Monday 19 December 2011

What comes next after Facebook and Twitter? The challenge of keeping up with a constantly changing digital world

Note - I originally posted a short version of this post in July.

The last 5-10 years have been characterised by a communications revolution. During that time we have seen the mass roll out of broadband and mobile broadband, an explosion of new hardware devices that tap into that connectivity and an explosion of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, apps and social networking sites that have transformed the way people interact with data and processes. Together these changes have given users unprecedented access to information and connectivity to peers, transforming the way we complete tasks and transforming many different types of relationships from consumer to employee to supplier. Fundamental human behaviors may not have changed much – we have always been “social” - what has changed however is connectivity, access, transparency, speed and scale.

The communications changes we have seen do not represent a single one off disruption. If the last five years have taught us anything it is that constant disruptive change is here to stay. Think about the rapid rise and fall of mySpace and SecondLife, the speed at which Twitter has grown, the rapid evolution of Facebook from a college social network into a social commerce platform, or the extent to which the tablet PC has entered our daily lives. It seems that almost every week a new disruptive hardware device is being launched or a new social network or online game has spread like wildfire and carved out a new niche in the market.

For most businesses the changes in communications and the constant disruption that we have seen present both opportunity and threat. On one hand, those that can move fast are taking advantage of new devices and platforms to create new business models or new marketing, sales, service and R&D platforms. GiffGaff, for example, an MVNO in the Telco industry (with a total staff of just 14 employees) has created a community-driven business model that incentivises consumers to contribute to product development (tariff structures), customer acquisition and customer service. GiffGaff customers contribute to product development (one of their customers even built them an iPhone app!), they generate between 5-7k new acquisitions per month purely from word of mouth marketing and they fix 90% of service problems with an average response time of under three minutes within the community support forum.

Other digital start-ups are being equally disruptive. Think of the “mesh-business” that ZipCar or Streetcar have created and the way that they have disrupted the car rental industry; or look at how Netflix or the Huffington Post have disrupted the media industry (as I write, Netflix looks like it may also be disrupted; partly through its own doing and partly through the start-up of streaming only platforms with no legacy in DVD distribution). Or consider, micro-finance companies like Kiva, which is generating millions of dollars of loans per month and transforming access to funding for people who otherwise would have no access to banking services.

Businesses taking advantage of digital disruption are not just limited to start-ups. Consider how Proctor & Gamble engage with hundreds of thousands of mothers on the Mumsnet social network and on its homegrown social networks to develop new product ideas and test new concepts. Proctor & Gamble’s Connect-and-Develop program allows idea co-creation with third parties and enables them to crowd-source solutions to fix some of its most complex R&D issues. Similarly, KLM, the Dutch airline has also embraced new digital technologies and platforms with great success. Its KLM Clubs China & Africa have allowed it to build communities for entrepreneurs travelling to emerging markets with KLM, creating additional value for club members way outside what you would usually expect. Even BT, often criticised (perhaps unfairly) for lacking innovation, has been a pioneer in online self-service, community and social media customer care. Its BT Care team actively monitors social networks, reaches out to customers to offer support. It has also focused on building an online community to facilitate peer-to-peer support, deflecting calls from its contact centres.

On the flip side, many IT departments are struggling to keep up with the constant game of catch up. Picture the corporate IT department burdened with a huge maintenance overhead now overwhelmed with a backlog of requests to support the latest Apple device, the latest app or the latest social network. In addition, corporate IT looks aghast at employees connecting their own devices to corporate systems, departments creating their own social media sites and lines of business managers purchasing software-as-a-service solutions and putting the subscription costs onto their expenses account. Many IT departments have simply lost control and are struggling to embrace new digital technologies and ways of working. Most are trying to re-establish their value to the business, fully aware that IT departments that fail to add value to the business run the risk of making themselves irrelevant and perpetuating the cycle of rogue purchasing, data silos and an inconsistent, disconnected user experience.

The problem of catch-up is not limited to the IT department. In exactly the same way those businesses that fail to keep up with consumers run the risk that their own customers will simply disengage and swarm on to a competitor that supports the latest device, app or social network. Constant change can be just as much a headache for the business as it is for the IT department, as keeping up with the constantly changing consumer requires keeping a strong finger on the pulse of the consumer, as well as being agile enough to change plans on the fly without creating chaos.

Within this environment of uncertainly it’s tempting to try and form predictions of what might happen next; for example, what will come after Facebook or Twitter? Whilst I am all for creating a compelling vision, planning and keeping a finger on the pulse of the changing communications happening right now, I suspect that for the majority of organisations, the reality is that thinking about what comes after Facebook and Twitter might be entirely the wrong question.

We don't yet know what will come next after Facebook and Twitter. We don't know what disruptive device will be launched next by Apple or another hardware manufacturer. We don't know what game changing moves Google or Facebook will make next; nor do we know what new social network or online game is currently being dreamt up by a college student in San Francisco, London, Tel Aviv or Bangalore. What we do know is these things will happen. What we do know is that constant disruptive change is now the norm and that without question each change will have an impact on the way that consumers (feel free to substitute with employees, suppliers, analysts etc) interact with companies, data, processes and of course, with each other.

Better (and potentially tougher) questions to think about might be:

1. How can we build stronger customer relationships based on true value co-creation that will be less susceptible to cannibalization by passing fads?

2. How can we keep track of where our customers are currently engaging with our brand and with each other? How can we spot changes, trends and spikes?

