MUST READ: Best answer EVER to the question, “What’s the best CRM?”

If you are interested in CRM and aren’t already reading the work of Brian Vellmure, you should be.  Brian scored a home-run with this post answering the question, “What’s the best CRM?” It’s a must read for customers, and a great perspective for vendors to adopt. Without question, this post is one of the best CRM posts I have  have read in ages.

It is accurate, realistic, and practical.  More significantly, the whole psychology & practice applies to any business app selection, not just CRM.  It should be kept at hand for customers to read, and read by the rest of us as vendors and consultants to keep our focus directed correctly.

The very best part of his approach is that it is also the way that we should approach and answer prospects any time we are asked, “What’s the best X?” for technology.

You’ve all heard the term ‘solution fit’, but let me introduce you to the term ‘Situational Leadership’, which is what Brain’s demonstrated in this post. When we’re asked to guide organizations in decision-making and selections, it isn’t about walking in the door to provide answers.  Situational Leadership means that you work to help customers figure out what are the right questions they should be asking themselves. “What are we really trying to accomplish with our customers? (our culture, our budget, our processes, our people, and our goals and objectives?)

There is no single, ‘best’ answer to anything, and this is most especially true when we’re asked to weigh the merits of one product or another for a client’s needs.  Fit is indeed determined by need and goals. Brian’s more accurate refinement of the question leads to a critical shift in perspective for those looking for an answer.  It’s not about the answers – it really is about the questions you’re asking:

“How can we get a deeper understanding of our prospects and customers, create a well crafted vision of how to listen and respond better, and enable people throughout our entire organization to execute in the most efficient. effective, and profitable way?”

Adjust your question slightly and adjust your outcome significantly.

ARE YOU HELPING YOUR CUSTOMERS ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS, OR JUST TOSSING OUT ANSWERS ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTS?

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Note: This year’s CRM Idol lucky winner will also receive four hours of of free consultantion by phone with Brian, too! 

SCRM Vendor Challenge: Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It… Craft More Compelling Social Business Narratives

GOTCHA! HOW MANY OF YOU ARE NOW HUMMING THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE THEME? 

This challenge isn’t at all impossible, plus I PROMISE that it will be both an educational and valuable exercise for any of you who pick up the thrown gauntlet. As well, likelihood is extremely high that you will have new &/or improved narratives to use in your marketing, demos, and training videos.

First a small disclaimer to frame this up: As you know, I don’t participate in either the CRM Idol contest judging or reviews. (Although I do vote on finalists at the end of the competition.)  There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that as the CRM Idol Community Manager, it is very important that I keep my focus on each of you as people, rather than vendors of solutions. Which is not to say that I don’t discuss any CRM or Enterprise 2.0 vendors with the Judges in a professional context as industry colleagues – of course I do. But during CRM Idol season, with the panelists and judges I do my best to limit discussions about contestants to pointing out their feedback on experiences gained through participation, and highlighting examples of their contributions to the competition and the entire CRM community.

But during the off-season, you’re all fair game!

I can, will, and do, test and review offerings in my professional capacity. But my approach to assessment of products is much different from how the Judges approach and evaluate it, mostly because I’m deep in the trenches servicing CRM customers daily. Perspectives are different when you are the one selling, designing, implementing, and supporting social business, CRM, and Enterprise solutions. The CRM Idol judges offer you the 10,000′ vision and strategy perspective, while I am digging around with the wiring 5′ under the hood from the consultant’s vantage point.

I’m going to let you in on a secret that is both a coaching guide and your challenge:

It doesn’t matter what CRM or SCRM product I review, I use the same scenario as my testing framework for every single offering. His, yours & the other guy’s. And this is it:

Why do I use this ‘old school, traditional’ CRM process flow as a testing framework methodology?

