Jon Ferrara of Nimble: Social as a Word is Going Away — And We’re Just Going to Get Back to Doing Business

It’s hard for me to believe, but this conversation marks the seventh anniversary of this series. And there’s nobody more surprised than I am that this has gone on so long, as I thought I’d do this for a couple of weeks at the most. But the conversations with so many interesting, influential people have made these seven years fly by, and honestly, I never once thought about moving on from having these weekly interviews.

So, to mark the occasion I was really glad that Jon Ferrara, founder of Nimble (and before that GoldMine), was able to join me for this week’s conversation. Because it was Jon who was my very first guest in this series those seven years ago.

A Look at the Evolution of CRM, and Its Future

We cover a lot of ground as we reminisce about the past, dig into what’s changed over the past seven years in the CRM space, and eventually look at what is coming down the pike. So this is a bit longer than usual. But hey, it’s not every day you hit a pretty cool milestone like this!

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To hear the full interview click on the embedded SoundCloud player below. And thanks to all who have read/listened to the series the past seven years. And a BIG THANK YOU to Anita Campbell and the whole Small Business Trends team for giving me a platform for having these kinds of conversations over the years.

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A Look at the Evolution of CRM, and Where It's GoingSmall Business Trends: I recently realized that come September 3rd, I will have been doing this series for seven years, which is just mind blowing to me. This whole thing started out with a conversation I had with John Ferrara. As luck would have it, guess who’s back with me to celebrate the 7-year anniversary? Jon Ferrara.

Jon, thank you for joining me today, man.

Jon Ferrara: Brent, I am super excited to be here with you today. I cherish you as a friend.

Small Business Trends: At the time, back in 2010, you had already sold GoldMine. You had taken some time off and had just recently started this new thing that was called Nimble. Now seven years into Nimble, tell us a little bit about what it was and what it is.

Jon Ferrara: You bet. So it’s my feeling that after using social media back in 2008, ’09, and ’10 it was going to change the way we work, play, the way people buy, and the way we need to sell to them. I started looking at contact tools and CRMs and saw they weren’t social. Then I started looking at contact management and saw it was broken because email, contact, and calendar are three separate applications and that CRM isn’t about relationships. It’s about reporting. So I build Nimble to reimagine a CRM as a social relationship manager that layers on top of your email, contact, and calendar. Build the CRM for you, and it’s been an amazing journey because I think the market has woken up to the vision that I had about social CRM and social selling and now I think it’s become ubiquitous that we need to change the way we sell, because customers have changed the way they buy.

Small Business Trends: Here we are in 2017. You’ve seen a lot in terms of not just how customer relationship management has evolved over time, but also how businesses in general ( startups and small businesses) have begun their journeys over that two and a half decade period. Tell me, what’s the biggest surprising change that you’ve seen in relationship building today as compared to when you first got started with GoldMine?

Jon Ferrara: You know, the biggest thing I’m surprised about Brent is that nothing’s changed. I think today people are still, for the most part, doing business the old fashioned way. They’re sending out a quarterly newsletter and expecting people to come knocking on their door. They’re still doing business in the old way of giving a sales rep a CRM and telling them to go get ‘em, and not really helping that sales rep with engagement as opposed to using the CRM for reporting. I think that social is changing the way that we work, play, buy, and sell, and I think that just now today, the market is waking up to that fact and they’re looking for something different.

But I think that the biggest surprise I have is that the thing I fixed with GoldMine … I’m not even going to count how many years ago it was. Hang on. Dang. It’s 27 years ago when I founded GoldMine! GoldMine was the first program that integrated email, contact, and calendar into a team relationship manager with sales and market automation. Today, contact management is broken again and it needs a GoldMine, but more importantly, a social cloud-based GoldMine.

