Our Rising Stars this year don't fit any single mold--rather, they reflect the CRM industry's emerging trends, its continuing reach, and its ongoing aspirations.
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Every industry has its behemoths, the lumbering giants that are on the tip of every tongue and the top of every shortlist. But specialty vendors and up-and-coming niche players are the lifeblood of a marketplace, innovating and introducing new techniques and technologies that the big boys eventually either adapt, adopt, or acquire. Our Rising Stars this year don't fit any single mold--rather, they reflect the CRM industry's emerging trends, its continuing reach, and its ongoing aspirations.
In alphabetical order, they are:
ALTERIAN: Integrating the Marketing
Today's marketers are in the midst of a major metamorphosis. Evolving customer demands, emerging channels, and renewed emphasis on accountability and ROI are significantly increasing the need for integrated marketing processes, essentially diminishing the value of siloed applications. United Kingdom-based Alterian is one of those companies zeroing in on integrated marketing strategies--but the trick is getting customers to take the plunge. In fact, David Eldridge, the company's chief executive officer, told us that, when it comes to the task of trumpeting the benefits of integrated marketing, the biggest challenge is "making people aware without frightening them."
The 10-year-old company's core offering, the Alterian Marketing Services Platform, combines database, digital, and operational marketing applications on a shared data infrastructure. (Alterian delivers on-premise functionality, but its offerings are often hosted by channel partners.) Integration is important, Eldridge says--not impossible. Companies "don't have to do it all at once," he adds.
The company has been following its own "piece-by-piece" advice, actively scooping up technology to bolster its integrated marketing suite. In May 2006 Alterian acquired email and online marketing software firm Dynamics Direct, and four months later announced the acquisition of marketing resource management (MRM) software provider Nvigorate. More recently, in April 2007, it acquired all intellectual property and software rights for Campaign Calculus 2.0, a contact optimization product from The Customer Partnership, a consultancy and software provider specializing in marketing optimization.
Suresh Vittal, senior analyst at Forrester Research, says that with these acquisitions, what Alterian's gone after is "really delivering on this vision of the comprehensive suite for marketing." Forrester has a name for that kind of integrated platform: the marketing technology backbone (MTB). According to a Forrester report with that title, by vice president and research director Elana Anderson, the MTB is a technology infrastructure that supports an integrated approach to marketing strategy, development, delivery, and measurement across the marketing mix.
Alterian's North American revenue was up nearly 70 percent in 2006, while overall revenue rose 32 percent. The company has announced big plans for the coming year, intending to invest $2 million in strengthening its account management teams and extending its product range. Alterian, Vittal says, has "made major strides in interactive marketing, MRM, and planning"--but the journey is not complete. "They are in the process of getting there," he says, adding that the company is "definitely a solid Rising Star."
--Coreen Bailor, with additional reporting by Jessica Tsai
ELOQUA: Automating the Workflow
Sales and marketing have always been strapped by the lack of coordination that plagues the opportunity management process. Many people figured CRM would solve that, but it hasn't--which has left an opening for specialty solutions to address this dilemma. Eloqua, recently named a "Cool Vendor" by Gartner in CRM marketing and analytics, is one of those firms looking to broker a ceasefire in the information war between sales and marketing.
The company's flagship product, Conversion Suite, is a demand generation platform that helps marketers drive demand and cultivate prospect information to close sales. The on-demand solution automates workflows across sales and marketing functions such as email, direct mail, Web-site analytics, campaign analytics, and SFA to improve the quality and quantity of sales leads. In April the company beefed up its robust offerings with Eloqua Enterprise, an addition to Conversion Suite that enables global marketing and sales organizations to leverage Conversion Suite's benefits worldwide.
Financially, the company posted its best quarter ever in Q1 2007: doubling the revenue booked in the quarter a year earlier, signing 36 new customers, and announcing Winter 2007's release of Eloqua Conversion.
