Could we have a moment of sustained loud noise for all of the companies that form the various ecosystems around major product lines? I mean it. The ecosystem, and maybe not even social, is the story of the last five years. While many of us have been running around like Chicken Little talking up the advantages that social will bring us, the ecosystems and the companies that make them up have been growing and adding immeasurably to the customer experience. Consider some of these points.
Ecosystems have made possible the promise of long tail applications. In case you’ve forgotten, a few years ago we all couldn’t talk enough about the “long tail.” It was the place on the Bell Curve where markets are thin and though there might be considerable need, there are few solutions.
Well, the long tails represent areas where there might be demand but markets are thin. A company might buy a hundred seats of SFA but relatively few seats for things like document signing management (exemplified by DocuSign, just to pick one). But if a company only buys few seats then a vendor has to work harder to bring in revenue or the vendor has to raise prices to a level that makes the numbers fall apart.
For document signing the alternative was to use overnight letters to send contracts back and forth for signatures or fax machines and email for edits. That all has a cost in efficiency and opportunity but those costs are hidden and as long as the overnight letter is the state of the art that’s what we do. The alternative of paying big bucks for automation just doesn’t work out even if you can demonstrate an ROI after a couple of years.
But along comes the on-line store and suddenly all kinds of apps that were un-economical but needed, have a different framework. Customers can buy document signing services at an acceptable price with the result that a new application niche arises, the ecosystem becomes a little more robust and the primary vendor (e.g. in this case, Salesforce) becomes a little more valuable to its customers because, hey, look at all the apps that just plug and play.
So in my mind ecosystem services have done yeoman’s service in bringing about the rise of the subscription economy. They are mostly subscriptions and they make subscription operations easier by a lot. Today there are services for all kinds of niche areas where just the right app has changed the dynamic, the business model and even the profitability of a department or an enterprise.
What’s even more interesting, as I alluded in the beginning, is that many of the ecosystem services we see have very little to do with social. It’s as if vendors and their customers looked at social and said, that’s nice, but we need to get today’s work done today and we have a gizmo that solves easily identifiable pain. Let’s take it to market.
I am not saying that social is not important (I am crazy, just not that crazy) but it’s far from the only game in town that we sometimes make it out to be and if present conditions are any indicator, then the world of add-on apps that don’t use social is at least as important as the part that does.
I have spent a decent amount of time recently examining some of the best apps in the Salesforce ecosystem and the company also recently announced its Customer Choice Awards for 2012 for AppExchange applications. What I saw in examining both groups was a broad array of clever apps that make many business processes better. There are things not more than widgets and there are whole applications that can stand alone.
Most significantly, the capital markets are paying attention to ecosystems. Several of the companies I’ve written about recently have received significant venture capital inflows and I expect them to have IPOs in the not too distant future. Certainly there’s risk in backing an ecosystem company. What if the ecosystem’s primary producer decides to change and hide the API for instance? But at this stage things like that are doubtful because the primary producer is just as dependent on the ecosystem as each of its members.
Some people might lament the multiple standards that ecosystems represent. If you are a Salesforce customer, your choices of ecosystem partners are somewhat limited to the universe of the AppExchange, for instance. But that risk is easily mitigated by integration services available, where else, but in the ecosystem. So maybe that’s not such a concern either.
Any way you slice it, the various ecosystems deployed over the last seven years have greatly enriched the customer experience by providing solutions that make enterprise software more agile via tailoring it to the circumstances at hand.
Very often we mark progress by the arrival of a shiny new object like social, but time and time again, we see progress is insidious; it comes in through the bathroom window (apologies to John and Paul) and it changes us at least as much as the arrival of the shiny new object. That’s why I am so impressed with the ecosystem providers and why I think we should all be making noise about them.
In keeping with our belief that video will be an increasingly important content medium, we have published our first, a short piece about Beagle.
Using emerging technologies to foster more sustainable front office business processes.
Sustainability might be the next big thing in CRM. I’m betting it is and Beagle Research is initiating an award for sustainability in CRM. Today. Now.
Everywhere we look we see not just an industry but also a civilization straining under the demands of growth. Now, growth is generally a good thing for an economy but one of its hidden characteristics is that it periodically forces us to change the way we do things. What is affordable and practical one day can become expensive and cumbersome overnight. We’re living in one of those times. The solution to such challenges is to find ways to make what we do more sustainable, to substitute, change and innovate new and better ways of doing things. In business that means our processes and then some.
