New features

We haven’t updated the blog in a while, but that’s not because Clevertim CRM is no longer maintained. On the contrary, we’ve been working hard on adding more features and improving the system for our existing customers and for the potential customers are there looking for CRM for their small business.

Here’s in brief what we’ve added and worked on:

  • Pipeline view for opportunities – ability to switch between the list view and pipline view for opportunities. Pipeline view gives you the ability to see what opportunities you have coming up in each stage, the value of those opportunities, people and tasks associated with those opportunities. Try it under the Opportunities tab.
  • Calendar view for tasks – ability to switch between the list view and the calendar view for tasks. It gives you a much better view of the tasks coming up for everyone in your team.
  • Email from Clevertim CRM – ability to send email to your contacts from Clevertim CRM. The email is being sent from your email address and the contacts will reply to your email address and not to a @clevertim.com email address. Simplifies the communication with your contacts.
  • More custom fields. You can now refer existing contacts, companies, case or opportunities as additional fields and also a custom field for currencies. A few ideas for use cases:
    • Reports to relationship (Add a Manager/Boss field to each contact and point to another contact)
    • Wife/Sibling/Married to/Family relationships
    • Have multiple companies for a contact. Add a company type custom fields applicable to contacts.
    • For cases and opportunities it gives you the ability to track multiple contacts associated with them
    • Intermediation/Agent/Referral relationships – for opportunities or companies, track who the intermediation/agent contact is or track who referred the opportunity or the company
    • Categorize support cases by opportunity, to make sure for each opportunity you have a clear idea of how much support work is involved. Cases can have an opportunity custom field to track this relationship.
    • Use cases of mini-projects within an opportunity to make sure you keep track of various streams of work within an opportunity. The cases can have an opportunity custom field to track this relationship.

And many other smaller improvements. Please visit our website or take our demo on our main page to see all these features in action.

Clevertim CRM websites gets a facelift

We have redesigned the main website today. We have a new look, airy and designed to make it easier for our visitors to extract the right information, without getting bogged down in too much fluff, too much text and irrelevant information.

We have made it clearer that our simple CRM solution would appeal to those small businesses who have outgrown paper and spreadsheets and they need a more structure approach to selling and managing the whole interaction with their leads and existing customers.

We have kept the “Quick Demo”, which continues to operate in the same way – no credit cards, no email registrations. We believe our product is very good and very easy to use. We don’t want to hard sell it, rather we would continue to let everyone have a look at it, without any pressure.

Our new website is also much more accessible on the various devices, including tablets and mobiles. One of the problem with our previous website was that it wouldn’t render very nicely on mobile phones.

So, enough talking, instead, I’d urge you to have a look today and send us your feedback. It’s really (and I do mean this) the way we take our business further, by listening to your feedback.

Google Calendar integration

Today we’ve released our native Google Calendar integration. Before, the integration was only possible via Zapier. We’ve added this feature to our roadmap at the request of one of our customers. Yes, we do listen!

Have a look at our quick guide about this Google Calendar integration.

Please let us know if you have any feedback, comments, requests or complaints either on the integration or the quick guide above.

Why do we offer a free CRM account?

We’ve written about free CRM accounts before, but we haven’t really covered the reasons why we’re offering such a free CRM account. This blog entry is talking candidly about our reasons to give out a free limited CRM account.

Number 1 – Conversion

Free to paid account conversion. There’s no beating around the bush about it, this is the number 1 reason we and all the other companies out there give out a free account, irrespective of the type of application, CRM or anything else. This business model is called Freemium and it works by giving out a limited version of the application, in the hope the free users will end up paying for more advanced features or plans. While this comes as no news to you, what’s probably not immediately obvious is that this model doesn’t work fantastically well. The reason is that, traditionally, conversion rates across various industries have been very low (10% if you’re lucky). So, if it was just for this, we probably wouldn’t give out a free plan. Which leads into our…

Number 2 – Brand exposure and referrals

This relies on our free users spreading that sought after “word of mouth”, either in the traditional sense of the word, or on social media. Nowadays, there are so many CRM applications and so many applications doing the same thing, that getting in front of potential customers can be really tricky. In a crowded market, picking up a product that’s right for you either involves a lot of research (and while that’s doable, it takes a lot of time and time is money) or a referral from someone you trust. We’d like our free users to refer our product, so that’s a very important point for us, which is why it’s important for us that our free users are happy with the product and the support they receive from us.