  • Because I have used this same trade show scenario in hundreds of demos myself to tell an ‘end-to-end’ story about CRM.
  • It might not be a trade show, but ALL organizations have events of some sort or another. The events vary, but the end-to-end processes don’t change much.
  • That’s a screen shot from one of my demos. During the demo, I click into each and every one of those icons to show features & functionality while I am telling a use case story.
  • The flow above is pretty much the same for marketing campaigns, new product launches, promo code sales, etc.
  • (Some orgs may not create quotes, credit checks or order acknowledgements, but those are usually backend processes anyway, so they are there as placeholders for integration examples with ERP/Order Entry systems.)
  • This testing framework allows me to assess your product (and his, hers & theirs,) consistently on key deliverables & comparables:
  • Which of these same processes, functions, features and analytics can I do? Which ones are missing?
  • If any are missing, are they in planned development? Can I integrate with other products that fill in the gaps? If so, which ones?
  • How would I implement this in your product?
  • Can I configure &/or customize rules, logic, and flow?
  • Can I set data requirements or standards to collect/store what I need at each step of the process flow and the underlying processes, too?
  • How would I migrate data to your offering?  Is the data information architected well for integrations?
  • Can I get the reports and data I need to do a robust analysis of the whole flow and select processes/phases?
  • Do I like the user interface? Is it intuitive as I work through & navigate this flow?
  • How would I fit your innovations into this traditional example of a CRM flow.
  • Where are the logical spots to incorporate your social capabilities into my story & demo?
  • How could this process flow be improved and made more efficient using your Product/Service?

So there it is – your challenge, should you choose to accept it.  Step back and review your product with a proven use case story like the one above.

Most of you won’t put tickmarks beside all of these processes and features or you’d already be selling like the big platform players, (and for the record, in 15 years I’ve only worked with one product to date that did all of this easily, so don’t be discouraged – very few other vendors could check every box either). But… you can write your own new narrative about the things you can do innately, and via integrations, and craft kick-ass use case demos!

For those of you who are real keeners, I’ve created a slide deck for you with loads more coaching, strategy, and examples for telling more compelling CRM and social business stories.

It is up to you to decide if you’d like to share your discoveries & experience if you take on this challenge, but I’d be interested if you are willing.  It’d be fun to compare notes between contestant perspectives & learning, wouldn’t it? I know I’d love to see that trade show image totally reworked with a flow that demonstrates your own compelling use case.  Tell us a story.

I’ll leave you to it. Queue the Mission Impossible theme again… :-p

CRM Idol: It’s a Pay-It-Forward Community. Join Now!

In a recent interview with CRM Idol 20111 semi-finalist Nimble, CEO Jon Ferrara called the contest, “a pay it forward community in which the entire SCRM ecosystem all win by nurturing the social business conversation.”  I couldn’t agree more, and I’m inviting all contestants, analysts, vendor seekers, and fans to join in on continuing the conversation this year on the CRM Idol 2012 community discussion boards. Bring your voice, share your thoughts and post your questions.

For those of you just learning about the contest, the idea for CRM Idol evolved from bad PR. Many influencers are approached frequently by companies trying to pitch their wares, but typically, the pitches are badly done and not in a way that encouraged in-depth reviews. Initially, there was talk of an Eminem/Rihanna style video along the lines of parody  ’Love the way you Lie‘ and the idea to have companies compete for face time. Charlie Isaacs quipped that it sounded a lot like American Idol, and CRM Idol evolved into the extraordinary competition and opportunity that it is today, thanks to the efforts of CRM Idol ringmaster Paul Greenberg, and the rest of the discerning judges.

This is a valuable contribution to the social business ecosystem with the joint wisdom of this élite crowd of leaders (all volunteers) like Brent LearyEsteban Kolsky, and Jesus Hoyos,  sharing the highlights and challenges of each emerging technology presented as an SCRM offering. This is going to be an adventure for contestants, but is also extremely beneficial to anyone interested in CRM and social software. To those of us close to the topic it can seem like we already know who is who on the playing field. But that couldn’t be further from reality. In the bigger picture there are still gaping holes in today’s social technologies and tons of room for new innovations to improve customer, partner, community, and employee performance. Let’s see what we learn this year.

For solution shoppers, (and this year’s contestants,) this is an opportunity to absorb wisdom and advice for any small business. You’ll learn much just by checking out the highlights from last season’s Highlights from the Focus ‘CRM Idol: In Search of the Best CRMish Programs You’ve Never Heard of Event’. This gold nugget is true for any business:

One of the key differentials between semi-finalists and the other entrants was storytelling ability. Esteban Kolsky stressed that participants should, “Know your story.” We all forget that our story is as important as our product. The companies that did really well told their story extremely well and had a product worth showing. 

