This year, with Oracle’s completed acquisition of PeopleSoft, and its accepted bid for Siebel, one might be left with the impression that the CRM industry is shrinking in terms of players. But actually, the opposite is true. Looking back this year, I saw the CRM marketplace expand with dozens of new companies entering the space. It is just that the noise from the big players prevented them from getting a lot of attention. But based on the progress they made this year, a number of these firms should be much better known by the end of 2006.
But I can give you a preview, so you won’t have to wait that long. The following are 10 of the "new kids" who impressed me with their simple/yet creative products and the endorsements of their customers
SugarCRM (Cupertino, California). If you had told me last year that a new player entering the core CRM functionality space could generate a lot of marketplace buzz, I would have laughed. So the success of SugarCRM in 2005 was a big surprise for me. SugarSuite combines commercial open source code with CRM expertise, all within a framework of a contributing community of other developers and users. With more than 200,000 downloads of its software SugarCRM is at least getting a lot of companies looking at the offering. If those companies turn into long-term users, it could shake up the marketplace in 2006.
Knowlagent (Atlanta, Georgia). Focusing on turning contact center reps into revenue producers is the aim of Knowlagent. Its CRM system, Knowlagent r8, finds and takes advantage of small pockets of contact center rep downtime to present bite-size training modules that improve agent sales performance without affecting operational metrics. The feedback we received from firms using Knowlagent’s solution in the telecom and financial services market segments show that the company backs up its claims to increase revenues with hard results.
Before the Call (Sunnyvale, California). I love CRM applications I can easily understand. Before the Call’s value proposition is simple. Reps need, among other things, to have access to information about their customers, their marketplace and their problems to effectively sell. Before the Call provides them with a time-saving method for gathering those insights. As opposed to having reps do their own analysis from starch over and over again, the system collects and retains all the market intelligence their peers in the sales force have already collected and shares that with the sales team members all within the context of the CRM application they already use.
Involve Technologies (Phoenix, Arizona). This firm impressed me by scoring 1,000 (or more)-seat contracts of their CRM offering at firms such as Avnet, Heartland and JDA Software to solve a simple problem: how to share best practices across the sales force. Think of them as a "Google-like" solution for sales knowledge management. Need an answer to an objection? Looking for a current case study? Want to know what tactics are helping your peers beat the competition? Simply type in your questions, and StreetSmarts will find your answer for you. In addition, it will give you your peers’ rating of that advice, so the value of the insights is readily apparent.
HireVue (Salt Lake City, Utah). Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner? HireVue provides a SaaS offering that speeds up the whole sales rep interviewing/hiring process by having the initial interview with sales candidates conducted virtually using a webcam and a predetermined set of questions. The candidate’s interview answers are uploaded to a sales portal, allowing hiring managers access to those interviews online at their convenience. They can even compare individuals by seeing how Candidates 2, 7 and 9 answered question No. 6 (on how you build loyalty within your customer base). Using this approach, sales managers can quickly see which candidates they want to invest more time and effort in recruiting.
ReferencesOnline (Denver, Colorado). Literally every company we talk to says they wish they had more references. They feel as though they are burning out the good ones they have by asking them to talk to prospects all the time. ReferencesOnline takes an innovative approach to reference management by recording an audio or video interview with a reference, uploading the file to the sales portal and then allowing prospects to listen or view the interview based on entering a valid password. The interviews can be meta-tagged to allow prospects to view only portions as small as a minute long that relate to their interests. This way, references can used again and again without bugging them.
Glance (Arlington, Massachusetts). Ever since I came across this tool, I’ve found ways to use it at least once a day. Glance is a no-frills way for sales reps to do such things as remote demos, document sharing and PowerPoint presentations. As opposed to other web-meeting software systems I have used, Glance does not require the other users to have any software installed on their systems. I simply start a Glance session on my PC through the Internet browser and ask the other party to log on to www.glance.dickie.net on his or her PC and enter the four-digit code I provided. And we are instantly connected to collaborate. Very simple and very inexpensive.
Kubi Software (Lincoln, Massachusetts). The basic premise of Kubi Software, and one that I agree with, is that while we would like all of the notes and communications associated with every sales opportunity to be kept in our CRM systems, the reality is they are not. Instead, they are far more often found in emails. For example, when a rep answers a prospect’s question, negotiates with finance for a better price or strategizes with management on how to win the deal, he or she is more likely to store all that information in email, not the CRM system. Designed to be an extension of your existing CRM framework, Kubi organizes all those messages, priorities follow-ups and creates an audit trail of who said what to whom during the sell cycle.
ShadeTree Technologies (Austin, Texas). Even your best salespeople may only be selling a fraction of the entire product line. The reason behind this is that it is human nature for salespeople to sell what they know and shy away from those offerings they haven’t had success with yet. ShadeTree is attacking that challenge by giving reps a sales coaching CRM solution that allows reps to describe the opportunity they have uncovered and then having the application provide them with a very targeted sales strategy for how to most effectively pursue that deal. Based on leveraging previously successful best practices, the system is like having a personal coach to work with you on maximizing your performance on every opportunity.
Market-Partners (Santa Rosa, California). We have been loading data into CRM systems for ages now; finally, we are seeing the emergence of analytics tools that can help us get insights back out of these systems. Market-Partners’ eSP application is a web-based suite that provides sales, marketing and senior executives with the ability to thoroughly analyze their pipeline and forecast with more accurately by better managing the flow of opportunities through the sales cycle. Having run sales before for three companies in my past life, I started to salivate when I saw the charts and graphs that this system can generate regarding what’s come into and gone out of the pipeline, what tasks have and haven’t been accomplished, how the current projected close date matches up to what we have been experiencing in the past and a host of other situations. In short, it’s the answer to a CSO’s prayers.
Will any or all of these be the next salesforce.com and IPO in 2006 or 2007? I am not making that claim. But I do believe that they all solve real problems that sales teams face, in ways that core CRM systems have yet to address. And they deserve and should get a lot more attention for CRM project teams in the coming year.
The success of applications like these will attract more innovation into the market space, and at the end of next year we will have a whole new set of new kids to discuss.