Posts Tagged ‘CRM’

CRM Idol: Something Big for the Small Standouts

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Have you ever noticed how all the talk in the CRM sphere tends to focus on a handful of big names? The companies that have already achieved massive success and recognition (relatively speaking; I still need to explain the concept of CRM and SCRM to just about everybody I meet)? It seems there’s no room for smaller vendors to compete, despite the fresh approaches and innovative ideas they may bring.

That state of affairs is a thing of the past. Once again, Paul “CRM Godfather” Greenberg is shaking up the industry—he has masterminded CRM Idol 2011: The Open Season. As the name suggests, it’s something of a riff on American Idol, but with more talent and less drama. Entries are being accepted, starting today; more about that later.

A total of 60 companies (40 in North America, 20 in EMEA) will present their commercially-available CRM wares to a panel of judges composed of the greatest influencers, analysts, and journalists in the field (and also me). Finalists chosen from these vendors will create a 10-minute video presentation to fight it out for a choice of the top prizes.

The prizes, you ask? Several. Free consulting from members of the judging panel and other top minds in the field. Webinars conducted pro bono by the same. Subscriptions and/or beta access to leading CRM suites so partner applications and integrations can be developed. And the coveted free publicity, consisting of a joint product review produced and signed by the judging panel, released immediately through a huge list of media partners.

And since everybody’s a winner in a game like this, everybody gets the review. Like American Idol, though, there is a risk of the Simon Cowell experience—a weak product and a bad presentation will be reviewed appropriately.

But enough of my paraphrasing and editorializing—you want the meat of the subject. Here it is, straight from Paul:

The Idea

Most of what we’re trying to do was outlined in the pre-announcement announcement of CRM Idol last week. But it bears some repeating:

Small companies – at least in the CRM software related world – and that means social software world, in this case, too – abound. There are thousands of companies out there that are possibly innovative, possibly commercially viable in a big way, possibly the next big thing. But, as we said, there are thousands of them. And, no matter how great your product is, if no one knows about it, well, then, oops. Not a good thing.

These small companies are all making efforts to get into the ecosystem that could benefit them – one which includes investors, influencers, technology/strategic partners, media connections, etc. While getting support from this powerful ecosystem is by no means a guarantee of success, it can be enormously helpful in getting well down the road there. But, those small companies are often thwarted in that effort by either really bad PR people, or just the incredible amount of companies out there trying to reach into the ecosystem who are pummeling the small amount of influencers, etc. every week with requests to demo or talk.

Now, to be fair to the influencers, they are human beings with lives that aren’t built around supporting this one company that really thinks they are it. All they know is that each of them is getting between 20-50 requests a week to take a demo or conversation with someone who owns or represents a company they’ve never heard of and never talked to yet. In addition to those that they know. Often enough, they are pitched by a public relations person who is either inexperienced or not really good at their job who makes no effort to find anything out about the person that they are pitching to. So the influencer, journalist, venture capitalist gets a generic curve thrown at them that doesn’t even break over the plate – guaranteeing that the email is going to be discarded as a matter of course before the first paragraph is even read. Or it could be that on a particular day the influencer got 10 pitches and had a headache and didn’t want to see any of them.

As unfair as generic pitches and high volumes of noise are to the influencers in the highly desirable ecosystem we are chatting about here, it is a problem because what are probably a lot of good companies are never given a chance to move ahead because of the difficulties inherent in the process and the vagaries of bad luck on any given day.

Which is why CRM Idol 2011: The Open Season exists.

The concept is simple, small companies out there. If you meet the submission criteria outlined below, you will be given the opportunity, first come first serve, to secure a time slot on a specific day that will put you in front of some of the most influential people in the CRM/SCRM world. They will spend an hour with you in a demo to hear about your technology product – software only – and they will write a jointly signed review of what they saw of you – that will be published in multiple venues as soon as its written. It can be a good review, a bad one, a mix or indifferent. There’s risk on your part to be taken here. But it is something that you need to be aware of. The reviews will go up as soon as the 5 judge sign off on the final content. They won’t be exhaustive reviews but they will be opinionated and fair.

Forty companies from the Americas and twenty companies from EMEA (that means ONLY Europe, the Middle East and Africa) will get a shot at this – again first come first serve (more later on what that means). Of the 40 in the Americas, 4 finalists will be chosen. (NOTE: There will be an APAC edition hopefully late in the year or if not, early 2012, depending on the success of these two events. Sorry, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Logistics made it impossible at this juncture.) Out of the 20 in EMEA, 3 finalists will be chosen. Each of the finalists will be REQUIRED to do a ten minute video about their company and the product. Not a repeat of the demo but a video. Note I used the word REQUIRED here. Let me put it this way. If you make the finals and don’t do the video, we will publicly skewer your company. Know why? Because our judges are giving up what little free time they actually have in a summer to do this and it will take us 4 hours a day for 3 business weeks to do it. So if you can’t or won’t put in the effort to do the video, don’t bother to apply. Seriously. We’re trying to help out here and we want you guys all to succeed but it’s a two way street.

Okay, that rant out of the way. Once the finalists are chosen and the videos done, they will be posted online in multiple media outlets. They will be voted on in two ways:

    1. Popular vote – see, crowdsourcing is important. All the votes for the one winner from the Americas and the one winner from EMEA will be tallied from the public sites – in aggregate. That’s 50% of the vote.
    2. Extended Judges Panels – as you can see below, we may have assembled the greatest panels of judges – both leading vendors and influencers ever assembled in the history of CRM – not to be hyperbolic or anything. Each judge will select a specific winner in each of the Americas and EMEA from the 7 finalists. That’s the other 50% of the vote. The original judges will be voting as panel members.

The winners in each will get a major array of prizes, some of which are below, and be declared “CRM Idol 2011 Winner.”

Not too shabby is it? Vast amounts of media attention even if you don’t make the finals. If you make the finals at all, some prizes to you. The winners get everything that the ecosystem can offer but guaranteed success. But they do get all the accoutrements they need to support their increased likelihood of it.

That way, you small companies out there who have been victimized by bad approaches or just circumstance have the opportunity to bypass all of that and make something happen. It’s up to you to take the reins in hand but once you do, you have at least a serious chance at making yourself successful.

The Criteria

This competition is for small companies in the CRMish/SocialCRMish world. – see the categories below for some guidelines though please feel free to make the case if you don’t see yourself in the guidelines.

