CRM Watchlist 2010 - The SMBs - IVB - Brent Leary Rocks More

Okay my compadres, on Monday you had a strong taste of Brent Leary's good stuff on small business CRM. Now we move on to Part B of his stuff, closing the loop on the SMB market place.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Okay my compadres, on Monday you had a strong taste of Brent Leary's good stuff on small business CRM. Now we move on to Part B of his stuff, closing the loop on the SMB market place. Listen up to his wise analysis.  He knows from whence he comes.  Here's the rest.

Social Natives: BatchBlue and Gist

The better known contact mangers and CRM application vendors have been around a long time.  Long before there Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.  Communications have changed so much in such a short amount of time, traditional apps and the vendors behind them are rapidly trying to integrate social data into their tools and services.  But there are a whole bunch of new companies that were created with "social" in their DNA.  There are way too many of these to name here that are doing some cool things, but I'll give a shout out to a few that deserve some attention - Bantam Live, WeCanDoBiz, Network Hippo and Co-Tweet are among the Social Native crew that are doing some interesting stuff.  And it will be interesting to see how they progress of the next year.

The two Social Natives that I'd like to give special mention to here (another I'll discuss later) are BatchBlue and Gist.  One I've very familiar with, the other I've watched over a shorter amount of time - but both are making a name for themselves among the small biz crowd.

Gist is kind of like Xobni in that you can use it within Outlook to get a better handle on the people you're swapping emails with.  But where Xobni's focus is squarely on Outlook, Gist pulls in information from various social networks and creates a central location on its site - creating a social network with profiles.  You can create a free Gist account and import contacts from Outlook, Gmail, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other services.  Once imported, Gist then searches for fresh information on each contact to give you a better handle on what this contact is about. Then it uses a formula to continuously rank the importance of your relationship to each contact - which you can manually override if you don't agree with the rankings generated.

Gist also pulls in tasks and events you schedule on your Google Calendar, and makes it easy to view detailed information of imported contacts - and see relationships between your contacts.   And you can not only view tweets from the people you follow, you can also tweet (and re-tweet) from your Gist account as well.  And while it is not have traditional CRM functionality, there is an integration with Salesforce.com.  It also looks like they're beefing up the email capabilities, which should prove helpful to users.

BatchBlue is the company behind BatchBook - a socially-enabled online contact management system that is adding CRM functionality, and integrating with other small business application providers through its founding partnership of The Small Business Web initiative.  I admittedly have been a big fan of BatchBlue and their dynamic duo - Pamela O'Hara and Michelle Riggen-Ransom - for well over a year now.

For as little as $9.95/mo for individual users, BatchBook provides traditional contact management, and allows you monitor your contact's Twitter conversations and read their blog posts right from within the app - and view their Flickr stream of photos.  BatchBlue also pioneered the concept of SuperTags - a tag that allows you to form groups of contacts, and create custom fields to for the SuperTag to track group information.  And these custom fields can be RSS fields, email addresses, multiple choice questions, and other things you may want to track about a group of contacts.  BatchBlue also recently announced that they've added the ability to manage and track leads and sales deals which adds much needed functionality to the service.

Being a founding member of The Small Business Web is another reason BatchBlue is one to watch.  The forethought of joining MailChimp, Shoeboxed, Outright and Freshbooks in founding this partnership of small business vendors  - taking an oath to make their products work together to make life for their small business customers easier - show they know what social is all about.  Partnering with a growing number of service providers through the SBW initiative extends BatchBlue's ability to give their customers functionality, while staying focused on their core business.  This is a great example of how small businesses can leverage social strategies to grow their businesses.  Another great example of their Social Native behavior is The SBBuzz weekly tweet chat start last year that facilitates conversations focused on issues of importance to small business.

The Social Native CRM-ish companies will have a growing impact on shaping what we'll be calling customer relationship management in the years to come.  Gist and BatchBlue are two you'll want to follow to see what this will mean for the small business market.

The Three Inbound Marketeers: Hubspot

Over the last 3+ years, few companies have impressed me more than this internet marketing platform provider.  My first interaction came via email from co-founder Brian Halligan back in 2006 when he and Dharmesh Shah were just starting the company.  They were all about helping small businesses leverage the web to build an effective presence to attract customers and prospects.  Mike Volpe joined them to soon afterward and the three were off to the races creating a company that now has over 100 employees dedicated to helping small businesses understand the values of what they call Inbound Marketing.  Yeah... the Three Inbound Marketeers...I know.  I won't use that one again.

Hubspot is an important company to watch for a variety of reasons.  Thousands of small businesses use their platform to run their websites, create and optimize landing pages, do keyword research, create landing pages, blog, and nurture online leads.  You can monitor social networks for conversations important to your businesses, analyze just about any site activity and its impact on lead conversion, and analyze incoming links to see how what impact they're having on your site.  If that weren't enough you can also do a fair share of competitive intelligence to understand where you stand versus your competitors.

