Did CRM forget about relationships - and will social CRM solve this?

9th May 2011

As part of his ongoing series of roundtable interviews, Brent Leary talks to leading experts from the world of CRM and social CRM about topical issues and the industry at large. This month Brent speaks with two of the Godfathers of relationship management.

This roundtable session's panel consists of...

  • Brent Leary is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award winning blogger. He is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. In 2009 he co-authored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business. Recognised by InsideCRM as one of the 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary also is a past recipient of CRM Magazine's Most Influential Leader Award. He serves on the national board of the CRM Association, on the advisory board of the University of Toronto's CRM Center of Excellence, and on the editorial advisory board for The Atlanta Tribune. Leary writes a regular online column for Inc. magazine, and blogs at He can be found on Twitter at
  • Mike Muhney is the CEO and founder of VIPorbit, a funded software startup company focused on mobile relationship management capitalising on the ubiquitous market of smart phones. Mike is the co-founder and inventor/designer of ACT! – the product that originally created the entire contact management industry globally – and introduced the concept of relationship management to the world. During it’s 24-year life ACT! has had over 10,000,000 people globally use it. ACT! is also attributed with being the catalyst that created the multi-billion dollar CRM industry. Mike is also co-author of a forthcoming book “Who’s In Your ORBIT?” and subtitled “Beyond Facebook…Creating Relationships That Matter.”
  • Jon Ferrara is the CEO and founder of Nimble. Jon has over 20 years of experience in CRM and sales force automation. An entrepreneur at heart, Jon founded GoldMine CRM in 1989 with a college friend and turned it into a very successful venture that he eventually sold to FrontRange. Jon founded Nimble LLC in 2009.



Brent Leary:  I am so excited to have my guests here today because not only are they doing some interesting things today and taking social CRM into some interesting directions, but they were also there at the very beginning of what was then called 'contact management', but as they like to call it, it was all really 'relationship management'. Joining me today is Jon Ferrara, who was the co-founder of Goldmine, which got started in the late 80's and now he has a very new venture that is really focused on social cm at the SMB level, called Jon, thanks for joining me today.

