Contacts or companies?

When you start using a contact management system or a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, one of the first problems you encounter is what level should you track your data at? Sounds like such a simple problem too, and, depending on your business processes (i.e. the way you work), it might be simple or not so simple. But the fact you come up with the question shows you one important thing: until you try to add a structure to the way you work, you don’t really discover some of these questions. Discovering the trivial, yet important questions about your business is important when you want to scale your business, train more staff, transfer knowledge easily and institute some consistency in the way you deal with your business partners, be it customers, potential clients etc. For example, how can you be sure that both Mike and Pete in your company follow the same rigorous steps in the sales process?

But let’s go back to our simple question. What level should you track your interactions in your customer management system? Contacts – that is people? Or companies? The answer depends on the industry you’re in, the way you interact with your business partners and what you want to get out of the contact management system. Let’s see the options you have.

1. Contacts only

If all you do is interact with individuals, then this option is the most natural choice. It is the most appropriate option if you work in retail or take appointments from the regular Joe out there. If you’re a financial adviser trying to sell retirement plans, then you obviously work with individuals. Companies are irrelevant and you don’t want the additional complexity.

2. Companies only

You might be in the B2B domain, where you work and sell to companies, not to individuals. Even then, the interaction for selling purposes with inevitably happen with actual individuals working for the target company. You might decide to only track notes under the company and not care about the individuals involved. You might lose some of the business intelligence in that case, but that might not be relevant in your case.

3. Contacts and companies

This is probably the most common scenario when you work with individuals and companies. The actual exchange of information, communication, emails happen with individuals. When you use the Dropbox feature and forward or CC emails to your dedicated email address, those notes will be sent to actual individuals, unless you use generic email addresses (e.g. sales@domainname). If you want to attach a note under a contact and a company at the same time, that is possible with Clevertim, as Clevertim allows you to attach a note under multiple contacts and companies. It also allows you to attach notes under an opportunity or a case.

We want to encourage our customers to use both contacts and companies when using our contact management system. One of the common complaint is that is not easy to have a single view of all the communications with a company. To facilitate this, a while ago we’ve added an option under the Business Preferences. It is called “Automatically file contact notes under their respective companies too”, and, as the name suggests, it makes all the notes filed under contacts visible under their respective companies. As a result, the company becomes a single view of all the exchanges done with any employees within that company.

Making social media work for your business (part 3)

Now we know that maintaining an interesting presence on social networks is not for all type of businesses and it is also hard work. More often than not, small businesses don’t have the means to hire a digital marketing person to do it all, so they end up doing it themselves. The good news is that you can scale it down or up according to your strategy, needs and capacity. Sometimes it is about quality, not quantity. And about persevering.

You have your business strategy, decided where you want your business to focus, planned your 6-12 months worth of content calendar and now what?

No, you cannot just forget about it and focus on doing some actual work (like baking your delicious cakes). The key of any marketing activity is keeping track of its results and adapting it – if needed – to meet your goals. When starting in this social media business, you will have to test your different posts, images, call to action you are using until you are comfortable with your way of writing, posting, etc. Analytics will be a key ally to you. It will give you more information on what is working or not, so you can adjust your plan accordingly. You will then compare results with your own business goals (was it to get more likes, followers, shares? More people coming in to your shop? More online orders?).

Remember that these channels are also your eyes and ears to your customers, it is where you will have a conversation with them. And as you can imagine, it requires some dedication to reply to them, listen to their suggestions and complaints, make sure you answer their queries. And it is also a good idea to encourage them to write a review, share your posts – as long as the content lends itself to sharing,  etc.

In summary, social media might not drive huge sales, but for some small businesses it will be key to put their names out there and generate a lot of talk around their services and products. It is also where your clients can easily find you. Make sure you are making the most of it.

Happy International Beer Day

So apparently there is an International Beer Day and it is on the 1st Friday of August. So we will be heading to our local pub at the end of the day to celebrate it!

Did you know that there are over 1,200 operating breweries across the UK? It takes more than just appreciating a good beer to become a home brewer, but don’t get put off by needing to learn new skills and the highly competitive market. Any refreshing change of career would require you to learn something new and, sometimes, face tough competition. As with any new product in a crowded market, you have to do a lot of research and have a solid business plan and strategy to stand out. The good news is that although the consumption of alcohol in the UK dropped, when it comes to beer and ale, it went up. So there is a market for it, in the UK and in Europe. All you need is to learn the techniques to become a master of brewery, a lot of dedication, time, patience and hard work.

