Get Satisfaction Wins CRM Idol!

I will apologize in advance for the length of this post… there is a lot to write about the journey.

Back in April I read on Paul Greenberg’s ZDNet column that he was organizing a competition called CRM Idol for companies in the social CRM market space. He had pulled together an impressive roster of judges who evaluate and score 40 companies in the U.S. and 20 companies from outside the U.S.

The criteria for inclusion was pretty straightforward, you had to secure a demo slot when the call for companies was announced, only companies under $10m in annual revenue qualified and customer references had to be provided. Check, check and check… Get Satisfaction met all the initial criteria.

Profile information had to be provided so that the CRMIdol website could be fitted out, and the judges called on customer references to verify their authenticity, and I assumed to gather additional information.

Keep in mind that we had just come out of a fundraising cycle so I had a pretty tight pitch deck put together and had a nice demo featuring our customer communities. I estimated that we would easily qualify for inclusion and could make it through the initial round, which narrowed the field to 13 companies (I love the number 13, a lot of really good stuff at Get Satisfaction has featured this number, including the Friday the 13th that we closed on our A round).

I did the pitch with Brent Leary, Denis Pombriant, and Jesus Hoyos and it played out just like a VC meeting. Our lead presales guy did the demo and we answered questions. All in all I thought we did well.

When the semi-finalists were announced I was pleased to see that my calculations were correct and we had qualified as well as made it to the semi-final round. In reviewing the list of semi-finalists it was clear that we had some work cut out for us in order to proceed… Paul and company had assembled a really impressive roster of semi-finalists.

Next up was a one-on-one interview with Brent Leary. I appreciated this because Brent focuses on SMB market segments and is someone I had read for a while but not had the chance to meet. The interview with Brent was the highlight of the competitive process for me, we covered a wide range of topics that ran the gamut of market perspective to the culture of the company we were building.

Then the finalists were announced and I was super excited to see that we had made it. At this point I was declaring victory because when I started the process I had a modest goal, make it to the semi-final round and just hope we could stretch into the finalists. Now we were 4 and the competition was daunting, including Assistly, Crowdfactory and Stone Cobra. Start sweating and wait for the final round instructions…

With a mere 3 weeks to deliver we were tasked with submitting a video that would be voted on in popular vote fashion, the results of which would be ½ of a final score with the other ½ coming from the cumulative judges vote. Did I say 3 WEEKS?

Fortunately, creative content has always been a strong suit for our team so we set about writing a script that would highlight the “buttoned up but untucked” nature of our brand, entertaining for the popular vote while dealing with the serious side of why you or anyone else should care about what we were doing.

Then Assistly got acquired by Salesforce and I was really happy that Paul had declared that the finalists could not spend more than $10k on the video. However I still had a problem, with Salesforce’s formidable market presence the Assistly team could deliver a really strong popular vote which meant I would have to over-deliver on the judges ballot in order to come out on top. This was not going to be easy, Assistly has a good product and a brand that is a lot like ours… however we did have a weapon in our arsenal that none of the other companies could match, we have a robot.

The thing to remember about online video is that most of the viewers will click away in the first 45 seconds and if the video is more than 3 minutes in length they typically won’t even stick around that long. Our charter was no more than 10 minutes in length but there was no way I was going to subject anyone to that much video so we went with a sub 3 minute video and decided to feature our loveable mascot JarGon in the first segment.

We had another decision to make about the video and that was how we would feature customer examples and if we would do it in their own words. I felt it was important to have our CEO, Wendy Lea, and one of our founders, Thor Muller, featured in the video to emphasize our ownership of the content rather than deferring to customers. It was a risky move because conventional wisdom is that telling your story through your customers is generally a winning strategy.

Our video producer shot the video on a Friday and spent the next week editing it to a draft cut, which then went through 2 more iterations before submitting it on the due date with time to spare.

When the finalists videos came out I instantly second guessed my decision to not use customers… several of the videos had some compelling customer interview segments that I could not help but be envious of. Well it was too late to hand wring over it, you dance with whom you brought and that is all there is to it.

Our promotional campaign was pretty simple, every couple of days we would push out in social channels a “hey please watch our video and vote for us” message and I worked my influencer channel, which was tricky because many of them are also CRM Idol judges and I did not want to appear unseemly so in the end influencers ended up not being very influential for us because we exercised a high degree of self-restraint. I was happy with our video and felt that it strongly portrayed what we believe in as a company. Nuff said.

On Monday the winners were announced and I will be really honest and tell you I was shocked to see we had won. I did not enter us into this event with the preconceived notion that we would be here today basking in the honor of having won it all. The other companies were that good and I am glad that I don’t have to compete against most of them.

In the EMEA category a company I was not familiar with, BPMOnline was crowned the winner and that underscores why this competition was important and we are grateful to Paul for organizing it. The social fill-in-the-blank market is incredibly noisy and just getting attention is a challenge, much less mindshare.

CRM Idol put a spotlight on companies that we otherwise would not read much about, not because they don’t deserve ink but because they, like us, are small companies that have limited means to do the traditional activities that bring attention to products and solutions. Traditional analyst firms have an annual revenue threshold for inclusion in formal research, like Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. What this means is that sub-$10m annual revenue companies won’t get included in the analyst research that is important for gaining mindshare in the market, and what Paul did was provide theatre that companies like us could take advantage of.

Paul used his considerable influence in the market and a long list of relationships to bring together people who could evaluate these companies on their merits. The competitive process was rigorous and we are better off for having gone through it.

It’s been a good couple of weeks, we won CRM Idol and just last week one of our original customers, Intuit’s Mint group, won a prestigious Groundswell Award from Forrester Research for their work on social support.

Voice of the Customer is Dead

Voice of the customer (VoC) programs have been popular from the moment that businesses first started having customers and in recent years the formality of these programs has increased and books have been written and many conference agendas populated with experts on the subject.

VoC is dead and social is the reason.

Paul Greenberg recently noted at the Enterprise 2.0 event that business technology is not undergoing a technology revolution, the revolution is one based in communication and as a result business is being forced to adapt and innovate.

Companies of all sizes are directly connecting with individual consumers and are now able to scale these interactions. The result of this is that methods built around sampling and proxy are no longer necessary or productive. Why would you collect data that you have to interpret, extrapolate, filter, and subject to latency when employees can directly tap into customer communities for direct and immediate engagement?

To be clear, voice of the customer is not an obsolete concept… Voice of the Customer programs are obsolete and will increasingly be co-opted and replaced by customer communities.

This is one of the more interesting consequences of the mass market adoption of social networks, they serve to break down the barriers that exist between customers and employees. Whether or not the firewall exists doesn’t matter, the fact remains that employees are becoming accustomed to interacting directly with customers regardless of whether they are in the customer service org or something entirely different.

Companies are themselves recognizing that their competitive strategy requires being attuned to customer needs and engagement, a point that Josh Bernoff recently made quite well in an outstanding research piece called Competitive Strategy in the Age of the Customer.

Bernoff’s key points are that competitive advantage no longer continue to derive from backoffice technology focused on productivity and efficiency but from customer facing technology that delivers customer insights which can then be acted upon from a market and product perspective.

Companies that obsess about customers end up investing in technology differently than other companies because they build their business around the one piece of intellectual property that cannot be replicated or commoditized, customer insight. As a result, Forrester is recommending that companies budget according to the following priorities:

1) invest in real-time insight to build products that customers will embrace.

2) Spend more on customer experience and customer service to build relationships.

3) Fund sales channels that deliver intelligence about customers, not just the push.

4) Shift marketing from one-way ads into useful content and interactive marketing.

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