Jon Ferrara: Thank you Brent, happy to be here.
Brent Leary: Joining me and Jon is the co-founder of ACT!, Mike Muhney, who has also started a new venture, call VIPOrbit, which he calls mobile relationship management. Mike thanks for joining me today.
Mike Muhney: My pleasure.
Brent Leary:  I mentioned that you can both be considered Godfathers of relationship management, as you were at the beginning with your respective applications and starting those companies. Let me ask Jon and then Mike if you could follow up, you started Goldmine, and you have just started Nimble. Tell us about starting of Goldmine and how it compares to starting Nimble today in the social period.
Jon Ferrara: Well Brent, back in the day when we created Goldmine we recognised that people don't work in a vacuum, they work as a part of a larger team and every part of that team touches the customer. Back in those days we round around with paper-based day-timers and pink while you were out slips. What we wanted was a tool that enabled anybody in the company to keep track of relationships, to build these relationships.  
Relationships happen through activities and communications and so we built the first networkable relationship tool that integrated contact calendar communications, ales and marketing management into one simple affordable tool and today, with Nimble, what we are doing is we are taking that to the next level and the idea is that our contacts and the way that we communicate with them are scattered all over the place. We keep out contacts in Outlook address books, Google, Facebook, Linked In and Twitter. We communicate via IM text message, Linked In and Twitter, Skype and email. None of the stuff is connected and it's hard to know who you talked to, what you said let alone what your team members has said.
What we are doing at Nimble is empowering the individuals and teams to be able to more effectively build relationships by managing their contacts, calendar and communications and the social - listen engagement - in one simple web-based solution that will enable them to access that via the web, their mobile devices, wherever they want. 
We are using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Outlook address book, Google contacts and we are used to doing things the way we do. With Nimble we let you keep doing that and we just allow you to synchronise it with Nimble. Ultimately, I believe that life is social, business is social and people buy from people who like and like people to know them and what we are doing is helping people to know each other better.
“We are using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter Outlook address book, Google contacts... with Nimble we let you keep doing that... I believe that life is social, business is social and people buy from people who like and like people to know them and what we are doing is helping people to know each other better." Jon Ferrara   
Brent Leary: Mike, talk a little bit about ACT!, but also talk a little bit about why you started VIPOrbit.
Mike Muhney: Sure, back in 1986, my partner and I as two career sales guys were actually looking for something to help ourselves, because what we needed wasn't available on the market. If you remember back at that time, this brand new device called the laptop was emerging on the market. People were beginning to have these mobile devices and we also at that time, collecting as individuals primarily. 
So fundamentally, being relationship-focused as salespeople, with a philosophy that everybody sells, no matter what they do for a living, that we would create a product that was customisable that would allow them to better manage - more effectively manage - their contacts and activities. Of course, ACT! is the product that did create this specific category today, known as contact management and I am happy to say after 24 years on the market, as its own venture, is still the leader in the contact management category among its peers.  
Bringing myself up to today, I was effectively was an original iPhone user and obviously with my ACT! DNA, knew about the steps, preps, quality and value of having a relationship manager and I wanted that on my phone. My phone only facilitated for me the ability to put things on my calendar and in my phone list and that just wasn't enough. In 2009, I finally determined and committed myself to doing this all over again because I needed more myself, much like I did back in the invention of ACT!, where I needed something myself to do a better job relationally. 
So, with VIPOrbit, we're taking advantage of the way people work today, and the way that people work today is mobile. I would suggest that even the notebook computer is no longer much of a mobile device. People would prefer to use things on their phone, which effectively has become the computer, as well as that tablet. The focus is on providing mobility with simplicity for people who are looking for robust relationship management on their mobile device.
Brent Leary: Mike you mentioned that you have a focus and emphasis on mobile and how people are doing so much more through their mobile devices. People are collaborating and connecting more over social networks. How has social tools and technologies, and mobile technologies, changed the relationship between customer and vendor? Are we still trying to solve the same challenges or has technology created other challenges that companies have to deal with when trying to build relationships with customers?
