Keeping up with your contacts
Jon Ferrara founded GoldMine Software in 1989 with a $3,000 investment and sold the company for $100 million. GoldMine tracked sales leads on a PC. Last month, Jon came to Mountain View from Santa Monica to speak about Nimble, his latest venture. The occasion was Tatyana Kanzaveli's Bay Area Executives Meetup, held monthly at the Samovar Conference Hall, and the place to be if you want to discuss social networking for business.
Nimble is a web-based sales lead and customer tracking system for small businesses, currently in beta testing.
"Most sales-tracking packages look like database applications," Jon said, as he showed a screenshot of Salesforce, a web application used by over 72,500 companies. "Traditional CRM (customer relationship management) systems look like they were designed for old DEC computer terminals," he noted.
Today's sales people no longer sit at PCs, they travel with tablets, netbooks and phones. Email, Twitter and instant messaging have replaced street address and fax as primary ways to contact people. Jon demonstrated Nimble, showing phone number, e-mail address, blogs and information from social networking sites — LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter — on each contact's page.
If Nimble is as easy to use as Jon's demo, account managers in small businesses will find it quick and easy to record sales communications and track customers. You can sign up to be a developer, marketing partner or beta user on www.nimble.com. For single users, Nimble is free. For sales teams, pricing ranges from $9 to $29 a month. That's not quite as good as Zoho, offering a basic CRM system that is free for up to three users.
Last week I wandered over to Mozilla Labs in the Mountain View Town Center on Castro Street, to check out some experimental add-ons for the Firefox browser. Developer Michael Hanson spoke about the work he has done on Contacts. At a first glance, it looked very like Nimble with Twitter and Facebook information for each contact. The Contacts add-on can get contacts from Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter and Yahoo! address books. If you are an Apple Mac user, you can also add contacts from the Mac Address Book. Unlike Nimble, Contacts doesn't actually track contacts, it just finds web information about people. As a labs product, it shows where things are heading, so it's not perfect yet.
Michael told me that he was motivated to create Contacts to show people how easy it is to find information about someone — from their friends to their Flickr photos. If you are a Facebook user, you might just want to check your privacy settings — go to Account in the top right corner of the screen and choose Privacy Settings. Contacts also uses the OpenSocial specification.
Nearly three years in the making, Open Social 1.0 has now been finalized. This means that you can expect to see social data like friends and photos being shared across many applications and websites, making the need to manage your online reputation even more important. If you have an uncommon name or company name, then you can set up a Google Alert to send you e-mail whenever you are mentioned (www.google.com
Just when you thought you'd removed yourself from annoying telemarketing calls by putting your phone number on the Do Not Call List (donotcall.gov), don't be surprised if a customer service rep knows the color of your hair, your hobbies and where you went on vacation. Nimble's going to have plenty of competition, but so far it looks like a company worth watching.
Angela Hey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amhey.