Who Will Be the Next CRM Idol?

The CRM Idol competition starts this week. If you aren’t aware, here’s the basic rundown.

It’s the brainchild of Paul Greenberg, who is no stranger to the speaking circuit and a believer in making CRM entertaining. Idol, as the name implies, is a competition focused on emerging companies, and its purpose is to identify one of the hottest emerging CRM companies on the planet, much like its namesake looks for entertainment talent.

There are 60 companies competing in the North American division, and more in Europe and other parts. I am one of the judges. Our job is to take a one-hour briefing, which will include a presentation and demo from these emerging stars. To help them prepare for this big event, Paul has recruited an army of people from many walks of life, each of whom has direct experience with CRM, to coach the new entrants in how to deal with Homo analystii, in case it’s their first time.

We’ll be posting our analyses of these companies’ products and positioning within 48 hours of the briefing on the official site. This should be a lot of fun and I am looking forward to it, though the pace for judges is fast. We’re taking four briefings per day for most of two weeks in order to get through all the contestants and to enable us to render our verdict in September.

The Wiki-fication of Business

This competition reminds me of similar competitions held at business schools where entrepreneurial students try to develop companies or products or business plans for cash prizes. CRM is also not new to this experience. Last year at Dreamforce, gave a US$100,000 prize in a similar competition for new applications based on the platform. As I recall, BranchIt won, and they sent me a scan of the check to prove it.

This whole process may be another indication of both the wiki-fication of business and just how embedded the wisdom of crowds is becoming in our culture. I say “wiki-fication” because this is certainly an acceleration of the company lifecycle and pooling resources to reach a goal faster. Some of the companies in the competition barely have revenues, and many have professional investors involved in their success.

In the old days, i.e. last week, you could expect to work with investors and to raise several rounds of venture capital on your way from good idea to self-sustaining company. But the availability of things like cloud computing has driven down the cost of starting up, with the result that people with good ideas don’t ask permission by seeking outside capital. They can do it on their own and not give away a big part of their ownership and control.

A Bright, Hot Light

This is also obviously about crowd wisdom. I can’t say the crowd doing the judging is everyman — there are many knowledgeable CRM heads in the group, so this differs from true Idol voting and the vox populi verdict that the show uses. Still it’s more representative than a few investors trying to pick winners.

Just like the Idol show, the eventual winner will be showered with publicity and prizes, and many of the top performers will receive free consulting from some of us involved in the process down the road. So I hope everyone will have fun and learn a few things along the way.

There’s some scary stuff in this too, and to me it involves taking a company and in some cases the company’s founders out of their formative stage when they can make mistakes in relative obscurity. Idol shines a bright light on the contestants, and while all relish the opportunity, I think I side with the Chinese on this in thinking, be careful what you wish for.

But all that’s beside the point now. The people in the competition knew what they were getting into. Someone will win, and the winner will receive some great exposure and a chance to work with some of the biggest companies in CRM. Some CRM companies have promised to integrate with the winner and help them come to market. So there’s no doubt that the winner will have a turbocharged career from here on.

So that’s what’s going on this week and next. While you’re at the beach or preparing for Dreamforce or OpenWorld or all the myriad other events coming in September and October, we’ll be taking briefings with at least one company that will be rather famous a year from now. It will be fun to see how this rolls out.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].

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