Mike Muhney: I think it's both. We all somewhat follow, from a software standpoint, the technology available to us. Obviously without the hardware devices, we couldn't do what we are doing. Provided the technology available at the time, we tried to extend it into the reach of more people because more people are using these devices. In one regard, liken it to the fact that I started my career with IBM, in the mainframe era. There were very few users of mainframes, obviously, but when the PC came out, obviously there was a technology expansion of people being able to do more things themselves under their own control. In some sense, as far as similarities Brent, I think today, people are more in control of technology then they have been in the past, and want the devices and solutions to reflect.  
If I work for a corporation, I obviously have to adhere to the corporate mandates of products that I am supposed to use for company and management purposes, in addition to my own needs. But I don't know anyone that doesn't carry a phone these days. Actually, in one way it has given us a duplicitous use of technology that satisfies both personal needs as well as company needs.
Jon Ferrara: Well, if you take a look at the way we used to do business, the Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar style, it was all about relationships. How did you build relationships? You walk into people’s offices, you looked at the walls, the pictures, the family, friends, the school they went to, why? You wanted to build a connection with them. Why - to build intimacy, so that they open up to you about their businesses issues so you as a professional have an opportunity to solve them. That has the way business has always been done. Today it is still being done that way, it's just today, being more and more electronically. 
Social media is really nothing new, it's just an electronic way to look and see people’s walls to build those connections. So what I see is that the way of doing business has evolved, but it's really not changed ultimately, it’s ultimately about relationships. What has changed in many ways is the voice of the customer, it is different. They have an ability to be heard and you have an ability to listen to them. I think that the tools that are developing and evolving today, like Nimble and VIPOrbit, are trying to empower companies to listen, engage and more effectively leverage these new highways like social media and bringing it back to the old school big "R" in CRM, relationships because really the root of CRM is contact management. The problem with CRM systems is that they forgot that. They forgot that "R" is about relationships.  
CRM systems today are more management tools to keep the finger on the pulse of the business and the hand around the neck of the sales person and sales people think they are big brother and they basically just feed the CRM system the night before the reports are due and they live in their Outlook system. Why? Because it helps them manage communications and their activities and the CRM systems don't really do a good job at that, let alone the social. Don't get me started Brent.
“Social media is really nothing new, it's just an electronic way to look and see people's walls to build those connections. The tools that are developing today are trying to empower companies to listen, engage and more effectively leverage these new highways, bringing it back to the old school big "R" in CRM, relationships, becuase really the root of CRM is contact management." Jon Ferrara   
Brent Leary: If you're not started now, I'd hate to see you started…
Mike Muhney: I totally agree with Jon. We all know if you kept up with any of the CRM Gartner reports. There is basically a 50% failure rate, hundreds of millions of dollars have just literally been sabotaged by sales people because the key that they want from the components of CRM is essentially contact management, which is what both Jon and I and our respective products are doing today. That is what is useful to me.
There's a design philosophy that we employ that we call "useful use". All that means is if it is in there, it is useful. We don't like any extra fluff. Sales people will quickly disassociate themselves from anything that impedes that usefulness that they are looking for because they have to get on with more work and do that more effectively in the same hours a day that everybody else has. If I can deal with more people without sacrificing the quality of the key components of relationship management, which is listening… if I listen, I'm taking notes on things about the other person. Where do I organise that, such that I have instant recall of it? The value I can then continue to demonstrate and earn the right to do business with those people. Without presenting the right and presenting my value that I can deliver to them. They have no interest in me. The challenge is, the listening side as opposed to the promotions side, so to speak. Facebook, as I call it, and Twitter are all about me. They might as well call it social me, rather than social media.
How many friends do I have? How many followers do I have? In relationship management, it's about you and its pretty much private information. The more private, means I move to a more exclusive bonding or relationship opportunity with you that distinguishes me from competition. Since we all have competition, what am I doing to better compete against them and win business. Jon and I are coming in parallel paths, so to speak, in many ways toward that listening effort with more devices in which to record what we have listened to.
