Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Marketers: Save Public Media – and Build Your Brand, Too!

So are you underwriting any podcasts or programs on your local public media outlet yet? If not, you're missing some great opportunities to do well while doing good.

My wife works for Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, one of the many charitable agencies facing possibly significant cuts in federal funding. (President Obama specifically mentioned the Community Action Partnership network, started by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his "war on poverty, as one of the programs it would pain Obama to cut.) The Sonoma County CAP agency hosts the local edition of the annual LunaFest fund- and consciousness-raising festival of short films by, for and about women. Funds are shared between the Breast Cancer Fund and local charities chosen by the local hosts. For LunaFest Wine Country, the local beneficiary in 2010 was Sonoma County's Sloan House Women's Shelter.

As in past years, my wife's agency surrounded the showcase of films with auctions of locally produced goodies, VIP events and tickets, and other trappings typical of such charity events.

All well and good. Except that pre-event ticket sales weren't that great in recent years.

At around the same time pre-event publicity was gearing up for the 2010 edition of LunaFest Wine Country, KRCB-FM, my local public radio station, was having a pledge drive. The team there had previously come up with an "Activist" membership level – $200 for a year, payable monthly via credit or debit card. It buys you membership and attendant goodies, AND a professionally recorded and produced public service announcement, broadcast 10 times during morning and evening drive time.

(Morning and evening commute hours are when radio listener levels tends to be highest, for those of you too young or otherwise distracted to understand how radio works, to paraphrase Firesign Theater's "Nick Danger, Third Eye," itself stellar radio theater. You're welcome.)

But all of the announcements I'd heard ended with wording along the lines of "This announcement is brought to you by a KRCB listener." So I asked if I could have an announcement about LunaFest Wine Country recorded, produced and broadcast, ending with something like "This announcement is brought to you by KRCB member DortchOnIT.com."

And the fine folks at KRCB-FM said "Yes." And they did it. They also mentioned the ticket sales Web page I built for the event at BrownPaperTickets.com, a "fair trade ticketing company" I first heard of on KRCB-FM. The station also invited the event organizer and the host of our VIP event to appear on two other locally produced programs, adding to the reach of my 10 "Activist" spots.

And LunaFest Wine Country pre-event ticket sales were better than they'd been in years. And I got some great local publicity that I'm in the process of turning into business and additional charitable opportunities. And all in all, it was probably the best money I have ever spent and perhaps will ever spend on marketing myself, given the combination of business publicity and good will.

Right now, even as I type this, public media funding from the federal government is in danger of being completely eliminated. If your local stations are anything like mine, which basically run on shoestring budgets, this could mean a sudden reduction in funding of anywhere between 25 and more than 45 percent, according to published reports.

Are you working? Imagine if your income were suddenly reduced by 25 percent to 45 percent. If you're paid weekly, this would mean between one and two out of every four paychecks, gone. You'd probably have to make some pretty serious budget cuts and some pretty hard choices. That's what public radio and television stations across the country are contemplating right now.

(Even if your local stations are pretty flush, their abilities to produce local content could take a serious hit. As could their incentive to produce investigative programming that questions or challenges the federal government and/or corporations that are or could become major donors. And besides, I think you might appreciate living in a country governed by people who see real value in helping to fund the sharing of culture, fact-based news reporting and local events and organizations. But maybe that's just me.)

Anyway, there's a local public radio or television station near you right now, trying to deliver value to its constituents while fighting for funding every day. And the people who consume the content those stations deliver are likely customers or prospects you're already pursuing…or should be. And public media underwriting opportunities are numerous, affordable, locally targeted and highly appreciated.

So tune into your local public media outlet(s) if you don't already. Find a podcast to sponsor, or a program to underwrite (and/or to appear upon). Take out an ad in the station's program guide, in print or online. Your brand will benefit, and you'll feel better. (And if you need more specific guidance or advice to pursue these opportunities, I know a guy who'd be glad to offer you a complementary initial consultation...)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nimble: A New Take (from Some Old Hands) on CRM

UPDATE: Nimble Contact available for free as of 02/28/11 -- www.nimble.com to register!

