Brent Leary, Co-author of Barack 2.0 , Partner of CRM Essentials
Brent Leary is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award winning blogger. He is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. His client list includes Research In Motion, Sage, Microsoft, Intuit, Cisco and the state of Georgia’s Depart of Economic Development.
Recognized by InsideCRM as one of 2007′s 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary also is a past recipient of CRM Magazine’s Most Influential Leader Award. He serves on the national board of the CRM Association, and as a subject matter expert for the Small Business Technology Task Force. He’s been quoted in several national business publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Entrepreneur magazine.
In 2009 Leary co-authored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business. He has written regular online columns for Inc. and Black Enterprise magazines, as well as for popular business sites including American Express OPEN Forum. Leary also hosts and produces the popular “Technology For Business $ake” Internet radio program. His popular blog can be found at http://BrentLeary.com. You can find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brentleary
Brent, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. You are one of the thought leaders in the CRM space and I know my readers will appreciate your insights.
Q. I was surprised when I read a recent post of yours to learn that you are an introvert. You are a recognized leader, a regular on the speaking circuit, and a frequent blogger. What are some of the biggest challenges for you in this regard?
A. John thanks so much for the kind words, and for inviting me to participate in your Q&A series. My nickname should probably be the Accidental Speaker or something like that. Because a guy with an accounting degree, years of back-room application development, and at one time holding every Microsoft technical certification known to mankind, is typically not placed in front of a group of people – with nothing but a microphone between them. But social media is an introvert’s best friend, because it allows us to feel comfortable sharing a bit of ourselves and connect with all kinds of people while still having our comfort zone. And allows us to expand that comfort zone on our own terms. And I was surprised at how much I enjoy writing blog posts and articles for magazines. I really didn’t do much writing at all before 2004 because I didn’t think I had much to say of value. But I stuck with it, found my voice and have been writing ever since. And I probably was the most surprised person to find out how much I enjoy participating as a speaker and panelist at industry events, but I think social media put me on a path that naturally led me to where I am today.
Q. I am always curious about what drives people to start their own businesses. What motivated you to co-found CRM Essentials?
A. I co-founded CRME out of a desire to spend more time at home. I was a management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in their CRM practice. And while the projects I worked on were great, I spent 80% of my time on the road. After two and a half years of that lifestyle I was really itching to stay local. On one of those out of town projects – a PwC/Oracle joint venture – I met my eventual CRME co-founder Michael Thomas. He was also from Atlanta, and was in the same boat I was with respect to travel. And while it took a few years, we stayed in touch and eventually met up and decided it was time to get off the road and do some CRM work in Atlanta. CRME was born in 2003, and the focus was on doing CRM implementations for the SMB crowd. We quickly got certified on Microsoft’s inital CRM offering, but we also became one of the first Salesforce.com certified partners. We quickly got involved doing Salesforce.com implementations, which led to great early experience with SaaS, which proved to be extremely valuable in the long run.
Q. All companies have their ups and downs. Have their been moments when you wanted to give it up and try something else?
A. Absolutely. But everytime those moments creep up, I always give myself a cooling period so that I can objectively weigh the good, the bad and the ugly. And while there has been plenty of bad and ugly, there was always enough good to keep me going. I’m glad that I was able to stick with it, because I truly love what I do, and the people I’ve met along the way that help me do it.
Q. There is constant discussion about Social CRM, how do you see it evolving in the near future?
A. Because social technologies are becoming cheaper and easier to use, the transformation of traditional customers into social customers will increase exponentially. Look no further than how smartphones are changing our life experiences, what we’re able to do, and how we’re able to do it. And as the number of social customers increase, the variety of ways they express themselves will increase, along with their expectations for meaningful exchanges with vendors they buy products and services from. So companies need to invest time and effort in understanding the best ways to connect with social customers. It means using social applications (monitoring tools, social analytics, response management, customer communities, content creation and distribution, etc.) and strategies to deepen relationships with current customers who are spending a growing amount of time communicating via social networks. It also means creating a “corporate social persona” that will appeal to prospective customers who use social sites to search for solutions to the challenges they’re faced with.
Q. If you were not a CRM guru, what other job would you be doing?
A. I don’t know, but my dream job would be doing a sports talk show on ESPN, or maybe being an “Old School” hip-hop dj on the radio.
Q. Helping customers with CRM requires you to have a deep understanding of the business. What was the most surprising, perhaps most humorous, engagement that you’ve been involved with?
A. Watching two executives almost come to blows over whether a rep should be required to fill out a custom field. I felt like Mills Lane having to separate them and send them to their neutral corners. I believe I may have even stolen Rodney King’s line – “Can’t we all just get along?”. But it’s not surprising, because data is that important to management. I just wasn’t ready for “Ali-Frazier IV”.
Q. When you’re not working, what do you like to do to relax?
A. I love reading history books (currently reading 1919 Paris – Six Months That Changed the World) and watching historical documentaries, i’m a huge sports fan, and an absolute music fanatic. In fact I’m probably best known on Twitter for my Friday night DJ mix – #fridaynitemix.
Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to share some time with our readers.