If you are all set to start your new business, or if you already in the business, you need to make sure you have the right tools to help you succeed. Whether you are thinking of hiring an in-house sales team or getting freelancers to do the selling, a simple and easy to use online contact management software like Clevertim will help you along the way. Your main clients are pubs, local shops, grocers, and your sales team will be constantly on the road meeting with potential clients, attending beer events, networking. Your CRM and contact management software needs to be intuitive and easy to learn and use, simple but effective. You won’t need a full bells and whistles tool, because you won’t use it. Unless you are planning to spend all your work time in front of a computer, learning to use your software, trying to figure out how you can make the most of all the features you don’t really need, you need something that will keep your work to a minimum and will be fast to perform actions. It’s like paying a fortune for the latest model of a MacBook when all you use your computer for is checking emails. Save your bucks and your time for better things, it’s the advice we give you.

Our simple contact management solution is perfect even if it is just you in the business in the beginning. Start by adding the companies and their contacts from your researches and networking, record your sales opportunities, save your emails and notes in one place. As your business grows and you have more people working with you, it will be much easier to share the information and bring the team up to speed. Clevertim is also very easy to learn, so it shouldn’t take long to figure out how to use it.

And make sure you let us know when your brewery is up and running as we would love to try your homemade Ale.

Keeping up with the trends

Isn’t it fantastic how in this day and age you can almost immediately react, adapt, create something new for your business, based on a piece of news, a campaign that has gone viral or a life changing event? Thanks to social media and online news, we can be constantly monitoring and riding the right wave. From a marketing point of view, it is refreshing to be able to experiment and try new approaches. And unlike popular belief, when something goes wrong – as long as it is not terribly wrong – it is possible to control the damage and move on.

A year ago, the ice bucket challenge, a campaign to raise awareness of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, went viral on social media, got loads of people that had never heard of the disease involved, celebrities took part of the challenge (and those who refused where criticised), lots of money was raised. Some brands – including biggies like McDonalds and Energiser were quick to use the opportunity to promote themselves, I mean, help with the ALS cause. Samsung went ever further, and challenged its competitors Apple and Nokia to take the challenge as well (watch the video here). And because it’s hard to predict how long a topic will be trending, the marketing teams have to be quick, bypass high management approvals, and go for it.

As with most of the things online, people tend to forget quite quickly about these things, which makes this “exercise” a challenge in itself. Big companies, global brands, they have the bucks, they have the teams, they have the brand to put these actions in place. They will select the right picks as overdoing it can also damage the brand, but they have the means to react quickly. Now how about small business? How can the small players take advantage of the immediacy of trends to help boost their businesses?

There is more than one answer to this question. One of them is “they don’t. Just ignore the buzz and move on”. Sometimes it is not worth the effort and the investment, just to be out there with everybody else. Does it make sense to your business? Is the topic something related to your brand or to your heart? Is it related to your clients? Luckily, there are ways to be part of it, without breaking the bank or diverging half of your team to implement it. Words, for example. You can write a nice/funny/powerful message on your Facebook page, you can donate money for a charity, you and your staff can form a team and run the half marathon to support a cause, you can share someone else’s story or activity that you think your customers will like.

For us, here at Clevertim, sometimes we like to have a giggle and wonder what we could have done around one of those moments, like with the ice bucket challenge, for example. “How about getting Tim, our mascot, to take the challenge?”. We have a laugh and focus on making our product better for our customers, implementing new features, reading reviews, asking for feedback. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t have a great product or offer a great service, what is the point in even promoting it?

Making social media work for your business (part 2)

Now that you have decided that having a page or profile on some social media channels is good for your business, what to do next? As we said in the previous post, keeping these channels up to date is not that easy. It requires planning, creativity and… time. Do you have time to do this yourself? Do you have someone to help you? Do you have budget to hire someone?

As with anything, there are tools that will help you do the job. You will find a few social media management softwares that allow you to plan a long term calendar and schedule posts to almost all networks. Some might even give you some insights and analytics. A few are free to use (with limited features) or operate on a try-before-you-buy basis. As you will do with your contact management software, always do some research before you choose one.

For me, the hardest part is finding what to talk about – and writing about them. Some businesses just lend themselves to social media. Going back to the cake business. You can write about your cakes and new creations, about a special offer for Mother’s Day, new designs that you are planning for Christmas, post recipes, create a one off cake workshop, run a competition. All with amazing photos, clear call to action messages, driving to your website where people can place orders or reminding them where your shop is. You can do this on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat… but you will need to tailor your posts to each channel. Twitter will only allow you 140 characters (which you can use to drive to your Facebook page), Instagram is more about photos and less about text, Facebook is more democratic.

