Bidding a fond farewell to a CRM innovator: Sarah Nunke
I know there is a fine line between personal and business blogs, and I have worked hard over the last couple of years not to cross that line. I realize this post puts a toe over the line, but I hope you all will indulge me. A good friend, mentor and supporter of mine died yesterday, Sarah Nunke. She had been battling pancreatic cancer for 15 months and passed away at home under hospice care.
When I was a tech support manager at JCPenney in the late 80s/early 90s, we implemented the very first knowledgebase product designed specifically for support: Apriori from Answer Systems. Sarah was the product manager for the company. JCPenney was this small startup’s first big-name account, and I worked with Sarah providing requirements for some additional modules they were building, around contact management and entitlement, that would become the common paradigm used today in every CRM system on the market. Sarah saw potential in me that I didn’t even see, and I remember her saying on one of her JCPenney site visits, “We need to get you out of here.”
Two years later, Answer (with Sarah’s insistence) recruited me to Silicon Valley, first to head up their tech support group, and later, after we were acquired by Platinum Technology, I took over Sarah’s role as product manager (working for Charlie Isaacs, who most recently served as CTO and Chief Customer Officer for KANA). Platinum was on a buying binge, and Sarah’s new role was mapping the integration story across the core Platinum products and all of their new acquisitions.
One of the defining moments in my career was a lunch meeting at the California Cafe in the Great Mall of America in Minneapolis. I was accompanying Sarah to meet another startup acquired by Platinum. I don’t even remember now what the product was. What I do remember is how we pushed the plates aside and created an entire integration story on the white paper tablecloth. It was my first exposure to “Marketecture,” and the first time I realized that I could design logical processes and integration points across multiple technologies without having an engineering degree. This single skill is what I have built on to be a successful analyst. I kept that rolled up paper tablecloth for years.
When Sarah left Platinum she joined Clarify, who we all remember as one of the original CRM vendors, along with Scopus, Vantive and Siebel. CRM as a term hadn’t even been invented yet. I was doing knowledgebase implementations for Platinum at that point, and Sarah convinced me to join Clarify. Getting in on the ground floor of the CRM industry was one of the smartest moves I’ve made, as I had a hand in creating some core CRM modules that still define how CRM works. It was a very exciting time and place.
Sarah left Clarify after a few years and went on to work at some great Silicon Valley companies. She did a stint at Oracle helping them build their first attempt at CRM. She spent several years at ePeople, who created the idea of consumers bidding on tech support help from a community of experts–long before Web 2.0 was even a glimmer in the eye of Tim O’Reilly. She did consulting work for Blue Pumpkin, the best workforce management tool on the market, now part of Verint-Witness.
Sarah was a great friend, a confidant, a mentor, and she yelled at me sometimes too. She pushed me to make my mark in this space, and I discussed every career move I’ve made over the years with her before acting. She taught me to be a wine snob, as well as getting me addicted to Ridge Zinfandels. I will miss her very much.
The next time you have a glass of wine, please make a toast to Sarah Nunke. Thanks for reading.