• August 1, 2013
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Giving Small CRM Players Due Credit

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By the time you read this, CRM Idol 2013 will be in full swing. The contest, the brainchild of the mighty and beloved (and mighty beloved) Paul Greenberg, cultivates and celebrates the best in CRM entrepreneurship around the world. Once more, I'm proud and honored to be an extended judge and mentor in the process.

I'm not just tooting my own horn here, nor giving away column space to a friend—Paul is both prolific and renowned, and has no need of free press from me or anybody else (plus, he has his own column several times during the year in this very magazine). We should be about halfway through the contest by now, and I wanted to remind you that it's happening, and that it's important to all of you.

Our industry is a big one—likely to total $14 billion this year and still growing— dominated by a handful of large companies. Niche players have a place as well, but most of the news centers on the major names.

For the most part, that's a good thing, and no surprise; industry giants are the ones most likely to create movement in the market, and they have the resources to spend on innovation and making sure everybody knows what they're up to. Industry recognition programs, like the CRM Market Awards, showcase the companies that have had the biggest effect. Even the Rising Stars are mostly well-established firms, just ones that are showing upward mobility and innovation.

But it's not enough. No matter how good the vetting process is, an awards program for big movers in the industry is naturally going to focus only on the big movers. Everybody else gets to watch, sort of like how the Oscars really only cover Hollywood and a select few other markets, ignoring most of the cinema work around the globe.

Any large organization suffers from some degree of institutional thinking. "Our company is good at X and Y, and achieves success in ways A, B, and C. Therefore, we will work at X, Y, A, B, and C." There are some incredibly creative and clever people at these companies, and you read about them in this magazine every month. However, they're still part of established companies that have certain expectations, such as revenue and support of existing products.

The contestants in CRM Idol are start-ups. Though many are the creations of recognized individuals in the industry, they are all fairly new and working without a net. They know that it's not enough to crank out just another vanilla CRM system, reporting engine, or marketing automation tool. If they want to succeed, they have to go big, bringing truly new ideas and approaches that nobody's thought of before, or had the nerve to try to make work.

We like to think that everybody's a winner in CRM Idol. Every contestant gets exposure to established experts in the field (and me too), a lot of advice, and some free publicity. They learn about their colleagues and other projects that they might otherwise have missed. The ones who excel and make it into advanced rounds receive prizes that support their efforts. Some may attract the interest of the previously mentioned major players, and get the chance to add their creativity to the institution. It's like the Borg Collective, but less sinister.

In return, the judges get early looks at what some of the best and brightest minds are trying to bring to market. We get inspiration from seeing what's being done, and a sense of emerging trends. We renew our expertise by adding all this new stuff to our great big brains to mix with what the big companies are doing.

And who knows? Today's CRM Idol star could be tomorrow's Market Leader. Maybe by imparting some of our wisdom (or what passes for it), we can feel like we helped.

Marshall Lager is always judging you, as managing principal of Third Idea Consulting. Contact him at marshall@3rd-idea.com or www.twitter.com/Lager to get on the docket.

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