I recently spoke to Peter Gillett, the CEO of Zuant and one of the pioneers in the CRM field. With experience in database marketing dating back to the late 1970s, Peter created the world’s first web-based CRM system funded by Lucent Technologies in the 1990s. In 2010, Peter launched the first CRM applications for the iPad. Today, 91% business with 11 or more employees use a CRM.

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your best advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people? 

Peter: I gave up golf, which is a great sport, but I was finding the typical golf club clientele were too intense – The game became stressful when it’s supposed to be about relaxation.  So, I’ve returned to my #1 sporting passion: motorsports. I enjoy competing once a month up-and-down the country in the Club 100 Kart Championship. This is definitely fast & furious by comparison – and, as long as I beat people half my age, I return very satisfied having not thought a moment about work!

Adam: You created the world’s first web-based CRM. What is the inside story? 

Peter: Let’s go back to how all this started. My first proper job was working for a PR company owned by an agency, which subsequently was purchased by Saatchi & Saatchi; so quite a sizeable affair. We ran great campaigns, but my frustration was that PR was generating many more leads than their highly expensive advertising counterpart on joint projects.  This led me to look at ways of managing lead tracking and reporting from all forms of media. 

Direct marketing was the big thing in those days, so I looked west and formed a partnership with a company in Cedar Rapids called AdTrack to provide a global service for US clients predominantly, such as 3M. B2B leads in those days were delivered by magazine bingo cards where pages and pages of inquiries came through, which were hard for clients to track. 

This was our first foray into what later became database marketing. We created a really effective system capturing inquiries into different client data files and printing letter size lead cards using NCR paper so that the client sales teams could return the tear-off section to confirm lead follow-up, value of sale, close date – all the basics for real pipeline evaluation. This approach took off quickly, which led to me forming my company Marketpoint in 1982, which specialized in database marketing – This entrepreneurial venture started during the middle of the Falklands War!

Fast forward 10 years and we were starting to seriously develop what were early CRM database systems, although the term didn’t emerge until the late ‘90s. I clearly remember reading about this new invention called the internet at that time, and saw the potential for clients to have access to databases all around the world. 

This eventually led us to develop our first web-based CRM system for Lucent Technologies, which we launched at their global sales conference in Lisbon in ‘97. This worked really well, but I clearly remember endless new business presentations, which I wish I had recorded, when we were using screeching modems to dial up for live presentations. The dial-up system took time to connect, with resulting comments from prospects saying this internet thing would never catch on!

Adam: What are the most common misconceptions about CRMs? What should everyone understand about CRMs? 

Peter: I believe most people think that CRM systems are big, expensive and complicated, when in fact they needn’t be at all. 

I firmly believe that all businesses should have a CRM at the center of everything they do. In fact it’s vital to manage customers, make sure sales leads are pushed through the different stages of the sales pipeline. CRM is also essential to ensure sales teams performance is constantly monitored and reported on.  Lastly, using the CRM system enables companies to track website performance, visitors, etc. so you can nurture a newlead with relevant follow-up before your competitors have even got out of bed!

Adam: What advice do you have for companies when determining what CRM to select?

Peter: The most important thing to do is choose the right consultant with big CRM experience, if you don’t have that expertise in house. More than anything, it’s what you do, not what product you use. Therefore, the right person will drive you through the whole process to ensure you have the correct field structure, your data is properly profiled and you have a data management program in place for cleaning, enhancement and acquisition of new target prospects.

Adam: What advice do you have for companies and employees when working with CRMs and ERPs?

Peter: When introducing a new system into organization, it’s vital to have a champion on your side, someone who has influence in a group, who will go above and beyond to make sure the team have an open mind when incorporating the system into their routine. This super user needs to involve, energize and communicate the benefits of the CRM system. Without such involvement, usage will naturally dwindle away.

Adam: In 2010, you launched the first CRM applications for the iPad. How were you first to market? How advantageous has that been for you? 

Peter: Well, this actually goes back to the early ninties. We were already 10 years into our web-based CRM developments, and it was the Caterpillar client for whom we were data capturing handwritten lead forms and loose business cards from various tradeshows to distribute to the appropriate dealers for follow-up. This was an almost impossible job to do accurately due to the scrawly handwriting –  We had to come up with a better mousetrap. The Result: Touchscreen laptops at the Intermat Construction Equipment Show in Paris for 20 show workers, so that their leads could be captured over the web with full qualification and data accuracy that we hadn’t seen before.