Number 3 – Help small businesses

We’re a small business too and we know starting up can be hard. Any help you can get at those initial stages is very important. Our free CRM account is our way to help out small businesses in the early stages. We hope this initial help will be the beginning of a long term relationship and as businesses grow, very often they will turn into paying customers as they realize we have a good product and great, responsive and helpful support. It’s our way of helping out and yes, get our “foot in the door”.

Number 4 – Product management

Our free users help us define the direction for our products, the features that we should prioritize and so on. While we’re prioritizing feature requests received from our paid users, the truth is, with every freemium business model, you end up with many more free users than paid accounts. It gives us a wider user base to help us discover new requirements, see the demand for certain features and so on.

Number 5 – Beta testing new features

Having a wider user base helps us find volunteers and users more interested in helping us beta test new features. Inevitably only a small minority of users are early adopters and the vast majority of users like a stable, mature product. However, as new features are added, the early adopters fill a critical role in helping us beta test the new features.

To answer a few common questions about our free account:

1. Will the free account offering be stopped if the conversion rates to paid accounts are low?

No. As we’ve tried to explain above, it is much more than conversion rates that we’re getting out of our free CRM accounts. We’ll never stop offering them and so, if you want a free account forever, that’s fine with us.

2. Do you pressure people into converting to paid customers?

No. We don’t believe in pressuring customers into doing anything. If they love the product and need more, they will upgrade, if not, we’re fine with that too. So, to that respect, we don’t pressure free CRM account holders:

  • We don’t limit the free accounts further
  • We don’t email incessantly about upgrading (we might email about new important features, but we do that very rarely – maybe once or twice a year)
  • We don’t call unless you explicitly ask us to

3. Do you plan to give more on the free accounts?

Not currently. We might introduce new features as we upgrade the product, but ultimately we are running a business and we need paid customers in order to stay afloat and be a sustainable business, which is what we’re trying to achieve.

 

Managing a telesales team

“The world is flat” some have said recently and what they mean is it has never been easier to outsource your jobs across the world, making geography irrelevant for your business. And that has worked pretty well for many businesses, including us – yes, we have used and we still use freelancers across the globe in order to improve our product in a cost effective way that allows us to pass the cost efficiencies back to our customers.

Job positions that have been successfully outsourced in the past include virtual assistants, web designers, graphical designers, web and computer programmers, but also marketing jobs and telesales.

In telesales, it makes a lot of sense to outsource the lower end of the sales process, the pre-qualifying of leads. In most cases, it is an expensive and time consuming process, many times repetitive, boring and the rate of success can be quite low. Not something you’d want your star sales people to do. You’d like your star sales people to chase qualified leads, those leads that need the final nudge from an expert in closing deals.

It makes sense to outsource the pre-qualifying of leads to a team of telesales people, who can go through a list of leads you provide, make contact either by calling, emailing or using social media and determine the level of interest the lead shows and filter out the leads that are unlikely to buy and pass the rest, the qualified subset to your star people.
But just hiring a telesales team and leaving them to it will generally not work. And why not, you might ask?

Well, first of all, because outsourcing is still work, you just change the type of work you do. When you outsource, your main type of work is managing, rather than actually doing the work yourself. There is a strong misconception that outsourcing means you don’t have to do any work at all. We’ve done outsourcing here at Clevertim and we found out that never works. You need to actively manage your outsourced projects or face failure.

And here’s a simple truth: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. And you can’t measure what you can’t see. Having visibility of what your telesales team is doing is critical in the success of your outsourcing telesales project. Are they being diligent in pre-qualifying your leads? Do they follow up always or do they “leave money on the table”? Do they follow the same rigorous processes for all your leads or does it all depend on the “mood” of the telesales person? Are they saying the wrong things to your leads which can affect not only your sales prospects, but also your brand – yes, the word of mouth can cut both ways.

The other aspect of “visibility” is seeing what the leads are saying. You can gain so much information from the feedback you get from your prospects, information that you can use to improve your products and services, feed back into product management, customer service, sales and marketing. It can give you an idea of what customers are looking for, what’s missing in your “recipe” and it can literally tell you how to sell more. It will also give you a fantastic insight into customer objections to selling. Dealing with customer objections is part of selling and mapping out what the common objections are will help you prepare for the next sale. Having answers ready for your customers looks very good when your sales people are trying to close the sale. Contrast that with the line “I will consult with the headquarters and get back to you with the information you need”, which delays the closing and gives your leads time to change their minds and shop around.

