff was very good all in all. That means that the demos were crisp and highlighted what had to be highlighted - value in use and user interface/user experience, there was mostly good other keynotes - Peyton Manning was a lot of fun and his usual charming self, though stretched on the business analogies, Accenture strengthened the missionary idea of "outcomes" as the core for work and thinking - rightfully, though they came up as uncomfortable when it came to "distraction." But their support of the main theme - we provide outcomes was right. There was some cutting edge stuff that was at least interesting when it came to Litmos, their learning management system - showing bots and VR as tools for learning that was fresh and kept the supportive stuff interesting. The videos were clever, humorous and solidly on point. Well done all in all.
Tracks/General Sessions B These were a mixed bag. Some were extremely well done - meaning they meant the expectations set by the description. The audiences were interactive in some environments and quiet and uninvolved in others. The quality of the presentations was mostly good. The range of coverage was good - product and thought leadership. My particular presentation had serious logistics problems, but I didn't get any indicator of that beyond mine. All in all, pretty solid, appropriately mixed, but nothing exceptional as a whole.
Analyst/Press Relations B+ For the most part, a very good job. The baseline requirements - often overlooked by vendors - of providing good Wi-Fi, power for laptops & other devices and tables for the analysts and press were provided. You might think this is a nice to have but it isn't. It's a must have. Why? Because in order for analysts and journalists to do their work, in real time (Live tweeting an event) or during the conference, they need power, connectivity and something to put their work machines/devices on. Simple as that. But it is one that is often not thought of. There was a relatively decent analyst (financial and industry) only two-hour conversation with senior management and it was handled well, with lots of Q&A time available to whoever was in the room. The only downside was logistics to some extent - no analyst press room though the number merited it, and a series of other small lacks that I won't go into in the interests of time/space.
Food (VIP) A- All in all, very good, drinks and food were top flight and available at the events that were billed as special. There were a couple of those - sit down dinner for VIPs and a general customer appreciation party which kicked the food up a notch from the standard in conference offering.
Food (General Session) A- Solid choices for breakfast and lunch - wide variety, well prepared. Also, coffee stations and other drinks were available on breaks. The only missing piece were clear-cut allergy sensitive choices though anyone allergic to gluten, dairy etc. could have found something satisfactory to eat.
Exhibition Hall B+ This was pretty much a table stakes exhibition hall. Nothing stood out as either great or terrible in the hall. It was a small one by many standards. The partner booths were utilitarian but what made that okay was that the walkways were wide and there was plenty of room to stop and get a demo without feeling as if you were either in someone's way or about to be swept up in a human tsunami. What it didn't do well is organize the partners in a cohesive way that made it simple to find a booth, though because it was confined to a few dozen booths that wasn't as visible or as bad a problem as a larger exhibition hall would have had. All in all, the best phrase to define was "just fine."
Crowd Energy B- The crowd at this conference was, as it was last year, polite and attentive. They did listen and heard what the speakers in the general sessions and the tracks said, but they didn't respond all that well. They had a low-grade kind of energy - 10W30 rather than the higher grades 20W40-type energy that you get at some of the conferences.
Logistics B- There were some issues here - one that directly impacted me and thus, to be honest, had an impact on my thinking here. When I was about to give my presentation, it turns out there was no lavalier mike and no presentation "clicker" and mine wouldn't work. So it created a bit of problem that I won't go into. That might have been the only problem of its type but I'm human so it impacts the score here. That said, there also were some issues that were aligned with dealing with a Las Vegas resort on finding things in a convention center that was accessible through a casino (according to a few people who had some trouble that way). But all in all, Callidus Cloud had helpful people at multiple points giving directions and the service level at the hotel was generally very high, there were a decent number of choices of immediately available places to eat and the provided food etc didn't create any horrible lines or difficulties finding a place to sit. Good enough.
OVERALL B+ C3 was a classy, well run conference that, like any other conference of even decent size, had a couple of issues but fewer than most. They made it an experience that their customers and the analysts and press and others there would remember fondly over a year which is in fact exactly what has to happen at one of these events since it impacts the "feeling" about the company for the year until the next one. Good feeling, good results throughout the year. Good job.

My analyst...VR goggles

What makes CallidusCloud an interesting company is that they are aligned pretty well to a subset of the platform/ecosystem world - the group of companies who push a strong process-focused end to end kind of mini-ecosystem. Their lead-to-money solution is in the same league (in terms of market) with Apttus - who are focused on Quote to Cash. There are others who may not be so process-blatant in their description of what they do, but do the same sort of thing or who overlap segments of CallidusCloud's solution e.g. Xactly on incentive compensation; or Salesforce's Steelbrick who focus on CPQ. But CallidusCloud, to their credit has a story to tell that makes sense given their offering - with one rather lucrative aberration - their learning management system, Litmos.

What they presented at the keynotes though was a bit of a contradistinction to what they actually are and what they actually do. They spent time speaking to the Internet of Things with such things as the Internet of Compensation, the Internet of Incentives etc. which, honestly, for them doesn't work.

