Jon Ferrara, Founder & CEO at Nimble talks about the need to go beyond automating generic drip campaigns while enhancing the human element in Sales in this catch-up with SalesTechStar:
Hi Jon, welcome to this chat. Tell us more about yourself and your journey!
I’m Jon Ferrara, and I’m the CEO of Nimble CRM, a platform that’s been a pioneer in Social CRM and Social Selling. I’ve been an entrepreneur building sales and marketing software almost all my life. I helped bootstrap our first company, GoldMine, with my co-founder, Elan Susser, on five thousand dollars and scaled it, without venture or bank loans, from an apartment to a global 350+ person team that sold for $100+ million 10 years later.
I started Nimble after spending ten years raising three startups because after being an early adopter to social media I saw how it was going to change the way people work, play, buy and sell and saw that CRM needed to embrace social so I decided to disrupt CRM with a Smart Simple Social CRM called Nimble.com.
What inspired the creation of GoldMine (and what inspired you to sell)? And after that, how did the story of Nimble start (and why!)?
I created GoldMine because I struggled with managing my sales prospects and pipeline when I was in enterprise sales back in the late 1980s. I looked for a software solution to not only help manage prospects and customer interactions for myself but also my extended sales team. I wanted a program that integrated contacts, email, calendar, sales, and marketing. Because of my computer science background and experience working in a software store, I knew there were no programs that delivered sales and marketing automation for teams, so we built GoldMine.
After 10 years of running GoldMine, we achieved all of our business goals, including becoming financially set for the rest of our lives, and it was a wonderful feeling. It gave me the ability to make choices on how I lived the rest of my life. Ultimately I sold GoldMine because I wanted to reconnect with the people I loved, especially my family. To become a successful entrepreneur, you sometimes have to give up a lot, especially precious time with people you love.
After ten years of raising three babies, I started Nimble because after using social media in 2009 I saw its potential to change the way people work, buy, and sell. I couldn’t find a solution that integrated contacts and social, so I developed Nimble and pioneered social selling and social CRM.
Tell us more about how Nimble has evolved over the years…
Nimble started as being the first social CRM, pioneering the concept of social selling. We were fortunate enough to get the public and private API from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Crunchbase, AngelList, etc. With that, we effectively built a platform that automatically unified your distributed contacts across social, enriched people’s company data, and then worked back where you’re working.
We had to pivot a little from social CRM when LinkedIn and Facebook cut off their APIs for a variety of reasons that made us lose some of our social promises. As a result, we decided to build a browser extension called Nimble Prospector that works where we all engage—email inbox and social sites—which really changed the way people use Nimble.
Nimble has become the first CRM that works for you by automagically building CRM contact records by unifying your Google and Microsoft contacts, syncing email and calendar history, enriching contacts with people and company insights, and then working with you everywhere you engage.
We have also evolved into the Simple CRM for Microsoft 365. Because of my GoldMine history, I knew that Microsoft would dominate Google in the email Cloud productivity space once they launched Office 365. I saw how Microsoft ate Novell when they launched the NT server and I knew Office 365 would eat G Suite (currently known as Google Workspace).
We began to develop integrations with Microsoft products and build relationships with Microsoft Product people who then gave us access to unique ISV (Independent Software Vendor) programs that evolved into Microsoft signing a global reseller agreement with Nimble. Microsoft is selling Nimble globally to their customers and resellers as the Simple CRM for Microsoft 365, which is where we’re at today.
How are you seeing CRM platforms evolve and what are some top observations/predictions you have for the future of these platforms?
CRMs are evolving from just being a sales platform to becoming the operating system of a business that incorporates other functions like sales, marketing, and customer service.
I feel that CRM platforms will do a lot more for salespeople in the future, things like automatically creating and updating contact and company details, and then make themselves available to not just salespeople but the whole company everywhere they engage.
The biggest cause of CRM failure is lack of use and bad data. The first is lack of use because you have to force salespeople to use CRM… That’s why they call it “Salesforce”. As for bad data, even if you get people to type data into a CRM it quickly becomes stale because people and company details change over time.
CRMs aren’t designed for relationships, engagement, or empowering the salesperson to engage. “CRM” stands for “customer relationship management”, but it really should stand for “customer reporting management”. CRMs are built for management, so you have to go out and buy additional tools to enrich contacts with people in company data.
Can you talk about some of the biggest challenges or lags you see in sales and marketing teams in the way they deploy and use their CRMs? What best practices should they keep in mind to drive better ROI from their CRM investments?
One of the biggest challenges today regarding sales and marketing teams is the way they deploy CRMs. They rely too much on automation. These automated emails, text campaigns, and phone calls tend to irritate today’s customer.