You may recall or be sufficiently motivated to look up the nursery rhyme, "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick / Jack jump over the candlestick." With all due respect to Jack and his candlestick-traversing powers, it is often better to be nimble than quick. That's especially true for SMB decision makers who have not yet taken the plunge into customer relationship management (CRM) software – which is apparently most of them.

"Approximately 60% of CRM buyers are first-timers and most of those first-time buyers come from the small business community. What are these businesses using for CRM today? Many use some combination of Microsoft Excel and Outlook with some CRM process hacks thrown in….To the extent small businesses are using CRM, many are using [10-to-20-year-old] systems like ACT. It's hard to find a market that's readier for a technology refresh."
– Scott Albro, Founder and CEO of Focus, in an online discussion of opportunities for SMBs to succeed with CRM. (You can view and join that discussion at http://dortchon.it/FocusOnCRM4SMBs.)

So why aren't more SMBs using more CRM yet?
1. CRM's too hard – which means that solution providers have neither delivered nor sufficiently explained enough business benefit to persuade most SMB decision makers.
2. CRM's too expensive – which means that not even cloud-based CRM solution providers have delivered solutions that are sufficiently affordable, easy to deploy and use and beneficial to the business to persuade those decision makers.

And for those who were quick to adopt CRM software, many are likely now finding varying degrees of difficulty in adapting those tools to deal with perhaps the biggest thing to hit CRM since CRM itself – social media. How best to track and manage the social exploits of your customers and prospects, or to engage them meaningfully via these new channels?

Enter Nimble, founded in 2009 by Jon Ferrara. In 1989, Ferrara was a founder of GoldMine Software, developers of pioneering, multi-award-winning CRM and sales force automation (SFA) software for SMBs. GoldMine CRM, now available from FrontRange Solutions, claims more than a million users. So Jon and his team at Nimble know their way around the challenges of delivering compelling software solutions for SMBs.

In a recent conversation, Jon said two things that really resonated with me. One was that "humans want to help each other, but modern tools don't really enable us to do that." The other was that "the [relationship management software] market has not fundamentally changed in the 10 years since I left it [and sold GoldMine.]

In response to both drawbacks, Nimble combines the experience of Jon and his team with social media savvy and support, cloud-based delivery and usability that parallels that of popular Web-based resources such as Gmail, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Invitees to the current private beta test of Nimble, including yours truly, are asked to say nothing about the solutions features, functionality or look and feel until Nimble becomes publicly available. So I won't until then. I will say, however, that conceptually, the goal of Nimble is to tie together all of the contacts, calendars and communications that help to define, manage and optimize the relationships that matter most to an individual, a team or a business.

A key design goal, according to Jon, was to accomplish all of the above in ways that do not interfere with how users use the tools they use now. (A digressive mini-rant here. Do users of some CRM solutions really have to remember to send a blind copy to those solutions of every single e-mail they want those solutions to track and remember? Really? In this day and age, when rules-driven software has been around a long time?? And people wonder why more SMBs aren't yet using more CRM? Seriously??) To meet that design goal, the Nimble team first built a software foundation with robust application programming interface (API) support. The user interface I can't discuss came after that.

So Nimble promises to consolidate all relevant, actionable information about all each user's contacts, their social and professional online network connections, all messages and all activities. And to bring together internal collaboration and external listening and engagement. And it promises to do so in ways that users and administrators will find to be better, cheaper and easier than competing CRM offerings. Based on what I've seen, these are promises Nimble can likely keep, if the company can build and maintain a superior ecosystem of partners, developers and other stakeholders and contributors. Which I think it can.

Nimble the team and the company promise much more, however. For starters, the first offering, Nimble Contact, designed for individual users, will be free. Follow-on offerings will include additional features to support teams, sales forces and full-blown CRM. Pricing will likely range from approximately $10 to $30 per user per month, depending on the edition chosen. (For comparison, Salesforce.com currently charges $5/user/month for its Contact Manager for up to 5 users, $25/user/month for up to five users of its Group edition and $65/user/month for its unlimited-user Professional edition.)

If you want to see what a strong contender for the future of CRM, social and otherwise, looks like – one that users can and will actually use – visit www.nimble.com and sign up for a free Nimble Contact account. If it works for you, you can use it to start building the future of CRM at and for your business. Nimbly, of course.