This is what I mean. Today your operating system of your business is the contacts you’re connected to, the conversations you’re having, and activities you’re driving. That’s email, contact, and calendar. Today you have two choices. You’re going to either do that in Office 365 or Gmail/G Suite. And both of those applications, all three of those components are three separate apps and every team member has a separate contact database, which means there is no system or record of relationship for your business, which means that everybody in your company can’t be on one [accord] with your contacts, let alone the history of interactions on email and calendar. And most importantly on social as well.

That’s what Nimble fixes today. The biggest thing is this, if you have to go to your CRM or your contact program to use it, you won’t do it. That’s the biggest cause of failure of CRM, is lack of use. The second one’s bad data, because even if you beat on your sales people to type stuff in the CRM, it’s going to decay so rapidly that it’ll become unusable and so I think that the fact that they call it Salesforce because you have to force sales people to use it, is a testimony to the fact that you work for their CRM. It doesn’t work for you. You have to go to it to work for it. It should work for you by building itself and then work with you wherever you are. You should be in the river with your customer, adding value on a daily basis to set yourself up as a trusted advisor so when they make a buying decision, they know they pick up the phone they call you, but they drag their friends with them.

Small Business Trends: Wow. You’re still talking about the Social River, man. I remember hearing that back in 2010.

Jon Ferrara: I am, but I’m going to tell you something about social, Brent. Social as a word is going to go away, and we’re just going to get back to doing business. Because if you think about it, the term Social CRM has already passed over the horizon and there will go social selling, because ultimately it’s just about CRM and selling. But social’s just a new way of having conversation.

Do you remember when the Internet first came out? Everybody talked about “I this” and” E that”… eToys and iContact. Everybody thought the Internet was going to change everything. And you know what? It did. But you don’t talk about the Internet anymore, because it’s just the plumbing and when you turn your faucet on on your sink, you don’t think about the re-circulation pipes. You just worry about there being hot or cold water.

And so yes, I am still talking about the social river, but we don’t need to talk about social selling or social CRM. We just need to talk about contact management and basic relationship management that still is lacking in the main tools we run our businesses on.

The cool thing is, Nimble now synchronizes with all of your existing business apps, becomes that unified system where I can work back within them, even if you already have a CRM. And so we will launch in 30 days a plugin to Dynamics CRM, that helps any CRM user engage more effectively and bring their office contacts with them and then take their office and their Dynamics contacts anywhere as they’re working, because your sales people should be out there in the field with the customers having conversations, not inside a database.

Small Business Trends: With the move to the cloud that CRM applications and their complimentary applications have made, how do you look at CRM cloud applications meeting the expectations and needs of the modern business? From a scale of 1 to 10, how well are they doing that today?

Jon Ferrara: Let’s talk about the sales and marketing and social technology tech stack that a business needs in order to manage the customer lifecycle. So, if you’re a business, number one, you get a domain. You go to GoDaddy. Get a domain. Then what you do is you need to get a website. So you get WordPress or something. Then what you need to do is you need email, contact, and calendar. So you buy Office or Gmail or G Suite. The next thing you’re going to need is some place to take the eyeballs you’re driving to the website. So I call that MailChimp to Marketo, right? It’s marketing. So you need to capture a lead, whatever you got, email, name, phone number, whatever you get. Put in to a database, and then nurture that lead till it’s lead qualified. Once it’s lead qualified, whatever that means to the business, you then put it in the CRM and you tell all your sales reps to go get them. So now we got two applications at a minimum, marketing automation and CRM.

So the sales rep sitting there with this lead and the database, and they don’t know anything about that lead, so what do they do? They Google them. They look them up. That’s 60 percent time wasted, looking things up and logging what you know and then logging what you did in email, calendar, and social, and the CRM, and you have to go to it to do it. So instead of doing that, what you do is you buy sales intelligence software. So the sales intelligence software maybe enriches the CRM record with who that person is and what their business is about. Maybe that’s inside view, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, or Nimble, which happens to be number one in that category in sales intelligence. Once you have the intelligence, you need to engage. And so you think about market automation as the high level bombers of the battlefield bombing the leads with nurturing.