Now it is your turn to weigh in: Tell us your stories. Share your CRM challenges. Ask questions. Discuss solutions. Further the social business education and conversation.

JOIN THE COMMUNITY.

Pay it forward.

The Cutest Little Sales Funnel Evah – Base CRM for Smartphones

Base (CRM) from Future Simple

SMBs are so eager to find simple cloud-based CRM and Sales offerings that they can use on handheld devices that they’ll grab the iPhone right out of your hand. That’s what happened at lunch today while dining with a fellow CRM geek. My colleague pointed to my phone and said, “Okay, show me what you’ve got.”  As I walked her through my latest mobile CRM find, the gent at the table next to us was obviously listening in keenly, then he jumped right in with hand extended to see the app for himself when he heard me say (partly in jest), “See?  It’s got the cutest little sales funnel!”

Developed by startup Future SimpleBase is an attractive cloud-based CRM and Sales Management tool for SMBs . With minimalist, uncluttered interfaces on both the web and smartphone apps, Base will appeal to smaller organizations and individuals looking for simplicity and convenience over feature depth. I think Future Simple has hit a good balance between functionality and ease of use. And it is FREE for unlimited contacts and users for up to 50 deals.

BASE ON THE WEB

Menus and work areas are well organized which allow users to efficiently move between tasks, reports, sales, and contacts.  The simple overview displays a pipeline, activity stream and task list, which is also useful for managers as a snapshot of progress and usage. Predefined reports include Incoming Leads, Total Sales, Lost Sales, Lead Sources, Sales Stage Distribution and the Sales Funnel. Each report is easily filtered by date, user and/or tags and offers a good balance of graphic and text-based information for review. Within Sales, users can quickly view, add, edit, and move opportunities through sales stages simply. Data input is simple and painless throughout the system; the ability to add both standard and custom fields on the fly to system records for users, contacts, and deals is particularly useful. There doesn’t seem to be any social channel integration related to the activity streams yet, social site links like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Skype that are stored on contact/organization cards will link directly to the site profile.

Several other key features of the Base web:

  • Admins can easily configure custom values for Lead Sources, Loss Reasons, Sales Stages, as well as custom fields
  • Data import options for contacts, organizations and deals include: .vcf, .csv., Salesforce, Highrise, Basecamp, and Gmail
  • Email Dropbox – When emailing contacts from mail apps outside of Base, users can paste a token into the BCC field and the email will automatically be attached to the contact record within Base.
  • Data Export – contacts, deals, and tasks can be exported to .csv
  • Create a Client Space to have deal conversations and share documents with clients
  • Embed a hosted web form on your site to harvest Leads
  • Integration with Facebook, DropBox and Harvest
  • API (REST) – didn’t test it, but clear guidance offered on Future Simple’s Developer pages
  • Security – Information is transmitted via SSL to Amazon EC2 servers

Overall, Base offers a simple CRM and Sales experience without a lot of fuss and muss – and –  you can take it with you on your handheld.

BASE ON THE SMARTPHONE

Future Simple offers both iPhone and Android apps. In testing the iPhone app, the data integration between the web and phone was seamless. As with the web interface, the mobile version delivers clean simplicity and the same base feature functions. Contacts, tasks, deals and deals are easily managed. The dashboard displays recent items and an activity stream for a quick overview. Work deals from the (cute little) Sales Funnel.

Base CRM iPhone Sales Funnel

One downfall is that contacts aren’t connected to contacts stored on your device, but this isn’t likely to be a deal-breaker for most users because they can import contacts from Gmail easily. Perhaps Future Simple will work on further contact sync and integration options in future versions. Some Android users report minor glitches with Asus Transformer, but the Android reviews are otherwise consistently positive.

PRICING

Base is FREE for unlimited users and contacts, but that is limited to a total of 50 deals.  Upgrade options include usual deal package bumps and a referral program deal offering (which I’m not a fan of, but some users will like.) See Future Simple for further details.