    1. You have to have software that is commercially available by the time of the demo – that would be in August – again see below. No betas, alphas, release candidates allowed. If we find that you’re not commercially available, and you have a time slot, you’re out and someone else will fill the slot. So please be sure that you can verify the claim if you want to participate.
    2. You have to have 3 referenceable customers that, if we care to, we can contact and ask about you.
    3. You have to have revenue under $12 million U.S. your last fiscal year. As far as disclosure goes, you have the choice of making the claim that you do – though that will have to be stated in your submission and we’ll trust you or you can disclose your revenue in the submission with the knowledge that only the permanent judges will know what it is. If you make the claim, please be prepared to back it up if we ask. Your call on how.
    4. You have to be willing to make a ten minute video if you get to the finals. More on that later.
    5. You have to fit a category – though there is some leeway there.

The Categories

The categories that we’ve identified to start are:

    1. Traditional CRM Suites
    2. Social CRM
    3. Sales - Sales Force Automation, Sales Optimization, Sales Effectiveness
    4. Marketing – Marketing Automation, Revenue Performance Management, Social Marketing, Email Marketing, Enterprise Marketing Management, Database Marketing
    5. Customer Service – all permutations
    6. Mobile CRM
    7. Customer Experience Management
    8. Social Media Monitoring – requires the possibility of integrating with a CRM technology
    9. Customer Analytics – including text/sentiment analytics; voice based analytics; social media analytics, influencer scoring, etc.
    10. Enterprise Feedback Management
    11. Innovation Management
    12. Community Platforms
    13. Enterprise 2.0 – collaboration, activity streams etc.
    14. Social Business
    15. Knowledge Management – this one requires the possibility of integrating with CRM systems
    16. Vendor Relationship Management
    17. Partner Relationship Management

Once again, if you don’t see yourself in this list, don’t worry. Just make the case as to why you have some customer-facing possibilities and the likelihood is that we’ll be cool with it. We’re trying to make this easier for you, not hard.

The Rules

They are numbered to be entirely clear.


    1. There will be 40 slots made available in the Americas and 20 in EMEA.
    2. The submission will be by email ONLY to: [email protected]. (See below to see this again and what to do if there are problems). Any other attempt at submission will be rejected out of hand with the problem exception mentioned below.
    3. The submissions will occur starting today – Monday, April 25 and will continue until Friday May 13 or until all slots are filled, whichever is first (watch #crmidol on twitter for updates on that as it occurs). On May 13, should any slots be left, the remaining specific dates and times will be made publicly available and another final round of submissions for those remaining slots will occur from May 13 through May 20. After that the submissions will be closed.
    4. Each submission will include the following:
      • Your company contact and named person contact information Two date and time specific slot requests. ONLY two. If your slots are not available, you’re out of luck until May 14 – and then you can resubmit to any time slots that are publicly announced as still available. Though there is no guarantee that there will be any available slots at that time. (see below for examples of how to submit the dates/times)
      • The category you feel you fit into - or if you don’t but think that you qualify – why.
      • A description of what the product is/the company is. Be persuasive here that you meet the criteria, not that you have a great product. This is merely a qualifying discussion. URLs cannot be used as substitutes for this description. The submission needs to be all inclusive. However, they can be used as supporting documentation.
      • The names of the three (3) referenceable customers – the company, the contact and the way to communicate with them – minimum of email and phone, please.
      • A statement that says that you meet the revenue requirement along the lines of “our company states truthfully that our revenues in our last fiscal year 2010 were under $12 million U.S”. OR you can state the actual number with the knowledge that the primary judges in each of the Americas and EMEA will treat it as under non-disclosure. But please be aware those designated primary judges below will see the actual figures if you choose to reveal them.
      • A statement that says, “if (you) make the finals, you are committed to making a 10 minute video for submission and public viewing as part of the conditions for entry.” Word it anyway you prefer but make the commitment clear.
    5. If you are accepted, you’ll be notified privately but it will be posted that you’ve been accepted on the Twitter #crmidol stream. The time will only be sent to you privately. Just your acceptance will be posted. Please allow some time between your submission and the posting of it to the hashtag and your private notification, since we all still have to work for a living.
    6. If you don’t include everything specified in the rules for submission, it means automatic disqualification and you cannot resubmit.

The Demo

The demo has few rules. Just be prepared to a. explain your company; b. show your product – live please c. answer questions from the influencers/experts. Not much more than that. I’m sure many of you are experienced at this already so wed don’t have to tell you this, but just in case… A site for the demos with login etc. will be announced to the timeslot owners in early August.

The Video

The standards for the video will be mentioned to the finalists once they are named. To rest any unease, you won’t be required to spend lots of money to get it done. How much you spend and on what will be up to you as will the content and how you present it. We’ll issue guidelines when the time gets near, including how the video is going to be distributed for posting and voting.

The Judges

Here are the lists of all the judges. As you can see, we have what is likely to be the heaviest hitting list in the history of anything done in CRM when it comes to awards or competitions. Click on their names to get to their LinkedIn bios. They are in alphabetical order.

Primary Judges

The Americas

These five judges will handle the 40 entries for the Americas which consists of the United States, Canada, South and Central America. They will all be involved in the one hour reviews each of the days over the two weeks and will jointly sign off on each review which will be posted to multiple media sites. They will also solely choose the four finalists for the Americas.

    1. Paul Greenberg – Managing Principal, The 56 Group, LLC
    2. Jesus Hoyos – Managing Partner,, LLC
    3. Esteban Kolsky – Principal and Founder, Thinkjar LLC
    4. Brent Leary – Managing Partner, CRM Essentials
    5. Denis Pombriant – CEO, Beagle Research Group


These four judges will handle the 20 entries from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia etc. They will all be involved in the each of the 1 hour demos/discussions from Sept 5 through 9 and will write and jointly sign off on each review which will be posted to multiple media sites. They will also solely choose the three finalists for EMEA.

