AppMesh hopes to reinvent CRM, but it has one big flaw

Credit: AppMesh

Two former Salesforce execs have come out with a new customer management product that they say is geared more toward sales people than sales managers.

“For sales reps, CRM has always been a burden,” said Leo Tenenblat, CEO of AppMesh, who previously spent about six years at Salesforce. That’s because sales reps typically have to spend time inputting data into the system about events after they happen, he said.

“Mobile makes it more complicated because it’s typically slow to send information up to a central system,” he said.

AppMesh was designed for mobile first, and it automatically collects useful interaction information for users so that they don’t have to waste time doing data entry, he said.

But in order to include some nice features – like offline access – AppMesh makes some compromises that might not be palatable to users. The way the service is built on the back-end could make it difficult to scale up for very large teams and adds some limitations.

Everything is stored on the device

Users download AppMesh as an iOS app. It nicely pulls in calendar, contacts, email, phone, and to-do lists into a single agenda box. If a meeting is listed in the agenda box, the user can click on the name of one of the meeting participants to see the history of interactions with that person. Interactions include emails, calendar items, and even phone calls.

The user can send an email right from the window that displays interactions. From within the contacts pane, users can make a phone call and also add notes.

AppMesh also fits tasks from the to-do list into gaps in the user’s agenda. An activity folder shows how many emails, meetings, phone calls, and new deals the user made that day.

But there's a catch: All the data is stored locally. The app syncs via the cloud so that sales people can share all the records with each other. But in order to ensure that users can access anything they need at any time, even if they don’t have connectivity, it’s all stored locally.

Tenenblat insists that the amount of data is actually pretty small. That’s because the app doesn’t store email attachments -- or even full emails for that matter. “We keep the beginning of an email and we’re not keeping attachments,” he said.

Based on his experiences with Salesforce, he argues that storing attachments isn't important. Salesforce offers users a “briefcase” where they can store certain documents that they expect to want to access remotely. But it turns out the briefcase isn't very useful. “What we heard from reps was that nine times out of 10 what they were looking for at a specific time was not in the briefcase,” he said.

AppMesh also doesn’t actually store an audio recording of phone calls. It simply notes when a call happened and how long it lasted.

If a large company had tens of thousands of customers, each with hundreds of interactions, it would amount to only 1 GB or 2 GB of data, Tenenblat said.

While offline access is useful, customers could find it limiting to only have snippets of information in the app. Plus, for very large companies, the volume of data could prove to be too much to store on mobile devices.

AppMesh may be hoping that the architecture will help it grow popular from the bottom up. Other CRM apps “are usually based on having a giant server either on premise or in the cloud. For us, the device is the master and it’s more like a peer to peer network,” Tenenblat said.

That means that IT doesn’t have to buy AppMesh for workers to use it.

For now, AppMesh is free for individuals or up to five people. Larger groups can contact AppMesh which will decide to let them in on a case by case basis.

In the future, AppMesh plans to start charging users for additional premium features. One might involve AppMesh pulling in as much data as it can find about new contacts. So if a user creates a new contact, AppMesh will mine external services to add information like phone number, email address, and photo.

It has also been working on analytics features and plans to add those in the future. The app also attaches location data to some information so that a user could look for all contacts added at a location, like a conference center, so that a user could find all new contacts made at the event.

Those kinds of features could make the app more useful. For now, though, AppMesh has a laudable goal -- to create a CRM service that isn't a time suck for sales people -- but the architecture and limited features could slow interest.

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