There should be a better way for business professionals to stay top of mind with their prospects, customers, and influencers. You can’t stay top of mind by pounding people with generic drip emails because they feel so unauthentic and mostly get unopened or trashed. The more digital we get, the more human we need to be. And there needs to be more humanity in every sales engagement.
Ultimately, business professionals shouldn’t be “cold calling” people. They should be “warm calling” people by giving them knowledge daily, listening to and engaging with the community around them to build relationships and establish themselves as trusted advisors. If a salesperson does their best to stay top of mind as a “trusted advisor” the next time their prospects need their products and services, they not only pick up the phone to call the salesperson, but they also drag their friends with them.
The best practice sales and marketing teams should keep in mind to drive ROI from CRM is buying CRM systems that delight and empower the customer-facing business team members with the tools they need to save time. Nobody likes to Google people, and nobody likes to add data into a CRM manually. They don’t like to have to go to the CRM to use it.
Your CRM should automatically work for your salespeople and the rest of the company by building records automatically wherever they’re engaging. It should also empower them to follow up and follow through everywhere they work. They’ll get better usage and adoption of those CRMs and better ROI.
A few thoughts on the impact of AI to CRM platforms and how that will redefine this segment in the next few years?
AI is one of the most overused acronyms. Everybody says they’re “AI-driven”, this or that. They’re just using the word because it’s vague. Despite my thoughts on the word, I do believe in AI. I believe that machine learning should determine the best paths and processes— the motions necessary to keep and grow the customers and turn them into evangelists.
Some top sales technologies that you feel will always be at the forefront for sales leaders and sales teams?
I believe communication and the tools we use to communicate are key to business success. Historically, communication was face-to-face and over the phone. Then it evolved into fax -> then email -> now social.
Communication technologies are key to starting conversations and turning prospects into customers. Still, communication has to be leveraged through AI and tools that enable you to have your contact and prospect records available wherever you’re listening and engaging with the customer. Suppose you’re not in the channels that your customers and their influencers are having conversations about learning and growing. In that case, you’re missing out on the opportunity to truly scale your business.
What are some of the other upcoming innovations from the Nimble platform that users can look forward to in the near future?
Processes are what scale businesses. If you look at what the military does, they document every process and teach new people how to perform those processes. Many businesses fail because they don’t document processes effectively. And they don’t teach those processes to new people to leverage learnings that you have done to scale your business.
The processes I’m talking about are not just sales processes. It involves everyone that the company interacts with across all departments in sales, marketing, customer service, accounting, etc. There are processes in those departments that are necessary to drive connections and conversations into measurable business results.
One example: hiring. If you’re not hiring the right people and keeping them, you’re failing as a business, and there should be a process for hiring. You might put an ad in Indeed or Zip Recruiter. Then you get these applicants, and that’s stage one. Then the next stage is to do a “sniff test” on that person. You’ll look at their LinkedIn, resume, and socials. Now, you ask yourself, “Is this person a good fit for us?” If they are, they move to the next stage in which you schedule a call. And if that works, you give them an assignment to see their work process. Then you have them talk to team members at that department. Next, they talk to the leadership in the company. If that works, you give an offer. That’s a six- or seven-stage example on a workflow board.
Today, most CRMs don’t really deal with contacts outside of prospects and customers or empower departments beyond sales and marketing. That’s where we shine at Nimble as the contact platform for all companies. We’re implementing workflows with templates for unique departments to manage the processes necessary to scale a business.
Some last thoughts/takeaways as a founder-CEO to share before we wrap up?
For all B2B people out there, your brand and your network are your net worth. Your personal brand and professional network will enable you to achieve your life goals. If people don’t see you as a thought leader, you’re going to miss out on opportunities.
So how can you be seen and heard in our over-connected and communicated world? You should curate content in and around your areas of passion and purpose in life, both personally and professionally. Then share that content daily on your identities that are properly set up. Listen to engage in connecting with others not to see what you get from them, but see what you give to them.
If you do that daily and repeat, you will build your personal brand and grow your network to help you achieve your life goals.
One last tip: If you Google yourself and you don’t show up well on the first page, build a Wikipedia page for yourself. It’s free and easy, and it will help you be seen and heard, and you can control how people see and listen to you!
Nimble is a simple, smart CRM for small business teams using Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace. It combines the strength of CRM, contact management, social media insights, sales intelligence, pipeline management, and marketing automation into a unified relationship management platform that delivers valuable company and contact insights – everywhere you work.
Jon Ferrara is the Founder & CEO at Nimble