In a nutshell, you need to “see” what your telesales team is doing, how they communicate with the leads, what’s being said, how often, what the leads are saying. And that’s where a simple CRM solution can help greatly. Managing a telesales team becomes so much easier when all the data is in one place, you can see who’s doing what when and you can set tasks for the next steps to be followed with certain leads. It’s visibility that puts you in control and gives you the ability to manage the telesales effort.

From that point on you can choose your management style, you can be as micro or macro as you want, you can set individual tasks or general goals and monitor the progress and have meaningful conversations about the performance and improvements needed by your telesales team. It allows you to see whether the telesales team is ultimately working for you or whether you’d better off looking for another telesales team or even bring the whole project in-house.

If you don’t have a CRM system today, take a look at our Clevertim CRM which is a CRM and lead management solution designed for small businesses. Start getting on top of your telesales projects today!

What’s new

We’re continually working on improving Clevertim CRM in order to make it more user friendly, more intuitive and fix various snags. Here’s a list of items that we have delivered recently:

  • Filters in the “What’s new” screen – as you add more data, you will need to go back and filter by user who performed various operations, the operation type, the item type and the date when the action was performed. We also improved the navigation in the “What’s new” screen to allow users to jump to the first and last page (previously only navigating to the next and the previous page was supported). The time when the actions were performed is also now included.
  • User photos in comments. If the users upload a photo of themselves in the “My info & settings”, this will be shown in the comments section. The comments also now include a timestamp.
  • A link back to the company from the contact’s profile. A small arrow next to the company name on the right hand side of the contact edit details section allows for easy navigation from the contact to the company profile.
  • Further customization so that your own logo is shown on the upper right corner when you choose to upload one.
  • Under the bonnet performance improvements – we don’t want to bore you with the details

It’s our goal to continue to improve our CRM and make it one of the best CRM for small businesses, while at the same time keeping it simple, intuitive and less intimidating than other big CRM solutions out there.

Web based contact management

We often use the term “small business CRM” or “simple CRM” when we talk to some of our potential customers but when it comes to small businesses, most of them really need just a contact management solution. The reason we use the term CRM is because it conveys a bit more than contact management. It suggests that it comes with the required business processes to take small businesses to the next level. And this is what most small business owners are looking for. They are usually at the stage where they have managed to grow their businesses up to a point where they’ve outgrown the simple business processes they have used before. They have more employees or perhaps they outsource the sales or marketing to someone else and they need to have visibility of what’s going on in their business while ensuring that everyone in their team is up to the high standard they are looking for.

CRM though is generally just a tool that helps you implement your business processes, but these are something you, as the business owner, have to design because you know what’s best for your small business and how you want to grow it further. A business process is just a fancy way of saying “the way you’re doing things”. When you have employees or when you work with freelancers or outsource work, you need to think about the way you want these people to operate. It does help to write down a few sentences of what’s expected, a basic workflow they have to follow, especially when they need to interact with other employees or sub-contractors.

Once you have these few sentences, you can use a simple CRM or contact management app to implement these business processes. You can start using the CRM as a shared repository of customer intelligence, customer communications, previous sales history and general collaboration between your employees and contractors.

It’s not rocket science, but we feel the term CRM conveys more of the right attitude of understanding your own business, defining your business processes and be on take charge of your small business destiny. Ok, maybe without the melodrama.

Earth Hour

In approximately 6 hours we will have yet another Earth Hour, so in the spirit of solidarity, we’ll switch off our servers. Make sure you save all your data!
Just kidding!

But every Earth Hour, beside switching the lights and other electrical devices off, is a good opportunity to reflect at the human footprint that we’re leaving onto our planet and how sustainable our endeavours are and how can we make them more sustainable.

Opportunities to improve your eco-footprint would be:

Travel less
With so many social and collaborative tools available nowadays, it’s so much easier to work from home, even if it’s just part time work from home. It’s also easy to have your meetings using video conference technologies like Skype or something more advance, rather than having to fly half the way across the globe. I’m not saying we should eliminate face-to-face altogether, just think and see whether you can replace some of them with video conf calls and save time, money and the environment.

Go paperless
Do you really need so much paper in your life? Nowadays, there is so much technology that will store your data locally or in the cloud, back it up for you. All your office essentials that are still paper based can be switched over. If you do decide to go paperless and need a CRM, don’t hesitate to look at our small business CRM.

