Art Papas of Bullhorn: Using Email Analytics to Better Understand Customers

While more and more customer interactions are taking place via Twitter, Facebook, text messages and other forms, most of the important interactions still take place in email.  And in many instances, information in those emails is overlooked — information that could provide important insight that doesn’t come from human eyeballs.

Art Papas, founder and CEO of Bullhorn CRM, discusses how email analytics can help find those insights that can drive real engagement opportunities and help you stay on top of what’s important to customers and prospects.

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Using Email AnalyticsSmall Business Trends: Maybe you can give us a little bit of your personal background?

Art Papas: I started Bullhorn probably about a year after college, I worked for a company doing financial services for a year, and then started Bullhorn, and that was back in the heyday of 1999 when the internet was going crazy.

Small Business Trends: Well tell us a little bit about Bullhorn because quite honestly you’re a CRM application that grew out of professional services and helping recruiters keep track of their contacts. But you’re a full-fledged CRM that a lot of folks don’t know about.

Art Papas: We did get our start in a niche industry and a staffing industry which a lot of people don’t know about unless they’ve interacted with third party recruiters and staffing agency folks and trying to find a job. But we started in that industry sort of by serendipity.

The interesting thing about that business though, is that the staff industry has really high turnover. And it’s generally a low margin business. So there is no shelf wear in the staffing industry. It’s a lot of owner operators, they never buy software and don’t use 100% of it. They are very focused on return on investment because they are spending their own personal money.

I think starting there really was incredible training for us on how to change the way people use software and make sure people actually get a ton of value without having to do a lot of work. So we developed some really powerful stuff around either changing the way people have to enter data and making sure we can deliver insights without people having to take any action, or even use the software necessarily.

Small Business Trends: So how does email analytics help a person grow relationships with folks they’re trying to do business with?

Art Papas: Most people get they should keep good notes on their customers and process. But it’s hard, and it takes time and energy to go note take and put notes in the system and put appointments in the system. And what happens is people treat it like their expense report. Yeah, I got to file my expense report and I got to put my notes in my CRM, and we looked at that and said that’s a huge problem for us if people view the system as a chore.

We’ll never get rich information on the customer. And we would walk into our early customers and see they’d be spending their whole day in Outlook, in their email, and then flip back and forth between our system and Outlook. And to me, that was like, why should they have to go to my system at all? They’re communicating with people, it’s digital, it can be tracked, it can be tied back to customers or companies, so we came up with this concept that you should be able to interact with customers seamlessly just as you normally would, but in the background the database of information about those people is building automatically without you having to do anything.

So analytics is just a fancy way of saying we’re organizing information automatically about who is talking to who as a customer, who has the best relationship with the customer, what the communication has been, what the patterns have been, then does this customer respond to us. Or do we have to email them a lot or call them a lot to get them to engage.

If you’re building that automatically, the insight you can get is really powerful and we say to people, our goal is to have you not using our software to enter data, but use our software to understand what’s going on with your customers and relationships. And I think that it’s kind of like almost like the difference between using a taxi or Uber, or calling a restaurant for a reservation or using OpenTable.

We really focused on this transformative approach to saying all this communication with customers, it’s got tons and tons of rich information in it. Let’s harvest that for you.  

Small Business Trends: When it comes to sales, what’s the proper mix between insights versus instincts?

Art Papas: I’ll give you a real live example. Customer comes to us and they say look, we’re struggling because we have a bunch of sales people and a bunch of service people that touch our account and use finance, and what happens is the customer will email the sales rep and say hey, I need to talk because I’m frustrated about what’s going on in my account.

And that kicks off a process. The first thing a salesperson does is go in a customer database and they try and figure out who’s involved in this account. Nobody’s put notes in or the notes are spotty. The last note was from two months ago. Obviously that’s not going to help. Maybe they look at look at service tickets or service issues. Then the email chain starts and the sales person puts 15 people on the distribution. Anyone talking to my contact at Bank of America, and then oh, you should talk to John, you should talk to Pete…

Pete said no, talk to finance, they’ve got a problem with their bill, and you get this run around, this extraordinarily difficult process to figure out what’s going on. So what’s a sales person do, they get on the phone with the customer and they get manual. Okay, tell me what’s happening. They say ‘well why don’t you know what’s happening, I thought I was your most important customer’?

It’s really uncomfortable. So we did a pilot and we implemented it, and the first thing they said is now when a salesperson gets that kind of a call, they just pull up the account, in Bullhorn, and they can see the last person to communicate with this customer was John.

And John sent them an email about the billing question. And I can also see the actual email itself and it looks like John made a mistake and added a zero to one of the numbers, and of course the customer is upset. But I can diffuse that right now on the phone and go oh, that was a typo. Okay great. Also the sales rep looks like a hero because this isn’t rocket science. But you look like a hero if you know what’s going, if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing the customer says wow, you guys are really great at service. You guys must really have great internal communication.

It’s that power of total awareness. And you’ve got to get all the data if you want that kind of power and you’ve got to make it easy to access. It can’t take half an hour of research to figure out what’s going on. You’ve got split seconds when you’re on the phone with a customer.

I’m so much more empowered and I’m so much more confident with customers, I’m able to be a better solution provider. And better able to troubleshoot challenges in their business. And you get to be a trusted advisor a lot quicker and that of course helps you sell more business.

Small Business Trends: If you look a year or two out from now, is email analytics also going to grow and mix with text messaging analytics or social analytics …

Art Papas: Today we do email and we do text.  We we’re making a big advancement to the way we do texting later this year, and then phone as well. And what we’re working on is trying to get transcription of a conversation you had with a customer logged in the system on an iPhone. And if we can get that, then that’s every system you use to communicate with customers, we’re capturing data.

So we can take data from customer service surveys, or customers support tickets. And then we take all this stuff and we look at it and say let’s help you get a total picture of the customer. The vision is whatever you use to communicate with customers, we’re there giving you a total picture of all the communication, all the interaction and all the transactions.

Small Business Trends: Where do people go to learn more about what you guys are up to?

Art Papas: is the website, and then we’re @bullhorn on Twitter.

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.