3. How can we cut through vast quantities of unstructured customer data with accuracy and drive insight into action faster than the competition?

4. How quickly can we embrace change within our organisation and execute on opportunities that we have spotted?

5. How can we leverage innovation from our customers and partners as well as from the vast armies of open source, SaaS, web and app developers who are either looking to build upon the dominant platforms of today or trying to create the platforms of tomorrow?

6. What are the foundation elements that enable us to become more agile? How can we embrace and integrate (again and again) to new devices, new services, new apps, new networks etc.?

Without doubt these are difficult questions to answer. They are cross functional in nature and they force you to address some basic, foundation issues. As a starting point, many of the questions stem from your attitudes and mindset towards customers. They involve a shift towards outside-in thinking and the adoption of service dominant logic; thinking about the way in which you are constantly monitoring the jobs customers are trying to do and how you can help your customers create value. From a technology perspective the questions should prompt discussion around your core delivery approach (agile vs. waterfall), your information architecture, attitudes towards open standards / service integration, master data management, business process integration etc. Not to mention your attitudes to employees connecting their own devices to corporate systems and engaging on behalf of your brand on social networking sites. The questions challenge the way in which IT and the business work together (left brain and right brain need to be in alignment), the breaking down of internal silos, the way customer-facing staff are empowered to collaborate, fix issues and take action.

However, at the heart of the challenge is the focus on agility. There is a well-worn cliché in business circles, which is "skate to where the puck is going to be". The reality is that few of us are like ice hockey legend Wayne Gretsky and can predict where the puck will be 100% of the time. We can see megatrends and we can align around those, but we can’t predict the future. The majority of organisations would gain greater benefit from improving their core customer relationships and their speed and agility so that they can take advantage of changes faster than their competitors, rather than trying to predict what will come next after Facebook and Twitter. To use another well worn business cliché, as Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, once said “we only have two sources of competitive advantage; the ability to learn more about our customers faster than the competition, and the ability to turn that learning into action faster than the competition”. One of the key advantages of doing business in a digital age is data – there really is no excuse these days for not having insight into customers or markets. The challenge is what you do with the insight and the speed at which you can execute.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Quick fixes and shortcuts in the Social Enterprise

I despair when I hear people trying to “schedule a viral marketing campaign” into their marketing calendar, “build a community site in order to deflect calls from the contact center” or “do a bit of co-creation” to improve their products. Of course, marketing campaigns can go viral and of course online support forums can reduce customer service costs; but you can’t take the company benefits without giving customers the benefits that they want. You can’t have your social media and community cake and eat it.
The most dangerous use of social media & community is that which tries to apply old thinking to a new technology. It’s very easy to look at the benefits of social media and community from the company’s perspective and try and implement product reviews and ratings to generate “positive buzz” or an ideas site to generate customer-driven ideas. The temptation is to then believe that somehow implementing these capabilities alone makes the organization social, customer-centric and capable of driving long-term relationships.
Implementing social and community capabilities comes at a price. If you give customers the ability to review your products (which, by the way, they will do anyway on another platform) then you must allow them to say both positive and negative things about you. If they say negative things, you must listen, acknowledge and respond. Similarly, if you expect customers to spend time creating product or service ideas for you, then you must at a minimum acknowledge and respond to those ideas in a transparent way.
Better still you should provide customers with the tools then need to create value for themselves. Customers, after all, do not visit your site to try and help you cut costs from your call centre! They visit you site to do a do a job – whether that be fixing a problem, finding information or building up their own profile or status within a community – their community.
Gamification is often presented as an easy fix and a short cut to creating a healthy community. Let me be clear, I do view gamification as proven technique that can produce amazing results (I would encourage anyone to watch Jane McGonigal’s TED talk, read any of Michael Wu’s posts or read Gabe Zichermann’s book “Gamification by design”). But, viewing points, badges and leaderboards as an easy shortcut to creating long-term relationships is at best a dangerous strategy. As many Groupon merchants have found, one off bribes produce one off customers. When the points, vouchers or one off deals disappear, so do the customers.
If you’re looking to social media and community for quick fixes and short cuts, the chances are you will find many different options but none that actually work long term without a corresponding investment in complimentary capabilities and a fundamental mindset change. There can be no half measures or insincere tactics; change needs to be embraced both at the top and at the front line. Take a look at the terrific presentation from Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry (disclosure – Burberry are a client), speaking at Dreamforce a few weeks ago. I was amazed to see a large enterprise CEO speak so enthusiastically and knowledgably about the social enterprise, its importance and more importantly its challenges.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Left Brain and Right Brain must work together to deliver success in Digital Transformation