    1. Laurence Buchanan – Vice President, CRM & Social CRM, EMEA, Capgemini
    2. Silvana Buljan – Founder & Managing Director, Buljan & Partners
    3. Paul Greenberg – see above
    4. Mark Tamis – Social Business Strategist, NET-7


This is an exciting part of CRM Idol 2011. Each of these fine human beings has volunteered a day of their time – two during the finals and one with the winners – to provide the benefit of their experience to the contestants. What they will do is noted by their name. This is an awesome idea that Anthony Lye actually cooked up. Each of these mentors has decades of experience in the software and venture capital world and is considered a leader in the CRM space. So if you make it to the finals, you have the benefit of their knowledge and their valuable time. Amazing.

    1. Anthony Lye – Anthony will provide one day for the Americas finalists and one day for the EMEA finalists for consultation on how to best do the content for the contending videos and whatever other pertinent advice the finalists need. Anthony has had years of experience as a senior management person for enterprise CRM and a thought leader.
    2. Joe Hughes – Joe will provide one day for the Americas finalists and one day for the EMEA finalists for consultation on how to best do the content for the contending videos and whatever other pertinent advice the finalists need. Joe has been a leader in the CRM space for as long as we can remember and one of the more foresighted when it comes to the value of Social CRM
    3. Larry Augustin – This is a prize for the winner of EMEA and the winner of the Americas. Larry who has years of experience as an executive in the software space and has been a successful venture capitalist will work with the winner to prepare them for dealing with possible investors including doing a VC matching with the winners.

There will most likely be other mentors announced as the competition gets closer to the demo dates. We might try to make some mentors available to prepare you if you need them for the one hour demos but that’s still up in the air. We’ll keep you posted.

Extended Judges Panels

The Influencer Panel

    1. William Band – Vice President & Principal Analyst, CRM, Forrester Research
    2. Jim Berkowitz – CEO, CRM Mastery
    3. Bruce Culbert – Chief Service Officer, The Pedowitz Group
    4. Zoli Erdos - Publisher/Editor, CloudAve and Enterprise Irregulars
    5. Mike Fauscette – Group Vice President, Software Business Solutions, IDC
    6. Josh Greenbaum – Principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting
    7. Dr. Graham Hill – Partner, Optima Partners
    8. Dennis Howlett - Buyer Advocate
    9. Ian Jacobs – Senior Analyst, Customer Interaction, Ovum/Datamonitor
    10. Michael Krigsman – CEO, Asuret
    11. Marshall Lager – Managing Principal, Third Idea Consulting
    12. Kate Leggett – Senior Analyst, CRM, Forrester Research
    13. Maribel Lopez – Principal Analyst and VP, Constellation Research Founder Lopez Research LLC
    14. Jeremiah Owyang -Managing Partner, Altimeter Group
    15. Sameer Patel – Managing Partner, Sovos Group
    16. Scott Rogers – Customer Evangelist
    17. Robert Scoble – Managing Director, Rackspace Hosting
    18. Brian Solis – Principal, Altimeter Group
    19. Dilip Soman – Professor of Marketing, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
    20. Ray Wang – CEO, Constellation Research
    21. Mary Wardley – Vice President, CRM Applications, IDC

The Vendor Panel

    1. Larry Augustin – CEO, SugarCRM
    2. Anthony Lye – Senior Vice President & GM, CRM, Oracle
    3. Phil Fernandez – CEO, Marketo
    4. John Hernandez – General Manager, Customer Care Business, Cisco
    5. Jonathan Hornby – Director, Worldwide Marketing, SAS
    6. Joseph Hughes - Senior Executive, CRM Service, Support and Social System Integration Lead, Accenture
    7. Charlie Isaacs, VP, eServices and Social Media Strategy Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise
    8. Vinay Iyer – Vice President, Marketing CRM, SAP
    9. Katy Keim - CMO, Lithium
    10. Marcel Lebrun,- CEO, Radian6
    11. Mitch Lieberman, Vice President, Marketing, Sword-Ciboodle
    12. Chris Morace- Senior Vice President, Business Development, Jive
    13. Zach Nelson – CEO, NetSuite
    14. Bill Patterson- Director, CRM Product Management, Microsoft
    15. Dileep Srinivasan - AVP - CRM & Social CRM, Digital Marketing & MDM, Cognizant
    16. John Taschek –Vice President, Market Strategy, Salesforce

The Journalist Panel

    1. Elsa Basile – Director, Callcenternews (Argentina)
    2. Barney Beal – Managing Editor, SearchCRM,
    3. Anita Campbell – Publisher,
    4. Robin Carey – CEO, Social Media Today
    5. Neil Davey – Group Editor, Sift Media
    6. David Myron – Editorial Director, CRM Magazine, Speech Technology Magazine
    7. Valdir Ugalde – Board, Member, mundocontact (Mexico)
    8. Ann Van Den Berg – Senior Editor, CustomerTalk (Netherlands)

Media Partners

You’ll note that we have 8 journalists on a panel of judges. Well, each of them represents a media partner that will be broadcasting the competition and posting the videos for voting in the finals for the popular vote. They are an awesome array of the most influential media sites in social media, CRM, and small business as well as local influencers in CRM in Latin America and Europe. They will be significant in the lives of the contestants, the finalists, and the winners giving each what may be an unprecedented breadth and depth of coverage. Their coverage will be supplemented by posts to the blogs and other sites that are owned by many of the judges so there will be significant reach for all 60 of the initial contenders. Each of these partners will be getting exclusives from the judges and hopefully some of the companies too so that we can add a quality of coverage that would enhance the value to the SMBs participating. in all areas – CRM, social and small business directly.

We expect to add more media partners as we continue on throughout the competition.

The current partners and links to their sites (in alphabetical order, like every list here):

    1. Call Center News (Argentina)
    2. CRM Magazine/DestinationCRM
    3. CustomerTalk (Netherlands)
    4. Mundocontact (Mexico)
    5. Media
    6. SearchCRM
    7. Social Media Today

The Prizes…So Far

These are the prizes as of launch today. There are several others in the works that will be announced as the contest rolls out.

All Finalists

All 7 finalists will get to choose one day of consulting from the list of Influencer consultants below. The order of choice will be based on the popular vote on the video which will be kept confidential but used for the choosing. There will be more consultants added to the list as contest moves forward.

The Americas and EMEA Winners

Each winner will get to choose four prizes from the list. Note – in the case where multiple prizes are being offered by a single vendor – the vendor counts as a single prize with all the items as part of that.

