I’ve been writing a forecast column every year at least since W was president. Nothing’s wrong with that, lots of people do. But I often find that my forecast is more of a wish list than a true prognostication so this time I’ll dispense with the fiction of analytical rigor and just say what I think needs to happen.
Platforms and leaders
First, the industry is consolidating. The big and successful companies are competing on a different plane than the smaller ones. The smaller guys are working harder than ever and some are realizing they need niches, that they’re not going to be able to cover the whole CRM landscape.
This is mostly a good thing because it clarifies the mission and lowers the costs of being in the market. I can also mean better and more verticalized software. But there are two basic kinds of these companies—those that have credible platforms and those that don’t. Among those that do I’d list several including Oracle, Salesforce and Zoho.
Oracle and Salesforce should not surprise but Zoho might. They’ve spent decades building a global solution and platform. There is only some overlap between the two with Salesforce attacking the really big enterprises and offering a huge ecosystem. But Zoho is a powerful solution for the small to mid-enterprise. It also has a good ecosystem. One of the big differentiators is how much ERP functionality you’re likely to need and where you plan to get it. Salesforce integrates well and has ERP partners like Financial Force. But Zoho offers good back office apps as a part of their service as well as having that ecosystem.
Another vendor in the mix is NetSuite which has been setting sales records since Oracle bought and significantly invested in them. NetSuite’s idea of CRM is eCommerce though, so customers will self-select.
So on the flip side, there are small-ish vendors still working on their own platforms and whose development teams are measured in the hundreds. The market leaders have thousands of developers in contrast, which is why it’s time for these vendors to find a niche and try to excel. With that comes a decision point about their platforms.
Next, we’ve had years of AI and social media, and even years of integration. I think it’s time for a year of integration on major pharmaceuticals. We need better networking and this needs to be led by the biggest names. A consortium including Microsoft, SAP and Adobe announced the Common Data Initiative (CDI) last year which I still think is not only too little, its major purpose is more aimed at slowing the advances of Oracle and Salesforce. Oracle’s autonomous database and enhanced security present a major challenge to other DB vendors. Salesforce is drafting behind the Oracle RDBMS on this one and has that advantage.
CDI focuses on building a common CRM data model and that sounds good, but it has too many moving parts as in potentially every vendor in the industry. Smarter people have said the better approach to making everything talk is to facilitate the communication at the API level. I agree. No surprise, some of the vendors conspicuously left off the Microsoft, SAP, Adobe invitation list, are pursuing the API approach, like Salesforce, and I think 2019 will be a banner year for more API centric networking.
We need that approach too, not just in CRM but throughout the tech world as we continue to build what will be a true information utility in the not too distant future.
Taking social seriously
Social media has deep roots in CRM—recall the year(s) of social CRM—and because it does, I think there’s subtle pressure in Silicon Valley for the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest, to clean up their acts and mature their business models and security plans.
Recent reporting shows that virtually every social network has either been compromised or willingly gave access to private information to entities that shouldn’t have had it. You can’t do CRM if customers get worried about how their data is being used. CRM is an unwilling victim of social shenanigans and they don’t want to be seen as willing partners, so the pressure is on.
Foolish social leaders will think they can wait out the federal government on regulation but that approach could backfire when the feds deliver a set of regulations that don’t work. Remember, many of the people who would pass this legislation are in their 70’s and have an archaic understanding of tech. Smart leaders will see this and volunteer to define what’s possible.
My two bits
I’m looking forward to 2019. I don’t think it will be a time of runaway growth and major innovation in CRM though I would be pleased to be proved wrong. In a consolidating world, there will be some losers too so be prepared.
I think the year ahead will impress by showing unprecedented innovation, of people and companies doing some unexpected things that make a lot of sense. I’m looking for the second or third tier of companies to be more aggressive in the mergers and acquisition arena in a bid to become more competitive. After a lot of years in this seat, I’m still having fun and I appreciate you letting me share my views.
It’s award season and everyone is getting into the act. And why not? There is a heck of a lot of business software goodness out there and not enough recognition if you ask me. So even if a company like Salesforce has a customer voted award that ultimately reflects back on itself, no worries.
Salesforce recently announced the 2012 Customer Choice Awards, the results of customer opinion and voting that ranked some of the more interesting applications in the AppExchange. To be sure, many of the names on the list have been there before and many are the SaaS products of larger entities — some were acquired which is how the situation presents itself. But each had to show something special or they wouldn’t have been voted for. After all with more than 1700 apps in the AppExchange, there’s a lot to choose from.
Briefly the winners are:
- Adobe EchoSign by Adobe
- Hoopla Scoreboard by Hoopla Software
- Opportunity Management Optimizer by Sales Optimizer
- Geopointe by Arrowpointe
- Configurator by Big Machines
- Xactly Incent by Xactly
- Informatica Cloud Integration for Salesforce
- Marketo Marketing Automation by Marketo
- Jobscience for Professional Recruiting by Jobscience
- Ascent by Precisio Business Solutions
- Sales Pipeline Visualization by SalesClic
What’s interesting to me is that most of the winners have nothing to do with social or very little, at least. It says to me that maybe we’ve been spending too much time and mental energy on social recently and that real work still gets done away from social. Moreover the value of getting the forecast right, or speeding up the contract execution process or enabling a better way to market or to support the HR department is at least as important as social, according to this customer sourced list.