The “social media network best practice guidelines” (someone came up with these probably based on statistics from those channels) says that we should work on a post calendar for the next 6 to 12 months. Then it says that each social network has an ideal number of posts to keep your channel/page relevant and interesting and this is in average 3 posts per day. Let’s do the math: we are talking about 540+posts for a 6 month period that you have to write and schedule. Not to mention the impromptu ones, like “50% off our cupcakes for the next 10 costumers to show up at our shop today by 4pm” when you want to clear out stock. That is a lot of planning and writing, isn’t it?

But it’s doable and this is not as rigid as it seems. The great – or worst, depending on how you look at it – thing about the online world is that things evolve all the time. You might plan your posts for the next 6 months, but you need to be flexible. You might need to change your strategy in case you are not selling that much or in case you are selling too much, you might have new ideas, there might be a life changing even that you will like to bank on.

Bottom line is: you can be creative, flexible and have fun with social media, but it requires an awful lot of work and dedication and you need to be up for it. Are you ready for it?

 

We need to talk about Feminism

You are probably wondering what feminism has got to do with a blog about contact management for small business, right? This is not an essay about general feminism, but rather a short post about equality and respect in the work environment.

People tend to think that feminism is a “women’s thing” and that men shouldn’t or don’t need to get involved. Big mistake. This is something that affects us all, like global warming. And like with global warming, part of the problem comes from lack of information.

Another big mistake that people often make is to think that if you focus on or discuss feminism, you are ignoring everything else around you. For example: you are fighting for equal salary in your work place with HR and the management team, and you are also organising the company’s Christmas party, which you are hoping to be the biggest one ever. You can be a feminist, raise money for poor countries in Africa and grow your tache for ‘Movember’.

A very good exercise to help you engage in the feminist cause is to put yourself in the other’s shoes. How would you like someone to tell you that you look intelligent because you are wearing a suite? Would you like your wife or daughter to earn less than a male colleague although they have the same professional experience? How would you feel if someone excluded you of a conversation because they are talking politics and not bags and shoes? You might not realise that what you see as a joke, in fact offends and hurts other human being feelings.

During a pub conversation once, a group of us – men and women – were discussing how difficult for it is for a woman with kids to progress in their careers. One of our friends, a woman who runs her own business hiring private language teacher across the country, said that she was reluctant to hire women with kids because they are less reliable, less committed to working the hours that she needed. “And why do you think this happens?”, I asked. She promptly replied that if the kid was ill, it was the woman that had to deal with it. Now… don’t you think this is a little unfair? If it is the mother that will look after the poorly child, it might be because the father is not doing his part. This friend work with teachers outside work hours, which suits mothers very well – they could teach in the evenings, while fathers take over the home duties, right?

It is just assumed, by this friend and by managers of several companies I worked for, that it is the woman’s role to look after the kids, when in reality, it is both parents responsibility. Some forward-thinking managers and companies are now making sure that both parents can take time off to take their kids to doctors, school events, etc. It is not the women’s solely obligation to raise a child and it is the men’s right to be present in their kids’ life.

Several businesses are now focussing in empowering women, giving them the same professional opportunities as men, making their work space more inclusive. It is a win-win situation for both employer and employee, and has nothing to do with putting men aside, choosing women over men.

Feminism is not about women versus men. It’s about women and men being valued and respected for who they are, their experience, their potential, their needs, despite gender.

Making social media work for your business (part 1)

Back in 2012, when we created our Facebook page, we weren’t sure it was going to  benefit our business (or any business for that matter), help us grow, improve sales. People are on Facebook to be in touch with their friend and family and have some fun, right? Errrr…. not really.

On a basic level, having an up to date and relevant page or profile can help increase the chances of your business to show up search engines, for example. Social media has evolved rapidly and we don’t know how was life before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Going back to 2012, it was the year when Facebook implemented a series of money-making initiatives, and advertising was at the top of the revenue drivers. You probably don’t even remember how your profile page was without the sponsored posts on the right hand side or in-between friends’ posts in your timeline. Since then, many companies have been looking at converting likes into sales. Does it work? Yes, for some, but creating a your business page or profile will not get you likes and followers and drive your sales overnight. If only was that easy.

