Today’s column is a little different from the usual fare. We’re recognizing a handful of companies with our annual WizKids award for their innovations in front office computing. The idea behind the award – and a report that goes with it – is that innovation is happening all the time and the best ideas can change our world. We think the 2009 WizKids all have that capability.
We’ve been lucky over the last five years because most of the companies we singled out for this recognition are still around and doing pretty well. Many are established companies today but we recall when names like Eloqua, NetSuite and even Salesforce.com were only household words at my house and those of a few other people who track emerging companies like Paul Greenberg.
You might take exception with the last — after all five years ago Salesforce was already a substantial company. But in the time, that successful emergent company decided to double down on the on-demand idea with platform as a service and we took notice of that too.
Some pretty darned good companies never got a WizKids award. The truth is that the judging is a little fickle and since we only recognize a handful of companies each year, it’s easy for a Zoho, a SugarCRM or a Neighborhood America be missed. As we used to say in Boston baseball circles, there’s always next year.
The WizKids report has tended to be thematic in the last few years, not because we start with a theme in mind but because a theme usually emerges from what looks good or cool. For example, a few years ago I noticed the dwindling of conventional software companies as WizKids and I don’t think there have been any WizKids who have not been SaaS providers for a while now.
That trend toward themes continues this year and the theme is all about making your company easy to do business with. You know I have been on this operations kick for a while. Operations might be the flip side of customer intimacy especially in a recession. Finding ways to lower your costs and make it easy for your customers to do business with you may not sound very sexy but there is great opportunity in that pursuit.
Some of our best examples include Zuora for on-demand billing and payments, EchoSign for managing the contracts lifecycle and TimeTrade for making it easy for any business to schedule appointments for their customers. We also like Right90 because they figured out how to make forecasting meaningful again and Xactly for making it easier for sales employees to work with their organizations and vice versa. Unisfair and its ilk produce on-demand tradeshows and we think that idea has long legs.
Finally, there’s Manticore Technology. Very often we have a marketing automation company as a WizKids Award recipient. Going back a few years, we see an upward trend from providing basic marketing capability to delivering optimum functionality to making marketing automation easy to deliver, configure and use — not to mention low cost. Manticore represents this last aspect and is an example of why Sales 2.0 is heavily dependent on Marketing 2.0.
Coming out of the last recession we saw new dependence on web based meetings and on-demand software delivery. I think every recession generates some winners like that. From this recession, it is becoming clear that social networking is becoming absorbed into the business software suite. I also think solutions that enable higher levels of operational excellence within each vendor will be natural outgrowths of this downturn.
These solutions cut fat without damaging muscle — often a tall order — and they prepare us for an upturn that will be tepid. There will be growth but it won’t be as robust as we had come to expect in the last few years and we will all need operational solutions that help us cope. Fortunately the wheels of innovation continue to turn and we get what we need, just in time.