Once you get that done, you need to put boots on the ground. That’s sales people. Sales people need intelligence. That’s sales intelligence, and they need a rifle. The rifle is not market automation. Sales people don’t use Marketo. Sales people use some sort of hand to hand combat tool, which is email templates with tracking. So that’s Yesware, Tab app, whatever email tracking templating software. So at a minimum you got four components. You got market automation, CRM, sales intelligence, and sales enablement. Each of those tools costs $50 to $150 per rep per month, and you give all that to a sales rep, they’re not even going to be able to use it because it’s too complex. So you got to hire a sales administrator for $50,000 to $100,000 a year to run it.

Now, if you asked me how the CRM was doing regarding serving the needs of the customer, I’m going to say you’ve got to buy too many products and too many tools today. I believe you need a blend of social sales and marketing with a blend of marketing CRM, sales intelligence, and sales enablement. Then the thing needs to work with you wherever you work, and I think that’s why we continue to innovate in ways that are unique in the market, because we see that need of too much complexity, too much cost, and too many tools, and that for 99 percent  of the businesses out there, they’re not going to go buy Marketo and Salesforce and InsideView and Yesware, or some other email template program. It’s too much. That’s where we’re at with Nimble, providing that blend of social and sales and marketing to manage the customer lifecycle across an entire organization.

Small Business Trends: All right, so let’s talk about a couple of things that weren’t even a blip on this screen back when we first talked seven years ago and their importance. From a customer engagement perspective, being able to scale efficiently your ability to respond, or to provide a quick answer that could help convert. We hear a lot of talk about chat bots. Talk a little bit about what you feel the importance of chat bots are today to modern customer engagement strategy.

Jon Ferrara: I think if you are not providing a means for your customer to communicate on whatever channel, at whatever time, at whatever moment your customer wants to, you’re going to lose them. Because it’s the people that are doing that today that are going to win that heart and mind. Because let’s face it, you’re out there in the cloud, you’re in-app trying to evaluate some program. You might be doing it on the weekend, you might be doing it in the middle of the night, and you might be doing it wherever, and you want some help. And so chat bots — and I’m not just talking about a chat bot on a website — I’m talking about chat bots within the applications themselves as well, so that your customer can ask a question at any point, at any time, and be able to get an answer. And it’s not just a sales answer, it’s really a customer success answer.

I think that sales has become a four letter word and that service is the new sales, and that you should be empowering you customer base and business team members to be rewarded and focused on customer success. That comes through communication and listening and dialogue. And so yes, I think chat bots are amazing, and that’s why we incorporate them, not just on our own website, but inside our apps as well.

Small Business Trends: All right. Let’s talk about the AI, because chat bots and AI have got to go together.

Jon Ferrara: Yeah.

Small Business Trends: How important is AI? We hear a lot of talk about it. We’re seeing a lot of people say that they have it and they’re doing it. (A) Is it important? and (B) Are you actually seeing it being done?

Jon Ferrara: You know Brent, when we start talking about AI I start saying the more digital we get the more human we need to be. And that yes, you can use computers to discern information across disparate databases to tell you things you don’t know. And that these bots might be able to do some basic conversation, but in the end, you need humans involved through that process. But I’ll tell you what, my first introduction to computers was in the Pan Am building in New York City. It was a teletype that was running ELIZA. ELIZA was a list based AI system that you … It said, “Hey, Brent, how are you?” You’d say, “I’m doing good.” And it says, “Oh, great. You know it sounds like your day is going good. Tell me more.” You tell it more and it interacts with you. It was pretty good back in the day and it’s gotten better, but I don’t really know if there’s truly a program that’s doing AI today as opposed to just some inherent word parsing and suggestions at this point. I don’t think we’re there yet.

We’ll get there, but in the meantime, I think that no matter how much AI you put into it, I think the key thing for business success is to be able to deliver context and insights on the relationships that you’re engaging with, whatever you’re engaging about.

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.