For starters, not all networks suit all businesses. You know your business, your products or services and your audience better than anyone so, before creating pages and profiles everywhere, set goals against each social network with clear objectives and realistic expectations. You might find that Facebook is great, but Instagram is not. An example: you own a MOT centre in East London, you have your loyal clients that come back year after year, but you have empty slots in the diary that you would be happy to fill in. A Facebook page, with lots of positive reviews from existing clients, posts with tips on how to look after your car to pass the MOT, your opening hours, etc, can help. It makes it easier for friends and clients to recommend your service to other friends or closed groups, e.g. Car lovers in East London. On the other hand, a profile on Instagram or LinkedIn might not add much to your business (only extra work for you).

For a cake shop, though, Instagram and Pinterest, networks all about images, posting photos of your beautiful cakes, some behind the scenes shoots and short videos might grab the attention of cake lovers who are thinking about ordering a nice cake for a celebration at work next week.

We are just talking about pure organic effort here, not paid advertising. Paid advertising is a totally different story and, again, might not be for everyone.

So, how do you feel about having your company on social networks out there? Check your business goals and ambitions before you start signing up for all of them and make sure you have a plan. Keeping these channels updated is not a walk in the park and require dedication and time, but this is a topic for another post.

How working from home is shaping our lives

Not long ago, working from home was seen as an easy way to get some time off work or just procrastinate and having very little done. Although some businesses still see working from home with suspicion, others are embracing this trend, especially small businesses.

We know that there will always be the ones who will take advantage of it and not get the work done, but these people also exist in the office environment. Some people work better at home, some work better in the office. Simple as that.

Why are companies more open to this practice now? Well, consider the prices of rent of commercial offices. Not every company can afford it. Some new businesses just abolish physical offices altogether, hire their employees to work from their homes and adopt hot desking or office share for when the face-to-face meeting is needed. We have online systems that allow us to connect remotely, as long as we have wifi available – sometimes we can even work offline. We all have mobile phones or tablets, so our clients can reach us anytime.

How working from home can increase productivity? In a country like the UK, when you are allowed by law to take several sick paid days, it is much easier to simply not go to work if you aren’t feeling well. It’s not an excuse not to work. Commuting in a packed train or tube when you are not feeling your best can be a torture. When you finally get to the office, you are feeling even worse than when you woke up. If you are lucky, you might go through the day doing some bits and pieces of work, but not really focussing or giving 100% of you. And guess what? You probably spread the germs around the office and the domino effect will soon start, with other colleagues calling in sick too. The following day you will feel even worse and won’t be able to leave your bed. Now, if you have all the tools to work from home, you will make yourself a cup of tea, will stay in your pijamas, will reply to emails, make some phone calls, update your contact management account with all the info of previous meetings with clients, will rest a bit and recover so you can get to work the following day.

Working from home also save you time (and money) in commutes as well. Although some people manage to do some work on their way to the office, it is not always possible. The train might be packed and you will be squeezed against the door, you might drive to work which makes checking emails very dangerous (and illegal), you might be exhausted and half asleep. Some people can take over an hour to get to work, and once there, they will get breakfast, chat to colleagues, and so on, so a 9.30 becomes a 10am start. Imagine if you can get back 2 hours of your day?

Several people report being more productive and doing more follow ups and paperwork while at home, without interruptions of random phone calls, lengthy meetings or coffee breaks. Some companies have replaced desktop computers with tablets and laptops to give their employees they flexibility of working remotely when needed.

Another benefit of working from home is getting the work-life balance right. You can remove part of the modern day stress just by cutting down on the daily commute, for example. No more running to catch a train, being home on time to pick up the kids; an additional hour to prepare a nice meal, out your feet up and relax. Committed employees will not procrastinate while working from home; they will get the job done and then focus on their lives. They will be happier and,in return, work smarter.

The one simple trick that will improve your sales

This short blog article is when I tell you about the one simple trick that changed my sales mindset and significantly changed my business life and the way I think about sales in general.

It’s a simple trick once you know it, but it took me a while to fully realize its true transformational power. Once I did, I noticed that my sales improved, people started paying more attention to my sales pitches, they became more interested in the actual content and what I was really saying. More importantly, I realized I was closing more deals than before. Now thinking about it, it all seems so simple that I keep wondering how come I didn’t think about it earlier – my life in sales would have been so much easier.

You too can repeat this simple trick in your mind and it will definitely change the way you approach sales, ask for things, present your ideas and do business in general.

The simple trick is this:

No one cares about YOU, they care about THEMSELVES!