It is also fascinating to see how many non-CRM and non-traditional applications are on the list. Many are true long tail apps that have thin (though not small) markets and might not even exist if it weren’t for the subscription business model.
Finally, some of these apps are owned by large public companies and others have hefty chunks of OPM (other people’s money a.k.a. venture capital) giving them lift. What’s important about this is the idea that these companies are serious money makers and are taken seriously by the capital markets. No longer is it necessary to amass a big pile of money to spend on servers, desks and buildings. A subscription company can get started for a song and be taken seriously by the users and by investors.
So, next time someone tries to tell you that all vendor ecosystems are the same take a hard look and ask if they all do what this one does. The Customer Choice Awards nicely highlight a new way to do business for vendors and customers.
Yesterday’s news that Apple’s market value slightly eclipsed Microsoft’s was significant and in my haste to get out a post on it, I may not have been able to apply all of my analytical effort so I want to try again.
First, to cover basics, the market value of a company is simply the value of a share times all of the shares outstanding. A company’s market value fluctuates daily with the rise and fall of its share price. Today will undoubtedly be different. You can find the values in the original New York Times article that my post referenced.
What’s significant about this news is not simply that Apple overtook Microsoft by a little bit on a hot spring day. But if you view Microsoft as filling the niche once occupied by IBM as the technology supplier to business and if you view Apple as the technology supplier to consumers many things come into focus.
For instance, Microsoft has been a relative laggard in providing what might be called creature comforts for computer users. It was late to the game with Windows after Apple had deployed the Macintosh, late to deliver CRM and it was late to deliver a software as a service (SaaS) offering. Nothing wrong with that, Microsoft simply demands a clear business purpose before launching into a new area.
On the other hand, though, Apple has brought to market numerous new categories of devices starting with the iPod that changed the way we live. Forget devices that start with “i” for the moment and think about Garage Band and iMovie. They are examples of ways that Apple has changed the way creative people work and in the process these tools have democratized some formerly stodgy businesses. Then there’s iTunes and if you want to talk about (formerly) stodgy businesses, you need only look at the music industry.
Of course Apple is not alone in this democratic revolution, you have to include companies like Salesforce.com and the hundreds of partner companies it has spawned and Adobe whose products run across platforms today but whose origins are Mac.
So if you look at the marketplace today, the fact that Apple is worth a bit more than Microsoft says that the end customer is becoming more important than the corporation. What we do on our iPads, iPhones, iPods and their imitators (some of which run a Microsoft OS) is as economically important as what we do on our desktops and laptops.
Last week at Sapphire, SAP’s user conference in Orlando, we saw a company doing many things but one of the more important things SAP did was to fully acknowledge the importance of the customer and promise to put the customer more in the center of what it does as an enterprise software company. Sage did some of the same things at their conference, Insights. At the time, I referred to these and other things happening in our industry as the triumph of CRM but in a sense, it was also the triumph of Apple, just a week before Wall Street made it official.
For the second day in a row Adobe made an important partnering announcement. Yesterday the company said it had teamed with Salesforce.com to produce Adobe Flash Builder for Force.com, which will speed development of Flash-based user interfaces for Salesforce customers. Today Adobe announced that it has concluded acquisition of Omniture, a web analytics vendor based in Orem, Utah for a whopping $1.8 billion.
It seems an obvious strategy to leverage some of Abobe’s ingredient technologies, like Flash, to make a bigger presence for itself in Cloud Computing. The addition of web analytics is very interesting.
At this point in the evolution of CRM, if you are not already a big player the chances of starting from scratch and getting big are nugatory so the strategy has to be to buy. But Adobe’s choice of partnering with a leading CRM company for user interface design and following up with buying analytics is intriguing. With these two ingredient technologies, Adobe appears to be 1) betting on the future importance of understanding customer moves and motivations and 2) clearly understanding that robust simplicity must rule all software interfaces regardless of platform.
If you ask me, these are two good bets. While there are clearly many good analytics products on the market either freestanding or embedded in business applications, my research tells me that regular users are still too confused about analytics to fully leverage them. Ask ten people in our industry the difference between reporting and analytics and you will see what I mean.
My quibble with analytics and analytics vendors generally is that few acknowledge the effort required to capture good data. Too often the MO is to capture large samples and get some averages, a good but not great approach that, in another setting, once left a bemused Benjamin Disraeli to list three categories of lies, “Lies, damn lies and statistics”. There’s no substitute for understanding demographics, biases, attitudes and the like to better predict behavior. Here’s hoping that Adobe gets it and uses Omniture to go the more rigorous route.