In 2010 the iPad was launched in the spring. We immediately saw the benefit of this compact piece of hardware, and swapped over to Apple in our development team to be ready for the Conexpo show in Las Vegas the following year. In September 2010, we launched our new system at Ferrari’s largest Car Showroom in Geneva to a whole range of corporate clients, which worked beautifully to prove the concept. Our biggest single exhibitor event to date was the year after at the huge Bauma Construction Fair in Munich. We had 500 show workers sharing 300 iPads and all of the associated charging cubes based into a tailor made support unit built into the Caterpillar booth. 

Considering each device had 150,000 CRM contacts and over 5000 pieces of literature in five languages, in those days it took about two weeks to synchronize each device to work off-line in advance of the show. We then had a nervewracking drive out to Munich from the UK. Although we had full insurance cover, this must have been one the most expensive vans when fully loaded with over £100,000 worth of kit on board for the two day drive – we certainly made sure that it had extra locks and was parked up against the hotel bedroom window for security that evening!

So, overall, this has given us a big advantage being first to market with a fully mobile product. Whereas on the CRM side we had to carve a completely new market with a lot of sceptical reserve to overcome. Having an Apple-based product was not only acceptable, but exciting for our clients. It allowed us to keep our lead with ongoing tech development to cover new challenges like off-line mobile privacy and compliance to meet new regulations such as GDPR.

Adam: What is your best advice on building new products?

Peter: There are such wonderful apps on the market that we almost take them for granted now, Think about Uber’s easy to use/satisfying UI. 

Building new product these days is all about creating a pixel perfect user journey before any coding. This allows you to get really insightful feedback from potential customers so that you can avoid wasted time by being able to cut straight to the chase. This leads to my next piece of advice:  Have one or two beta test clients who want to be early adopters and are happy to work with you through the early pain and inevitable bugs involved.

Adam: What is your best advice on creating an environment conducive to innovation? 

Peter: It’s all about creating buzz within the organization, and today there’s awesome technology to help this whole process sizzle.  Zuant is spread across multiple office locations, from London to LA to NY, but we stay connected via the use of big screen TVs and products like Geckoboard to stream real-time results such as daily website hits, new client wins and other social information live on TV in each office. These devices automatically keep folks connected without relying on email to share information that never gets read! And, from a practical point of view, as soon as ideas for new features or products are transmitted, it’s easy to poll feedback, instill collaboration and speed up the process.

The truth is, we’ve very rapidly gotten to the point where we rarely get meet our clients in person because they are spread around the world. It will soon become the norm that offices will operate like TV studios where you create a simulated face-to-face environment and get to know individuals as a result of interactive web meetings and videos.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? Who are the best leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them?

Peter: Goodness, this is a tricky one to answer. 

When you look at top tech leaders like Steve Jobs and now Elon Musk, I’m always amazed at the level of detail they both seem to have gotten into with their respective products. One of the key qualities of being effective is having the ability to step back and ensure that ‘The Big Set of Objectives’ is always being considered, managed and progressed. 

In today’s talent economy leaders must be able to sense when a prospective employee is going to be the right fit for your company. This enables you to build a highly motivated team with the appropriate work ethic.

Even the best leaders in the world can never stop learning.  Reading about how other companies are managed successfully or not, is a really good way of learning new ideas which can be applied in your own business.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?


  1. Everyone should have their big objectives, so identifying these is the most important thing.
  2. Linked to this then is the often difficult task of monitoring performance so that the above can be achieved within a target timeframe.
  3. Don’t be an island – make sure that your colleagues understand your mission and can be brought in to support the overall program.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Keep focused. You’ll achieve far more success by doing a few things extremely well.

Peter Gillett, Marketpoint CRM & Zuant
Peter Gillett, Marketpoint CRM & Zuant

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Peter: Invest in good staff and continue investing in their reviews and training to ensure that they can operate at their highest level.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Peter: Well, some things never change, and the challenges facing CRM usage are the same now as they were 20 years ago. Integration is a new issue and it’s HUGE. The plethora of excellent software systems to add to your tech stack means that the default is to have islands of data. The key is to focus on shared data with seamless integration, whether it be lead capture at tradeshows or lead nurturing in your marketing automation system. Add in AI and you have a winning recipe for super turbo charged sales & marketing performance!

Original article by Adam Mendler: https://www.adammendler.com/blog/crm-leadership-zuant-peter-gillett

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