Jon Ferrara: On that, I think the problem with the CRM systems is that you're asking your team to input data. By the time they input that data, its dead data anyways and many times it’s misinterpreted. But in reality, we are already doing all the things that are necessary to build a relationship in the variety of tools that we are using, whether it is Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, IM, Text Messages, Skype or email. 
I think there's a great opportunity here to change the paradigm and apply some classical relationship leveraging with some of the new technologies out there. That's exciting because you get to build it from the ground up, with the domain experience that both Mike and I have from the twenty years of experience in this space, which is kind of fun.
Brent Leary: So Jon, let's look at it because a lot of companies when they went to CRM and started utilising different applications, like Goldmine and ACT! - then more traditional fuller forms of CRM - a lot of companies look to these tools as a silver bullet. They thought just by buying software that would help them get better relationships and keep customers. We know that didn't happen. The failure rate for CRM in the early days and even up until now is pretty substantial. How do companies do a better job with leveraging these newer socially integrated, socially infused CRM tools to get the kind of results that they were looking for back in the 90s?
Jon Ferrara:  I think the biggest cause of failure of CRM systems is a combination of lack of goal and direction. They are just buying it because everybody else is. People don't use it because they are forced to duplicate processes and data. If you ask any sales rep that has used any CRM system today and if you ask them; "How do you manage your relationships? I do this all the time. I love to ask this question when people call to tell me something. I never hang up on sales people. I always listen to them and then ask them questions because that's how I learn. I ask them, how do you manage your relationships. Inevitably I hear they are using one of the three dogs out there. You know all of the dogs. I don't even have to tell you and I say, "Oh, really. So tell me, how do you send your email?" Uh, Outlook. How do you manage your calendar? Ah, Outlook. So where is the contact information coming from that is going into those calendar activities and those emails. My contact database. So how do you manage your relationships? I guess I manage them in Outlook. So what do you do with that CRM system? Well, I put the things my manager needs so he can run his reports. They are feeding the beast. That is the problem with CRM systems and until they truly integrate to the ways that people work on a daily basis and pull all of that together, there is still going to be that thing that you do as an afterthought. I think that is a big problem.
Brent Leary: I thought for a second there we were going to start talking about Three Dog Night and sing Mama Told Me Not to Come.
Jon Ferrara: {singing} Mama told me not to come.
Brent Leary: Hey Mike, let me ask you. What is the number one challenge you think companies face today when it comes to utilising these tools to have successful outcomes, to be able to meaningfully connect, engage and extend long-term relationships?
Mike Muhney: Well, that's a great question and I am sure that many people would give a different top #1 item that they would say is the most important reason, so there are a few. I would say instinctively, immediately, that because of the device enabled world that we now live in, the consumer or the mobile professional if I want to call it that is now back in control.  
Companies more than ever have to learn to adapt to that. Look at how many years have gone by in the past fifteen or twenty years, where Apple, for example, was not admitted, accepted or even allowed into the enterprise world. Those days are over and the users of those devices are forcing internal IT departments too accept and allow me to choose the device that I want that simplifies my life. Its adaptation and recognition that the consumer if back in control.  
I'll put it this way. Elegance comes through simplicity and one of the big things that companies miss is they overcomplicate and over burden what they need and it imposed on the poor schmuck, the user of what they designed.
I have actually experienced, in the CRM field, where companies do not include the sales people or sales department in the design and integration of the products. I think that there needs to be a cease and desist on that type of attitude internally in corporations to help stem this problem.
And to Jon's point on social media. We do have to listen to the outside world, much more than ever before. If we don't it’s at our own risk and danger and we all know that. But it is as important to listen to the internal customer base, if you will, of the people that we employ on what they're looking for and wanting to do as well and respond to that. How can we respond externally to a customer when we don't see our own internal assets as most companies describe their own employees as sensitively as we do the outside customers.  

