Editor’s note: Umberto Milletti, founder and CEO of InsideView, provider of a CRM intelligence platform for sales and marketing, says “Marketing techniques that worked in the past won’t work in the future because the buyer behavior has changed. Any company that is doing the same thing for revenue generation that it was doing five years ago is probably already having issues whether they realize it or not and certainly has issues coming up if their process isn’t designed for the next five years.” In this interview he discusses the trends in CRM, marketing automation, Big Data analytics for customer insights, and differences in today’s CRM solutions. He also shares advice for software startups.
Your company was founded in 2005 and now has more than 13,000 companies as customers and over 300,000 users of your product. What are the trends in CRM and what do vendors still need to address in their solutions?
Umberto Milletti: There are a couple of key trends. One is that sales and marketing need to work closely together because reaching customers, being relevant to them and breaking through to them is becoming more and more challenging because customers are overwhelmed with marketing messages. Sales and marketing can no longer live in two separate worlds; they really need to collaborate very closely in the effort of generating more revenue.
A second trend is related. To be relevant to their buyers, whether it’s existing customers or prospective customers, sales and marketing must be knowledgeable about the market as well as every need and every interaction they have with a customer.
Those two trends together make them look at their existing automation infrastructure, which is some combination of sales-focused automation systems and marketing-focused automation systems. They then realize that as much as those systems are powerful because they allow tracking and automating lots of things, they lack intelligence that is necessary for going to market effectively.
So what still needs to be addressed is marrying sales force automation with aggregated intelligence. But there are other companies doing this, right?
Umberto Milletti: A lot of companies provide data, and there is a lot of data available in the market (such as contact databases and company databases like Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers and Data.com). That is part of the picture but it’s not sufficient. To be really relevant to a buyer, sales and marketing need to go beyond the plain data and understand more about what is happening with the customer; at InsideView we call this “insights.” The insights help make the sales team relevant to the customer.
And then it’s also a matter of relationships. How can they relate to the customer through their network of people, co-workers and customer base?
Your platform provides all of this information?
Umberto Milletti: Yes. We’re pretty unique in the market in bringing a full intelligence platform that combines data with the insights and connections and then integrates it seamlessly into the workflow. We believe that integrated solutions are critical, so it can’t be automation on one side and intelligence somewhere else.
We’ve built a large-scale aggregation platform that brings together what are now over 30,000 different sources of information. And that goes beyond what any one data provider can do. We approached the market from a technology perspective rather than a data perspective. Most CRM intelligence solutions just give customers access to a database.
When you talk to potential customers about your platform, are there any common barriers for making a decision to go with this solution?
Umberto Milletti: The biggest barrier is when companies feel that what they have always done (such as email campaigns and cold calling) will continue to work in the future. There are still companies that believe that they can be successful going forward with that kind of volume-based approach. We just have to wait until they realize that approach won’t work anymore.
Is this mindset mostly in small companies or in large companies?
Umberto Milletti: It’s more vertical specific. Some industries tend to be more forward thinking such as the technology sector and the financial services sector. They tend to be earlier adopters of new technologies and new ways of doing things. Some of the more traditional businesses take longer to come to the realization. But it’s just a question of time.
What are the CRM trends related to cloud-based Big Data solutions?
Umberto Milletti: Sales and marketing are dealing with lots of information, leads and customers. They are in the Big Data business whether they realize it not. More and more marketers and sales organizations, especially marketers, are adopting Big Data technologies to make sense of what is otherwise an overwhelming amount of information.
We have customers that generate over 20,000 inbound leads a month. They just can’t sift through those by hand; they need some technology to do that. One of the challenges is how to determine which of the 20,000 leads are worth a follow-up from the sales team and which are not. Helping them solve these kinds of Big Data problems and bringing the power of the cloud and all the information in the cloud to allow them to make these decisions at scale is an exciting new frontier for the CRM industry.
Does your platform include analytics?
Umberto Milletti: As I mentioned earlier, the CRM components are data, insights and relationships. The insights and relationships pieces are handled through analytics. With this functionality, companies are able to analyze millions of documents every day and recognize some buying triggers and things that create market opportunities.
In the relationships piece, the technology analyzes all of a company’s corporate relationships, how employees are connected into the marketplace, where customers’ executives are and how to target people they have done business with in the past but that moved on. It also analyzes how the executive team and board of directors relate to the industry and how to leverage those relationships. Analytics are helping companies understand how they can go to market.
So this is basically a business intelligence solution?
Umberto Milletti: There is definitely an intelligence component. But we don’t call it BI per se because that has a historical meaning of something designed for management so that management can look at data to make business decisions.