Why is that?

The CallidusCloud Value Proposition and Ecosystems

CallidusCloud has gone from what was a hard core incentive/compensation management rock star to something considerably broader which they deem "lead to money." What that means is that they provide a (mostly) unified solution that would cover all the specific outcomes that lead to money implies (lead, opportunity, pipeline, etc and in certain specific areas go deep (compensation/incentive management, etc). They've added strong engagement features around learning management (Litmos) and feedback systems (Clicktools) that are a slightly uncomfortable (though not horribly so) fit into the ecosystem they provide. This move from compensation management began about 6 years ago but the story for it has existed for about the past three years. It was characterized by a series of acquisitions starting in 2010 which includes:

  • ActekSoft (January 2010) (healthcare payer compensation management)
  • ForceLogix Technologies (December 2010) - (cloud based sales performance management and sales optimization)
  • Salesforce Assessments (March 2011) (sales assessment tool)
  • Litmos (June 2011) (learning management system)
  • iCentera (July 2011) (sales enablement via marketing tools)
  • Rapid Intake (September 2011) (elearning and mobile learning authoring tools)
  • Webcom, Inc. (October 2011) (Configure, Price, Quote solution)
  • LeadFormix (January 2012) (Marketing automation solution)
  • 6FigureJobs (May 2012) (executive talent search tool)
  • LeadRocket (February 2014) (social/digital marketing solution)
  • Clicktools (September 2014) (B2B enterprise grade survey tool)
  • BridgeFront (now Litmos Health Care) (July 2015) (learning and compliance tool healthcare)

Taking this route, which for the most part makes sense (though I still have problems with 6FigureJobs and why they were acquired) - and with the subsequent generally successful technical and cultural integrations, CallidusCloud can with a wart or two, lay claim to having a true lead to money solution.

So where does that put them as a company? Well, in the world of platforms and ecosystems, they have an ecosystem and do not have a platform, nor to their credit, do they aspire to. Their ecosystem is built around a solution that solves a specific set of business problems and provides a specific set of outcomes.

All of which is a good thing. It isn't necessarily sexy - in fact, it's not sexy at all - but it's very valuable when it comes to dealing with needs that most companies have.

That means, that between the solution that Callidus Cloud provides in combination with the earthy practicality of the CEO Leslie Stretch, CallidusCloud is well suited to be the mission-based company that they are.

Which is why a portion of their messaging focus at C3 on the IoT, VR and robots was uncomfortable and awkward. In the course of the keynotes there was mention of the Internet of Things (IoT) which of course all companies are now talking about, so that was okay, though not necessary except as a marker that says "We're with it" - but then the conversation veered to the Internet of Compensation and the Internet of Incentives in particular, a focus of the discussion on what turned out to be a multi-level marketing vertical initiative. To put this as bluntly as Leslie S. puts things - that IoT visionary thing just didn't work for this company - and needs to be put aside right away. I'm hoping that this is the last I ever hear of it from this successful mission-driven company.

When I say visionary and mission-driven, what I mean is that a visionary company is stating a goal to be achieved and the mission-driven company is laying out the plans to accomplish an outcome. Ordinarily companies need to be both - expose their future state and then plans to achieve that. But on occasion, a company can be mission-driven only - meaning that we know your issues and understand the outcomes you want to achieve, here and now, and can help you do so. Not that many can pull it off without at least showing they are thinking to the future. CallidusCloud due to its chosen ecosystem, its CEO and its acquisitions is one of those rare companies that is better off being mission based.

This is a growing successful company that made and makes its bones as a company that help their customers achieve the outcomes they are looking for. While they do a few cutting edge things like class attendance via robots and a virtual reality initiative - both through Litmos - they are not built to or suited for IoT vision. It doesn't help them manage comp any better, drive leads any better or attack the new verticals like multi-level marketing even slightly better. Plus they aren't really willing to invest their time, effort, money, product development or the thought leadership necessary in being visionary.

Despite their veering off course a bit at C3, this is a company that has a well-integrated product set that is continually improving in valuable and practical ways One noticeable improvement that they showed at C3 was in the quality of the interfaces - beautiful UI and much simpler navigation that extended to complex products like compensation management and to their location enabled territory management tools. The UI was so good I actually thought I could use the products without training. Then, of course, I came to my senses, when I realized that I know very little about compensation plan modeling and operations. I need training, okay, I get it now. But those interfaces were good enough to foster my fantasy. They've added some brand new capabilities around territory management and schedule planning among many other things. All in all, enabling specific outcomes that they hadn't been able to in the past. Good stuff. Practical, useful stuff.

This is a company that, when they stay mission focused, are successful. But to stay that way, they have to not try to be something that they are not, or if they are going there, make sure that what they say aligns with what they do. Doing the visionary thing - well, Dorothy is not in Kansas, she's in Oz. Being what they are, staying out of Oz, these 2016 CRM Watchlist winners have a damned good future. What a vision, eh?

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