My Opinion: Base for the iPhone stands out as a pretty powerful and clean tool that might be more appealing to SMBs and individuals than some of the more complex CRM smartphone offerings.

Highlights from the Focus ‘CRM Idol: In Search of the Best CRMish Programs You’ve Never Heard Of’ Event

Photo credit and use permission given by copyright holder Charlie Isaacs

CRM Idol isn’t like American Idol, it’s better! This competition provides unique opportunities to contestants, industry analysts, and consumers alike. Any small business can benefit from the advice offered during the Focus ‘CRM Idol: In Search of the Best CRMish Programs You’ve Never Heard Of‘ event today,as  judges Paul GreenbergEsteban KolskyBrent Leary and Brian Vellmure shared some key insights about the contest, and the contestants, gained during the North American first round of the competition. If you missed the event, I highly recommend that you listen to the replay here – especially if you are a young, small start-up in need of some wise mentoring in any industry.

 Highlights

  • The idea for CRM Idol evolved from bad PR. Many influencers are approached frequently by companies trying to pitch their wares, but typically, the pitches are badly done and not in a way that encouraged in-depth reviews. Initially, there was talk of an Eminem/Rihanna style video along the lines of parody  ‘Love the way you Lie‘ and the idea to have companies compete for face time. Charlie Isaacs quipped that it sounded a lot like American Idol, and CRM Idol evolved into the extraordinary competition and opportunity that it is today.
  • Judges were somewhat surprised that many of the companies are still building apps on .NET framework. This was an unexpected result. There didn’t seem to be any judgement attached to the statement either way, but it’s an interesting statistic that we might learn more about as the judges continue the competition. (@FuzeDigital started a discussion on stacks here in the community – weigh in! )
  • Some of the competitors did interesting things with java scripting and interfaces.
  • Across the board, most of the entrants would benefit from more focus on marketing. As an example, while most of the orgs had the requisite three references, the fact that many didn’t understand the process to provide the references highlighted other some challenges that small businesses face. “The biggest problem contestants in CRM Idol have isn’t building great products, it’s marketing,” said Paul Greenberg, which was echoed by the other panelists.
  • One of the biggest benefits to participants was the education the panelists provided on raising their visibility, which will continue after the competition. “Once a CRM Idol contestant, always a CRM Idol contact.”
  • Contestant Salestrakr added via twitter “Gotta say, #CRMIdol provided more reach to people of influence than we’ve ever experienced.” @Salestrakr’s CEO Steve Youngblood was praised during today’s event for setting an example as an active participant in the contest and the Idol community. He took it seriously and recognized the opportunity before them. (Demo here)
  • One of the key differentials between semi-finalists and the other entrants was storytelling ability. Esteban Kolsky stressed that participants should, “Know your story.” We all forget that our story is as important as our product. The companies that did really well told their story extremely well and had a product worth showing.
  • Paul added, “Don’t pitch a ball at their face! Do your homework. It doesn’t take much effort to learn a bit about the panel and understand that Influencers are human, get to know them. Swim where they swim, build a connection.”
  • Brent Leary sang harmony with, “Want to get noticed? Be interesting!” and offered up Hubspot as a poster child example to study. Hubspot excels at presenting their story across multiple channels using many different types of media.
  • “Be brief. Tell a story. Have fun!” * (Note that while Judges were amazed at the prevalence for use of @Prezi, which I happen to think is a really fun storytelling tool, it also made some feel seasick, and others feel old.) ;-P
  • Judges were exposed to some negativity, and that did effect potential semi-finalists. “It just doesn’t work if you try to make another company look bad.” Hard lesson learned by one organization that was right on the edge of making the semi-finals, but lost out due to negativity. Brent encouraged participants, “CRM Idol is a community, Be civil. Support each other.”
  • And the community is busy. Paul notes that the site is getting between 1,000 – 3,000 hits a day right now.
  • It was also clear to the Judges and panelists which companies had taken the guidance Esteban Kolsky shared during his presentation guidance webinar, and which contestants hadn’t. It showed during the presentations.
  • Esteban: “There’s not a single influencer in the world that’s beyond the reach of any vendor.” (If they do their homework and craft the story well as advised.)
  • Late comers @AddressTwo who took the last contest spot when another entrant dropped out provided one jaw-dropping demo to the Judges. Towards the end of their presentation they said, “Oh by the way, we also have Addy,” a simple, elegant tool that Esteban expressed would help get work done like an extra employee for a business.
  • “Sometimes it wasn’t about innovation, but a fresh look at traditional things done in a more useful way.” Judges offered up SalesNexus as an vendor who took a fresh look at marketing and sales, “They were very smart in their approach.”
  • Esteban Kolsky expressed humble thanks to all of the contestants. Judges learned tons by listening to all the vendors. Additionally, CRM Idol brings visibility to the whole #CRM and #SCRM community.
  • Event organizer Paul Greenberg further encourages all small vendors to join the crmidol.com community. “You don’t have to be a contestant. It’s a venue for discussion. If you get too markety we’ll beat you with a bat and pitch you out,” but it is an ideal destination spot to engage with others and learn from the influencers. All small CRM companies are welcome to talk on CRM Idol and foloow the #crmidol tag.