The words “but of course CRM is not a technology” prompted a collective sigh of relief from the audience. The speaker hadn’t fallen into the trap of committing the ultimate CRM sin and assuming that CRM technology could fix a business problem. The room was wise to mistakes of first generation CRM.
I remember many moments like this, listening to vendors speak at conferences for example, pitching their products before inserting the appropriate “CRM is not a technology” caveat. Over the years I’d like to think I’ve had a fairly balanced view of what CRM technology can deliver and the importance of investing in complimentary capabilities like customer vision & strategy, people & change etc. (see my posts on “Software doesn’t build relationships, people do” or “the emperor’s new social CRM clothes”).
10 or so years ago I used to recite stories of organizations who “did” CRM without technology – the clich├ęd local store manager who remembered his customers individually, understood their needs and tailored his offering to suit. This sort of story was a reaction against technology-centric CRM. It translated into the importance of thinking from the customer’s perspective and defining a customer proposition before looking at technology and other enabling capabilities.
However, sometimes I think the backlash against CRM/ Social CRM technology (whatever you want to call it) has gone too far. I see organizations that totally separate their business function from their technology department. The business defines its vision, its requirements, its priorities and its timescales and then throws them over the fence for the IT department to interpret and deliver.
As digital has swept through our lives I no longer believe it’s possible for the vast majority of organizations to deliver on their customer proposition without technology (even my local independent corner shop has a Facebook page where they promote special offers and promotions from other local businesses!). Customers are interacting with organizations and with each other online, through smartphones & tablet PCs, through social networking sites, apps, consumer review sites and group purchasing sites; not forgetting of course, all the traditional channels. Moreover, technology has now become an enabler to create a differentiated customer proposition not just enable a set of requirements. Technology can help identify customer needs the business was not previously aware of and create new ways to help customers complete the jobs they are trying to do when they interact with an organization.
To take advantage of digital and not get out-maneuvered by smaller, more nimble start-ups, left brain and right brain must work together as one. The silo that we built up as a backlash against first generation, technology-centric (failed) CRM, must now be broken down. Of course this doesn’t mean jumping to technology for the sake of technology. Of course this doesn’t mean that technology is a silver bullet that magically improve customer relationships. But if you don’t have people in the same room who understand both the customer experience / proposition / creative etc AND the latest technology / integration / security etc then success is much more difficult to achieve.

Monday 30 May 2011

Killing 2 birds with one stone – why cost reduction within customer service doesn't mean decreased customer satisfaction

 I often meet with clients who want to kill two birds with one stone; reduce customer service costs, whilst also increasing customer satisfaction. Many technology-centric CRM programs of the past did not share these aims. They attempted to design solutions inside-out from the company's perspective, rather than from the customer's perspective. In many cases these programs tried to control the customer; for example defining the channels that the organisation made available for customer service requests. In a drive to reduce customer service costs, expensive human interactions were blocked from the customer by customer service numbers hidden away on a little known web page, multi-level IVRs, voice self-service solutions, chat-bots and lists of online FAQs. In the main these solutions were designed to benefit the company, keeping customers away from call centre agents and therefore reducing costs but not necessarily improving customer satisfaction.

The communications revolution of the last few years has meant that companies can no longer control their customers. Customers now control which channel or device they use, which social network they turn to, which sources of information they trust and chose to mash together. The communications & connectivity changes present a threat to many organisations used to an ingrained mindset of command & control, but there is also an opportunity for customer service organisations to leverage the technology changes to drive win / win outcomes, namely reducing customer service costs whilst improving customer satisfaction. Below  are four examples of some of the tactics different organisations have deployed to help achieve these dual aims:

1. The best service is no service - Bill Price, former VP Customer Service for Amazon famously described his outlook on customer service in his job interview with Jeff Bezos, saying: "Well, the best service is no service. You hire me, and I'm going to try and help reduce the need for customers to have to contact Amazon for service. Why should they? They order things online. Things should work out fine, right?" (See full Customer Think's interview with Bill Price here). Amazon designs for no service. This starts by thinking about the jobs customers are trying to do when they interact with Amazon and working out how they can help customers achieve their outcomes online. Clearly achieving this stretches far beyond thinking about the online experience; the processes that enable the desired outcomes of customers stretch far into the organisation and it's eco-system of suppliers.

2. Pro-actively identify problems, fix them at source and update all channels - building on the Amazon example above, many organisations are now setting up command centres to stay connected to the pulse of the customer, attempting to spot trouble brewing and then proactively take action; firstly to update all channels letting customers know that there is a problem and what they are doing to fix it and secondly to fix the problem at source. Dell, for example have pioneered the use of a Social Media Command Centre to try and spot topics that matter to customers as soon as they bubble up on the social web (described in my post on improving social media monitoring). A leading US cable TV company has a swat team concept where they bring together a cross-functional team to investigate opportunities or threats fast and act appropriately e.g. launching an outbound communications campaign or fixing a network problem at source.

3. Leverage peer to peer as a support channel - I've written previously about the GiffGaff case study. Around 90% of GiffGaff's customer service happens within their community forum.  GiffGaff customers fix each other's problems on the forum, suggest new product ideas, recommend the service to their friends and even build smartphone apps for the community. The average response time within the onion support forum 24x7 is under 3 minutes. Furthermore, Telefonica Group who own GiffGaff estimate that their customer service model costs 4 times less than the traditional contact centre-centric model, yet their NPS score is 75 - way above the industry average (note GiffGaff publish their customer satisfaction scores here). 

4. Integrate your community  forum across the social web - BT do a great job of integrating their community forum across their various social channels. Their online community brings together their YouTube channel (for customer support videos), their Twitter stream, their ideas page etc. They have also integrated their forum to their Facebook page to maximise the reuse of content and allow customers to choose the channel of choice.

One thing to bear in mind if you are attempting to replicate some of the tactics above is that simply deploying the tactics alone may well not produce your desired outcomes. In other words, simply creating a community forum does will not turn you into a GiffGaff. There are many examples where forums have actually increased customer service costs and created additional calls for the call centre to deal with. Fundamentally, the success of deploying the tactics above relies on the adoption of a service dominant mindset. To understand more about Service Dominant Logic, a topic first described some 7 years ago by  Steve Vargo read this great post by Graham Hill or take a look at this presentation by Wim Rampen. 