There needs to be a co-joining of a holistic attitude of who is the customer from a corporate standpoint.

“There is basically a 50% failure rate, hundreds of millions of dollars have just literally been sabotaged by sales people because the key that they want from the components of CRM is essentially contact management.” Mike Muhney   
Jon Ferrara: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you there Mike. I don't see how any business can be social externally, unless they are also social internally. I think that the biggest problem that most businesses face today is lack of communication and lack of sharing of critical business knowledge that we all have in our head. We all know something about all of these customers and we don't put it anywhere. Why not? Because what are we going to do, put it in the notes? How do we know which thing to put in there on the customer record and things along those lines. 
That's one of the reason I built Goldmine way back when. I recognised, like I said before, people don't work in a vacuum and they work as part of a team, and to what Mike said, is it's not just sales people that sells, everybody sells. We need to empower everybody with those tools and certainly understand what the team members are needing. It's important.
Brent Leary: Mike you built ACT! back in the 80s, now you are building VIPOrbit today, what is the one or maybe two things that you wish you were able to do with ACT! that you are doing with VIPOrbit today with respect to helping build better relationships for your customers?
Mike Muhney: Well, I don't know that I would do anything differently. What I am doing differently Brent, in response to your question is keeping up with the times. The mobility and the social aspects of the world today, which didn't exist in the ACT! era, so we did at that time what we were able to do to push the ball forward after staring out as an individual user product, evolved into a networkable product as well, which obviously still exists today. You recognise the need to evolve with the ability and the market demands in which requests are being made. I wouldn't change anything actually, from what ACT! was then and what VIPOrbit is today, as far as addressing the standards in play.
Brent Leary: Jon, what about you, maybe I should have said, do you have? You don't have to, but is there anything that you would like or you are doing differently with Nimble to solve anything, that you maybe wish you had done with Goldmine?
Jon Ferrara: Well, you know, one of the things that we did at Goldmine early on was build and API that enabled third part developers, the community and the users to extend the application and foster that community. In the end, after 10 years we had over 500 third party add on products. 
Now, one of the things that I learned about the API process is that in this world you have to eat your won dog food. Rather than building the platform and then building the API after that, and giving the API to the community, we built the API first and then built the platform on top of that. That is the same API that we are going to give to the community to extend the platform. That was something I learned.  
From the beginning with Goldmine, as I said before, we were a networkable team collaboration, sales and marketing platform. The key thing that we integrated was the communication, the email with the outside world. Today, we're taking that way beyond email with direct communications on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and In the near future, Skype, IM, text messaging and voicemail. The whole idea is you don't have to duplicate or remember to do things in any one place. We will just capture it where ever you do it and link it all together. These are a couple of things that we are doing different.
I think the thing that runs through my head is feature creep. Back in the day, we all felt obligated to keep dumping features into our products and by the end, Goldmine and a lot of the products, got fat and heavy. With a name like Nimble, we are focused on just delivering the key needs of our core constituency and we are going to stay true to that. Then, allow the community to extend it the way they want it to be. Sort of like being the WordPress of social business. We just want to create the platform and let the community do what it wants to do. That is why we built the API first.
Mike Muhney: I would say too Brent, to add to what Jon just said, the benefit to what VIPOrbit has and Nimble has, we have a clean slate. We have no legacy, his comment about more feature creep into products. You don't cut back on that as you are a long term company and those products, as useful as they are to some people still today, are still burdened, none the less and require more help today than they did in the past unless you implement them properly.
The consumer, which it's much more of a consumer-oriented market, or our prosumers, as I like to call it, does not want to be bound by that. So, our no-legacy clean slate opportunities that we currently are in, are beneficial for both of us. It's kind of like the saying, to explore the ocean of opportunity, you have to leave the shore status quo. We've left that shore status quo with VIPOrbit in going after brand new uncapped markets, given that there is going to be 1.4 billion mobile smart phone devices this year according to Gartner and a hundred million tablet users.  
The current CRM contact management companies have not even attempted to break into that market and it's a huge mistake. But for Jon and I, it's also a huge opportunity, which I am obviously grateful for.
“I have actually experienced, in the CRM field, where companies do not include the sales people or sales department in the design and integration of the products. I think that there needs to be a cease and desist on that type of attitude internally in corporations to help stem this problem. ” Mike Muhney   
Brent Leary: Where can they learn more about what you are doing Mike and then I'll ask Jon where they can learn about Nimble. Mike, where can folks learn about what you are up to with VIPOrbit?
Mike Muhney: Our website is Obviously we have a Facebook page that you can take a look at and comment on. We have got some high level instructional videos up on our website. I would direct them back there as well.
Brent Leary: Jon, what about you and Nimble?
Jon Ferrara: You can find out more about Nimble, at Nimble is free for standalone users. I would like to jus say in closing that I love the relationship management community. I think that the needs of the users are so diverse and the opportunity is so vast that having vendors like Mike and VIPOrbit bring in new ideas and adding value and pushing the envelope just makes me excited. 
I remember the days that I used to walk the show floors back at small conferences that we all used to do. Whether it was at the Info Mart in Dallas or the SFA shows, where I would run into Pat and we'd make jokes with each other. Back then there were hundreds and today there are literally thousands of solutions out there for relationship management, but I do believe that it's a big market with a lot of opportunity for a lot of companies and I am encouraged to see people with Mike's experience adding to the pot.
Mike Muhney: It's a huge world of opportunity and big enough for a lot of qualified vendors, which is great. For what we can provide between Jon and I to the markets and giving them more valuable options today to choose from, is going to help grow the entire market itself. That is a good thing for everybody, because at the end of the day, nothing happens without relationships, no matter what you do.  
If you mirror what Jon said, its obviously both of our passions, that passion is contagious and its proven true by the precedence that Goldmine and ACT! established and what we are moving to with Nimble and VIPOrbit.
Brent Leary: I am glad to see that folks like you guys who were at the beginning are still charged up and helping lead the way. I feel like I should have the theme from the Godfather playing in the background or something…

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