The things we take for granted in our business dealings are becoming less constant. Customers are tapped out, the new product engine has stalled and travel is becoming so expensive that it may soon squeeze margins and affect our ability to meet with people. Some of this is blowback from the recession but other aspects may be a long-term trend forming. Regardless of the causes, as business people we need to discover and develop solutions that mitigate these influences so that we can continue doing business.
We’ve given these issues considerable thought and in response, today, Beagle Research introduces a new award and report focusing on sustainability and the things that CRM can do to help every business to become more sustainable.
The award and report are called ThinkForwardä. We borrowed the idea of “think” from Thomas Watson, Sr. of IBM fame and from Steve Jobs each of whom asked us to think and then think differently at critical points in the evolution of our industry.
We believe it’s time to think again but this time we need to think ahead about a world that will be resource constrained in many dimensions. The conditions we watch and write about in the report show slower growth and rising transportation costs coupled with a customer-base that is growing less interested in absorbing more goods.
Just in time, we also see a market brimming with front office technologies that help vendors and customers to identify opportunities and satisfy them with maximum efficiency, using resources wisely. We think sustainability provides the organizing principle for the next phase of CRM, a phase filled with opportunity if we focus on crowdsourcing, social media and strategies for substituting intelligent technologies for travel.
We see numerous front office software companies bringing products to market that by themselves may not garner a great deal of attention from the mainstream market but we also see these solutions as keys to a more sustainable business environment.
The ThinkForward report identifies seven companies whose solutions typify the kinds of solutions that, in some cases, may not be core to CRM today but which will be essential in the future. In one way or another these companies evidence solutions that help vendors better understand and target opportunities, marshal resources and engage customers in new and more sustainable ways.
The award winners include Brainshark, Cloud9 Analytics, Communispace, iCentera, Kadient, Salesforce.com, Unisfair and Zuora. As our report documents, each of these vendors offers solutions that help their customers to do business in more sustainable ways either by treating customers more like renewable resources, reducing the travel and energy requirements of many front office processes, or by capturing and leveraging crowd wisdom to enable companies to better hone products and messages.
We salute these pioneers and encourage you to consider how making your businesses more sustainable can help drive new revenues and profits as the world continues to change around us.
I was planning on waiting to announce my new book until I could distribute a few copies to friends but it looks like the news is already out.
I wrote a book. Have you ever tried it? It’s a lot of typing for sure. Actually, if you read this space regularly you have probably read most of it since it’s an anthology of these columns and others arranged by subject rather than date. That means I didn’t really write a book and you don’t have to rush out to buy it (did I ever mention that I have two kids in college?). Seriously.
The arrangement by subject is what makes it interesting, at least to me. Writing a column or a blog on subjects that interest you, like CRM for example, means plowing the same fields from time to time. And arranging your work by subject matter lets the reader see how consistent your thinking is, or is not. Fortunately for me, it is and I am.
Oops! Almost forgot, the title is “Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier” based on the title piece which looked at some research that said most social media users are women. There’s more research in there, too, that shows most people on Twitter just watch — only ten percent post things; about once every 74 days, that is. My point in compiling these pieces was to show the other side of many CRM phenomena and that what’s new and cool might need to come with a small warning label. Hey, I’m an analyst and that’s what we do.
I tried to select my writings about the subjects I know best and that have been most timely in the last two years and I came up with some you’d expect and others you might not. So there are sections on CRM, customer experience, social media and cloud computing. But there are also — among my favorites — sections on economics and sustainability, two areas that are increasingly important.
It was also interesting to see that, at least on my blog, I could be a bit of a potty mouth with titles like “Google grows a pair,” about the dust up between Google and China and “Evil thieving bastards” about the credit card industry’s approach to crM (heavy accent on the “M”). I’m sure I’ll end up hearing about this from mom.
In a marketplace that no longer takes breaks and where the news cycle is seamless, it was surprising to me that the pieces in this book, arranged by subject, could hang together and possibly even illuminate their subjects. The book format offers a small amount of perspective compared to the instant idea transmission offered by social media. That allows for some circumspection even if it’s only about choosing what goes in and what doesn’t.
By way of analogy, they say that the news is the first draft of history. If that’s so then this book might represent a kind of second draft. So far, I like what it says about our industry and I am grateful to have the chance to write some of it.
I already mentioned the two kinds in college, right? Just checking.