Use less electricity
Switch the lights off at night in your office and your home too. This will not only save the environment (yes, a lot of electricity is still produced by burning coal or oil), but it will save you money.
Switch off your computers when you don’t use them (over night for example).
When you buy new appliances for your office or your home, check their energy rating and buy the ones that are eco-friendly. Also try to use them less too.
Don’t leave appliances on stand-by when possible.

Offset your carbon footprint
There are many schemes that will allow you to offset your carbon footprint. You pay a small fee and they will take care of the offsetting process, which generally means investing  that money in eco-friendly initiatives like planting trees, preventing deforestation via all sorts of social programs, raise awareness, etc.

Plant a tree
Some people end up hugging them, but if you only plant them around your office or home, that’s a fantastic start. Trees extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce the oxygen so vital for all life on our planet.

I’m not saying you should do all of these and change your business practices dramatically. Just think where you can make a difference. Sometimes it’s a small change to your business processes or your personal behavior and life, but if everyone does it, it compounds and it can have a bigger impact.

Besides, it will make you feel better and a better person overall.

Free CRM

If you keep an eye on Twitter, Quora or other online forums, you regularly see requests for free CRM, generally coming from small businesses that are looking to make an entry into the CRM market. The free availability of information on the Internet nowadays and the plethora of free apps in the wild makes requests like these reasonable.
When I say reasonable, I really compare that with other types of requests for “free cars”, “free houses”, “free tangible assets”. You don’t see those very often and those would be unreasonable in my book.

Producing software can be done effectively and the cost can be kept low or, if done by enthusiasts, then the cost is not even an issue (see open source). You can get really good open source CRM like SugarCRM and not pay a penny if that’s your goal.
Of course, that brings other challenges with it, as you’d essentially be on your own or have to pay for support, custom development for customizing the CRM to meet your business objectives.

But it is an option and we should all be grateful that we have it. Imagine a world controlled by a few powerful software houses (that shouldn’t be too difficult!).

The problem with free CRM or free anything really is that nothing is free. Someone else has to pay for it, in one way or another. The open source enthusiasts absorb the cost by putting in their time because they enjoy it. Companies offer CRM for free or other services for free either as a “freemium model”, to get their foot in the door and hopefully entice customers to upgrade to paid plans, at some point. Other companies give it away for free in order to get consultancy or professional services business from their “free customers”.
And others do it to get exposure, get the word out, compete differently in a very competitive market.
The point is, someone else is subsidizing your free services.

Why should you care?
Generally, as a consumer, you should not care. Every once in a while you get to read in the press about a scandalous invasion of privacy from big companies like Facebook, Twitter, etc. trying to monetize their services at the expense of their users’ privacy. Yes, they are trying to monetize their “free services”. Are you more eager to pay with your money or with your privacy?

As a business, you probably care more, as some of the services you use are vital to you. It’s not just a matter of stop using Instagram and going on with your life. Many times, the free services make the difference between being in the business or not. A life and death situation, to put it slightly melodramatically (after all, I don’t want you fall asleep reading this).

So the problems with free services tend to affect you more. As a business owner, free services concern me because I know they’re not sustainable so:

  1. The companies can go under as they do not have the means to continue. I’m left committed to the services but on my own. If you’re dealing with a SaaS company (hosted CRM, software as a service CRM, that kinda thing), then the whole application goes away when the company goes away as they cannot host it anymore. Ensuring your suppliers stay afloat is a BIG BIG issue for businesses.
  2. The companies can always stop giving away the services for free or change their business model dramatically which puts me, as a small business owner, at risk as I cannot plan. Going for a sustainable business model and paying for it gives me peace of mind.
  3. The companies supporting free services do not have an incentive to provide free support or enhance the product further. Not for free. In a few years time, you can end up with an outdated product on your hands. Then what?
    If you have problems with the product, what do you do then? Do you pay someone for support? Paid support can be more expensive than the original software

Don’t get me wrong.
I still think free is good, I think open source is fantastic and we use open source software here at Clevertim.
As a startup, especially if you’re bootstrapping, free can be an essential lifeline for your business. But, as your business grows, you should try to revisit the issue of free, just to reassess whether you’re exposed to too much risk, needlessly.

At Clevertim, we do have a free CRM plan for the customers looking for free CRM. We do subsidize it and this free plan will never go away. But it is limited in terms of functionality and what’s available to it. You get a limited number of contacts and opportunities and no files. If that’s not enough, have a look at our other CRM plans.