    1. Accenture
      1. A full day workshop with CRM leaders in Accenture for possible partnership and/or possible investment.
    2. Capgemini (for EMEA winners only)
      1. A half day workshop with Patrick James, Global VP CRM and Laurence Buchanan to explore joint go to market opportunities and help you refine and test your value proposition.
    3. Social Media Today
      1. A blog post featuring the winner of the contest to run on both The Customer Collective and Social Media Today
      2. A single blast to the Social Media Today opt-in list (approximately 50,000 names) which will conform to their minimum standards (valued at $10,500)
    4. Microsoft
      1. 12 mos. of CRM Online Free for developing extensions to CRM
      2. 12 mos. of Windows Azure Free for developing web-based portals and BI solutions
      3. Access to the Office 365 Beta for building collaborative applications and services
      4. Access to the BizSpark One program -a program designed to connect emerging businesses and their investors with a Microsoft advisor to help them identify unique opportunities and expand its business presence
    5. SugarCRM
      1. Free 10 user subscription to SugarCRM Professional or Enterprise
      2. Membership in the Sugar Exchange and free consulting on product integration with SugarCRM
      3. CEO Larry Augustin, a successful venture capitalist in his own right, does a mentoring & VC matchmaking session with the winners
    6. Brian Solis
      1. One hour internal webinar on how to use SCRM and social media to your advantage
    7. Paul Greenberg
      1. One hour pro bono external webinar on a subject TBD for lead gen, mindshare, etc.
    8. Ray Wang
      1. One hour pro bono external webinar on a subject TBD for lead gen, mindshare, etc.
    9. Sameer Patel
      1. One hour pro bono external webinar on a subject TBD for lead gen, mindshare, etc.
    10. Influencer Consulting– free strategic consulting for 1 day or 8 hours from a variety of judges (in person travel expenses to be covered by winners)
    11. Esteban Kolsky (in person only)
    12. Paul Greenberg (on phone or in person)
    13. Denis Pombriant (on phone or in person)
    14. Mark Tamis (on phone or in person)
    15. Jesus Hoyos (on phone or in person)
    16. Brent Leary (on phone or in person)

The Times, Dates, Hashtag and Email

Okay here’s the hardcore stuff:

    1. The hashtag is #crmidol
    2. The email for submission is [email protected]
    3. If you have a problem submitting to that email send your submission and a report of the specific problem to [email protected]

Dates and Times Table for the Americas and EMEA

We’ve put together an easy little table with all the relevant dates and times that you’ll need as you progress through the competition.

Dates/Times Americas EMEA
Submission Dates August 15-19; August 22-26 September 5-9
Submission Times 3pm ET; 4pm ET; 5pm ET; 6pm ET 3pm GMT; 4pm GMT; 5pm GMT; 6pm GMT
Finalist Video Submission Date September 30 October 14
Winner Announcement October 17 October 31

A Note or Two

A little bit of unfinished stuff that will sort itself out as time goes forward.

    • There will likely be a CRM Idol site (Joomla based) coming in the next month or so that will be an aggregate site for all the media outlets and streams. However, this remains a work in progress that’s still under discussion.
    • There will be more mentors and prizes added and possibly a judge or two.
    • For now ongoing news will be found at the twitter hashtag #crimidol.

In Closing

That’s about it. Now its time to bring it. First come, first serve. See you, maybe as the 1st ever CRM Idol, in Vegas, Hollywood. London or on the Social Web. Somewhere anyway.


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Get the Book!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Hey, just a quick update to let you all know that a book I worked on is now available for preorder on Amazon. Dancing with Digital Natives: Staying in Step with the Generation That’s Transforming the Way Business Is Done has been a long time in coming, and I think I speak for all the authors and editors when I say how gratifying it is to see it in print.

My chapter deals, surprisingly enough, with social CRM and how business can use it to form close bonds with the digital customer, as well as how businesses are built upon social principles. There’s a load of good stuff from other contributors as well, so expect to learn from pages I’m not even responsible for. ^_^

Yes, I did just use a Japanese-style emoticon on my professional blog. I like them, and the regular ones screw up my formatting.

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Sage Moves Forward with Cloud Services, New CEO

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

[Edited for some small inaccuracies. My bad.]

I recently had the pleasure of attending Sage Analyst Day 2011, hosted in Boston on February 9, 2011. A select group of industry watchers got to hear about plans for Sage North America in the coming year, especially its CRM product line.

One early order of business was to announce (reiterate, actually) the pending retirement of Sage North America CEO Sue Swenson later this year, after nearly three years of service. While I didn’t get many opportunities to speak to Swenson directly during her time with Sage, I was impressed with her focus on moving her division forward, and her success in achieving her goals during a bad stretch for the global economy. The company returned to revenue growth in the second half of 2010 under her leadership.

This summer (the guess is mid-June) Swenson will hand over control to CEO-designate Pascal Houillon, a 20-year Sage veteran who has served as the head of operations in several European countries. His stated primary goals are to match the company’s product line with its customer base more effectively; to make the Sage brand better known on this side of the Atlantic; and to return the company to making acquisitions as opportunities present. Likely targets are Web-based and connected services vendors, as well as regional specialists.

Your ears might have perked up at that last bit about connected services and Web services. I know mine did. Sage has been inching toward the Cloud for a few years now, but it looks like the pace is about to accelerate.

Sage Advisor

The first piece mentioned was Sage Advisor. Users of Peachtree—sorry, Sage Peachtree—will recognize it from a function they’ve had access to for four years. Advisor is a cloud-based data mining tool and recommendation engine, collecting more than 500 data points and using them to provide advice to the user. The advice is delivered (depending upon context and preferences) via Sage employees, a virtual assistant, and in-product chat.

Sage Advisor exists to “create a personal connection to Sage brands for every user,” according to the company. It’s not just about selling more software to expand Sage’s footprint with its customers; Advisor can point out existing (read: already-paid-for) capabilities that aren’t being used and could help with a given task, and can also tell users how to turn off certain functions to streamline their workflow.

Many of you read the words “virtual assistant” and had a bad flashback to Clippy, Microsoft Office’s much-maligned helper. Sage Advisor appears to be much less intrusive, and the company claims more than 90 percent of its Sage Peachtree customers are opted in to the service.

Another function of Sage Advisor is to provide client data to Sage and its partners about usage patterns, third-party applications in use, system specifications, popular reports, and more. Sage predicts this could increase close rates for partners 60 to 70 percent.

