Act! Blog

Act! Leadership Spotlight | Patrick Curley, CPO

Q: Can you share some details about your professional journey and how your past experiences have equipped you for your current role as the Chief Product Officer (CPO) at Act!?

Over the past 20+ years, I have dedicated myself to the world of product design and development. Throughout this journey, I have witnessed a remarkable transformation in how organizations tackle problem-solving using technology. This is really the essence of my work – helping companies leverage the power of technology to overcome business challenges.

One of the biggest transitions has been within the development process itself. “Waterfall” was a very common approach; this meant maybe a two-year development cycle, usually devoid of customer input or ongoing feedback, and it rarely considered changing market conditions. I’ve never in my career seen an instance where we could accurately predict the competitive landscape, market conditions, or customer preferences, two years in advance.  

Much tighter development cycles, incorporating customer feedback throughout, are now essential to any development process. This has clearly benefited customers, but also those of us trying to deliver solutions with a high confidence in product/market fit upon completion of all that work.

Q: Can you explain your approach to prioritizing and managing the product roadmap at Act!?

Roadmaps can be a valuable source of direction and inspiration, especially if the objective of all of this work is to continually deliver business value to customers – current and future. I tend to look at roadmaps like eye charts; the closer it is, the bigger and clearer it becomes. Another way to look at roadmap development is to think in terms of phases (near, mid, and long-term). The next eight weeks of work should have a lot more clarity than the next eight months – not just in terms of proximity to completion, but also fullness of vision.

Market conditions and customer requirements change over time. It’s critical for us to be able to recognize and respond to that. Sometimes that means advancing something we thought could wait, or just as importantly, deciding not to develop something for which the market’s enthusiasm may have waned. The key is flexibility within your process. Yes, we need to all be moving in the same direction with all of the velocity we can muster, but discounting valuable input because you already have a course plotted, is a sure way to end up in the wrong place.  

Q: Which emerging trends in marketing technology are you currently monitoring closely?

Well, we have to start with the elephant in the room: Generative AI has already proven itself to be an enormous player in several aspects of marketing – producing content, an iterative editor (of sorts), a useful starting point for campaign and messaging ideation, a robust and responsive chatbot to advance buyer journeys (and learn as it goes)…  It’s hard to overstate the impact this technology will have on content marketing, customer experience, predictive analytics, and marketing operations in the years ahead.

I know that Gen AI will have a huge impact on CRM going forward. Think how hard it is to keep relevant context over long customer relationships, or the onboarding of new account executives, emotional customer support calls… These tasks are numerous, widespread, and daunting (and tailor-made for Gen AI).   

A related implication for marketers is that their current GTM models are heavily dependent upon legacy ad platforms (Google, Microsoft, socials). As more consumers become more comfortable with AI interactions, we’re likely to see a change in the way they search for information and solutions. A shift from conventional search engine queries to iterative Gen AI prompts will have seismic implications for SEO and therefore web traffic. If you’ve spent years gaming the search engine algorithms, you may be in for a wake-up call. Contrarily, ranking factors that the algorithms have been ignoring or downgrading in recent years may come back into vogue if Gen AI values them. This makes for a lot of uncertainty within the future of impression share. 

Q: What is Act!’s approach to integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into its marketing strategy and practices?

Our solutions are focused on micro to small businesses. We sell globally and, as a software company nearing its 40th year, a portion of our customer base is nearing retirement. These demographic factors require us to be conscious of cultural, gender, and age biases. In addition, my colleagues in Marketing at Act! have long valued the importance of ensuring inclusive practices. For example, one long-standing approach to integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into our marketing strategy and practices is to showcase inclusivity through representation in our advertisements and campaigns. 

We actively seek out diverse representation in our content and imagery to authentically represent the diverse communities in which we live and work. We also leverage inclusive language, where appropriate, in our advertising to avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes or inherent biases. We prioritize a diverse marketing team and value different perspectives when developing strategies that seek to affect multiple audiences. To do anything less seems self-defeating. 

Q: Can you outline your vision and objectives for Act! in the coming five years, as well as your strategies for accomplishing them?

In the last year, the Act! team has made great strides toward realizing our vision of being the best partner we can be to our customers. We are changing our organization to better meet the onboarding and support needs of future customers, which has meant rebuilding the team to mirror the way we want to serve our constituents.

More specifically, we are building out a robust cloud solution for our new and existing customers. That has caused us to examine every facet of our business and the unique circumstances and challenges of our installed base. I expect mobile applications to play a much larger role in our future, with tight integration of functions germane to mobile environments: callerID, click-to-call, navigation, proximity search, notifications, SMS…  Mobile is a rich environment well suited to today’s business expectations, and a perfect extension for Act! users that may have accumulated a vast trove of customer data they now want to leverage from mobile devices.   

As mentioned, Gen AI will play a much bigger role within our products and on behalf of our users. This tech can augment CX not just for end users, but also address the diverse needs of sales reps, tech support professionals, product managers, and marketers – anticipating priorities and addressing needs across the business. What’s important to a sales executive is likely to be very different than for a post-sales or tech support rep, and Gen AI holds the promise of bridging these diverse needs. 

CRMs like Act! endeavor to provide a holistic view of the end user, and with Gen AI, have the capacity to become more than an app. We can become an indispensable advisor, provider of automated and targeted outreach, and a real driver of customer relationships and retention.  

Q: Based on your expertise as a Chief Product Officer, could you shed light on the significance of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and its role within organizations?

