The 2011 CRM Influential Leaders

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Let’s face it. “Influence” is a bit of an overused umbrella term. The word is ingrained in our everyday vocabulary and often ascribed to people who don’t necessarily deserve it. However, after carefully monitoring and analyzing this year’s trends and developments, we selected a handful of individuals who we firmly believe are conquering new frontiers with their achievements. So, what do coupons, social networks, the cloud, resumes, and an array of big name—and expensive—acquisitions have in common? Yes, the I-word. This year, CRM magazine’s Influential Leaders come from a multitude of backgrounds, but they bring a common show-stopping passion to the industry. While some of the leaders may already be well-established all-stars (we think that is a good thing), others also may teach you something about the multifaceted CRM frontier (we think that is an even better thing).

Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com chairman and CEO
A Ubiquitous Presence

Marc Benioff has become a fixture on CRM magazine’s annual list of industry leaders, and this year is no exception. Salesforce.com’s ubiquitous founder, chairman, and CEO hosted a $35,000-a-plate dinner with President Barack Obama in the business executive’s Pacific Heights, Calif., home on April 20.

However, prominent houseguests aside, Benioff captured plenty of headlines on his own this past year for key moves made by Salesforce.com.

Certainly the most prominent of those moves was the acquisition of Radian6, a provider of a top-flight social media-monitoring platform, for $276 million in cash and $50 million in stock. At the time of the deal in March, Benioff called it a “huge opportunity” to accelerate Salesforce.com’s growth and expand its customer base.

Radian6 did more than that. Many analysts say the move instantly turned Salesforce.com into a social CRM powerhouse. Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group, says the move “significantly” strengthens Salesforce.com’s market position, adding, “Salesforce.com becomes now even more the company to beat.”

The acquisition will affect Salesforce.com’s Chatter—the private, secure social network for the enterprise. Radian6 and Salesforce.com will create the bridge between public social networks—like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and online communities—and Chatter. Chatter feeds no longer will contain just the activity happening within the walls of a company, but also will be filled with real-time insights from fans on Facebook pages, followers on Twitter, and comments on blog posts.

Benioff took Chatter to the mainstream. A pair of ads during halftime of the Super Bowl featured Will.i.am and the rest of the Black Eyed Peas in a cartoon promoting Chatter. The ads, which drew mixed reactions from the CRM community, coincided with Salesforce.com’s opening of Chatter to the public for free. In the first three months after Chatter.com opened to the public, it was adopted by 60,000 companies, or about 25 percent of Salesforce.com’s client base. 

Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO
The Deal Maker

 Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO of Oracle, has had extraordinary success buying a string of 70 tech companies in a number of verticals and merging them into the company he founded in 1977. Ellison’s name even has appeared in reports of possible purchases of either the New Orleans Hornets or Golden State Warriors in the NBA with the idea of moving a franchise to San Jose, Calif. However, most sports insiders say such a move is unlikely.

Ellison, who also races sailboats, flies planes, and plays tennis and guitar, is no stranger to headlines. So when he recently brokered a deal for Oracle to snatch up Art Technology Group (ATG), a leading provider of e-commerce software and related on-demand commerce optimization applications, for $1 billion, it too was big news.

Though the ATG deal in November pales compared with some of Oracle’s other CRM acquisitions, including the hostile takeover of PeopleSoft for $10.4 billion in 2005 and Siebel for $5.8 billion in early 2006, it’s an important acquisition nevertheless.

For Oracle, which has a strong presence in enterprise software—including retail, enterprise resource planning, supply chain management, business intelligence, and CRM systems—e-commerce was a weakness.

ATG, which offers an e-commerce platform and on-demand commerce optimization solutions that provide companies with an online presence, will fill those holes and allow Oracle to compete more actively in e-commerce.

Bringing together the complementary technologies and products from both companies will enable Oracle to better deliver next-generation, unified cross-channel commerce and CRM solutions to help businesses improve merchandising, enhance sales with automated recommendations, improve customer service with live help, grow revenue, enhance brand value, and achieve better operating results.

“The addition of ATG, which brings market-leading products used by some of the largest and most well-known retailers and brands, furthers Oracle’s strategy of delivering industry-specific enterprise applications,” Robert Weiler, executive vice president of Oracle’s global business unit, said in a statement at the time of the acquisition. “This acquisition builds upon our dedication to offer the most complete and integrated suite of best-of-breed software applications and technologies required to power the most demanding companies in the world in every industry.”  

Esteban Kolsky, Thinkjar Founder and Principal
An Analyst's Analyst

“In a lot of ways, Esteban Kolsky is an analyst’s analyst,” says Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of CRM consultancy Beagle Research Group. “He’s knowledgeable and cares a great deal about the space he covers, and he cares equally about the people who read his work.”

Kolsky has more than 20 years of experience in customer service and CRM consulting, research, and advisory services. Before becoming founder and principal of the consultancy ThinkJar, Kolsky spent eight years at Gartner. However, Kolsky has especially been at the forefront of the industry this past year, with speaking engagements throughout the country and around the world, including the upcoming CRM Evolution 2011 conference this month in New York.
“He thinks a good deal about not just what he says but the reasons behind his findings, which are often insightful,” Pombriant says. “Never content to sit on his laurels and pontificate, Esteban talks to companies and their customers a lot. His writing is always informed by his immersion in the market.”

