New Visionaries: An interview with Bill Burnett

I recently wrote about a clever pitch I received from Kari Hernadez of Ink PR, which leveraged the PointDrive social CRM tool to get me interested in taking another look at that product. After a short email discussion with folks at the company, I decided that I wanted to interview the founder and CEO, Bill Burnett, regarding his vision for the company.

About Bill Burnett

bill burnett

Bill Burnett

Bill Burnett is the CEO of PointDrive and is the guiding hand on the company’s direction. He formerly headed Fippex, and has a long background in sales. Which explains why PointDrive is such a strong entrant to the social sales market.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: I am intrigued with the idea that a social sale approach via email can lead to closer relationships with clients, but then, it seems to make email less impersonal and lowest-common denominator feeling. Is that what motivated you to create PointDrive?
Bill Burnett: Definitely. What motivated us to create PointDrive was feedback from sales professionals that they wanted to know when their emails and content were received, opened and shared. Sales professionals default to email, as we all do, for its convenience and ubiquity but the truth is, it’s really hard to stand out these days and you typically have no way of knowing if you’re getting through. PointDrive allows you to turn existing sales content into a personalized, professional presentation without requiring any more effort than it takes to write an email. Then we deliver feedback and analytics on how your customers are engaging with your presentation to help you follow up more effectively and make more accurate sales projections.
SB: I guess getting that insight into emails being opened is an example of transparency in communications, like presence in IM tools. Knowing that a correspondent has actually read something is more than just a check box in the sale pipeline, it’s knowing that they are participating in the discussion. It has social value greater than just the step in a sales process.
BB: Absolutely. In a face to face meeting you have the ability to engage with one another and gauge interest. PointDrive allows you to present your digital content with some of these same benefits.
SB: Looking at some of the upcoming features, PointDrive’s dashboard is starting to look more like the analytics that brands point at their Twitter and Facebook mentions and accounts. I guess that follows: they’re all social mechanisms of interaction, after all.
BB: Exactly. We want to show our users how people are engaging with their content and that in turn allows them to follow up more effectively and adjust strategies. The fact that our social communications are primarily 1:1 only helps us to provide more individualized analytics. For instance, with PointDrive, you can see a ranking of your most active people, but you can also search for a specific customer/recipient to see how many actions that person has taken, and with which content. You can do the same for a specific presentation to determine what content is performing best. We provide high level numbers and then drill into the specifics. We’re also working on a team plan that will allow a manager to analyze overall team activity and content performance.
SB: In one blog post, you recommend PointDrive as presentation software. It’s interesting, because I have a vision of a not-too-distant-conference, where there is no overhead projection of presentations. Instead, all the attendees will be watching a synchronized shared presentation — with chat and other capabilities — on their handhelds or laptops. The attendees have a richer and more social experience — instead of watching the backchannel on Twitter, for example — and the conference organizers have better data about actual views, and built-in surveys and other metrics. And of course people attending remotely would would have a similar experience to those in the room. Any thoughts about that?
BB: Well first off, thanks for reading our blog! I think that vision – of a more engaging and flexible presentation environment, one that integrates with other communications channels and aligns with peoples behaviors and attention spans, AND delivers feedback – is very much where we’re headed. PointDrive is a first step. It’s designed to present all types of content beautifully on mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc. It allows you to have some control over how your content will be experienced, and then delivers feedback on how folks engage.
SB: I’d like to learn more about those next steps. It seems to be that an option for a recipient to move from an asynchronous interaction to a real-time conversation — like chat, audio, or video interaction — would be a natural. Is that in the works?
BB: Yes, we see chat as a natural progression along with integrations with some of the web conferencing tools that will allow for video interaction. We are also working hard on our team version of PointDrive that will include sales management analytics along with better collaboration around presentations.
SB: Bill, thanks for your time.
BB: Thanks for the opportunity, Stowe.

Innovative social CRM company Intercom gains $23M in Series B

Intercom has raised $23 million in a series B round led by Bessemer and joined by The Social+Capital Partnership, which has been widely reported.