Service dominant logic aims to broaden the traditional goods-dominant logic, placing service provision rather than goods as the basis for economic exchange. With a service dominant mindset the customer is always a co-creator of value therefore we design from the customer's perspective recognising that value is created through usage not at the point of transaction. With a service dominant mindset the tactics above are far more likely to be able to deliver the dual aims of reduced service costs and increased customer satisfaction.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

What comes next after Facebook and Twitter and the challenges of skating to where the puck is going to be

I've been thinking recently about what comes next after Facebook and Twitter. I looked at interesting initiatives like the Future of Facebook project but I also realised pretty quickly that for the majority or organisations the reality is that thinking about what comes next after Facebook and Twitter might be entirely the wrong question. 

If the last 5 years have taught us anything it is that constant disruptive change is here to stay. Think about the rapid rise and fall of mySpace and SecondLife, the seemingly unstoppable rise of Facebook and Twitter, the rapid evolution of Facebook into a social commerce platform, the speed at which the tablet PC has entered daily lives…. We don't yet know what will come next after Facebook and Twitter, we don't know what disruptive device will be launched next by Apple or another hardware manufacturer. We don't now what game changing moves Google or Facebook will make next; nor do we know what new social network is currently being dreamt up by a college student in San Francisco, London, Tel Aviv or Bangalore. What we do know is these things will happen. What we do know is that constant disruptive change is now the norm and that without question each change will have an impact on the way that consumers interact with brands and with each other. Of course we also know that most brands will struggle to keep up with this constant game of catch up and that those that fail run the risk that their customers will simply disengage and swarm on to the next device, app or social network…

Whilst I am all for organisations keeping their finger on the pulse of the communications changes happening right now, I suspect that better questions for the majority of organisations might be:

How can we build stronger customer relationships based on true value co-creation that will be less susceptible to cannibalisation by passing fads?
How can we keep track of where our customers are currently engaging with our brand and with each other? How can we spot changes?
How can we cut through vast quantities of customer data with accuracy and drive insight into action faster than the competition?
How quickly can we embrace change within our organisation?
How can we leverage innovation from our customers and partners as well as from the vast armies of open source, SaaS, web and app developers who are either looking to build upon the dominant platforms of today or trying to create the platforms of tomorrow?
What are the foundational elements that enable us to become more agile and integrate (again and again) to new devices, new services, new apps, new networks…? Hint: from a customer perspective think about the way in which you are constantly monitoring the jobs customers are trying to do and how you can help them create value; from a technology prospective think information architecture, open standards / service integration, reusable services, MDM, CRM… from an organisational perspective think about the way in which IT and the business work together (left brain and right brain working in unison), the breaking down of internal silos, the way customer facing staff are empowered to collaborate, fix issues and take action… See my post on "Solid Foundations, Cool Innovations - the importance of CRM to SCRM".

There is a well worn cliche in business circles which is "skate to where the puck is going to be". The reality is that few of us are Wayne Gretsky and can predict where the puck will be 100% of the time. The majority of organisations would gain greater benefit from improving their core customer relationships and their speed & agility so that they can take advantage of changes faster than their competitors, rather than trying to predict what will come next after Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday 12 May 2011

Is control still an issue for brands?

Mitch Joel, author of the must read "Six Pixels of Separation" wrote an interesting post recently that got me thinking about control. Mitch wrote:

"We're at this strange new intersection where the expectation is that every brand has relinquished the control over their messaging and that they're listening (and hopefully reacting) to this ever-growing chorus of feedback."

I agree whole-heartedly with his comments that in many ways "Control" should now be a  dead issue; something that was surfaced by the Cluetrain Manefesto over 12 years ago and has been discussed to death by leading marketers who have long accepted that their monopoly on control has been eroded (if not usurped) by consumers. As Mitch points out in Six Pixels, that does not of course mean that brands are irrelevant. They "still control their vision, mission and the marketing materials that go along with it, while consumers can now say whatever they want about the brand and mash-up those materials as they see fit." In other words brands can still listen, engage, provide consumers with collateral & material, but ultimately consumers will supplement their view of the brand with their own comments and their own research on what other people are saying etc.

Yet, something nags at me… I don't agree that the topic of control is dead (or should be dead) everywhere just yet. I am fortunate to work with a wide range of organisations in Europe; some who are at the leading edge of high volume business to consumer digital marketing and others who still think that social networks are just toys for college kids and see little or no relevance of social media to their business. Within less mature Marketing departments I still find that despite all the debate and discussion "control" remains the elephant in the room; the issue that people have failed to address or discuss. This manifests itself in Marketing departments who:
  • Have been brought up to believe that they can control every aspect of the brand right down to the font size and are struggling to let go of that belief
  • Don't engage with social media at all (the ostrich head in the sand approach, see "Characterising different approaches to social media")
  • Treat social media as an outbound broadcast channel and fail to look at it in the context of the broader customer experience
  • Make meaningless claims about customer-centricity but don't back those up with their actions
  • Discourage or heavily moderate customer comments & feedback on their site
  • Restrict access to social networking tools internally within the organisation (as 50% of UK employers still currently do)
  • Fail to provide any form of guidance as to how employees can respond to customers using social media (if they allow response at all)
I wish control were a dead issue but at one end of the maturity spectrum (which of course varies greatly by industry and by geography) I still see organisations who haven't yet go to grips with this basic topic and badly need to. Whilst marketing theorists may well have moved on, I don't believe every brand has yet.

