I’d like to say it’s going to be a good year in CRM and I firmly believe it, though I can’t offer a single all encompassing reason for my optimism though there are plenty of small things that begin to add up. In an earlier time the metaphor might have been “straws in the wind.” So what are they?
First, the economy is looking better but that’s faint praise. Things are not as bad as they were a few years ago, for instance the economy is adding in the neighborhood of 200,000 jobs monthly but I read an article the other day that said at this pace it will be another five years before we’re back to the employment level before the crash — in part because we need to absorb all the people who are entering the workforce. But as I like to say, black ink is better than red no matter how little there is.
More concretely, in our financialized economy, the markets are healthy and the broad CRM industry is doing its part to pump out new public companies. While all of them can’t be Salesforce caliber there have been many recent IPOs and the new year looks to have a few more teed up. That at least shows us that companies are evolving as they should and finding markets for their wares.
As usual, companies that are expanding the margin of our markets are the ones to keep an eye on. While I have seen my share of emerging CRM companies as an analyst and a judge in CRM Idol, the ones that are most interesting are those at the margins while the companies that try to reinvent the wheel don’t usually capture the imagination. Companies that I am watching for the year ahead include Xactly, InsideView, TreeHouse Interactive, Scout Analytics, Full Circle CRM, Lattice-Engines, HubSpot, Apttus, and Zuora. My good friend Paul Greenberg will publish a list of a bazillion companies he likes in his watch list. This is not intended to be all inclusive, just a smattering of companies I am well acquainted with.
All of these companies are expanding the margin of the market, expanding our horizons, and while only a few will have an IPO this year, the rest are worth keeping tabs on for sure. IPO candidates in my humble opinion include Xactly, Zuora, Apttus, and InsideView. Interestingly, none of these companies is what you would call a social company, which shows that there are more margins than just social. However, each is squarely positioned as a SaaS value proposition and that says the cloud is a live and well.
Xactly is reinventing compensation management, not just for sales where it got started but in every department of the enterprise. Zuora is making the subscription model mainstream by making accounting and finance in this new world easy. Apttus is a double or triple threat offering configuration, pricing, and quotation technology but they also have invented a way to be into and using Microsoft Office applications in conjunction with SaaS products like Salesforce. The result is a new kind of uber app. Lastly InsideView started as a sales intelligence tool but is expanding its footprint to provide sales and marketing teams with the data and insights they need to pursue opportunities.
I am warming up to TreeHouse because they have an interesting product line including partner relationship management (PRM) and marketing automation. PRM is one of those things that has come and gone more than once over the last twenty years, always with different players. I think this time might be significant as increasing numbers of vendors seek quality partner channels as a means of streamlining their operating costs.
If there’s a theme for the last group — Scout Analytics, Full Circle CRM, Lattice-Engines, HubSpot — I’d say it’s analytics. You might not think of HubSpot as an analytics company, and I don’t think they are one. But analytics is a part off what they do when they provide inbound marketing solutions. Inbound, done right, can be a big boon to business.
The other three offer mainstream analysis, if not analytics. Full Circle focuses on marketing management which I have written about many times because I think the idea of understanding the data and the metadata of marketing programs can do much to make you look smart if you’re a marketer. Lattice loves to crunch data about marketing and the sales process and they do it well. I don’t know any sales manager who doesn’t want better knowledge about all of the processes his or her team is involved in and Lattice is one way to get it.
Lastly, Scout has more mainstream analytics but for subscription companies and they make a good partner for Zuora. Subscriptions generate mountains of customer use data that can be used to predict everything dear to a subscription company’s balance sheet — I mean heart. With Scout’s analysis of use data, companies can spot revenue opportunities as well as danger signs like potential churn. Any way you slice it, this makes knowledge and that translates into market power.
So that’s some of what I am looking at as we start the year. I think it will be a year of base hits with an occasional sprinkling of home runs. Many, though not all, of the companies in this article have raised significant cash over the last year indicating both that the VC markets believe in their stories. But this also means clocks are ticking, investors want to see some returns and IPOs or private sales are on deck. Either way this makes for an entertaining start to the year.
It’s been wonderful this spring being a part of all the vendor briefings now in high gear because in short but sometimes painfully dense bursts we get to know what each vendor has in store for the months ahead. It’s a lot and that’s a good sign. There seems to be a breakout happening.