CRM intelligence takes it one level beyond management, making the analytics available to the employees and the people that deal with customers every day and covering every lead, every transaction, every customer and every prospect.
You have been active in the past as a race car driver and cyclist. Are there any lessons learned in those activities that you can apply to running a company?
Umberto Milletti: I see a lot of parallels between the racing car and running a company, especially a high-growth company. In both cases, speed is of the essence. You always have to push the envelope and be at the edge because otherwise some other driver and car is going to go past you. That’s very much the case when you’re running a high-growth company. You have to continue to push for growth and get out there and educate the market and really push the envelope.
Another parallel is that the driver of a race car or the CEO of a company is only as good as the car. For a CEO, the car is the company, and the engine is the employees of the company. You have to take care of your engine and take care of the employees and make sure you have a good engine and that you have great people in your company.
And then you need the fuel to take you to the end of the race. In August we announced our latest round of financing, which is the fuel that we need to continue to invest in our innovation, our product and our channel.
Without a good engine and without a proper amount of fuel, you can have the best driver in the world but you won’t go very far.
What have you as CEO and founder put in place to build a culture and environment at your company that helps everybody know that you’re in the race for the long haul?
Umberto Milletti: It’s clear for anyone who works at InsideView that CRM is a very fluid and very large market where customers spend tens of billions of dollars every day. Every company continually looks for a new edge in generating revenue and being more effective with customers. It’s a market that never stops evolving, which is a great opportunity for a disruptive approach to the industry. So that automatically puts our company in a long-term perspective.
If you look at any of the big players in the world of CRM, none of them appeared overnight. They all went through a 10-20+-year process of creating great companies. The spoils tend to go to the companies that are in it for 20 or 30 years, not the ones that exit after five years.
You mentioned this long-term view and the relationships functionality in your platform, so I assume you use your own technology for your activities in building productive customer relationships.
Umberto Milletti: Using our own technology has really transformed the way that we go to market. For every single lead, every single touch that we have with a prospective buyer (whether it be a webinar they attend or a trade show or somebody coming to our website or learning about us in some way) the technology maps who they are, who they work for, what their title is, how big their company is, location, etc. and injects all that information in real time into our database. The technology helps us know which prospects are a great fit for what we do, which salesperson should get which lead and crisp reasons why they would want to hear from our salespeople.
Is there a software company or executive that you personally admire as a role model?
Umberto Milletti: I haven’t found the perfect executive yet, but there are examples of extremely successful people I admire. And I try to learn a little bit from every one of them. They each have some tremendous strengths that one can draw on.
The three that stand out the most in my mind are Steve Jobs, Marc Benioff and Bill Gates. Steve was clearly inspirational around the importance of design and understanding users and their experience and what they wanted to consume. Marc has evangelized and marketed more effectively than anybody else in the CRM industry to date and has done a tremendous job of marketing and PR. I look at what Bill has done both in the business world and in the philanthropic world as an example of how you can change the world through technology and then use the proceeds of technology to change the world in other ways.
Was there any advice someone gave you over the years that you really rely on, especially if you encounter times when you’re maybe a little bit down because you’ve encountered challenges?
Umberto Milletti: I received lots of advice and I try to remember as much of it as I can. One that pops up in my mind is the saying that “When things are good, just remind yourself that you’re not nearly as smart as everybody thinks you are. And when things are not so good, remind yourself you’re not really as dumb as everybody thinks you are.”
The reality is that to have a long-term perspective, you have to be pretty even keeled. Things are never as bad as they seem and never as good as they seem. So when things seem really good, you probably have some issues that you need to work on that you need to remind yourself of; and when things or bad, there are things that you need to remind yourself of as well.
What is your top advice for startups based on your own experience?
Umberto Milletti: Find something you’re passionate about. Building a company is much too hard to do if you’re doing it just for the sake of having an exit. If there’s not something in what you’re doing that you’re passionate about, eventually you will get tired and give up.
History shows that great companies struggle. Apple almost went out of business, Microsoft is going through some difficult times today and Salesforce.com struggled quite a bit in the early 2000s. The majority of companies give up when things get tough. The ones like Apple, Microsoft and Salesforce that don’t give up become great companies. So my advice to entrepreneurs is to find something you’re passionate about so you won’t give up and you’ll have long-term success.
Umberto Milletti is founder and CEO of InsideView, the social sales intelligence leader. He has been a thought leader in the convergence of technology and content for 10 years. In the mid-1990s he helped create e-learning. In 1996, as co-founder of DigitalThink, he designed and built one of the first SaaS platforms to deliver and track learning for adult students. Umberto helped lead DigitalThink to a successful IPO and sale to Convergys in 2004. Follow on Twitter @umbertom.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor of SandHill.com.