While Eloqua is doing a great job supporting the end-to-end process between sales and marketing, Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of Beagle Research, is particularly impressed by Eloqua's support of the marketing cycle that precedes any handoff to sales. "The cycle is one of prospect maturation, and that doesn't happen all at once," he says. "At some point, a customer makes a decision--to buy or to pass--and that's when the end-to-end process with sales really gets going. Without products like Eloqua, companies routinely send out basic information hoping to attract prospects, but simply annoy them. With Conversion Suite, companies can feed potential buyers the next logical piece of info when they're ready for it."
iENTERPRISES: Mobilizing the Sales Force
Practically since the birth of CRM, users have clamored for mobile options. While many vendors tack on some wireless functionality to their applications, almost as an afterthought, few if any focus exclusively on delivering the mobile component. One of those rare few is iEnterprises, a private concern based in Murray Hill, N.J., that's been building mobile CRM solutions for more than a decade.
The BlackBerry device family from Research in Motion (RIM) remains the platform of choice for the software iEnterprises offers--a sensible plan since BlackBerry practically created the enterprise mobility market. Thanks to a development team led by Chief Software Architect John Carini, iEnterprises' offerings include Mobile Edge, a complete mobile CRM environment adaptable to almost any CRM system and containing its own useful modules; and iExtensions, a scalable and configurable integration for Lotus Notes.
"They sell the application for the device--not a development platform to build the app--so it is ready to be deployed right after purchase," says Stacy Sudan, research analyst for mobile enterprise software with IDC. "It works with any CRM system, so it doesn't matter what is already installed for the desktop CRM, it can be extended."
In addition to ongoing work with IBM's Lotus Notes and the various Microsoft products, iEnterprises made headlines this year with a pair of smart Mobile Edge partnerships, one with NetSuite and the other with SugarCRM. Both solutions allow customers to access their important information anytime, anywhere, via their BlackBerry devices, and are fully integrated with their respective partners' offerings and architecture.
"Partnerships with IBM and RIM are key for growth," IDC's Sudan says. "There is a lot of opportunity right now for mobile CRM--it will be the next big growth area after mobile email."
INFINITY INFO SYSTEMS: Pleasing the Crowds
We spend a lot of time focusing on vendors, but it's important to recognize the impact that resellers and other partners have on the industry. Some of these "last-mile" specialists have so distinguished themselves that their efforts, in essence, represent almost an entirely new product line. Infinity Info Systems (IIS) is one such company.
Founded in 1987, New York-based IIS is dedicated to perfecting customer relationship management systems for each client by providing comprehensive CRM solutions and consulting services, training, implementation, and continual software improvements. Infinity has trained more than 130,000 professionals and successfully implemented more than 3,500 CRM systems around the world.
IIS makes business process integration, mobility, and business intelligence a reality within its clients' CRM systems, and keeps the people behind those systems trained on the latest software. Infinity achieved a customer-retention rate of 93 percent for 2006, and boasts that 60 percent of its sales come from existing customers. The company is consistently in the top 1 percent of sales globally for every product it sells. Clearly, Infinity is making its customers happy.
The happiness is internal as well. IIS has created more than 50 new jobs in New York since 2001 and now employs more than 70 people. Its personnel retention rate is 90 percent year-over-year, one of the key reasons The New York Enterprise Report last year named the company a recipient of one of its Small Business Best Practice Awards, where IIS nabbed the Best Practice in Human Resources category. And IIS has continued to expand elsewhere: The company has acquired several other resellers since 2003; opened offices in Ohio, California, and the Carolinas; and developed partnerships with firms around the world.
The personal touch that IIS brings to every engagement is driven by Yacov Wrocherinsky, the company's founder and chief executive officer, who was even nominated for Inc. magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year last year. "What really impressed me was his deep commitment to his employees, his customers, and the community," says Karen Smith, former research director of the CRM practice at Aberdeen Group and now senior product manager for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. "Infinity not only wants to implement solutions, but to get involved with the client's people and business." With the ongoing emergence of Microsoft's CRM offerings, Smith says the IIS team has been "adamant about getting to know the product better so they can properly suit it to their partners."
