Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Interview with Jon Ferrara, Nimble
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Anyone who has been in sales, business development, or just works a lot with others is familiar with contact management software--tracking who you have been talking to, when, notes, and more for sales teams. Unfortunately, despite the wealth of Internet based tools for email management, web-based sales management tools, and more, contact tracking has been mostly an afterthought in the Internet age. Jon Ferrara, who founded Goldmine CRM, which was one of the top contact management software packages of the PC era, is looking to change that. He's again set his sights on contact management with a new company, based in Santa Monica, called Nimble (www.nimble.com). Jon describes how he's creating a "next generation", web-based contact manager which takes into account the social nature of the web today.
What is Nimble is working on?
Jon Ferrara: The idea behind Nimble, is that our contacts and how we communicate with them are now scattered all over the place. We keep six different applications on our desktops, three different applications on our browser, and it's hard to keep track of who you talked to, what you said, let alone what team member said what. We've set out to fix that. What Nimble is, is a web-based solution that unified contact, calendar, and the way you communicate with those people, which also integrates social listening and engagement, all in a single place, so you can attract and retain the right customers.
Why did you decide to again set your sights on contact management?
Jon Ferrara: What struck me, as I started to swim in the social river, is that there is an immense power in those applications to help businesses, to leverage the power of social for individuals and teams to use it as a way to communicate, to create a channel to build better business relationships. However, I was shocked, because not only were the CRM systems on the marketplace not leveraging social, but those CRM systems did not even get what relationships are all about. You build relationships with communications and activity. It's essentially, saying what you are going to do, and do what you are say you are going to do. Most business people aren't doing this in their current CRM tools. Instead, they are using Outlook's address book, and Google contacts to communicate. What they do in their CRM tools, is they forecast leads, and track trouble tickets.
The problem is that they don't live in those CRM tools like they do in Outlook, or on social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. There are six different things you should have instead in in one place. What was unique about Goldmine, was that it was a simple, yet powerful tool for individuals or teams, to manage relationships and keep track of top of the line marketing and track sales. What it did uniquely, is it also integrated contacts and communications--all in single platform. CRM systems today don't do a good job of even integrating email, much less social. You have to BCC messages to even get them into the system. But, sales people don't have time to copy and forward their emails to multiple places.
What you want to do, is gather it in one place, so that you have a record of what you've been doing, easily see what is pending, who is going to do what, who is doing it, and who has done it. It should include all of your communications, no matter what social network, and no matter who on your team has done it. That is relationship nirvana, my vision of social business.
Describe how you integrate all those relationships?
Jon Ferrara: What we did when we set out to build Nimble, is we starting building a platform which integrate your contacts and calendar. The thing is, today, if you use Google, you have contacts, calendar, and email. But, you can't go to a contact record to see everything you've seen and done with that contact, let alone what other team members have done. That's a problem. If you go to the inbox, you can't jump to a contact record, you can't jump to the calendar. It's really like using three different programs. It's not efficient. I don't want to open three things. Before I talk to you, I want to know exactly what's going on. What we've done, is created a connect, relationship platform, which integrates APIs for social listening and engagement. When you get into Nimble, we allow you to map in Twitter, Facebook, and Google, bringing in those contacts, unifying and merging them into a single record, and synchronize your activity and engagement with those contacts.
There's one record to track your relationship with others. With that record, you can see how you are connected, see if you're connected on LinkedIn or Facebook, or you can connect. What Nimble does, is it merges your contacts from all the places they are scattered, brings it into one record, and connects that all to activities you may be doing. You can send messages on any network, set tasks, schedule events, or log activities, managing your relationships on the social stream. You can retweet, reply, and even assign tasks out of tweets--which are often sales and service opportunities. When I came up with the vision for Nimble, I took the classic relationship management we pioneered with Goldmine, and integrated in social listening and collaboration into a single, team tool. Now, you don't have to go to Twitter to listen, LinkedIn to listen, your email inbox, find contacts in Google Contacts, or even Yammer or Hootsuite. Everything is in one place. My contacts, my inbox, all of my communications are in one single place. You can do your social listening and engagement, all in one place.
Why hasn't there been any innovation in this area since Goldmine?
Jon Ferrara: If you look at the marketplace today, you have a range of systems people use to manage their relationships. However, I'd argue that 90 percent are still using simple tools like Google Contacts and Outlook Adress Book. If you ask people who are using CRM tools how they manage contacts, you find they still are using Outlook for their calendar, to drill down to contacts, and for email. So what are they using Salesforce for, is they are using it when their manager need to run a report. Why hasn't Salesforce, or Microsoft, or Saleslogic, or anyone else donít this? I think it's because they don't really understand relationship management. CRM systems are designed as management tools, to help people keep a finger on business, and hands on the neck of a salesperson. They are not designed to help develop relationships. They don't have communications in mind. The reason why those guys also haven't integrated social before, is I don't think they truly realize the power of it, the power of the social river. They're in the middle of the forest rather than looking at the trees. The key aspects of Goldmine were contacts, calendar, and communications. It's about the collaboration and social engagement which takes a relationship to the next level.
When will your tool be available?
Jon Ferrara: Actually, we've just come out of beta on the team version, and we've released a team version which can be used today, and is widely available.
Is there risk that people like Google would just add these features to something like Gmail?
Jon Ferrara: If Google were to convert Google Contacts into a CRM system, I think they wouldn't be addressing the need of their core constituency, as a place to manage your email. I'd argue that people don't even go into Contact records in Google mail. And, if they were to create a system as complete as Nimble, they would not be addressing those needs of their core constituency. Google Apps does not need to be a CRM system today, or even a social business platform. However, with the addition of Nimble into Google Apps--we'll soon be launching in Google's marketplace--you can add Nimble's features into the Google Apps environment, and work and play side by side. That will allow you to use Google Email, Google Calendar, and soon Google Contacts, and look at records, schedule events or activities, send messages, and synchronize those activities with Google email and calendar. If you are using Google Apps for email, you can now extend it to social business and not have to give up Google Apps.
How has your long experience in the industry helped in developing this?
Jon Ferrara: I've taken the heart and soul of relationship management experience I've garnered over 20 years, and I'm applying that to create a world class solution in this next venture of mine, Nimble. So far the response has been overwhelming. People from around the world are signing up, publications and analysts are crowing over our unique vision, and I'm very grateful to the community for supporting my dream of a social business platform for the rest of us.Finally, what's the next big thing you are working on? Jon Ferrara: The vision of Nimble, the foundation of our social business platform is relationship management, the social listening engagement, and the collaboration. Those three things combined create a unique basis, to extend sales, marketing, customer service functionality, to create a complete social business platform. All of those are focused on how to attract, and retain, and build relationships. We're also rolling out APIs, marketing, and are building a widget which will extend Nimble to others. We've designed it as a platform, which will enable others people to build off of our product, extend, and share extensions in an app store.