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Nimble CEO Outlines Vision For Social CRM

Jon Ferrara, the co-founder of Goldmine, describes how Nimble Contacts unifies communications streams such as email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google Calendar in a Web-based dashboard for sales and customer service people.

Way back in 1989, Jon Ferrara co-founded Goldmine, a pioneering contact management and sales force automation software vendor, before the emergence of what we now call customer relationship management (CRM). GoldMine was also an early networked business application, back when businesses were just learning to exploit the power of local area networks.

Ferrara's new company, Nimble, aims to do something similar with social networks. Nimble Contacts unites email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google Calendar in a Web-based dashboard for sales and customer service people looking to get a well-rounded view of their contacts before they pick up the phone or dash off an email. The way he tells it, that unification is a simple necessity.

"Our contacts, and the way we communicate with them, are scattered across multiple tabs in our browsers, our applications, our desktops, and our mobile devices," Ferrara said. "We keep our contacts in Outlook, Google contacts, Facebook, Twitter, and our phone. We communicate with people on IM, text message, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and email. And the funny thing is none of this is integrated. It's hard to keep track of what you've said to these people let alone what a team member might have said if you work as part of a team -- and, frankly, I couldn't work that way anymore."

The question and answer session relayed below coincided with a product demonstration over GoToMeeting. I had spoken to Ferrara once before and have had an account on the service for months, but what I saw did inspire me to go back and finish the account setup. He was able to go to my profile and quickly navigate among our email exchanges, appointments, and a view of my Tweets and status messages from Facebook and LinkedIn. He could see, for example, that TechWeb's David Berlind had confirmed my connection request on LinkedIn (which was news to me at that moment).

While other social media aggregation tools such as HootSuite bring together communications from many different channels, what they lack from a sales, marketing, and customer service perspective is the link back to a consolidated contact record and contact history, Ferrara said.

The base Nimble Contact product is free, and Nimble will sell upgrades to editions with features for team collaboration and more advanced CRM.

Here is more from our conversation.

Carr: Where does this product fit in the market for enterprise social media?

Ferrara: It's hard to manage your communication by going to all the tabs in your browser. If I see an interesting tweet from someone, I need to be able to jump to the contact record and see who that person is. The idea of Nimble is give people the ability to listen and engage. Today, people use things like ['s] Chatter and Yammer to build internal collaboration.

Carr: What is it you think is missing in an enterprise social tool like Yammer?

Ferrara: Well, why would you do a status update? It's to share business knowledge. I need to be able to share a contact from my contact tool and say, "Does anybody know anything about this analyst or this reporter?" You can do that with Yammer, but if someone has the same question a few months later how are they going to find the answer?

The truth is 90% of the marketplace is still using Outlook and Google for collaboration. And even in Google, if you're in the Calendar, you can't go to the contact record for the person you have an appointment with.

We invented that 20 years ago with GoldMine. We helped pioneer team relationship management -- and the CRM tools of today have forgotten about that. The truth is most salespeople live in Outlook and they only feed the CRM system things they need for their reports so they don't get in trouble with management.

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