Mike Muhney, Co-inventor of ACT! And Founder of VIPOrbit: Cultivating Meaningful Relationships

We’ve come a long way, baby!  And times, they are a changing.  With today’s technologies, there are so many ways to build relationships.  The key, however, is to cultivate meaningful ones in order to be truly successful.  “Meaningful businesses always depends on meaningful relationships that transcend time and technology.”  Truer words were never spoken.  Tune in as Mike Muhney of VIPOrbit joins Brent Leary for an in-depth discussion on the value of meaningful relationships.

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Mike MuhneySmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a little a bit more about your background?

Mike Muhney: I started my career with IBM in the mainframe era and I actually learned a lot of design, which became an input that was part of ACT!.  My IBM sales training taught me not how to sell more but, how to deal with more people, more effectively, so that I can sell more. I have never forgotten the value of that orientation and that meaningfulness in my own career.

From IBM, fast forward in 1986.  Pat Sullivan and I co-invented ACT! and created the category of contact management that is acknowledged as one of the catalysts to the creation of the CRM industry. We sold the company to Symantec in 1993.

Fast forward to today.  So many people with iPhones and iPads want to have the same robust, desktop functionality on those devices that I once enjoyed in a windows laptop.  That is what I am looking to provide today with VIPorbit.

Small Business Trends: It is the 25th anniversary of ACT!  What are your impressions where we are today with CRM and did you think we would be where we are today back when you started ACT!?

Mike Muhney: That is a good question and if I would even pretend to know where we would be today back then, I would obviously be lying to you.

Back in April 1, 1987, when ACT! was released to the market, the laptop, as it was called, was still a very new thing.  Very functional, poor screens, no hard drive to begin with, but it was a premonition of what was to unfold over time.  That is the concept of mobility. We could only dream back then where everyone has a mobile device in their hands with which to do more effective relationship management.

What has changed is, we have taken for granted today the mobile devices we did not have back then.  Very few people did. What has not changed is the need for the focus and purpose of more meaningful relationships.  Meaningful businesses always depends on meaningful relationships that transcend time and technology.

Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about what Mobile Relationship Management (MRM) is?

Mike Muhney: I said relationship as opposed to contact because if I were to present to you which is a more meaningful word, a more meaningful status or relationship with a person, or just a contact with a person, most people would get the fact that the relationship is more meaningful.

Mobile indicates that it is designed from the ground up for mobile devices. It was not a legacy system with an attempt to bring it down to mobile devices but, it also addresses the ubiquity of hundreds and millions marching toward a billion people in the world that have a mobile device, in the recognition of that.

The other thing to quickly comment on is contact managers today primarily have less than 6 million users globally. There are about 400 million iPhone users.  So what is 6 million compared to 400 million? I did not want to piggy bank on a very tiny category.  I wanted to recognize and promote a much larger category and opportunity, and enhance mobile relationship management with our creation.

Small Business Trends: What are the biggest challenges we face in a mobile relationship management world?  As opposed to the one you guys started back in the late 80’s?

Mike Muhney: Back then when ACT! was not known as it is today, we were still introducing it to the market and trying to persuade people to be more productive with this type of a solution. I cannot tell you how many times people would say, “I am already doing that on my day-timer. You know my paper system is more than sufficient an it keeps me well organized.”

The thing about the phone, even over the tablet, is that the phone is with you 24/7.  Nobody has ever carried a laptop with them and had access to it 24/7. Plus, most normal people have this 24/7 device attached to them that gives them access to something in a far greater capacity, in a more meaningful way, than ever before.

Small Business Trends: Is Mobile Relationship Management different from what I would think of as Mobile CRM initiatives from couple of years ago?

Mike Muhney: I can answer that in all different ways.  That is a very pertinent question and it depends on your orientation. If you were a true CRM technician, there is no way that VIPorbit would be categorized as a CRM product in the enterprise tradition sense of the word. If, however, you choose to reorient and expand your definition of it, given the device enabled world we are living in today that did not exist when CRM began, then I think it could loosely be included in that group.

Small Business Trends: Twenty five years from now, where do you think we are going to be with MRM/CRM?

Mike Muhney: Google revealed they have invented a prototype of glasses that allows you to have everything literally right in front of your eyes. One of the people at Google is quoted as saying his son today is 4 years old and when he is a young adult, this is going to be his world.  So it is very possible we can be doing Mobile Relationship Management, CRM, all of the above. . . thru just looking straight ahead.  In the side view mirror of the glasses we are wearing on our face at that time.

Small Business Trends: Mike, where can people learn more about Mobile Relationship Management and how you are addressing it at VIPorbit?

Mike Muhney: Very easily, visit VIPorbit.com.

This interview is part of our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click the right arrow on the gray player below. You can also see more interviews in our interview series.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.


Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

2 Reactions
  1. Great interview Mike! I appreciate that you are emphasizing the importance of “relationships” over “contacts”. Many business owners spend valuable time using social media platforms thinking they are flourishing because they are making so many new “contacts,” when in reality these virtual friends are of little or no value to the growth of their business. The key as you point out is to take what begins as a contact, and turn it into a relationship. This means not only engaging with, but offering to and providing value to the other person. And to keep track of these relationships…VIP Orbit is a great tool! I love it and no…you did not pay me to say that! Although you can if you want to!

    Steve Gallegos