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Editor's Note: Some background on Nulty is relevant. The interview begins with a job in the industry, but his entire life was oriented toward entrepreneurship. Some kids mow lawns, some shovel snow, but this guy starts selling cleaning supplies to local businesses, using his fathers connection with a large national distributor. Toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap were just few of the hundreds of items Nulty offered to the growing number of small businesses populating the mall. And he didn't just sell product.  He used the products to demonstrate a janitorial service and won contracts to handle the maintenance of entire mall. After "cleaning up" as it were, he handed the business to his brother and moved on to VIP Orbital.


One on One: Mike Muhney, Co-Founder of ACT!

Welcome to another in our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. Mike Muhney, co-founder of ACT! and one of the creators of the contact management industry, recently founded mobile relationship management application VIP Orbit. Muhney spoke with Brent Leary in this interview, which has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, page down to the loudspeaker icon at the end of the post.


Small Business Trends: Tell us what was it like starting ACT in the late 1980s and how it compares to starting a business today.

Mike Muhney: I started my career with IBM in the mid-70s selling mainframes. I was taught the techniques of relationship management with no technology other than a Day-Timer. In 1985 my partner and I started a company with another software product that failed. We had to come up with another idea or close down the business. At a four-hour breakfast, we conceived what became ACT!.

By 1987, ACT! was on the market. With it, we actually created the category of contact management, although we didn’t quite know what to call it then.


Small Business Trends: You are starting a new company, VIP Orbit, and instead of saying it is contact or customer relationship management, you talk about mobile relationship management. Can you tell us what that is?

Mike Muhney: If you add up the global user base of content management and CRM customers from the “Big 7” – Seibel, SalesForce, ACT!, Gold Mine, etc. – fewer than 20 million people in the world use those products; most are salespeople. That is a tiny market against the backdrop of what Forrester Research claims by the end of 2011 will be 1.4 billion smartphone users.

Those people are not immune from, nor should they be out of the reach of, the benefits and value that relationship management provides. Since we are a mobile society, with tablets and smartphones, it made sense to call it mobile relationship management.

My business plan is to go after that market neglected by the big vendors–the mobile professional or the “prosumer” who is using their phone to organize their life, relationships and activities.


Small Business Trends: How has the customer – vendor relationship changed from the days when you created ACT!?

Mike Muhney: The problem with CRM [solutions] is they are very complicated. They intrude on salespeople’s lives. Salespeople don’t like to give all the information they know to the company, because then they [lose] their exclusive value. The companies that are attempting to do a better job with CRM still have a 50 percent failure rate because salespeople sabotage the intended use of the system.

With VIP Orbit, I am going back to the individual. Because we carry these devices with us now, the company is less in control and I, as an individual, am more in control of what information I keep. Over time, personal use of mobile relationship management products, of which VIP Orbit is the first, is going to become evident in companies through a Trojan horse process.


Small Business Trends: Explain what the Orbit part of VIP Orbit is.

Mike Muhney: Webster’s dictionary defines orbit (as it relates to relationships) as your sphere of resource and influence. I know you, but you know a lot of people that I don’t know. If I provide value to you, I may, as a result, penetrate into your orbit. We all walk amongst many orbits. Orbit is a way of very efficiently, effectively and instinctively categorizing people with which to work with.

The [orbit] is not focused on me. Social media is all about me–How many friends do I have? What power do I have? That is not what relationship management is about. It’s about you, [the customer]. My job [as a relationship manager] is to keep as good of information as I can that is unique and exclusive, not publicly portrayed on people’s Facebook pages.


Small Business Trends: VIP Orbit has no desktop application, no laptop application–it is all the mobile device in the cloud, right?

Mike Muhney: Yes. My database is literally on my phone. Also in the cloud, so I have collaborative benefits like sharing information with other colleagues. The one thing that is with me at all times is my phone. That is why I started [VIPOrbit with] the phone.


Small Business Trends: In the end, is mobile relationship management a replacement for contact management, or an enhancement to it–do they work together?

Mike Muhney: The answer could be yes to both. I could easily describe it as an extension into the market of contact management, but I hesitate to, because I don’t think that the current CRM and CM vendors will ever reach that market. They are focused on the enterprise realm. The mass market is a brand new opportunity.