Monday 25 April 2011

Announcing #crmidol - a guest post by Paul Greenberg

I was delighted when Paul Greenberg asked me to be a judge on CRM Idol 2011. There is so much innovation happening at the moment within small software vendors and start-ups who simply don't get the same exposure as the big guys. CRM Idol 2011 is an amazing opportunity for those companies to get their ideas in front of some of the best minds in the CRM / Social CRM world. Below is a guest post by Paul Greenberg describing the concept behind CRM Idol 2011, the judging panel and the process for entry into the competition (original post here):

Okay, everyone this is the big one. CRM Idol 2011: The Open Season is here and we’re ready to take your companies and find out which one of you in the Americas and which one of you in EMEA is not the next CRM Idol but the FIRST CRM Idol.

The Idea

Small companies – at least in the CRM software related world – and that means social software world, in this case, too – abound. There are thousands of companies out there that are possibly innovative, possibly commercially viable in a big way, possibly the next big thing. But, as we said, there are thousands of them. And, no matter how great your product is, if no one knows about it, well, then, oops. Not a good thing.
These small companies are all making efforts to get into the ecosystem that could benefit them – one which includes investors, influencers, technology/strategic partners, media connections, etc. While getting support from this powerful ecosystem is by no means a guarantee of success, it can be enormously helpful in getting well down the road there. But, those small companies are often thwarted in that effort by either really bad PR people, or just the incredible amount of companies out there trying to reach into the ecosystem who are pummeling the small amount of influencers, etc. every week with requests to demo or talk.
Now, to be fair to the influencers, they are human beings with lives that aren’t built around supporting this one company that really thinks they are it. All they know is that each of them is getting between 20-50 requests a week to take a demo or conversation with someone who owns or represents a company they’ve never heard of and never talked to yet. In addition to those that they know. Often enough, they are pitched by a public relations person who is either inexperienced or not really good at their job who makes no effort to find anything out about the person that they are pitching to. So the influencer, journalist, venture capitalist gets a generic curve thrown at them that doesn’t even break over the plate – guaranteeing that the email is going to be discarded as a matter of course before the first paragraph is even read. Or it could be that on a particular day the influencer got 10 pitches and had a headache and didn’t want to see any of them. 
As unfair as generic pitches and high volumes of noise are to the influencers in the highly desirable ecosystem we are chatting about here, it is a problem because what are probably a lot of good companies are never given a chance to move ahead because of the difficulties inherent in the process and the vagaries of bad luck on any given day.
Which is why CRM Idol 2011: The Open Season exists.
The concept is simple, small companies out there. If you meet the submission criteria outlined below, you will be given the opportunity, first come first serve, to secure a time slot on a specific day that will put you in front of some of the most influential people in the CRM/SCRM world. They will spend an hour with you in a demo to hear about your technology product – software only – and they will write a jointly signed review of what they saw of you – that will be published in multiple venues as soon as its written. It can be a good review, a bad one, a mix or indifferent. There’s risk on your part to be taken here. But it is something that you need to be aware of. The reviews will go up as soon as the 5 judge sign off on the final content. They won’t be exhaustive reviews but they will be opinionated and fair.
Forty companies from the Americas and twenty companies from EMEA (that means ONLY Europe, the Middle East and Africa) will get a shot at this – again first come first serve (more later on what that means). Of the 40 in the Americas, 4 finalists will be chosen. (NOTE: There will be an APAC edition hopefully late in the year or if not, early 2012, depending on the success of these two events. Sorry, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Logistics made it impossible at this juncture.) Out of the 20 in EMEA, 3 finalists will be chosen. Each of the finalists will be REQUIRED to do a ten minute video about their company and the product. Not a repeat of the demo but a video. Note I used the word REQUIRED here. Let me put it this way. If you make the finals and don’t do the video, we will publicly skewer your company. Know why? Because our judges are giving up what little free time they actually have in a summer to do this and it will take us 4 hours a day for 3 business weeks to do it. So if you can’t or won’t put in the effort to do the video, don’t bother to apply. Seriously. We’re trying to help out here and we want you guys all to succeed but it’s a two way street.
Okay, that rant out of the way. Once the finalists are chosen and the videos done, they will be posted online in multiple media outlets. They will be voted on in two ways:
  1. Popular vote – see, crowdsourcing is important. All the votes for the one winner from the Americas and the one winner from EMEA will be tallied from the public sites – in aggregate. That’s 50% of the vote.
  2. Extended Judges Panels – as you can see below, we may have assembled the greatest panels of judges – both leading vendors and influencers ever assembled in the history of CRM – not to be hyperbolic or anything. Each judge will select a specific winner in each of the Americas and EMEA from the 7 finalists. That’s the other 50% of the vote. The original judges will be voting as panel members.
The winners in each will get a major array of prizes, some of which are below, and be declared “CRM Idol 2011 Winner.”
Not too shabby is it? Vast amounts of media attention even if you don’t make the finals. If you make the finals at all, some prizes to you. The winners get everything that the ecosystem can offer but guaranteed success. But they do get all the accoutrements they need to support their increased likelihood of it.
That way, you small companies out there who have been victimized by bad approaches or just circumstance have the opportunity to bypass all of that and make something happen. It’s up to you to take the reins in hand but once you do, you have at least a serious chance at making yourself successful.