Sage Connected Services

Connected services is Sage’s umbrella term for discrete applications provided to its customers (both on-premises and SaaS) via the Cloud. Many will integrate through SData, Sage’s new open-standard Web protocol which allows front- and back-office applications to communicate better with each other and with other apps.

This will be a major area of expansion and advancement for Sage, adding capabilities from the cloud in a modular fashion to serve up what customers need. Payment services, legal counseling, tax compliance, lead generation, and shopping carts are just some examples Sage provided.

Services will be delivered within the main Sage application, with Sage Advisor identifying and suggesting appropriate apps, making it something of an app marketplace. Because SData is an open standard, there is a large opening in connected services for third-party providers, and for integration with non-Sage products. Look for a Google Apps integration very soon.

Acceleration Squared

Sage’s foray into cloud services creates an excellent opportunity for growth, if it can manage the potential chaos. With SData, Advisor, and connected services all turned on, Sage partners and customers will have greater access to the company than ever before, and that’s saying something. Demand for new functions and new products can be watched in real time, and the delivery time is considerably reduced. Sage will be drinking from the firehose in a way that only SCRM- and cloud-savvy companies can; if it uses that information and the dynamic strength of an involved community, we will see a very different Sage by this time next year.

For another (and quite excellent) discussion of Sage North America’s Analyst Day, see Denis Pombriant’s recent article for CRM Buyer. Denis has been watching Sage for longer than I have, and he’s one smart cookie.

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Dreamforce 2010 Summary

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Note #1: This is not the second part of the comparison article between RightNow Technologies and I’ll write that next.

Note #2: A disclosure. As with most conferences, the host (in this case paid for my flight, lodging, a few meals, and some entertainment.

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends

This year marked the 8th annual Dreamforce conference, a gathering of partners, customers, and observers at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to see what the software-as-a-service pioneer is up to. This year was the largest one yet, as attendance has risen steadily with the growth of the company and its influence. when I first attended in 2005, I think there were 6,400 attendees; this year there were more than 30,000.

I’ll get this part out of the way, because it’s subjective and because I’ve said it before: Marc Benioff (the founder and CEO, for the three people reading this who didn’t know that) is a heck of a showman. Many vendor conferences are built around the idea of news and advances, but Dreamforce is always about energy and enthusiasm. There’s plenty of news here too, but the first order of business is to get the crowd fired up. The exact same company-product-service would likely not have achieved its current level of success in somebody else’s hands, because Marc knows how to play to the crowd and to the media. He also knows business and software, so it’s not like he’s just a pretty face, but he leads with his personality.

So what happened?

There were four main announcements to come out of Dreamforce ‘10, at least from Salesforce itself—the show has become too big for any one person to have a realistic hope of covering all the partners. Of the four, two were what I would call minor (changes to existing relationships or services) and two major (new ventures). We’ll hit the former first.

First thing was showing off full integration of Jigsaw, a provider of crowdsourced contact data for businesses which Salesforce acquired in April of this year for $142 million. Jigsaw was formerly a Salesforce partner, and its app integrated fairly well with Salesforce CRM, but the combined entity is a step up. Jigsaw data automatically populates the fields, so blank lines in a contact record should be a rare thing. Users can provide new or updated information to the system, so there’s no need to separately maintain it—your contact records are the world’s contact records, at least insofar as you make them public.

The second minor bit was the introduction of Chatter Free. Chatter is Salesforce’s social networking service that allows your employees to communicate in a secure Facebook-like environment. The free version is—you guessed it—free, and allows Salesforce users to invite any colleague to join whether or not they use Salesforce themselves.

Up to the majors

The previous two announcements definitely matter to Salesforce and those who use it, but the following two will be what drive speculation and interest for the next few months. Therefore, I’ll devote more space and detail to them. (What, you didn’t think I was writing a short blog, did you?)

There’s a new cloud in town, and its name is database. is a standalone open-standards database in the cloud. The PR copy says it can run on any platform, in any programming language, on any device. It’s a relational database that can swallow both structured and unstructured data, and can serve as the backbone for apps in use by many thousands of users simultaneously. And it’s secure down to individual rows.

Salesforce can claim this because has been in beta for the past 11 years—it’s the productized version of the database used to power itself. There’s no sense in me listing all the features it promises, so here a link to the FAQ. It’s getting a push from early-adopter pricing as well: The first 100,000 records are free, as are the first 50,000 transactions per month, for up to three users (the ones who actually work with the database). After that, it’s $10/user/month, plus $10/month increments for each 100,000 records or 150,000 transactions.

You might think the big deal here is the reasonable pricing, or the fact that Salesforce is opening itself up for somebody to make a competing product using its own infrastructure. What I think is most telling is the open standards. Salesforce has resisted open source and open standards for years, claiming its own APEX development language was open enough, being similar to Java and freely available to anybody who wished to develop apps for it.

Users and critics still clamored for the option to use actual Java, or PHP, or some other open-standards development language, and now Salesforce has conceded. This means anybody can write Salesforce apps, or port existing code into it. The barrier to entry has never been lower.

[UPDATE: I've been informed by Denis Pombriant of Beagle Research Group that doesn't support SQL and doesn't run on any platform other than its own servers in the cloud. This is important information which I missed, so thanks.]

Big Deal Number Two is the announcement of intent to acquire a company named Heroku for $212 million. If your first response is “So what?” then don’t feel bad—I felt the same way until I read deeper. Programming languages and development platforms aren’t my specialty, but this is big.

Heroku is the leading development platform for apps built in Ruby, the language at the heart of many popular social media cloud apps. You may have heard of some of these apps: Hulu, Twitter, and Groupon are the three easiest to pick out of the 105,000 created via Heroku.

Let me be crystal clear about the significance of these two announcements. is making its own on-demand database technology—which supports its own service and everything on AppExchange—available to anybody with the smarts to type some code. It also has acquired the favorite development tool of some of the farthest-reaching social media apps in the world. In essence, has just turned itself into a fire hose that sprays the future of cloud computing.

If nothing else had happened this week, this would still have been enough. I’d like to point out that it’s not all business over at, and call some attention to the philanthropic efforts of the company. Marc Benioff is a firm believer in the 1/1/1 philosophy, donating one percent of’s equity, time, and products/services to good causes—something that really adds up with a billion-dollar-plus organization. The current project is working with UCSF, including endowing a children’s hospital [UPDATE: I should have mentioned this was with his own money] and building a new research campus. Good stuff.