What Excel did for people who deal with numbers, I’m doing for people who deal with people. Fundamentally, that is what any relationship manager is about. There is something called the Dunbar Limit. Scientists concluded that we have a capacity of about 150 people that we can keep information on [in our heads]. You and I deal with a whole lot more than 150 people. What do I do about keeping that same quality of information, beyond what I can [remember] on my own, so I can deal with more people?

Selling has always been about numbers. The more people I deal with, the greater my chances of success.

With ACT!, we equipped people to extend their memory to deal with more people more effectively without sacrificing quality. I am doing it today for the user who is unaware of the value of contact management, but since they have the device already, to enlighten them and let them share those same benefits that the longtime users of CRM systems have enjoyed.


Weekly Mortgage Interest Rate Recap - 5TH STRAIGHT WEEKLY DECLINE

Weekly Mortgage Interest Rate Recap - 5TH STRAIGHT WEEKLY DECLINE

The survey for mortgage interest rates declined for the fifth straight week. According to mortgage investor Freddie Mac (Federal National Home Loan Mortgage Corporation), the average 30 year rate has dipped to 4.820%.ECONOMY

This is good news...


Teach Me How to Think About Internet Marketing

It’s overwhelming. It’s overloaded. Sometimes it’s just flat out too much! It’s the information age and we have answers, tips, advice and thinly veiled marketing pitches for the latest “this-that-and-the-other” coming at us from every direction.  And sometimes we love it. Because (if the marketing department did their job right) we hope that this miracle product will make our business as profitable as we dreamed.

Online Marketing

But when it comes to online marketing (and information in general), we just need the truth about what works and what doesn’t. And the truth is there is no miracle product for our business – meaning that while there are great things on the market, nothing eliminates the strategy work that the small business owner is responsible for.

So how do we get a handle on online marketing? I suggest we start at the heart of the matter and work our way out. In fact, Mike Blumenthal, “Professor Maps” and the man behind understanding Google Maps and local search, has created an infographic that helps us do just that.


Core Marketing

Mike believes in building your core marketing first. He teaches small business owners, via GetListed Local University, to focus first on the marketing elements that you can control and then build from there. In other words, your marketing core begins with things like your business name, your phone number, your website and your blog. Build a strong foundation there and then move on to the social networks with a plan. His infographic helps you to see this concept.

I recently interviewed Mike and learned a few more things about him and this neat little tool.  He feels that once we get the “big picture” of what our online marketing is for and should look like, it’s easier than we think.  Mike is “a big believer that not only do small businesses need to understand the context of their marketing


Training for Online Marketing


“Reason and information are the currency of life,” Mike says. If he’s right, then we’d better start spending that money wisely.  According to him, “each marketing effort should leverage what went on before.” I agree.  And to help us (learn how to) leverage, we need a simple and systematic way to understand the overall strategy.  Here are three tools from Mike’s world to help with this:

GetListed is a simple website that tests your business listing in the search engines. Why? Because it’s relevant to small businesses. These days, when we get ready to go somewhere, we pull out our smartphones and Google it. Or we map it out on our laptops and print it out before we leave the house. Or we let the GPS guide the way. The point is, we are using the Internet to find local businesses, and so are our customers. GetListed helps you figure out where your business stands and gives you advice on how to improve it.

GetListed Local University is live and in person training that focuses on smaller cities like Birmingham, Alabama and Spokane, Washington. It’s a half-day event that’s designed to give small business owners “up-to-the minute,  pitch-free education about online marketing.” As an avid educator at the GetListed Local Universities, Mike believes that “Social engagement is important, but if potential clients can’t find a business at the moment they are ready to buy, then the business will be in trouble.” In other words, establish your website and get listed in the directories first. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) come second.

Mike’s Infographic: Web Equity – Owning Your Local Web Presence is a single visual. Mike designed it to show “the  marketing opportunities that are available to small businesses.”

I like this tool. It takes some thinking to digest it.  But with his concise explanations and a little focus, the concept behind an effective online marketing strategy becomes clear.  And for me, that’s a breath of fresh air.but they need to invest in their marketing in such a way that they are not giving away future equity without knowing it.”

What you don’t know about online marketing, about getting listed in directories, about the demise of the printed Yellow Pages, and the rise of online local searches (for everything from the closest restaurant to the nearest dry cleaner) can hurt you.