The Criteria

This competition is for small companies in the CRMish/SocialCRMish world. – see the categories below for some guidelines though please feel free to make the case if you don’t see yourself in the guidelines.
  1. You have to have software that is commercially available by the time of the demo – that would be in August – again see below. No betas, alphas, release candidates allowed. If we find that you’re not commercially available, and you have a time slot, you’re out and someone else will fill the slot. So please be sure that you can verify the claim if you want to participate.
  2. You have to have 3 referenceable customers that, if we care to, we can contact and ask about you.
  3. You have to have revenue under $12 million U.S. your last fiscal year. As far as disclosure goes, you have the choice of making the claim that you do – though that will have to be stated in your submission and we’ll trust you or you can disclose your revenue in the submission with the knowledge that only the permanent judges will know what it is. If you make the claim, please be prepared to back it up if we ask. Your call on how.
  4. You have to be willing to make a ten minute video if you get to the finals. More on that later.
  5. You have to fit a category – though there is some leeway there.

The Categories

The categories that we’ve identified to start are:
  1. Traditional CRM Suites
  2. Social CRM
  3. Sales - Sales Force Automation, Sales Optimization, Sales Effectiveness
  4. Marketing – Marketing Automation, Revenue Performance Management, Social Marketing, Email Marketing, Enterprise Marketing Management, Database Marketing
  5. Customer Service – all permutations
  6. Mobile CRM
  7. Customer Experience Management
  8. Social Media Monitoring – requires the possibility of integrating with a CRM technology
  9. Customer Analytics – including text/sentiment analytics; voice based analytics; social media analytics, influencer scoring, etc.
  10. Enterprise Feedback Management
  11. Innovation Management
  12. Community Platforms
  13. Enterprise 2.0 – collaboration, activity streams etc.
  14. Social Business
  15. Knowledge Management – this one requires the possibility of integrating with CRM systems
  16. Vendor Relationship Management
  17. Partner Relationship Management
Once again, if you don’t see yourself in this list, don’t worry.  Just make the case as to why you have some customer-facing possibilities and the likelihood is that we’ll be cool with it. We’re trying to make this easier for you, not hard.

The Rules

They are numbered to be entirely clear.


  1. There will be 40 slots made available in the Americas and 20 in EMEA.
  2. The submission will be by email ONLY to: (See below to see this again and what to do if there are problems). Any other attempt at submission will be rejected out of hand with the problem exception mentioned below.
  3. The submissions will occur starting today – Monday, April 25 and will continue until Friday May 13 or until all slots are filled, whichever is first (watch #crmidol on twitter for updates on that as it occurs). On May 13, should any slots be left, the remaining specific dates and times will be made publicly available and another final round of submissions for those remaining slots will occur from May 13 through May 20. After that the submissions will be closed.
  4. Each submission will include the following:
    1. Your company contact and named person contact information Two date and time specific slot requests. ONLY two. If your slots are not available, you’re out of luck until May 14 – and then you can resubmit to any time slots that are publicly announced as still available. Though there is no guarantee that there will be any available slots at that time. (see below for examples of how to submit the dates/times)
    2. The category you feel you fit into - or if you don’t but think that you qualify – why.
    3. A description of what the product is/the company is. Be persuasive here that you meet the criteria, not that you have a great product. This is merely a qualifying discussion. URLs cannot be used as substitutes for this description. The submission needs to be all inclusive. However, they can be used as supporting documentation.
    4. The names of the three (3) referenceable customers – the company, the contact and the way to communicate with them – minimum of email and phone, please.
    5. A statement that says that you meet the revenue requirement along the lines of “our company states truthfully that our revenues in our last fiscal year 2010 were under $12 million U.S”. OR you can state the actual number with the knowledge that the primary judges in each of the Americas and EMEA will treat it as under non-disclosure. But please be aware those designated primary judges below will see the actual figures if you choose to reveal them.
    6. A statement that says, “if (you) make the finals, you are committed to making a 10 minute video for submission and public viewing as part of the conditions for entry.” Word it anyway you prefer but make the commitment clear.
  5. If you are accepted, you’ll be notified privately but it will be posted that you’ve been accepted on the Twitter #crmidol stream. The time will only be sent to you privately. Just your acceptance will be posted. Please allow some time between your submission and the posting of it to the hashtag and your private notification, since we all still have to work for a living. Smile
  6. If you don’t include everything specified in the rules for submission, it means automatic disqualification and you cannot resubmit.

The Demo

The demo has few rules. Just be prepared to a. explain your company; b. show your product – live please c. answer questions from the influencers/experts.  Not much more than that. I’m sure many of you are experienced at this already so wed don’t have to tell you this, but just in case… A site for the demos with login etc. will be announced to the timeslot owners in early August.

The Video

The standards for the video will be mentioned to the finalists once they are named. To rest any unease, you won’t be required to spend lots of money to get it done. How much you spend and on what will be up to you as will the content and how you present it. We’ll issue guidelines when the time gets near, including how the video is going to be distributed for posting and voting.

The Judges

Here are the lists of all the judges. As you can see, we have what is likely to be the heaviest hitting list in the history of anything done in CRM when it comes to awards or competitions. Click on their names to get to their LinkedIn bios. They are in alphabetical order.