An all around excellent session, with worthwhile advice and feedback for small tech companies spanning many industries, not just CRM. I can’t stress often enough that the reviews are also a must read for small businesses searching for new tools, consultants supporting their customers, and analysts who want to benefit from the hard work of the CRM Idol Judges, all of which was volunteered graciously.

Sing it Out! Add your voice – How do the CRM Idol Contestant Entries Measure Up?

For anyone who has any interest at all in emerging technologies in social business in general, and CRM offerings in particular, it’s time to reap the the benefits of the CRM Idol 2011 contest, by learning what the experts’ initial feedback is and adding your own insights for the Judges’ consideration.

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of CRM Idol since the idea was first launched in the Spring for many reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity for solution shoppers and analysts to tap into Paul Greenberg’s gathered army of industry experts acting as judges, panelists and mentors, for their views on some of the smaller/newer CRM offerings. Patience has paid off and the judges have started to post their concise, candid first reviews of the companies that have presented their wares so far.  This is a valuable contribution to the ecosystem with the joint wisdom of this élite crowd of leaders like Brent Leary, Esteban Kolsky, and Jesus Hoyos,  sharing the highlights and challenges of each, as Paul explains:

“Each review has been signed off by all the CRM Idol Primary Judges – currently for the Americas and in early September for EMEA. So these are all jointly done in effect. They represent a distillation of the understanding of the companies and their products from the principals who did the demos and briefing with us throughout last week and through the end of this week.”

As the judging moves toward the selection of semi-finalists, the panelists will also be reading your comments and opinions on the entries, which will factor in to the eventual choices. Reviews are being posted at a rate of 2-4 daily, so check often, read through them carefully to learn how each company might have solutions for your own clients or business, and speak up with questions and direct experience. It’s a rare opportunity all the way around for anyone who gets involved.  Now it is your turn to take part.

You can find the reviews, weigh in and add your comments on:

Sing it out! Who do you think the CRM Idol semi-finalists should be?

CRM Idol – Crowd Wisdom for the Candidates

Paul Greenberg’s CRM Idol is a brilliant concept as competition with an initiative to both identify and showcase CRM and SCRM related start ups. Fortunate candidates gain exposure and support from investors, influencers, technology/strategic partners, media connections, etc.  But there is more to explore if we look at the contest from the inside of the industry outwards. In addition to the the unique opportunity that CRM Idol has offered these emerging companies, it’s also been an interesting example of what candidates should and should not be doing, with some startling preliminary results so far.

In short, many of the candidates could have done more to maximize their exposure with the related high value FREE PR.

