The Americas SAP User Group did something cool this week. They organized another user group. That might not seem like a big deal but the way they did it is.
User groups are older than the technology business and go about as far back as a bunch of people sitting around a campfire comparing different stone types used for arrow heads. It’s something ingrained in human nature and only somewhat tempered by patent law.
According to the press release, ASUG announced the formation of the Global BusinessObjects Network (GBN), not a pretty abbreviation, kind of reminds me of a public TV station, but good enough. What I like about it is that the release says, “…the organization is member led and intended to give users a network to exchange ideas, find answers to solution challenges, and establish a cohesive, powerful customer voice.” That sounds like a campfire to me, pass the marshmallows.
This is an interesting time of year for me, mostly because there’s so much to watch. I call it analyst season, not so much because of anything I do but because the big guys tend to publish a lot of new reports documenting their view of the pecking order. Like everyone else, I will be publishing some new research this month as well, though I won’t be ranking vendors this time.
In addition to publishing new analyst reports there is also a rush of user group meetings and trade shows to attend between now and turkey day as everyone tries to generate leads that will close before year end. Generally there is a lot of good information, perhaps too much. The analysts tell us about how things are in their reports and the vendors bring out new releases and announce plans for future deployments. If you don’t like what you see, just wait a minute and someone will have something new for you to consider.
This year is different in some ways, at least here in the CRM universe. We are in the middle of several trends that are worth noting and which could confound us. The economy is cooling according to some of the numbers that have been released over the summer. The housing and finance sectors are not doing well and threaten to bring other parts of the economy down, but there’s always a sector or two that are out of phase it seems. Might the cooling economy keep buyers at bay?
The other trend, which is closer to home, is the migration of CRM from what is generally inferred to be its 1.0 status into its 2.0 incarnation. We have been talking about or alluding to this migration with increasing emphasis for a couple of years now and lately it seems more and more companies are hanging the moniker around their necks.
These companies are bringing to market increasingly interesting products, too. Frequently, we see new vendors with highly specialized solutions for business activities that may not be universal. For example, contract management and territory planning might be applications that only a few people in an organization need access to and their availability as on-demand solutions make them potentially profitable where they would not have been a decade ago.
I think this is where we might see some difficulty as the analysts make their pronouncements. There is a logical tendency and need to view CRM as a homogeneous market but that market has increasingly fragmented over the last year. I think we are at a point where it might be difficult to fit everyone under the same umbrella without a lot of footnotes.
There was a time when we divided the market into small, medium and large for the sizes of the companies that were making the purchases. In truth, that was never a hard and fast rule and the size designation often simply referred to the size of the wallet each company had for making a CRM purchase. I distinctly recall looking at the Siebel customer base and seeing some rather small companies that had bought Siebel because they wanted what they perceived as the best solution and cost was not a concern.
If I was to draw lines in today’s market, I might still go with the S, M, L designation but there would have to be caveats and not for wallet size either. The emergence of on-demand solutions over the last ten years has made cost much less of a concern than it was in the hey day of client-server.
Some of the differences I see today have more to do with core vs. expanded CRM and suites vs. point solutions. As the CRM idea has expanded, so have the applications designed to support the need. Where there was once just SFA to help sales people, today there is content management, sales intelligence, lead nurturing, analytics, and more; the list is getting large. More importantly, you can easily imagine different scenarios where a company might need one kind of solution but not another, this but not that.
So this gets me back to analyst season. If the analysts continue to try to put everyone on the same copyrighted framework, it might be a hard sell. They really need to make a distinction between CRM 1.0 and CRM 2.0 otherwise, when it comes to evaluating a company’s strategy, vision and direction, as analysts like to do, they could find themselves playing with apples and non-apples. Could a company squarely in the CRM 1.0 camp still be evaluated as a leader or visionary? If so, what does that say about an analyst’s view of CRM 2.0 and its future?
Similarly how does a point solution that scores well compare to a suite vendor that scores well? We need guidance here, that’s what the reports should be all about and that’s why I will be reading them with great interest.