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CRM Idol 2014 demonstrates resilience, persistence and invention

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy December 17, 2014
CRM Idol 2014 was a tough competition but the real surprise was the emergence of past contestants as finalists. It goes to show that persistence and maturity can win the day.

CRM idol logo
I've been a judge and mentor on CRM Idol since its inception. It's always a pleasure to do my bit towards helping in this worthy cause, supported by a world class group of experts in the field. It's a way of giving back to an industry that has been kind and generous to me over the years. And yes, there is something very rewarding about offering guidance to new businesses that are eager to listen.

But what struck me this year was the resilience, persistence and invention of the finalists. Three of the final four chosen were returning competitors. If nothing else it tells me that persistence pays. That's a quality that's rarely discussed but essential in a world where getting attention above the noise is becoming increasingly difficult and where investors have short time horizons.

This year's final four offer a diverse dining experience well worth attention. Here's a roundup based upon the final write ups available to the judges augmented by my take.

helpshift logo

Many of the new mobile and social customer service applications like Helpshift rely in providing ROI based in the calls that are deflected. The less calls you get in the call center the lower the cost to operate the call center.  However, one of the key aspects of Helpshift is to provide not only the call deflection, but also the ticket deflection. They provide functionality to deflect incoming tickets with FAQs and searchable topics within the application. This also includes in-app feedback with reviews to prevent customers from venting in external sites outside the application.

My take: Focusing on mobile is a great spot right now but one that is already fiercely competitive. Help shift calls upon a solid list of enthusiastic and recognizable customer references to demonstrate that it is building the right functionality for the right time.

really simple systems
Really Simple Systems

A bullet point on one slide presented to judges simply said “Nice to customers”.  The pragmatic and approachable nature of RSS CEO makes this quirky claim believable. The peer reviews on Internet sites back this up.

This solution is clearly built for organizations that are making a bold step into CRM for the first time. Primary competitors are Excel, sticky notes, and other simple, low cost solutions like ZohoCRM.

Conversely, there are a number of organizations that are underwhelmed and/or disappointed with over-functional, expensive, and difficult to navigate CRMs that are increasingly finding RSS to be an attractive option.

The Watson division of Mega Corporation IBM also recently chose RSS to help bring their product to market, demonstrating that simplicity can be a virtue for organizations of any size.

My take: Solving a difficult problem for SMEs takes a lot of skill and at a time when flashy bells and whistles are the order of the day, RSS has deliberately kept things functional, austere even by today's standards. In that sense it matches exactly the need for 'meeting things done,' something SMEs fully understand.


Both the Sales Prospector and Cadence apps address basic needs companies have for find leads and doing something with them.  They’re easy to use, and really streamline the work people need to do when it comes to identifying and engaging would-be customers.

SalesLoft’s executive team made some tough but important fundamental changes to the business, which already has put them on a very impressive growth trajectory.  We think widening out the CRM integrations beyond would also help keep the growth numbers high, as vendors like Microsoft, SugarCRM and others have significant user bases that can add to SalesLoft numbers.  Also integrating with marketing automation services could extend SalesLoft’s reach into a wider prospect pool.

My take: SalesLoft was my pick as it is solving a difficult problem in a pragmatic manner. I like the way management is prepared to make tough decisions and then run with them in a purposeful way. That spells maturity in a way that's often hard to discern among smaller vendors.


WalkMe is a platform that can be used by organizations to create guided paths for customers (to use current terminology), and use those guided paths to help them achieve their expected results.

..we only saw one potential use case last year, offering self-service help in web site, but they created more value this year by offering internal paths (employee onboarding, navigating internal resources, etc.) and creating more “wizards” to help the user generate the paths.  We would like to see more expansion on these use cases (more wizards and better user experience) and maybe even venture into vertical-specific use cases in the future.

My take: Solving the 'helper' problem inside web applications wouldn't be necessary if developers thought more about the user experience. Nevertheless, WalkMe's efforts in this much needed segment are getting better and better. They deserve to do well in the market.

One problem with competitions - and CRM Idol is no exception - is the need to capture judges' attentions very quickly. To that point, the finalists were required to submit a short, 2 minute-ish video. If I'd had to judge on that alone then Helpshift would have been a slam dunk winner and so it was by popular vote. The judges on the other hand chose elsewhere. My pick was SalesLoft which just goes to show how diverse the thinking can be among those who vote.

The result highlights an ongoing practical issue where small vendors struggle. Good marketing really can win the day and, depending upon what you are looking for in a search, a slick video might well be the way to get attention. However, that always has to be backed by functional completeness for the problem in hand. Nevertheless, CRM Idol is a fantastic way to showcase the best that's out there in CRM inventiveness and to that end I look forward to 2015.

Image credits: logos via vendor websites, featured image: © S.John -

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