Tune in later this week (or early next, because I’m a little busy) to see part two of my message comparison between and RightNow Technologies.

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Message Perspectives: RightNow Technologies

Monday, October 18th, 2010

[Disclosure: RightNow flew me out to its annual summit and paid for my meals and lodging. The following represents my informed opinion, provided without request by the organization or anybody else.]

There are a few really huge names in CRM, but sometimes it’s the not-quite-as-huge names you need to look out for. While it would be disingenuous to suggest RightNow Technologies is anything other than big, the company is often overshadowed in the media by certain others (I’m thinking of that are more adept at controlling the conversation. I’d like to evaluate the offerings and the messaging of RightNow, divorced as much as possible from comparison to its rival.

I’d really like to do that, but I’ve got to be honest—I’d probably have to give up the attempt at some point. While RightNow doesn’t define itself in terms of, and its messaging places Salesforce as one of many competitors depending on the specifics of the engagement, Marc Benioff’s billion-dollar-plus concern is the first name most people think of when considering CRM in the cloud, socially enabled or otherwise. If there’s any company to compare to RightNow, it’s that one.

If time weren’t a factor, I’d delay this post until after Dreamforce—’s annual convention—early this December, and put the two companies head-to-head the way I did with Sage and Nimble. Waiting six weeks or more isn’t a great plan either, and it would let my fresh thoughts go to waste in the interim. I want to be fair to both companies, so here’s my plan: I will tell you about RightNow as planned, and revisit the topic after Dreamforce to provide updated insight on Both teams get a turn at bat, and players on either one are welcomed to comment and argue.

RightNow comes from a contact center background, and it shows in its approach to CRM. The message is about customer experience as enabled by CRM; CEO Greg Gianforte says the company’s mission is “to rid the world of bad experiences.” He doesn’t shy away from the CRM moniker, though, as many other vendors have done. Customers spend most of their lifecycle in the hands of customer service (what a surprise!), so it seems natural to base a CRM effort there. I respect this approach, though the history of CRM is sales force automation (SFA), something that’s clearly in’s DNA. If businesses exist to sell products and services to customers, SFA is what you want. If businesses exist to serve customers, then you start in the contact center with customer service and support.

I need to check my dates and figures to be sure, but I think was the first company, at least in this group of two, to make social media part of its message. The AppExchange is a community-driven marketplace, there are Salesforce integrations with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and much of the newer functionality of Salesforce CRM uses a social networking model for internal communications. RightNow followed soon after with CX Suite, which integrates social media with everyday customer-facing processes. The companies have similar capabilities if you pick the right modules and options, with RightNow providing more reporting depth but Salesforce having the edge in dashboard presentation.

That said, the two companies have a very different approach to integrating social CRM. Salesforce has, for a long time now, presented itself as a toolbox or model kit. If you want live integration with your customers on Facebook, there’s a module for that. Want to rank and discuss enterprise content? You can do it. And if it isn’t available as a core piece of Salesforce CRM, you can get it on the AppExchange. RightNow CX Suite is also a toolkit, but it assumes you want to get close to your customers from the outset. Where Salesforce says, “You can do this if you want,” RightNow asks “Why aren’t you doing this already?”

One of the places the difference between RightNow and many of its competitors is clear is their customers. Now, everybody has great customer success stories—if you can’t get that in the CRM industry, you won’t last long—but RightNow’s feel different, in a good way.

With, and every other vendor for the most part, the customers we get to interview feel like they’ve been prepared. They all have bullet points to hit, and specific ROI results they want to mention. (Note: When a writer is planning a case study, these things are important, so it’s not like I dislike specifics. But in a general purpose interview, it’s not as necessary and can even be distracting.) In’s case, it’s important to have this kind of preparation, as that company tends to announce a lot of new features and options multiple times before they’re generally available, and then there will be follow-up press releases to remind us that module X has been out for a while. If Salesforce doesn’t vet its reference customers, there’s a fair chance the interview will go off the rails because we’re talking about different things.

RigtNow’s customers aren’t prepped much, if at all, because RightNow doesn’t have a never-ending list of preannouncements. I spoke with two great RightNow customers at the recent summit, Kim Rundleof Organic Valley and Rich Brecht of J&P Cycles. In both cases, the conversation was as natural as if we’d just met at a networking event and decided to talk about CRM. Well, it felt kind of like that, but with way more enthusiasm. This is how it is whenever I talk to a RightNow customer; I had an informal chat over lunch with Boyd Beasley of Electronic Arts, and it was a very similar experience. Each representative had things they liked, frictions with some stakeholders, and hopes and plans for what to do with their RightNow system in the future, but it all felt natural.

This difference in RightNow’s and’s approach to customers is indicative of deeper differences in how the two companies deal with messaging. I’m going to come right out and say that controls the conversation when it comes to SaaS CRM. They announce constantly, keeping their initiatives fresh in our minds. The press releases are usually worded dynamically, so you won’t dismiss them right after you start reading. And is at the stag where each announcement is for a discrete element of the overall solution, so you know what you’re getting.

By contrast, RightNow is very low-key about its announcements. Typically, there’s an announcement that something is in development, and the next time you hear about it is the GA press release. Whatever the new item is, it’s always presented as an update to the existing RightNow suite, since users of RightNow seem more likely to use the whole thing than the typical Salesforce mix-and-match approach. RightNow also has terrible luck with timing, because its announcements are usually either preceded or followed immediately by a piece from another vendor. It’s usually Salesforce, so I think that’s a matter of strategy and a loud voice combining to good effect. This means that the RightNow story—both the specific product-related one and the “company narrative”—can become lost if the journalist or analyst doesn’t stay focused on it. I’ve found it difficult to do, and I’m aware of the issue; others who aren’t as clued in have little hope.

That’s it for Part One. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with’s side of the story this December.

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Message Perspectives: Sage and Nimble

Monday, September 20th, 2010

(Disclosure: Sage is a former client of mine.)

