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. Leary writes regularly for industry outlets, including CRM Magazine,, and America Express OPEN, and serves on the advisory board for Social Media Today. He is in the process of writing his next book, “The Amazon Effect: How a New Customer Culture is Creating Crazy New Business Opportunities and Killing Companies That Won’t Adapt”, due out in 2016. He blogs at, and can be found on Twitter at @BrentLeary

Q: What is the biggest misunderstanding small business owners have about CRM?

A: It continues to be that they think the hardest part of getting involved with CRM is writing a check and thinking, “We’ve done our part.” They’re often looking at trying to use new CRM while still bringing their old way of thinking into the process. It’s not a new challenge. The hard part is really identifying the problems, the challenges, nailing down what success looks like, being able to measure that success, and then implementing the right process with the right technology.

Q: How would you explain the relationship between marketing automation and CRM?

A: Marketing automation is one of the three main pillars of CRM. My stripped down definition of CRM is how companies go about finding, catching and keeping customers; and marketing automation of course goes under that “finding” aspect. How do you generate leads? How do you qualify leads? How do you nurture leads? How do you know when it’s time for a lead to move over to a full-blown sales opportunity? It also includes content marketing and social marketing. It’s everything that goes in to the “find” or making it easier to be found.

Q: How do you see customer engagement as opposed to customer experience?

A: Customer engagement should lead to good customer experiences. If you’re able to really think of what’s important to your customer—and this whole idea of leveraging all this information that’s out there—and marry that with the transactional information even some behavioral information, that gives you a really good understanding of what’s important to them right in the moment. Then you take that knowledge and create great interaction opportunities, stringing enough of those together to create some really good experiences for them, which makes them want to stay around longer.

Q: Your work has led you to focus on the minority business market after discovering a “total lack of awareness of what CRM was.” Are the pain points that CRM addresses different for minority business owners?

A: No, they’re actually the same, and it’s interesting. It’s small businesses in general. Everybody is looking for ways to reach a broader audience with their message, and build a brand that will allow for a lot more opportunities to bring on new customers. I found that minority businesses really have a lot to gain by getting involved, putting processes in place, and letting technology automate those processes as much as possible so that they can spend more time building and extending relationships. They’re creating loyal customers and they’re creating advocates, but they can only do that if they have enough time to spend on nurturing the relationship, as opposed to trying to always be on that little wheel running for the cheese.

Q: Are process and colleague involvement as essential as the technology itself when it comes to CRM and marketing automation?

 A: They’re more important. Think of it this way: a Porsche is a really great car. It’s fast. It looks great. It’s something that people like to brag about. But if you don’t know how to drive, then how good of a car is it, really? It’s about having the right people involved and implementing the right processes to help those people do their job, and technology is really only there to help support that.