The product itself would warrant their being a company worth watching, but what really makes them important is the wealth of knowledge they share through the content they create.  Their Grader tools (Website Grader, Press Release Grader, Twitter Grader, Book Grader, etc.) are some of the most helpful free tools available.  Their internet marketing blog is full of valuable information best practices, and practical information you can use - whether you're a Hubspot customer or not.  Their webinar attract thousands of people at a time because of the quality information provided.  And their research papers - like the State of Facebook for Business - are must reads for anyone wanting to understand how to leverage social networks to create business opportunities.

While Hubspot is not a traditional CRM provider, they do integrate with Salesforce.com to get the benefits of more robust needs for opportunities and pipeline management.  But one thing you do get from Hubspot is support in making the most of the application.  You have access to knowledgeable people to get you up to speed on using all the available tools for designing the site, and blogs, finding keywords and building optimized pages.  There are a number of online videos available, and an active community of users that help each other get the most out of using the application.

It's kind of ironic that I have never heard Hubspot refer to themselves as a social CRM company. I say this because they have just as much right to that claim as anybody I've seen out there, actually more right than I've seen.  But I think they're OK with the whole Inbound Marketing thing.  Whatever you call them, just remember to keep your eyes out for anything they do.   You're likely to learn something important.

I'd love to come up with something negative to say about these guys, but they don't give you much to work with.  Well, the Facebook Grader tool didn't do too much for me... oh yeah they all like the Boston sports teams.  That in itself should have really kept them off this list.

The Wildcards: Google and Salesforce.com ... GoogleForce

No I'm not predicting  Google will buy Salesforce.com - I did that already... a couple of times.  While they have partnered on a few things I've moved on from that prediction, particularly now with Salesforce raising a half billion dollars recently.  But these two still are two that need watching from a small business CRM perspective, don't they?


Salesforce.com is still the poster child for CRM.  When they make a move people analyze how it will impact the industry.  If Marc Benioff so much as coughs people try to read something into it.  So it makes sense that Salesforce should be on a list like this.  So why did I wait so long to include them?

Even though Salesforce is pulling in bigger deals from bigger companies, a third of their business still comes from the little guys.  But I've heard from a number of small businesses wondering if the allure of bigger deals is taking attention away from them.

I recently had a chance to talk with Sean Whiteley - Salesforce VP, Services Cloud Product Marketing.   He said their recent release of Contact Edition was made to address the huge market (24M or so) of sole proprietors in the US.  He said they've heard from the micro-business crowd that they needed a basic service at a price point that made it possible for them to start on the CRM path.  The 5$/mo per user price tag makes that possible, and gives Salesforce customers a path that goes up to Group Edition and Professional Edition if necessary.  Whitely also pointed to relatively new small business site with information on the products geared to small business folks.  He also mentioned a new small business community site that will be coming shortly to help facilitate an area where there small business customers can learn from Salesforce.com and other customers to get the most from using the service.

After talking with Sean I think this year will be one to watch to see how aggressively Salesforce.com goes after this market.  Will they add functions to the lower editions that small businesses will get from other vendors.  Also will they put time in effort into supporting the little guys, and their small business properties, to win over the hearts and minds of this group.  They've got a lot going on, so it will be interesting to see how important it will be to Salesforce.com to get into good graces with very small businesses.


Yeah I know, what does Google have to do with CRM.  It seems like more and more each day, because Google is removing friction from the relationship building process.  By shooting emails back in forth you in Gmail you can connect them through Google Reader as well and see what they're reading - which provides you an opportunity to share content that would be of interest to them.  YouTube now prompts you to subscribe to channels of the people you communicate with Gmail.  And more apps are integrating with Gmail because of the growing number of people using the service.

Google FriendConnect makes it easy for folks to become a member of your blog.  And Sidewiki is making it easy to share comments on web pages.  And then there's Google Wave which I'm starting to see more people use to collaborate in realtime.  And many of these services have APIs people are developing apps with to tap into - like ZohoCRM for Google Apps.  Plus more people will tap into the Google Contacts API as they develop that service as more people use Gmail and create contacts from those email interactions.

So I'm guessing that Google is going to be a big player in the CRM space, because it is tied into so many of our daily activities - beyond search.  So it will be interesting to see how Google CRM-ish activities play out in 2010.

Final Thoughts

There's a lot going on in this space.  There's a lot of players and a lot of developments.  And it all adds up to being good news for the little guys out there.  While social is all the rage and the focus of everything, the focus of many vendors is better integration with email  - and email marketing activities.  Social is definitely growing in importance, and will probably become even more important to traditional small businesses over the course of the year.  But email strikes at the heart of their communication with current customers.  Email marketing helps solidify those relationships, while also nurturing relationships with prospects who have shown past interest.  And mobility looms large on the horizon.

2010 promises to be a big year for the little guys.  CRM is no longer a 4-letter word.  It's beginning to be viewed as The Ish!

A Thank you to the Tolstoy of CRM

I have to say a huge thank you to my Frientor (friend and mentor) Paul Greenberg for inviting me to add this list to his series of great posts on companies and developments he's watching over the next year.  It has been (and continues to be) an absolute honor to learn from him. Paul is an endless supply of lessons... and knowledge... and most importantly kindness.  Thanks for being a true CRM Playa PG!

Editorial standards