• February 1, 2012
  • By Paul Greenberg, founder and managing principal, The 56 Group

Lessons from CRM Idol 2011

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Those of you who follow the industry are probably aware of CRM Idol, launched for the first time in 2011. For those of you who aren’t, in brief, the idea of this competition was to give exposure to small CRM-related technology vendors who had little or no exposure because of the disproportionate (or, actually, proportionate) amount given to the larger or more flamboyant vendors in the customer-facing world.
As the founder and a primary judge of the competition, I was delighted by the quality of most of the companies that participated in the competition. There were 60 in total—40 from the Americas (North and South) and 20 from EMEA. Eight primary judges owned the initial processes, culling the 60 candidates to 19 semifinalists to seven finalists. The finalists all produced videos and, at that point, an extended judges panel, many of whom had mentored candidates throughout the competition, and the vox populi took over. After thousands of votes (accounting for 50 percent of the scoring) and the extended judges’ choices (the other 50 percent), the winners were declared—Get Satisfaction for the Americas and BPMonline for EMEA. 
Now that this is over and there has been some time to actually analyze and reflect on what happened, let’s take a look at the lessons we can draw from the competition, which are meaningful not only to future CRM Idol competitors, but also to how you conduct your business—whether you are a technology vendor or not.
1. No matter how good a product you have, it never sells itself. What we found is that most of the small companies that participated had spent their entire (limited) budget on development. This included companies that had venture capital or other investment. They did no real marketing and no analyst relations/public relations work. They did not spend a second or a dollar on thought leadership in any way. Be smart: Always allocate some of your time and budget for presence, not just product. The investment might stress you out because it seems to take away from development, but it pays off in the thing that it needs to—getting people to know who you are and what you do and have. The earlier you do some things to deal with that the better.
2. Cooperation is better than shark-like competition. The companies that succeeded in this competition were not those that were competitive sharks. Some of the behavior exhibited by a tiny handful of shark-like contestants got them ousted early. The thought leaders and influencers involved in the competition were most impressed by companies exhibiting grace and goodwill. Those that were cooperative and competed on the strength of what they had to offer were the ones that did the best. 
3. Be a bit creative and show your human side. Interestingly enough, during the final round, the two winners both had videos that addressed one or both of two things—the relationship between what they did and how human beings lived/worked and a humorous look at something. Those approaches stood out because they showed a human public face for the company—making them easy to relate to.
4. When you are making a public effort, be prepared. The degree to which the contestants were prepared to deal with the primary judges was critical. There were certain expectations that we had, and the companies that met or exceeded those did well. Note that the decision on whether or not the company did this typically occurred in the first five to 10 minutes of the contestant’s demonstration, though in one notable case, something “wow” happened 40 minutes into one of the demos that significantly changed the judges’ perception of the company doing it. The lesson here is to know what audience you are addressing, understand how they think and what they are expecting from you, and then execute accordingly. Frontload the proofs to the beginning of the public interaction and be consistent after that.
While these are seminal lessons that might seem self-evident, the truth is they aren’t put into practice very often—as we found out through the CRM Idol contest. Keep in mind, we were dealing with outstanding companies. The bulk of the companies in the world aren’t necessarily at the level the majority of these guys are. If some of the contestants at this level didn’t do what I outline here, imagine how many other companies aren’t carrying out these simple but necessary customer-facing practices. 
If you take these lessons to heart, your business will benefit. That’s a good thing, right?

Paul Greenberg (@pgreenbe on Twitter) is president of consultancy The 56 Group (the56group.typepad.com) and cofounder of training company BPT Partners. The fourth edition of his book, CRM at the Speed of Light, is available in bookstores and online.

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