INFOR: Acquiring the Acquirer
At first glance, Infor may appear to be a peculiar Rising Star pick. After all, it's one of the world's largest business-applications providers, nestled behind SAP and Oracle Corp., and sporting more than $2 billion in revenue and in excess of 70,000 customers. The privately held vendor has been pursuing a particularly aggressive acquisition strategy, snapping up more than 20 software providers in four years to strengthen its product library, including a host of ERP and supply-chain management vendors. But with its August 2006 acquisition of SSA Global, which had itself acquired best-of-breed player E.piphany, Infor has emerged as a rising competitor in CRM's battlefield.
E.piphany had been known for its solid marketing and analytics capabilities, but, prior to the acquisition by SSA Global, was mired in sluggish financial results. Now part of Infor, however, it no longer has the pressure of being a public company and has the backing of a huge parent entity.
Infor absorbed E.piphany's functionality and, in June 2006, unveiled the rebranded Infor CRM Epiphany 7.0--minus E.piphany's signature mid-name "dot," just to torture our editorial staff. The new edition featured customer strategy groups, enhanced reporting and analytics, offer-specific real-time data mining, statistical model integration, an updated user interface, and improved offer tracking. The revised product "is really strong in terms of...providing marketing automation for business users," says Ray Wang, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. "Nontechnical people can use the product, customize it, and create campaigns very easily."
If Infor can continue to develop its visibility in the CRM marketplace, the firm should be able to make a place for itself on buyers' shortlists. "It's a company that, long term, will be providing an alternative to Oracle and SAP," Wang says. "And it's got those ambitions."
VISTAAR: Pricing the Products
Market intelligence and research isn't new; companies have been practicing it for years, using analytic solutions, third-party research firms, and data garnered from their CRM systems. But one domain where these solutions have fallen short is in pricing and product management, which is what makes Vistaar one of this year's Rising Stars.
A recent study by the BPM Forum found that many companies still have little more than their hunches to work with when making pricing and product decisions. In fact, 70 percent of respondents said their opinion of the data quality conveyed between product marketing and pricing was between "average" and "very low."
"Companies have spent millions on automating transaction processes, but they are relying too much on spreadsheets and gut instincts when looking at the impact of their decisions on actual revenue and margin," says Diganta Majumber, director of the BPM Forum. "They need technologies that get analytics into [product managers'] hands that helps them determine the impact of their decisions from a profit-and-loss standpoint."
Parsippany, N.J.-based Vistaar is helping to answer this call by offering an analytics suite for product marketing, management, and sales groups that helps make daily decisions about pricing, product forecasts, product transitions, and pricing responses to competitors. This analytic-driven decision-making is counterintuitive compared to how businesses typically develop pricing models and product marketing campaigns. "Product marketing and sales plans are usually formulated from the top down, rather than from a data-driven, bottom-up approach," says Kimberly Collins, research vice president at Gartner, which named Vistaar one of this year's "Cool Vendors." "These sorts of solutions enable companies to walk the fine line between customer satisfaction and retention, and pursuing a profitable business."
Vistaar's also managed to book some top-tier customer wins over the last year--including a multibillion-dollar provider of computer storage and systems; a manufacturing unit of a Fortune 10 company; a leading U.S. automotive-parts company; and an international broadcast network. Revenue for the six-year-old company reached $7.5 million for the fiscal year that ended in March 2007, according to Hoovers. One factor in the company's favor is a management team that's been around the block once already: Founder and chief executive officer Sandy Tungare has a long history in the technology field, having founded forecasting-software developer Think Systems and having led it from a three-person start-up to a 150-person multinational organization that was valued at $146.6 million when it was acquired by i2 Technologies in 1997.
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