Primary Judges

The Americas

These five judges will handle the 40 entries for the Americas which consists of the United States, Canada, South and Central America.  They will all be involved in the one hour reviews each of the days over the two weeks and will jointly sign off on each review which will be posted to multiple media sites. They will also solely choose the four finalists for the Americas.
  1. Paul Greenberg – Managing Principal, The 56 Group, LLC
  2. Jesus Hoyos – Managing Partner,, LLC
  3. Esteban Kolsky – Principal and Founder, Thinkjar LLC
  4. Brent Leary – Managing Partner, CRM Essentials
  5. Denis Pombriant – CEO, Beagle Research Group


These four judges will handle the 20 entries from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia etc.  They will all be involved in the each of the 1 hour demos/discussions from Sept 5 through 9 and will write and jointly sign off on each review which will be posted to multiple media sites. They will also solely choose the three finalists for EMEA.
  1. Laurence Buchanan – Vice President, CRM & Social CRM, EMEA, Capgemini
  2. Silvana Buljan – Founder & Managing Director, Buljan & Partners
  3. Paul Greenberg – see above
  4. Mark Tamis – Social Business Strategist, NET-7


This is an exciting part of CRM Idol 2011. Each of these fine human beings has volunteered a day of their time – two during the finals and one with the winners – to provide the benefit of their experience to the contestants.  What they will do is noted by their name. This is an awesome idea that Anthony Lye actually cooked up. Each of these mentors has decades of experience in the software and venture capital world and is considered a leader in the CRM space. So if you make it to the finals, you have the benefit of their knowledge and their valuable time.  Amazing.
  1. Anthony Lye – Anthony will provide one day for the Americas finalists and one day for the EMEA finalists for consultation on how to best do the content for the contending videos and whatever other pertinent advice the finalists need. Anthony has had years of experience as a senior management person for enterprise CRM and a thought leader.
  2. Joe Hughes – Joe will provide one day for the Americas finalists and one day for the EMEA finalists for consultation on how to best do the content for the contending videos and whatever other pertinent advice the finalists need. Joe has been a leader in the CRM space for as long as we can remember and one of the more foresighted when it comes to the value of Social CRM
  3. Larry Augustin – This is a prize for the winner of EMEA and the winner of the Americas. Larry who has years of experience as an executive in the software space and has been a successful venture capitalist will work with the winner to prepare them for dealing with possible investors including doing a VC matching with the winners.
There will most likely be other mentors announced as the competition gets closer to the demo dates.  We might try to make some mentors available to prepare you if you need them for the one hour demos but that’s still up in the air. We’ll keep you posted.

Extended Judges Panels

The Influencer Panel

  1. William Band – Vice President & Principal Analyst, CRM, Forrester Research
  2. Jim Berkowitz – CEO, CRM Mastery
  3. Bruce Culbert – Chief Service Officer, The Pedowitz Group
  4. Zoli Erdos - Publisher/Editor, CloudAve and Enterprise Irregulars
  5. Mike Fauscette – Group Vice President, Software Business Solutions, IDC
  6. Josh Greenbaum – Principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting
  7. Dr. Graham Hill – Partner, Optima Partners
  8. Dennis Howlett - Buyer Advocate
  9. Ian Jacobs – Senior Analyst, Customer Interaction, Ovum/Datamonitor
  10. Michael Krigsman – CEO, Asuret
  11. Marshall Lager – Managing Principal, Third Idea Consulting
  12. Kate Leggett – Senior Analyst, CRM, Forrester Research
  13. Maribel Lopez – Principal Analyst and VP, Constellation Research  Founder Lopez Research LLC
  14. Jeremiah Owyang -Managing Partner, Altimeter Group
  15. Sameer Patel – Managing Partner, Sovos Group
  16. Scott Rogers – Customer Evangelist
  17. Robert Scoble – Managing Director, Rackspace Hosting
  18. Brian Solis – Principal, Altimeter Group
  19. Dilip Soman – Professor of Marketing, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
  20. Ray Wang – CEO, Constellation Research
  21. Mary Wardley – Vice President, CRM Applications, IDC

The Vendor Panel

  1. Larry Augustin – CEO, SugarCRM
  2. Anthony Lye – Senior Vice President & GM, CRM, Oracle
  3. Phil Fernandez – CEO, Marketo
  4. John Hernandez – General Manager, Customer Care Business, Cisco
  5. Jonathan Hornby – Director, Worldwide Marketing, SAS
  6. Joseph Hughes - Senior Executive, CRM Service, Support and Social System Integration Lead, Accenture
  7. Charlie Isaacs, VP, eServices and Social Media Strategy Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise
  8. Vinay Iyer – Vice President, Marketing CRM, SAP
  9. Katy Keim - CMO, Lithium
  10. Marcel Lebrun,- CEO, Radian6
  11. Mitch Lieberman, Vice President, Marketing, Sword-Ciboodle
  12. Chris Morace- Senior Vice President, Business Development, Jive
  13. Zach Nelson – CEO, NetSuite
  14. Bill Patterson- Director, CRM Product Management, Microsoft
  15. Dileep Srinivasan - AVP - CRM & Social CRM, Digital Marketing & MDM, Cognizant
  16. John Taschek –Vice President, Market Strategy, Salesforce