The company has positioned itself in a great and growing market, supporting growth-oriented tech companies that want a deep and close relationship with clients, especially during the earliest stages of onboarding and initial use. That transition zone is where proactive outreach and ‘speedback’ on features and functionality is critical.

The founder and CEO, Eoghan McCabe, wrote this about the company’s vision:

Intercom is our contribution to Internet innovation. Internet technologies are still catching up with how humans interact offline. The majority of progress in this space is on the consumer side—Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, et al. Intercom is bringing this to business. It’s a seamless, lightweight way for the whole company to connect personally with their customers. The incumbents haven’t innovated in over a decade. In fact, the separate helpdesks, email marketing tools, feedback products, and CRMs have only become more complex. These disconnected services cannot provide a holistic view of the customer. And as a result, the customer’s experience is very disjointed. Our vision is to be at the center of all customer communication for all kinds of Internet business, which increasingly every business is becoming. We’re dedicated to going all the way with this.

I think that’s a compelling story, and the app demonstrates the proposition fairly well. And the capability for embedding Intercom into websites and applications, and engaging customers there with conversations and notifications. These communications wind up in the Intercom app, and possibly forwarded to email and mobile apps, so that connections can be made and the experience of end users is very real time.

Screenshot 2014-01-23 08.35.13This is a very hot space, with a great deal of innovation to come.

Larger question: If the original value proposition of social tools was to get away from broadcast, 1:many communications, and to replace it with personal, many:many communications, what tools do you need to scale social up to thousands or millions of customers? Well, something like Intercom.

Second large question: What is the impact of social CRM like Intercom on current generation of work tech, which is amazingly inward focused? What is the impact of these solutions on Yammer, IBM Connect, and Chatter?


Mining networks for connection, again

Years ago, I consulted to a company called Visible Path (later acquired by Hoover’s in 2008), that had built a social network analysis capability, figuring out who in a larger enterprise might know someone is another company that someone in the sales side might want to meet. In the case of Visible Path that analysis tapped into the implicit social network latent in Exchange email servers. But in today’s world we are connected explicitly in social systems like Twitter and Linkedin, as well as the contacts in or email.


Visible Path diagram


The notion of mining networks to open connections with targeted people remains a holy grail for sales people and recruiters in the business world, and in the past few weeks I’ve seen two promising products that leverage this sort of information for social CRM sort of applications.


EnterpriseJungle is a new startup that asks ‘who will you discover?’ and helps professionals discover ‘peers’ that they should be connected to, but aren’t. These may be other people in the same company, or possible sales leads in other companies. EnterpriseJungle pulls this off by tapping into the data available in profiles of other corporate users, and from solutions like Linkedin.

EnterpriseJungle homescreen

EnterpriseJungle homescreen

In the home screen above, you see a Company Matches in the upper right, public matches (people outside the company) in the lower right, and a stream of updates to the left. Note that the tool supports messaging with other connected users, and is making selections based on affinity analysis.

Here’s a profile:

User profile

As you can see, EnterpriseJungle has instrumented the profiles to bring together salient information — perhaps from existing company profile sources — and makes it straightforward to send a message or connect via Linkedin.


Nimble is both similar and dissimilar to EnterpriseJungle. Similar, because it does provide a similar sort of network analysis to find a path to a target connection. Dissimilar,  because it can operate as a Twitter and Gmail appliance.

When I first looked at Nimble last year, it was an attempt to create a single location to pull in your Twitter and email, and to provid a single history of your messaging with contacts. A noble goal, but one that was very frustrating for me, because of slow performance and sometimes odd behavior.

However, the tool has been largely reengineered to fix those issues, and also extended in several key ways. For example, there is now a Chrome extension that allows Nimble to tightly integrate with the Gmail user experience, pulling up social network data on email contacts while the user is reading and writing emails.

Screenshot 2013-11-17 11.26.32

Here you can see the Nimble contact of the originator, and at the lower left Nimble has pulled her Twitter stream into context. You can see other controls, like a period of time for ‘staying in touch’, a repository for notes, and other social CRM capabilities.