And the best part about Kolsky? “He’s a nice guy, never one to be pedantic,” Pombriant says. Kolsky even has an option on his Web site to schedule a time to discuss the “crazy worlds of CRM, customer experience, and social anything” free of charge. “I can’t think of a better person to give this award to,” Pombriant concludes.

Andrew Mason, Groupon Founder and CEO
A Group Leader

 Andrew Mason is confident that Groupon will work for the long haul. How confident? Apparently $6 billion’s worth. The CEO rejected Google’s acquisition bid for the two-year-old company in December, proving Mason is not finished building up his group purchasing empire. In just two years, the 30-year-old has become a market leader, prompting Google to make the most expensive bid in its history.

“Before anybody says, ‘You have to be crazy to turn down this $6 billion offer,’ you have to consider who the people making the decision are,” Matt Moog, a Chicago-based entrepreneur and founder and CEO of the Viewpoints Network, told Bloomberg News in December shortly after the failed deal. “Andrew is a very smart guy. He clearly has a vision for where this is going; he’s not in it for this scale-and-flip kind of thing.”

Mason has hired about 7,500 employees to serve a growing base of 35 million registered users across 500 cities in 46 countries. Mason’s unconventional ideas and leadership have catapulted the company into a high-profile position, with similar deal sites, such as Living Social and BuyWithMe.com, forced to play catch-up.

Recently, Mason was in talks with location-based social networking site Foursquare about joining forces to offer targeted Groupon deals to Foursquare users based on their check-ins. In addition, Groupon recently partnered with Foursquare competitor Loopt to launch Groupon Now for Chicago users. The service alerts consumers when they are close to a local deal without having to open the app.

In addition, Mason has expressed interest in geolocation, as shown by Groupon Mobile and its recent collaboration with Loopt. A partnership with Foursquare would sharpen Mason’s competitive edge, possibly inspiring other entrepreneurs to follow suit and continue to change the retail industry as a whole.

Clara Shih, Hearsay Social Founder and CEO
The Social Butterfly

 Director of Salesforce.com’s AppExchange product line management program. Strategy and business operations associate at Google. Software engineer at Microsoft. A Stanford undergraduate and graduate education. Even with an all-star resume, Clara Shih wanted more. After publishing The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Market, Sell, and Innovate in March 2009, Shih left her post at Salesforce.com to start Hearsay Social with a former Stanford classmate, Steve Garrity. The goal was to provide corporate customers with analytics, content management, marketing automation, and similar services.  

 Shih attracted several deep pockets, too. She is backed by Sequoia Capital in addition to Thomas Layton of OpenTable, Michael Abbott of Twitter, Steve Chen of YouTube, and Aaron Sittig of Facebook. Shih brings her deep knowledge to Hearsay Social as a co-creator of Faceforce, Salesforce.com’s application that integrates CRM data and Facebook information.

“For many in my generation, work is play,” Shih said shortly after the launch of Faceforce in 2007. “Among my Stanford computer science class, it is the rule, not the exception, to have a Web 2.0 site on the side or a business idea in the works. Thanks to open Web services APIs given to us by pioneers like Marc Benioff and Mark Zuckerberg, it’s fast and easy to build robust Internet applications.”

“Clara has done great stuff, making us all aware of the potential of social networking in business,” says Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group. “She was way in front with her book and with even earlier work at Salesforce.com to build a connection between CRM and Facebook.” 

Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn President and CEO
A Public Statement

 Jeff Weiner joined LinkedIn in January 2009 as interim president, and was named its CEO six months later. A former top executive at Yahoo’s Network division (which included Yahoo’s home page, mail, search, and media properties), Weiner has infused energy into the company, which he took public this year. He rang Wall Street’s opening bell May 19, the same day the Mountain View, Calif., company traded its first shares under the NYSE symbol “LNKD.”

The company priced its initial public offering at $45 per share, then saw it open at $83 and soar to a high of $122.70 before closing the day at $94.25—up 109.4 percent from its initial offering price—on a trading volume of 30 million shares. By the closing bell, the company had a market value of $9 billion, making it the largest and most successful technology IPO since Google in 2004.

Also, Weiner has helped build LinkedIn into the world’s most powerful network of business professionals. In the past year, the site has tripled its revenue, expanded its global platform, and grown membership from 33 million to more than 100 million in 200 countries. About 1 million people a week join LinkedIn. Nearly 2 billion people searches on LinkedIn took place in 2010. And the company opened a Dublin, Ireland, office this year.

Weiner also has added to the site, which he would like to turn into an everyday destination for professionals to enhance their careers and improve their current job skills, as opposed to simply a job-hunting site. To that end, in November, LinkedIn began allowing businesses to list products and services on profile pages; LinkedIn members also may recommend products and services and write reviews.


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