A theme running through the CRM industry’s discourse lately is that of social CRM. This is a good thing because it means I’ve started my practice in a hot market space. It also means there’s a lot of hype and hoopla coming from all corners of the vendor community. The old guard are adding social components to their CRM offerings, defending their honor as the vendors that have survived the Darwinian meat grinder of enterprise software; the newcomers are starting from the premise that old-school CRM has earned its supposedly negative reputation and it’s time for a fresh approach, hitching their wagons to the social trend.

Not long ago, I took a briefing with Larry Ritter, senior vice president and GM of CRM solutions for Sage North America, about the company’s plans for ACT! in 2011 and beyond. I thought I’d written briefly about it here, but it appears I was in error—apologies to Ryan Zuk, Sage’s PR ace, for my oversight.

Also not long ago (Monday, in fact), I took a briefing with Jon Ferrara, the creator of ACT!’s long-time rival GoldMine (now owned by FrontRange), and now the CEO and founder of Nimble. Nimble is one of the new wave of CRM vendors, while ACT! (and GoldMine, for that matter) represent CRM’s roots. The opportunity for me to compare and contrast is just too sweet to pass up.

Let’s start with Sage. As you can read here, the company has been doing a good job of following the will of its audience by adding more Web services, improving (and changing the name of) workflows, and keeping the design easy to use. ACT! is more of an entry-level CRM product than a premier suite—that distinction in Sage’s catalog fits better with SalesLogix—but it provides a good range of functions and customizability for its price and target market. The product has been around for more than 20 years in one form or another, and Sage knows better than to mess with success.

It is possible to integrate social networking features into ACT! if the customer desires, but it’s not something that comes in the yellow ACT! box. You’ve got to customize for that, which helps drive business for Sage’s army of partner-resellers. The message here is that Sage expects the typical ACT! user to be a small business that either doesn’t understand or isn’t likely to derive much value from social CRM, but there’s enough meat on ACT!’s bones for most SMBs to get an okay meal.

I should probably fault Sage more for this, but I just can’t work up a whole lot of indignation. While I am excited by the possibilities of a social approach to CRM, I know that not every business is ready for it, not every business can really exploit it, and the ones that fit those descriptions don’t want to pay for something they won’t use. Sage is saying, “We’re the same we’ve always been, and we’re here for you. We’ll let you move at your own pace.” This is a comforting message for an SMB executive who isn’t striving to push the business into the Fortune 500.

In the destinationCRM article I linked, CRM godfather Paul Greenberg makes an important distinction describing ACT!: “It’s as close to CRM as it ever will be,” Greenberg says of the contact management solution. “It will never be full-blown CRM — but do they provide business value to small businesses? Oh, God, yeah.” He is, as usual, right. ACT! is still very much a contact manager—one that can do some really neat things to be sure, but it’s still not a CRM suite. It can be turned into one, and the e-marketing module added to ACT! 2011 blurs the line a bit, but what we have here is one of the progenitors of modern CRM trying to remain viable (and succeeding, I think) by providing a safe, easy, entry-level option that can grow for a while with the user. At worst, I wonder why a contact management-plus application isn’t doing more with social networking contacts, but there doesn’t seem to be much grumbling about this by anybody other than curmudgeons like me.

Which brings us to Nimble. Jon Ferrara got out of the contact management business about 10 years ago to concentrate on building a family instead of a company. He’s back with a reimagined approach to CRM, built from the ground up to account for and take advantage of social media.

In our briefing, Jon hit a lot of the best talking points about social CRM. Businesses always need to attract and retain customers, and the old methods are becoming outdated. Companies must get as social as their customers, listen to the conversations, and participate in kind—and a company can’t be social externally without being social internally as well. So, if most of the CRM systems deployed today are used primarily for contact management and SFA anyway—a claim that rings true even if I don’t have any data in front of me to back it up—there’s a need for a system built to combine social networking and basic CRM.

Ferrara contends that Nimble is that product. When it becomes available, Nimble Core will give individual users the “3 Cs” of Contacts, Calendaring, and Communications by providing a single environment for viewing and sending emails, tweets, Facebook updates, and pretty much everything else, and will do it for free. The design of Nimble is as comforting as ACT!’s, in its way; it looks a lot like any of the current social networking tools in use by the general public, as well as more business-focused things like Yammer. There’s lots of white space, the view can be easily customized, and all the immediately relevant info (and only the immediately relevant info) is up front.

After Core, there will be more. For $9 per user per month, Nimble will provide a Team edition. For $19/u/m, the sales functionality shows up. If you go for the full $39/u/m, Nimble reveals its full CRM capabilities. Mind you, I have no idea what those are; all will be revealed at a later date.

No matter what I say about Nimble, it’s important to remember that the product is still in private beta. The higher-end functions—teamwork, SFA, and CRM—are a long way off yet. I haven’t touched the beta yet, though I will be doing so in the very near future.

When a veteran like Jon Ferrara fronts a product like Nimble, it says one thing: “It’s time for a change.” He’s got a point. GoldMine was one of the products that changed—nay, created—the CRM software industry, and Nimble is going to try to serve the same purpose for social CRM. The new discipline is composed of older, proven CRM apps augmented by new tools that only enable the social components, so a social CRM app designed to be a social CRM app would be a great start. The message is there’s a new wave in business, and you’ve got to surf it with a new board or get swamped riding the old.

My fear is that there will be too much focus on social and not enough on CRM. People like to say that CRM fails, or even that it is a failure. I disagree with the notion that a $12 billion industry, complete with innovators and success stories, is a failure. A change is necessary, because the behavior of customers has changed. But there are still things that a CRM system has to do that aren’t about social media, and there is danger that the move to social CRM will go like a political campaign: So much time is spent hearing about what’s wrong with the incumbent that we never get a handle on the challenger’s qualities.

Both ACT! and Nimble will have a place in the CRM world, and I’m not about to recommend one over the other (especially because one isn’t available yet). But you can start making your decision based on the language each company is speaking. Is Sage following a careful and sensible agenda, or is it in denial? Is Nimble the next game-changer, or is it a box of hype? Your answer to those questions will say more about your needs than about the products, but that’s good. If your choice doesn’t reflect your needs, you’ll have a failure on your hands no matter which way you turn.

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Vertical CRM Expertise

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

(Disclosure: I have a client, Infinity Info Systems, who works with some of the CRM vendors mentioned and in some of the verticals mentioned. It isn’t affiliated with Software Advice and neither am I.)

