CRM Idol: An insider’s look at the judging process

Industry consultant and CRM Idol judge Denis Pombriant shares his thoughts on the evaluation process that picked the top new CRM applications in the market.

It was one of the highlights of my year to be involved as a primary judge in the CRM Idol competition, an industry event that took place during the last several months and was led by Paul Greenberg, a leading CRM industry consultant and author of CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century. My hat is off to everybody at GetSatisfaction, the company that won top honors, and this short piece is intended to compliment all four finalists and offer some interpretation. 

So, what did CRM Idol accomplish?

In one way or another, the CRM Idol finalists, a group that included Assistly, Crowd Factory, Stone Cobra and, of course, the winner, GetSatisfaction, leveraged social ideas to deliver something to the customer. Most important, as we look into a future where we will need to squeeze every bit of cost out of business, social concepts enable us to shave costs while also delivering services and fostering a sense of community. That’s a winning formula and one that many have searched for as social media has come of age. If companies are still asking how to make money with social, they haven’t paid enough attention to CRM Idol. These companies showed how it’s done.

What’s interesting is none of these solutions is a system. By that I mean none strikes me as the next ERP or CRM. These are point solutions, but they’re valuable because they pioneer some important socialized business processes. Time will tell if they blossom into fuller suites or if they are absorbed by larger entities. It’s worth noting that Assistly was acquired by Salesforce.com while this competition was under way.

CRM Idol also added a few words or phrases to my lexicon, such as systems of engagement. It’s not exactly a brand-new phrase, but it’s worth pondering for several reasons. A system of engagement is the counterpart of a system of record or transaction system. We all know what transaction systems are, and most of our experience is with them. They record an event and maintain a record of it, and for the most part that’s what businesses run on.

However, in a today’s market, where customer intimacy is an important part of delivering whole products, a system of engagement is important precisely for helping manage that intimacy. Stone Cobra, for example, is a system of engagement. It sits on top of Salesforce.com’s Service Cloud and Oracle’s Siebel Call Center. Its purpose is to manage the information in multiple transactional systems to deliver just-in-time information to the customer service agent, which improves the customer experience. Nice touch.

Another term I like a lot is gamification, which refers to using gaming techniques to grab an audience’s attention. I think my spell checker should now recognize it as a legitimate word in honor of CRM Idol. Crowd Factory was the finalist that incorporated gamification to a high degree and showed the possibilities for sales and marketing. When you combine sales offers with specific conditions you get a situation that looks like a game of sorts.  Most important, it triggers the same areas of the brain as real games do, so that offers can become highly prized. For instance, a vendor might offer one discount for a single purchase and a higher discount if the customer can bring friends along to take advantage of the offer.

It’s a powerful example of socializing commerce, and I think this and other gamificaiton offerings will be around for a long time.

We started with 40 companies in the Americas and 30 in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and whittled down to four finalists in the Americas and three in EMEA. While I was not directly involved in the EMEA contest, I know from watching the videos that there were some high-quality companies in that contest as well. 

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the competition for me was just being exposed to CRM from around the world. We often think in terms of English-language applications and perhaps assume that all the good software emanates from the U.S. That’s just not true. We’ve seen quite good CRM from South America and EMEA in this competition. And most interesting, the ways that business is conducted varies around the world, and products need to adapt to local business customs. That was an eyeopener for me.

All in all, Paul Greenberg deserves a lot of credit for putting this together and pulling it off. We will almost immediately begin planning for the next edition of CRM Idol, and there are many things we will need to review and improve upon. The CRM Idol site will remain up and operational, and we hope it will become a community site active year round.

Thanks to all of you who paid attention during the process!

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