I think the review would have to be catagorised as 'tough, but fair'. It emphasises the immense potential that Nimble has, in the SME market in particular, and identifies the key challenges facing the company in the year ahead.
Since I said a lot of what I wanted about the social platforms last Thursday, I won't repeat it here; but there are a couple more things to chat about.
That's why I'm kind of tough on them. I think they are great companies, but they are teens about to graduate college or even in the case of the most mature of these six (I'm not telling you who that I think that is), they are newly graduated from college. This of course is relative to the industry giants — veteran companies with mature models that have their own issues, but sustainability isn't one of them.
So, forgive me in advance if I sound too tough. I bop because I love.
Jon Ferrara, the CEO and founder of Nimble, long-time CRM industry pioneer, took the stage at Social Business Atlanta in February 2013 and made an offer to the 250 attendees: "I'd like to offer you Nimble Premium free for one year." The audience went home happy.
This press release hit the wires on March 4, 2013: "Nimble offer[s] free year of social relationship software to over 50 leading startup accelerators." The story went on to say that Nimble was willing to provide a complimentary two-user premium version with 100GB of additional storage for a year to young startups — with an initial list of over 50 who had already said yes.
In a certain way, these two stories typify Nimble — both through its generous nature and industry involvement of its management, especially Jon Ferrara, and a strategy to build up the customer base with a bit of a dependence on conversions — which has its strengths and weaknesses.
To its credit, Nimble almost built a category — social contact management, which it calls social relationship management. It has become a seriously visible recognized presence in small business CRM. Note that I didn't say social CRM, even though it is all about "social". I didn't say it because social CRM is CRM now, and there is no longer a distinction. Social infrastructure, components, and features are built into all CRM systems either from scratch, with retro wiring of the applications or through integrations. It is de rigueur, and SCRM is just plain CRM from now on.
I could go into the features, but what makes Nimble a Watchlist winner in 2013 is its well-executed strategy — one that has been in place for several years. It is a strategy that extends from the partner/channel program to the involvement in social and traditional networks, events, and activities to the analyst relations to the strategy to a well-crafted agenda to building out the customer data it needs to both seed its monetization and to gather intelligence for product development. Let's briefly look at each piece. And I do mean briefly.
- Partner strategy: This is a combination of resellers (VARs) and integration partners. Jon, modeling the VAR channel after his success with a similar strategy for Goldmine, which he sold for zillions of dollars years ago, has about 250 VARs that resell Nimble, half of which are outside the US. They focus on the 10-25 user markets. His technology partners are all precisely aimed at providing functionality for that same 10-25 user market, with significant scalability possible if Nimble chooses to do so. So he's integrated with HootSuite, FreshDesk, MailChimp, HubSpot, and several others of the "two words run together" type. What makes this fascinating is that its contact API provides significant extensibility and widens the possibility for a much larger number of technology partners.
- Social and traditional outreach: Between Jon Ferrara's constant involvement on social channels, personal one-to-one meetings, on the phone, in the press, at events on the web, and live and anywhere else that Nimble can be evangelized, and PR maven Brenda Christensen's alternative involvement in the same channels, it has done a pretty superb job of insinuating Nimble into the pores of discussion in the industry. It has many relationships at the personal and business levels, with dozens of influencers that have on the balance been beneficial in getting the Nimble message out and respect for what it's trying to do. All in all, the constancy of the campaign, the usually well-crafted messages, the usually non-abrasive cadence, and the level of discussion has worked to give it some genuinely impressive top of mind when it comes to the SMB world technology companies being discussed. The number of write-ups about Nimble in both the traditional and digital press is mind blowing.
- Freemium model for leads and data: Nimble has 45,000 registered users and a growing four-figure paid customer base. It has been building the free subscriber model up for a long time, and has used it to generate a good but non-disclosed conversion rate, and has been able to use the data that it has from the free users to improve the product.
What it needs to do
- Revenue, revenue, and, oh yeah, revenue: There is nothing more important in 2013 than revenue for it. It has to date done OK, but it has to step it up by multiples to both give itself the opportunity to exponentially grow and to continue the momentum it has built over the past few years. It has a pretty strong reliance on the conversions, which are great, but I think that there are a number of things to do that will get it to the revenue level that it has to achieve — aside from the conversions. First, its VARS need to step it up. As far as I can tell, and this is just supposition, but I think a reasonable one, its 250 VAR channel isn't pulling its weight, and that means some pressure and reassessment if need be. Revenue is the key. I'll say it 100 times. In my head. 2013 is the year for revenue growth big time for Nimble.
- More thought leadership assets: Oddly, given the brilliance of the outreach, Nimble hasn't done much in the way of producing original assets either from internal sources or external subject matter experts. I suspect this is due to not much of a budget for it. Time to bite a little bullet and invest a bit in building up the thought leadership assets — webinars, videos, whitepapers, web apps, and podcasts that define the market it wants to lead. It doesn't have to be a huge investment, but it's a prudent one in 2013 for it.
- More integrations, please: This goes hand in hand with the revenue plea. Integrations like HubSpot are perfect because they are integrating with mature companies in a complimentary way that expand its footprint in areas that both flesh out its offering to a more complete CRM offering and at the same time open up Nimble to whole other markets that it otherwise wouldn't be involved with. For example, it makes sense to consider a possible alliance and integration with Infusionsoft. That integration would be with a company that focuses on the same market size roughly, has a huge channel of its own, has complementary functionality (though some overlaps), and has a revenue stream in the tens of millions. It has advocates all over the place. Just see my review here. This opens up opportunity. There are others. It also needs to grow its Apps Marketplace. It has integrations there with NetSuite and others, but one or two partners are building them. More developers on the marketplace should be a priority, though I'd personally try to focus more on added functionality and less on integrations that might be strategic (like the NetSuite one).