It’s always good to know there are specialists out there. In one sense, I regard myself as one—I deal with CRM and (especially) social CRM as opposed to general business issues—but I’m still something of a generalist. I know enough about the needs of specific vertical industries to know that one size of CRM doesn’t fit all, and even to make recommendations on functionality and possible vendors, but I leave the nuts and bolts of it to more focused minds.

A consultancy named Software Advice makes those recommendations, and apparently does so free of charge to software buyers. For an example of giving it away for nothing, you might want to check out this blog post by CRM market analyst Lauren Carlson, regarding the company’s picks of Microsoft Dynamics CRM-based vertical integrations in 15 separate industries.

Not too shabby. SA has other articles you might find useful, by several authors. If you don’t have time to check them out now, don’t worry. I’m adding them to my blogroll. Just because I haven’t evaluated a ton of vertical solutions doesn’t mean I can’t point you toward people who have. You’re welcome.

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Still Evolving

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Last week a lot of very smart people gathered in New York for CRM Evolution 2010, and it was fantastic. Let’s start with kudos to conference chair Paul Greenberg and CRM magazine’s David Myron for putting together a great three days. As reported by Paul, the show’s attendance was nearly double the previous year’s for the second time in a row.

It’s not just numerical growth that encourages me, though of course greater attention to the disciplines and technologies of CRM is always a Good Thing. Who attends these things is at least as important as how many. The link to Paul’s ZDNet blog I gave you in the last paragraph should give you an idea of the brainpower in attendance, and these folks weren’t there to sniff around—they came to teach and to learn, to make alliances and discuss plans. The link, and those found when you follow it, probably do a better job of summarizing the event than I can hope to, but I have a few thoughts anyway.

There was a different buzz in the air than there has been in previous years, a feeling that our efforts are coming together into something greater than the sum of their parts. Social CRM is a movement now, not a fad or a trend.

The structure of the conference changed this year as well. CRM shows are typically arranged along three tracks: Sales, Marketing, Customer Service. Sometimes there’s a Strategy piece thrown in, or a nod to Social CRM/Enterprise 2.0, but it’s usually all about the three main silos CRM has struggled to break down. This time, the tracks were Traditional CRM, Social CRM, and Implementation. Each track had a fair amount of conceptual overlap with the other two. It acknowledged that these are not areas that can truly be separate, that there will be interplay and it will be beneficial. I’m not always comfortable with separating social CRM from the traditional brand, since they are interdependent and it perpetuates the belief that CRM is a failure, but this year’s structure worked for me.

The down side to the three tracks and the relatively small size of Evolution 2010 was—honestly—too much goodness in too small a space. There were several times when no matter which session I chose to attend, I was guaranteed to miss something excellent in the other rooms. Fortunately all the track sessions were recorded, so I can spend the rest of the month catching up.

I’ll need that month, because I missed a lot of good content; not just because of crossed schedules, but because of all the meetings I took. No matter where you went, people were busy getting the word out about new applications and services. I heard enough to make me very optimistic about the future. I also did a lot of socializing, but never at the expense of learning. My colleagues and my friends are increasingly the same people, so how can I complain?

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More Ciboodle, More SAS

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

So I took another briefing with Sword Ciboodle yesterday regarding its SAS-powered CRM suite for mid- to large enterprise. That makes something like four in the past two months. These folks really want to get the word out—when I worked at CRM magazine, we typically didn’t have editorial staff meetings as often.

I’ve already discussed Ciboodle One (the agent desktop) in this space, so I won’t repeat myself except to say that it’s probably the cleanest and best example of its ilk I’ve ever seen. I haven’t had as much time in front of the other elements, Ciboodle Flow and Ciboodle Live, at least until yesterday. Seeing the components working together made a better case for integrated CRM with top-flight analytics than anything I could say. Ciboodle gets it.

Ciboodle also treated me to a demo of Ciboodle Crowd, the last link in the chain. [Warning: Link contains unfiltered marketing content. Caveat lector.] Crowd is the social platform. More to the point, it’s the environment for companies to manage their participation in social CRM. Looks good, and it clearly isn’t dependent on any specific social media, so it can adapt as old players drop out and new ones appear.

All this is good for CRM, good for Ciboodle, for SAS, and also for consultants like me. SAS was smart enough to partner with Ciboodle to provide applicability and usability in CRM, and Ciboodle was smart to recognize the value of powerhouse business intelligence. Together they provide a suite with a lot of possibilities built in. And to their credit, the companies provide the services to back it up, so that the customer isn’t purchasing six-figure shelfware. Capgemini appears to be helping to achieve this end.

But vendor services can only take you so far. There are still too many potential buyers of Ciboodle’s suite who have only a vague idea of what they want from it, or who haven’t put their organizations through the sort of cultural and process evaluation needed to get the most out of the purchase. Mistakes can be made with those tools even when they’re used correctly, at least in a technical sense. A hammer and chisel work really well together, but you probably shouldn’t use them to defrost your freezer unless you’ve carefully considered how to do it and understand the risks involved. (I have done this, and despite due consideration managed to wreck a freezer by focusing on individual hammer blows instead of the big picture.)

When somebody decides they want to become an astronaut, the first step in that journey is not flight training and mission briefings; it’s learning about the job, the dangers, and the potential benefits. Ciboodle and SAS have built a mighty space vehicle, and they are providing top-notch training to anybody who enters the program. I get to be the career counselor who makes sure it’s a good fit, and I can definitely live with that.

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Shameless Plugs

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

This is a good-news post: I’ve been named a finalist in this year’s Azbee awards for my work on Pint of View, the monthly column I write for CRM. Given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, the Azbees recognize the best work being done in the industry, and I’m honored to be considered. I’ve won a few before, and so has CRM itself. We go up against publications like Businessweek, so it’s especially gratifying to play at this level.

If you’re interested—and I just know you are—you can see the specific columns they’re using for considering me here (June 2009) and here (October 2009). To get the full effect, you might want to look at the Digital CRM editions here and here.

Also on the subject of my dear friends and former employers: I’ll be moderating a panel discussion at CRM Evolutions 2010 in New York City, with participants from Lithium, Radian6, and Jive Software. We’ll be discussing the newest trends in customer engagement through social media on Wednesday, August 4 at 10:00 AM. Based on the list of attendees and sponsors (not to mention the tremendous amount of work the CRM mag folks put into every conference), I think this is going to be a great event.

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