That’s it. Now go ahead, repeat it 3 times:

No one cares about YOU, they care about THEMSELVES!

No one cares about YOU, they care about THEMSELVES!

No one cares about YOU, they care about THEMSELVES!

It’s a simple thing but its implications are subtle and powerful. Too often, in sales, marketing, but also in real life, we’re too caught up in ourselves and in what we have to offer, our products, our services, the features, etc. It’s all about us, US, US and me, me ME.

Many sales reps have a pre-learned script that they go through and it’s about presenting the company, the product or the service as the best, as having X whistles and Y bells, as being used by so and so.

This is more evident in remote sales done by inside sales teams by phone or email. There, the sales reps really follow the same script, same templates and most templates are boring and talk about the company, products, services, features, etc. They don’t talk about one thing potential customers genuinely want to hear about: themselves and their own problems. So they switch off, either abruptly or they go on auto-pilot and stop listening.

So it’s important to remember customers have their own problems and they care about themselves. They want someone who understands their problems and cares about solving their problems. They’re not interested in someone who just wants to sell to them but rather someone who in the very least listens to their needs. Any solution provided, be it problems or services need to start with the customer problem and offer to solve it.

Say that once more:

Any solution provided, be it problems or services need to start with the customer problem and offer to solve it.

And now in bold:

Any solution provided, be it problems or services need to start with the customer problem and offer to solve it.

It doesn’t sound like a big realization. Pfff, I knew that! It’s so obvious. Well, of course everyone cares about themselves.

But the more you think about the implications of this one simple trick, the more you realize that you can win more, sell more, be more popular in general by simply changing the way you sell and the way you interact with prospects, existing customers or other human beings in general. Put yourselves in their shoes! Who are they? What are their problems? Their aspirations. Their needs. What actually makes them tick. What excites them. What drives them.

Create a real image of a potential customer. Give the image a name: Michael. Give it a job. A family. A house. A car. Picture him on a day in the office. Picture him on a day out. Think of him as a real person. Now ask this person all the questions above. He’ll tell you what he wants to hear.

Now go out and find a real Michael and sell to him by putting him first. Or her. And since you’ll have many more contacts, leads, prospects and customers as a result, you might as well try a really intuitive web based contact management system.

 

Dealing with your worst customers

Most customers are a real pleasure to deal with, but once in a while, you inevitably encounter one of those customers that defy the social etiquette and behave outrageously for one reason or another. How you deal with such customers tells the story about who you really are as a business and at the same time, it can leave a mark on your reputation. So how do you deal with such customers?

Well, one common advise that you read in popular business book is to “fire your worst customers”. This advice is not necessarily a purely pragmatic advice, motivated by cost and profitability – and indeed, bad customers can be a drain on your resources in terms of support, time spent answering their emails, phone calls, addressing complaints and so on. It’s a recommendation that goes against another very popular advice found in many business books that says: “The customer is always right!”.

So which school of thought do you follow? Do you think the customer is always right or do you fire the worst customers?

At Clevertim, we believe the truth and the right thing to do is somewhere in the middle. We believe in general customers are in their right to ask for things to work properly without hitches and we do apologize and fix things quickly when it’s our fault. Inevitably some people are frustrated when things don’t work as they expect to and tempers differ. This doesn’t bother us.
However, we draw the line at abuse and intimidation of our staff. We believe our staff and any staff, any human being in fact, has the right to perform their duties and live their lives free of abuse and intimidation from anyone, irrespective of what the situation is.

If that happens, we don’t fire customers though. Everyone has ups and downs and we know and accept that. When that happens, we try to cut through the emotion and negativity to see what the real problem is and address that. Is there a problem with the payment? Is there a fault with the website? What’s the root cause of the problem – get to that one thing we can do something about. Then just fix it and move on.

The other thing we do is to be honest with our customers. We’re a small business ourselves and we operate with limited resources. One of our goals is to keep the cost down for our customers, so that means that we can’t do everything. For example, we cannot offer phone support – we only offer email support, which we like to think it’s very responsive and helpful as we don’t have many layers between support people and developers or managers who can actually fix the issues. We also cannot implement all the features under the sun. We listen, but sometimes politely explain we cannot do it.

Some customers fire themselves at that point, when they realize we cannot do for them what they want: e.g. phone support or feature X, Y or Z. It’s just a fact of life. We cannot be all things for everyone. But for most of our customers we solve a real business problem of managing the data about their own customers. We like to keep those customers happy by any means we can.

Now, that being said, back to you… how do you deal with your worst customers?