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.

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.