Using start up Next Principles Event Monitoring offering, NP CEO Satya Krishnaswamy and I have  been measuring CRM Idol impact from the perspective of the event organizers and judges for several months now. While working in the spring with @NextPrinciples on some design/development/use ideas, I thought what better example to use for monitoring events via social channels than to select an event-driven by social business industry leaders?  There were some good reasons for picking CRM Idol specifically for this experiment:

  • The teams of judges, panelists, mentors, sponsors offer a rare grouping of many of the very best minds in the social business arena. How does that play out in their own event promotion?
  • The high level of interest in technologies and innovations geared towards bridging the gaps between traditional and socialized crm
  • The opportunity for the candidates to show their own social/crm savvy as participants in the event

The Basics

Adopting the persona of Paul Greenberg his very own self, we created an event template in April including several of the main influencer judges as ’employees’ tasked with running, promoting, monitoring and following up on the event.   Related blogs (10 ‘company’ and 14 ‘non-company’) were identified as key industry news sources, twitter keywords identified and began watching the results.  Here are a few of the preliminary highlights from the competition during its first week of demo judging:
  • Aside from the ‘company’ event tweeters, 570 more people tweeted about CRM Idol resulting in a 12% follower growth rate for the specific event handle ‘@pgreenbe’
  • Oddly, we would have predicted both social and SCRM to have been included in more related tweets considering today’s hash tag economy, but ‘latam’ made a surprisingly strong appearance, likely due to Jesus Hoyos influence

The Candidates ‘Social Event’ Performance

Interesting – and disturbing – was the lack of promotion participation by the real competition candidates themselves.  Using some of the measurement results along with good old-fashioned human observation it’s clear that many of these organizations missed the boat when it came to using this as a social PR opportunity to show that they’re walking their talk as part of their own strategies for CRM.  Relatively few pushed one or more blog posts about being selected to take part, or related their demo experiences so far, almost none tagged their demo videos on YouTube with CRM Idol to maximize hit results beyond their inclusion on the CRM Idol site, and the level of engagement with CRM Idol audience/fans/followers via twitter was astonishingly low. In fact, most candidates barely shared news or excitement about the event at all.
There was one noticeable exception in Aplicor’s response to the event chatter. Marketing Director Tracy Fawcett not only engaged with the RT’ing audience and other candidates, she followed up with personalized invites to advocates and candidates alike to connect on other channels like LinkedIn.  You know – cross pollinating and building relationships in a genuine way via social? Yeah, like that.
To some, the social crm (read business) community may seem to be a bit insular, and of course the candidates’ current focus is on learning from and impressing the influencers and investors, but I’m hoping they’ll be wise enough to spend time after the competition in building additional strategic partnerships, or just pausing to share their stories with those who expressed interest in their success during the competition. Never know who might help you build relationships with more leads and customers.

Advice for the Candidates

It’s a simple concept: For start ups participating in an event, especially one like CRM Idol that has a built in network of influential broadcasters – grab the free PR and run with it! Talk it up at all stages.

Pre-event

  •  Post blogs! Share your stories about being accepted to present, your demo prep, your expectations. Hell show your belly and admit to being nervous, if you are.
  • Get to know the other candidates/presenters.  Don’t just stalk them surreptitiously and mock their videos. Make an effort to explore commonalities and differences beyond their solutions. Who is their customer and can you share them?  Who are these other entrepreneurs who are just as eager as yourselves to be change agents? What can you learn from their experiences?

Don’t just wait for the event to jump into tagging – add ‘CRM Idol’ to videos, images, tutorials early on so that the chatter starts – and the impact will last long beyond the event.

During the event 

  • Carve time out each day to respond to people who’ve tweeted about your participation. Especially those who’ve expressed further interest in you or your products.
  • Wish the others luck. Did I really have to say that? Good sportsmanship is always a sign of a good leader.
  • Tweet, write, update at least a few times a day. Interested people who aren’t watching in real-time will surely check the social channels for updates, won’t they?
  • Thank the organizers. And the judges. And the panelists. And anyone else who has shown the slightest bit of attention your way.
Post Event
  • Thank the organizers/participants again – in detail. Write about it again in 1, 3, 6 months and share the impact it’s had on you and your company.  Did one key conversation or insight radically change your strategy?  How’s that working out?
  • Provide the organizers real feedback. Did you have an increase in sales? Did you form new partnerships? Let them know if you got results, even if you didn’t ‘win’.
Paul and the rest of the CRM Idol team have done an outstanding job of providing real value to the enterprise ecosystem.  I’d like to hear their own observations on how candidates are using this opportunity to their best benefit to build relationships directly and indirectly. But for now, I’ll just issue this challenge to the contestants:
Walk your talk. Demonstrate that you do understand all aspects of social impact on your own business. Work it.