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MindTouch CEO Aaron Fulkerson, on Collaborative CRM

This is a Guest post and a cross post (with permission) by Martin Schneider

CRM takes on many faces, and encompasses a lot of different technologies.  We would be ridiculously arrogant, and wrong, to assume that our solution was the only way to manage a CRM initiative.  When at the optimal stage, CRM systems are hitting on all cylinders by not being one piece of technology but rather many tools working together to support the people and processes that make your human interactions unique.

In that vein, a major trend we are seeing among users and in general is the need for more fluid tools to support the highly versatile forms of collaboration going on around sales, marketing and supporting customers. Gone are the days of information silos – where a sales rep or manager reigns supreme over most of the interaction data surrounding an account; nor is it sufficient to only arm support agents with the data and tools to solve customer issues.

MindTouch is a company with an interesting take on collaboration and data sharing (and what’s even greater is that Mindtouch is a commercial open source company). I caught up with CEO Aaron Fulkerson recently to discuss his SugarCon presentation around Collaborative CRM, and the conversation quickly opened up to include concepts like the convergence of enterprise 2.0 and social CRM, as well as how cloud computing is affecting modern CRM deployments…

Aaron, your SugarCon session is around “collaborative CRM.”  Can you give a quick definition of collaborative CRM vs. traditional CRM?

Terms like “social CRM” and “Collaborative CRM” are being used a lot these days and it seems as if the products in this space grown daily.  MindTouch has a very specific view of what Collaborative CRM needs to be.

I can boil down the biggest difference in two words: Information Asymmetry.  Let’s take a common CRM use case – managing a specific transaction.   This transaction has a lead account manager, perhaps a sales rep who helped qualify the deal, a pre-sales engineer, and possibly a services manager engaged.  All of these team members have various contact points inside the prospect.   These multiple contact points can quickly create an information asymmetry situation where data that might be held in the form of emails, documents, phone call notes, etc., isn’t as accessible as it could be, and that could be to the detriment of the transaction.

Our vision of Collaborative CRM is to create an information advantage for all of the team members involved.  I’m excited to share this vision at SugarCon.

So, where exactly does “Enterprise 2.0” meet with CRM? Are they two separate things?

To realize the ‘information advantage’ I mentioned before, the CRM system must embody Enterprise 2.0-type attributes – that is to say, to openly and easily interface with other information-rich systems, to support the collaboration amongst team members, including those who wouldn’t traditionally interact with a CRM system.

A lot of CRM systems are great with structured data, but how can users better leverage unstructured data like emails and PDFs etc. in their CRM initiative?

Great question.  Unstructured data cannot be overlooked, as they are vital pieces of the activity stream.  All too often, aggregating the data in those activity streams is overlooked, this is especially true for purely ‘social crm’ solutions.  These emails and PDF’s are typically relegated to your desktop or your inbox.   Emailing these documents back and forth has to be the single most inefficient way to share documents, and everyone does it.   MindTouch ensures these types of data points are not overlooked, by integrating them directly into the activity stream, making them collaborative – easy to find, share and act upon.

How does it benefit a user organization to have open collaboration tools versus proprietary alternatives?

No two organizations are the same. You can definitely provide customers with purpose-built and feature rich solutions – but there will always be the desire on the customer side to perform their own customization.  Most often, this occurs with a custom application they’ve developed in-house.   With rigid, proprietary offerings, this might not even be possible.

Finally, how are you seeing “the cloud” change the way businesses collaborate with each other, and their customers?

MindTouch is web-based, so we’ve always had the benefit of providing our customers a solution that could cross boundaries – enabling internal teams to collaborate with partners, vendors and customers.  The big benefit we see in the cloud is that it becomes a great equalizer.   No matter how easy you make your product to download, install and deploy, there will always be that slice of the market that doesn’t have the IT wherewithal to make it a reality.  With the cloud, any size organization can simply sign up and be up and running in minutes.    This means a company of any size can now leverage the same enterprise collaboration solution that companies like Mozilla, RightScale, Intel and the WashingtonPost rely on.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • toshibanb200 April 19, 2010, 9:23 PM

    Let me also add one more benefit to cloud and subscription-based CRM.

    Aside from fast implementation (just sign up and it’s fast and running in minutes, like you mentioned) you also take advantage of painless upgrades. It doesn’t demand costly infrastructure investment and maintenance, thus it means reduced operational costs for the company since the system and software maintenance are taken care of the vendor itself.

    cheers, EAG
    http://www.worketc.com