Every business with customers needs CRM – it’s simply foundational to how modern business recognizes, analyzes, and leverages its customers and prospects. Our research has shown us that a lot of small businesses are still doing customer record-keeping in spreadsheets, or even on paper! But a multi-dimensional database of customer touchpoints can be leveraged to personalize communication, gauge account health, recognize opportunities, and predict behavior.

The idea that you’re “too small for CRM” is a popular myth. Many Act! customers are so-called solopreneurs – sole proprietors running their own businesses. Part of what makes that possible – or at least optimizes and professionalizes their approach to CX – is a CRM platform. The ability to automate personalized client communications goes way beyond “Hello {first name}”.  Being able to segment your customer base to target promotions, identify add-on opportunities, or automate renewal communications saves time, sure. It also ensures that every customer receives relevant, timely communication from your business, and that “contact integrity” drives greater retention. You need CRM because you need customers.    

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges in customer relationship management, and how does Act! help address those challenges?

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a vital aspect of running a successful business, but it does come with its own set of challenges. After founding the CRM industry, Act! has helped SMBs overcome many challenges, including lack of complete/correct data which leads to ineffective segmentation, and limited internal adoption and engagement. Our experienced customer success teams and abundant training resources are developed to help businesses navigate these challenges. 

We leverage customer feedback loops to ensure we are aware of emerging pain points as they inform our backlog priorities and product roadmaps, as well as training resources. A common obstacle, whether for a business new to CRM or one coming from another system, is incomplete, inaccurate, or fragmented customer data which hinders the effectiveness of a  CRM solution. So Act! provides data tools and migration services to ensure clean, accurate, and reliable customer data – an absolute requirement for businesses to make informed decisions, and deliver personalized experiences – the primary benefits of CRM.  

Another common challenge is ensuring that your employees fully adopt and commit to the CRM system. Limited engagement robs the business of the value of that investment, limits the potential returns, and creates operational silos where processes work differently. This then creates reporting and case escalation problems. In an effort to combat laggards and get all stakeholders fully engaged, Act! provides comprehensive onboarding and training resources, as well as ongoing support to encourage adoption, engage employees, and train new team members. 

Q: Could you explain your leadership approach and how it effectively complements your responsibilities as the Chief Product Officer (CPO)?

My leadership style has certainly evolved over the years. I’ve learned to embrace the unknown and act swiftly on the known. Rarely, every challenge is clearly defined upfront; we’ll encounter unforeseen circumstances and unexpected consequences. So we embrace the fact that we’re likely to learn with every step we take. Each customer has something to teach us, and every version of software that we put in front of them will reveal still more work to do, and additional improvements to make.

I’ve also figured out it’s harder to decide what not to do, as opposed to what “we should do”.  Especially in a small company, where you lack the resources to “pursue everything”, it’s critical to decide what you’re going to do well. That’s where you live – that objective serves as the rallying point for every person/action in the company. That’s where you invest deeply and thoughtfully. 

Lastly, I’ve learned to “trust the team”. Beyond delegation, this is really about recognizing their experience and professionalism and empowering them to take the lead, make decisions, and test theories. If we misstep, trust that we can respond quickly and correctly. This approach embodies the firm belief that we can “figure it out” (and correct it), which is much different than trying to avoid mistakes in the first place. I’d rather make a mistake than be perfect – perfection is not an attainable goal, and we’ll absolutely learn something from every mistake we make. Once I accepted that problems were not only inevitable but valuable, it completely changed my approach to working with teams, assessing risk, and adapting to shifting circumstances.

Q: Can you explain your approach to striking a balance between the interests and preferences of various stakeholders when making product decisions?

Our approach is to continually focus on value delivery for our customers. Wherever we can effectively do that, we must. Now, any group of people might have reasonable disagreements over priorities and approaches, but I think you put it the right way: we need to balance the interests of the stakeholders. Some of those individual objectives (short-term revenue, cost reduction, exponential growth) may, in fact, conflict. All involved need to be willing to compromise and be open to learning more about alternate viewpoints. Ideally, we need consensus to move forward, but ultimately decisions based on data need to be made, and we need to establish a consistent direction to make meaningful progress.

When there are disagreements about what we should be building or when we should be delivering, documenting divergent viewpoints is instrumental in changing minds and winning consensus. If we pursue a certain course, these are the likely outcomes, and this is the expected business impact… Putting it “all out there” usually helps people see over their garden wall and appreciate other perspectives.  

Q: What advice would you offer individuals and aspiring entrepreneurs considering product development or software engineering as a career choice?

Well, I would encourage anyone even mildly interested to seriously consider it for a few reasons. First, it’s always been good to me – meaning I want to acknowledge my bias. I’ve loved my time building products that solved problems, working with great teams, delivering value, and yes, making money. This sector has been growing for a long time, not only in terms of volume but also breadth.  There are literally hundreds of different jobs within software product development. From listening to stakeholders and translating those into functional requirements or application specs, to grooming backlogs to determine what gets changed and when, or system administration where you’re designing, defending, and improving networks that are the literal lifeblood of the world’s largest businesses!

When I graduated from Engineering school, I never dreamed of all the interesting technology, emerging markets, and amazing people I’d have the privilege of experiencing. If anything, it’s accelerating and Gen AI seems to be the next big wave. It will revolutionize every aspect of our lives at work and elsewhere. That’s an exciting place to be for a certain kind of person – maybe someone who enjoys solving puzzles, figuring out how things work, or making music – because the inherent complexity means it’s always interesting. The dynamic interplay of dimensions (resources, time, effort, impact) means you’re intently focusing, frequently iterating, and always learning.