One of the themes running through all the events like a kid on a tricycle is marketing. Everywhere you look marketing is making noise. Oracle completed the acquisition of Eloqua, Marketo filed for an IPO, Salesforce is putting significant resources behind its Marketing Cloud and, most importantly, marketers are in the ascent.
SiriusDecisions, an analyst firm, is holding a conclave this week in which it is discussing its new marketing waterfall methodology and marketers as well as associated vendors like Lattice-Engines and Full Circle CRM, just to pick two, are sending contingents to the event to see and be seen and to soak up the new marketing vibe.
Closer to home, I am attending HubSpot’s second (?) annual analyst day at its Cambridge offices. HubSpot became an early darling of the new marketing movement a few years ago when it turned marketing on its head and said, no, no, no, try this — which turned into inbound marketing — and was very successful.
Generally, when marketing kicks it up a notch, as it is doing now, there are a couple economic possibilities. Either we’re entering a new market/category/paradigm or the economy is showing signs of life after a recession and I think it’s possible both are happening right now. The recession is slowly ending and marketing as a discipline is the new paradigm.
In fact, and this is most interesting, the marketing upsurge started at the depths of the recession when austerity was big news and almost nothing was getting traction. But it was almost as if the crowd said no, we don’t buy it, let’s get the economy moving again. Let’s go on offense, let’s start marketing and selling again and we’ll spend some money to make it happen.
Here’s where economics imitates life — a couple of weeks ago, the economic ideas underpinning the austerity argument, which has devastated Europe and made the sequester in DC a bad word, fell apart. Two Harvard economists named Reinhart and Rogoff whose work had led the austerity charge were proved to have made significant spreadsheet errors. If there was an Oopsie Award they’d win it this year for sure.
The translation is that the Austerians (as Paul Krugman likes to call them) got it wrong. The math errors and erroneous assumptions of the Reinhart-Rogoff model were inaccurate and the data did not support their conclusions. Over night austerity is, if not stinking like a dead fish, at least sitting in the sun and beginning to decompose.
What’s interesting to me is that the general marketplace began reacting long before the fall of the Reinhart-Rogoff model. No one needed to be hit over the head with an old tire tool to change directions. We’re anything but doctrinaire in this country and when something doesn’t work we make little adjustments, regardless of what officials and supposedly smart people tell us.
That’s the beauty of our free market system. It’s distributed and as non-hierarchical as you can get it and it works beautifully in a pinch. In my own mind, I often compare democratic capitalism practices in the West with totalitarian capitalism practiced across the Pacific.
The Chinese have a great ability to marshal their people and resources to output great quantities of goods but they still operate in a hierarchical, command and control manner. Democracy and totalitarianism are political systems just as capitalism is an economic one. Politics and economics have to operate together, you need one of each.
I could never fathom how totalitarian capitalism could orchestrate the changes I’ve seen this spring. The very idea of individuals deciding for themselves what to do in a confusing market with a totalitarian political system — even with free market capitalism as the economic model — and breaking away from official thinking is hard to imagine.
To me that’s part of what CRM captures. It’s the chaotic and the spontaneous that CRM tries to ride herd on. Sometimes it works well and at other times it can fail. But CRM has made important leaps forward. Like economics and sociology or any of the soft sciences, it has come into its own as it has adopted many of the tools of soft science — the bell curve, crowd sourcing, big data and analysis, and, most of all, probability. There’s just no way a political-economic system other than what we have in the West could come to the same conclusion. It would be like asking a fish to invent fire.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Beagle Research Group Announces 2013 WizKids Award
Emerging software companies with remarkable approaches to business top the list.
April 17, 2013 — Stoughton, MA — Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group, LLC, today announced the winners of the company’s 2013 WizKids Award which is given to outstanding emerging companies in the front office and CRM market. Award winners include Apttus, Badgeville, HubSpot, NextPrinciples, Skyword and Totango.
“This year’s winners span multiple front office categories from social media to analytics and from gamification to adding new twists to old processes like CPQ (configure, price, quote),” Pombriant said. Each year the analyst firm reviews hundreds of companies and profiles outstanding firms whose offerings are disruptive and provide significant improvement over conventional business processes as well as some that introduce completely new ideas. It then collects its profiles in a report and announces these awards.
“We were impressed with the variety represented by this year’s winners,” Pombriant said. “With all the attention given to social media in the front office, it has been gratifying to see so many companies innovating in other equally important areas,” he concluded.
The full report is available as a free download at BeagleResearch.com and it contains Website addresses and contact information for all winners.