Along with the capacity to act as a Twitter client, Nimble also pulls shared connections from social networks who can act as intermediaries and make introductions, conceivably.

Screenshot 2013-11-17 10.42.12



The Bottom Line

This isn’t an in-depth analysis of either of these solutions, but a connecting-of-the-dots based on demos. There is a continuing interest in solving the puzzle that Visible Path and others companies attempted in the days prior to well-established open social networks, and now the awareness that this sort of data is waiting to be mined makes the value proposition for doing so almost inescapable. My sense is that EnterpriseJungle is more oriented toward intra-company social connections while Nimble is more of a social sales appliance, but it’s clear there is a lot of overlap, as well.

Short takes: Stewart Butterfield is thinking of me, Skype is moving to Windows 8.1 start screen, SocialBro integrates Salesforce and Nimble

I sent a tweet to Stewart Butterfield about his new work management launch, Slack:
Screenshot on 2013-08-15 at 15.50.09
Sounds like he is trying to give Basecamp, and Evernote for Business some competition. More to follow.

Skype will be preinstalled on the start screen of the upcoming Windows 8.1 release. Doesn’t sound like it will be as integrated as Twitter in Mac OS X The Mavericks, but we’ll have to see.

SocialBro announced  integrations with Salesforce and Nimble, so that its Twitter sales prospecting can flow into these popular CRM solutions.

Crushpath is a promising take on social selling

My old friend Sam Lawrence, who I met years ago when he was chief marketing officer at Jive, has founded a new social selling company, Crushpath, which launched last year.
(Just in passing — I have always found the term ‘customer relationship management’ misleading. Or perhaps it’s a good term misapplied to software intended to help sales people sell. So I am going to try to establish a sort of truth-in-analysis pact here, where I will call vertically focused social tools by unambiguous names, whenever possible. Like ‘social selling’, ‘social marketing’, ‘social customer support’, and so on.)
Crushpath is a promising departure from the contact-and-data centric approaches that we have come to think of as ‘CRM’ software. And Crushpath unabashedly positions itself as being pitch-centric, or maybe just sales-centric.
At the heart of the tool is the Crushpath, a timeline-based representation of the interactions between the sales team (shown on the left in the screenshot below) and the prospect (shown on the right below). I think this back-and-forth representation is a great way to keep up with the status of a deal under discussion, and an easy way for a team selling together too coordinate their activities intuitively.

Capturing the give-and-take involves Crashpath’s email integration, but also direct contact with prospects through a second innovation. Crushpath allows sales people to create what they call ‘pitch sites’, which are what they sound like: websites that are customized by Crushpath users to make a pitch to prospective clients. The pitch sites can be general, or designed to interest a specific contact.

In the pitch site above, you can see various contact hooks so that prospective clients can click and send a message to the Crushpath user, starting up a new discussion in a path. Note that the pitch sites are responsive, so they play nice on mobile devices.
While Crushpath is not contact-centric, obviously it allows saving and accessing leads, and generating and sharing projections, so it will fit in with the conventional sales processes in place in most companies, today. However, Crushpath clearly has one foot firmly planted in the new social, web-centric world of business, and aligns with the social logic that today’s sales professionals would like to use, given the right tools.

Today in Social

I know you’re all excited about Mobilize, but anyone in the Bay Area this week can’t help but trip over Dreamforce. (Hey, I’m staying out by the airport myself.) Salesforce’s massive event is generating a lot of announcements, many with delivery dates for products and services that are pretty far out there. Lots of digerati talk about Chatterbox – because it’s a Dropbox or Box wannabe. But that’s a relatively minor offering in a brutally competitive space, and not even testing till next year. In contrast, Identity could be a huge deal because Salesforce is one of the few credible players to try to offer professional identity management. Yet it’s very vague right now. If Salesforce’s next billion-dollar business is marketing technology, the biggest near-term deal is its so-called Marketing Cloud, that rolls up Radian6 and Buddy Media services with Chatter bolted on. Compare our recent analysis on Listening Platforms.