The Journalist Panel

  1. Elsa Basile – Director, Callcenternews (Argentina)
  2. Barney Beal – Managing Editor, SearchCRM,
  3. Anita Campbell – Publisher,
  4. Robin Carey – CEO, Social Media Today
  5. Neil Davey – Group Editor, Sift Media
  6. David Myron – Editorial Director, CRM Magazine, Speech Technology Magazine
  7. Valdir Ugalde – Board, Member, mundocontact (Mexico)
  8. Ann Van Den Berg – Senior Editor, CustomerTalk (Netherlands)


Media Partners

You’ll note that we have 8 journalists on a panel of judges. Well, each of them represents a media partner that will be broadcasting the competition and posting the videos for voting in the finals for the popular vote.  They are an awesome array of the most influential media sites in social media, CRM, and small business as well as local influencers in CRM in Latin America and Europe.  They will be significant in the lives of the contestants, the finalists, and the winners giving each what may be an unprecedented breadth and depth of coverage. Their coverage will be supplemented by posts to the blogs and other sites that are owned by many of the judges so there will be significant reach for all 60 of the initial contenders.  Each of these partners will be getting exclusives from the judges and hopefully some of the companies too so that we can add a quality of coverage that would enhance the value to the SMBs participating. in all areas – CRM, social and small business directly. 
We expect to add more media partners as we continue on throughout the competition.
The current partners and links to their sites (in alphabetical order, like every list here):
  1. Call Center News (Argentina)
  2. CRM Magazine/DestinationCRM
  3. CustomerTalk (Netherlands)
  4. Mundocontact (Mexico)
  5. Media
  6. SearchCRM
  7. Social Media Today

The Prizes…So Far

These are the prizes as of launch today. There are several others in the works that will be announced as the contest rolls out.

All Finalists

All 7 finalists will get to choose one day of consulting from the list of Influencer consultants below. The order of choice will be based on the popular vote on the video which will be kept confidential but used for the choosing. There will be more consultants added to the list as contest moves forward.

The Americas and EMEA Winners

Each winner will get to choose four prizes from the list.  Note – in the case where multiple prizes are being offered by a single vendor – the vendor counts as a single prize with all the items as part of that.
  1. Accenture
    1. A full day workshop with CRM leaders in Accenture for possible partnership and/or possible investment.
  2. Capgemini (for EMEA winners only)
    1. A half day workshop with Patrick James, Global VP CRM and Laurence Buchanan to explore joint go to market opportunities and help you refine and test your value proposition.
  3. Social Media Today
    1. A blog post featuring the winner of the contest to run on both The Customer Collective and Social Media Today
    2. A single blast to the Social Media Today opt-in list (approximately 50,000 names) which will conform to their minimum standards (valued at $10,500)
  4. Microsoft
    1. 12 mos. of CRM Online Free for developing extensions to CRM
    2. 12 mos. of Windows Azure Free for developing web-based portals and BI solutions
    3. Access to the Office 365 Beta for building collaborative applications and services
    4. Access to the BizSpark One program -a program designed to connect emerging businesses and their investors with a Microsoft advisor to help them identify unique opportunities and expand its business presence
  5. SugarCRM
    1. Free 10 user subscription to SugarCRM Professional or Enterprise
    2. Membership in the Sugar Exchange and free consulting on product integration with SugarCRM
    3. CEO Larry Augustin, a successful venture capitalist in his own right, does a mentoring & VC matchmaking session with the winners
  6. Brian Solis
    1. One hour internal webinar on how to use SCRM and social media to your advantage
  7. Paul Greenberg
    1. One hour pro bono external webinar on a subject TBD for lead gen, mindshare, etc.
  8. Ray Wang
    1. One hour pro bono external webinar on a subject TBD for lead gen, mindshare, etc.
  9. Sameer Patel
    1. One hour pro bono external webinar on a subject TBD for lead gen, mindshare, etc.
  10. Influencer Consulting– free strategic consulting for 1 day or 8 hours from a variety of judges (in person travel expenses to be covered by winners)
    1. Esteban Kolsky (in person only)
    2. Paul Greenberg (on phone or in person)
    3. Denis Pombriant (on phone or in person)
    4. Mark Tamis (on phone or in person)
    5. Jesus Hoyos (on phone or in person)
    6. Brent Leary (on phone or in person)

The Times, Dates, Hashtag and Email

Okay here’s the hardcore stuff:
  1. The hashtag is #crmidol
  2. The email for submission is
    1. If you have a problem submitting to that email send your submission and a report of the specific problem to

Dates and Times Table for the Americas and EMEA

We’ve put together an easy little table with all the relevant dates and times that you’ll need as you progress through the competition. 

Submission DatesAugust 15-19; August 22-26September 5-9
Submission Times3pm ET; 4pm ET; 5pm ET; 6pm ET3pm GMT; 4pm GMT; 5pm GMT; 6pm GMT
Finalist Video Submission DateSeptember 30October 14
Winner AnnouncementOctober 17October 31

A Note or Two

A little bit of unfinished stuff that will sort itself out as time goes forward.
  • There will likely be a CRM Idol site (Joomla based) coming in the next month or so that will be an aggregate site for all the media outlets and streams.  However, this remains a work in progress that’s still under discussion.
  • There will be more mentors and prizes added and possibly a judge or two.
  • For now ongoing news will be found at the twitter hashtag #crimidol.

In Closing

That’s about it. Now its time to bring it. First come, first serve. See you, maybe as the 1st ever CRM Idol, in Vegas, Hollywood. London or on the Social Web. Somewhere anyway.

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