The saying goes, "seeing is believing." If that really is true, bringing visualization to CRM and the sales cycle could provide untold value to business processes. Still, brainstorming ideas and mapping out projects is only helpful under certain circumstances. Mapping ideas and outlines on a whiteboard, although productive and beneficial, only helps those physically present. With that in mind, the newest release from Mindjet, a provider of visual-workspace software, is bringing to the Web the concept of whiteboards and nonlinear mapping -- building upon its flagship desktop-mapping product, Mindjet MindManager, with a new software-as-a-service offering, Mindjet Connect.
Mark Levitt, vice president for collaborative computing for the enterprise for IDC, points out that collaborative-workspace software is nothing new, but he says that the Connect release makes Mindjet's combination of offerings noteworthy. "What's unique here is the intersection of what Mindjet has set in an innovative way of presenting information," Levitt says. "Using a nonlinear, nonconventional presentation of information that is perfect for brainstorming: It's an activity many of us engage in, but don't have the tools that are flexible enough to facilitate it."
"The whole value in mapping goes back to how the brain works with respect to visual cues," says Scott Raskin, Mindjet's chief executive officer, adding that mapping can be used for essentially any thought process or ordinary idea. (To demonstrate, Raskin rolls out a mapping of a journalist's writing progression.) All of the mapping begins with a main topic box -- users then expand and branch off into subtopics. Subtopics can link to Web sites, pulling out snippets of data, and can also filter in live RSS feeds. Mindjet provides users with a number of templates to aid in the mapping, which Levitt notes is particularly helpful.
Connect also has the potential to add value to and to supplement CRM. The product integrates with Salesforce.com, allowing sales and customer data to dynamically infiltrate the mapping workspace. Users are able to visualize customer information in a new way, add background information as subtopics, and map relationships among and between customers and employees.
A new feature with Mindjet Connect is the ability to host meetings and conferences within the Mindjet browser. Imagine hosting a meeting without having to first email attendees and then, after the chat, sharing PowerPoint slides or documents with participants. With Connect, the option to host a live meeting is embedded within the browser, Raskin says -- the information is all there. Users, with security access, can collaborate on the materials, much like a Google Document, in real time. Information is all kept in one place. It can be updated online or offline.
"One thing we realize," Levitt says, "is that, in the world we live in, people want to have choices and want to be able to move from one mode of communication to another. They don't want to have everything separate. They don't have to waste time thinking about connecting to people because they have [the information] all in one place." He adds that what's most important and compelling is the dynamically updated content.
The Mindjet software has an open application programming interface, Raskin says, so virtually any data -- CRM or otherwise -- can easily be brought into the Mindjet workspace. He points out that Mindjet's integration with Salesforce.com may be the most seamless today -- mainly, he says, because of Salesforce.com's breadth -- but the company hopes to have more integration with other CRM vendors down the road. An increased focus on social networking is another future goal, Raskin says, adding that a single click on a name will one day automatically reveal that contact's social connections.
Raskin says that productivity tools often overload users rather than making them more efficient. He calls the Mindjet product "unstructured yet organized," giving employees the basic framework for productivity, but letting them choose the details of delivery. "The visualization phenomenon has been terrific -- that's been our cornerstone," he says. "[We] bring together all the tools people need and bring the people themselves together so they can work [on] solving problems and taking action."
Levitt says that one of the only challenges he sees with Mindjet's products is driving participation among employees. "You could have the best tool, but if no one around you is using it, there's no point in having that tool," Levitt says. "Unless you can get people to visit, contribute, comment, and benefit from a team site, the value won't be as good as it could."