Web contact manager

We all need to keep track of the various conversations we’re having with the people in our lives, be it for business or personal reasons. There are significant bits of information that we’re given by others or we say to others that we need to easily be able to retrieve, reply to, follow up and so on. The need is there, so how do people solve this problem?

Well, most of them just store everything in their inbox and then whenever they need the information they do a search. Some use tags to classify the information. Email providers like gmail make it really easy to run a business or your personal life without the need of any additional tools. The only problem is when you have a lot of information, searching can be difficult, as you have to go through a lot of information. In addition, sometimes, the information you want is not in the email system you need, but rather on your facebook, linkedin, twitter or other social media account.

There is a case for a central repository of your information, communications and business intelligence on your customers. You can keep only the relevant information that you come across over multiple channels, you can rate your customers according to how likely you are to make a sale to them, you can keep track of your sales opportunities, quotes, proposals that you send out and so on.

Storing it on the web means you can access it from anywhere and your employees can easily work from home, access the information remotely from the field and all this without you having to run any complex IT infrastructure with all the associated cost.

Is this for me, you might be asking yourself?

While various salesmen will try to answer this question for you, it’s a question only you and the people in your organization can answer. It does require a kind of discipline in the way you approach and structure your communication with your leads and customers.
But this structure it’s an inevitable sign of growth and success and as your business grows, you should review your business processes to make it more efficient.

 

On demand or On premises CRM

This topic has been discussed many times and pros and cons analysed. Here are the 3 most important arguments, all from a small business’ point of view:

1. Data ownership / control – In the on demand model the data is on someone else’s servers. This might be scary for some businesses, especially when storing sensitive data. Read the small print and the SLAs to understand exactly what you’re getting into. Winner: On premises!

2. IT cost – With on premises, the IT cost includes not just licenses and support, but also wages for IT professionals to maintain it all. The cost also includes securing the data, maintaining & updating hardware, operating systems and so on. For a small company the on premises cost is generally prohibitive. With on demand, you pay monthly and the service company does it all for you, much cheaper than you can do it. You can focus on making money, rather than get bogged down in the IT quagmire. Winner: On demand!

3. Uptime – Having no access to your data when you need it is a scary prospect. With on demand, you are not in control of outages, so the perception is they’re much more damaging. But studies have shown that outages of SaaS services happen less often and last less than similar private, on premises, outages. Winner: On demand!

 

Social CRM or talking to your customers where everyone can see it

Social media is changing the CRM (customer relationship management) traditional strategies. With so many social networks and ways to interact with customers directly online, no wonder the interaction with customers is changing. It was never this easy to reach out to customers, listen to what customers really think and find out quickly how others (non-customers and prospects) perceive you – the real value of your brand. Not your brand as you see it or as you intend it, but as your customers perceive it.

However, most companies are afraid of the social media. They are too used to talk to customers individually, especially if it’s to do with complaints – they don’t want anyone to find out about what an angry or unhappy customer has to say. It’s not unreasonable – this is the old way of doing things. This is the old CRM and how companies used to engage customers.

Yes, you might think, but why don’t these companies change, why don’t they just adapt the new model? It’s so easy. Just start using twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc. etc.

Change is hard though. Especially if you’ve done things the same way for years and years. Agility is not something established companies are very good at – it’s difficult to unlearn the old way of doing things, especially when you’re still making money using the old ways. And then it’s difficult to learn the new social media. This is indeed a difficult change, but not impossible.

There is however a bigger problem. The new way of doing things is not just a new method of contacting customers, it’s not just a new tactic – it’s a whole new philosophy. It’s not just a new way of doing business – it’s a whole new way of being. It’s who you are – who your company is. It’s something so deeply rooted into your company’s DNA that you simply cannot learn it overnight. If you try, you end up faking it and your customers will see through it. It’s like telling someone who is naturally introvert to just go out there and talk to people, make friends, get phone numbers. For the extrovert it’s so easy, it comes naturally, but the introvert needs to analyse it, learn, read books about it, study it in-depth and still probably not get it right – certainly not from the first attempt.
Your company has a similar DNA or perhaps personality, depending on which, it might find it easy or almost impossible to switch to the new way of doing CRM. If you’re company is an introverted company, you will no doubt shy away from social CRM and find it very difficult.

So before you jump on the social media CRM train, spend a few moments, days, weeks thinking about the profile of your company and about your personality too. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Employee appraisals

I’m a small business and I’d like to have a system which allows me to track the performance of my employees. A lightweight appraisal process. Can you recommend something?

Yes, we can. You can use an online contact management system not only to manage your customers, but you can manage notes about your employees too. You can make those notes private or you can share them with your employees. It should allow you to track any objectives you set for your employees. You should have a regular one-to-one to track progress and set quarterly or bi-annual performance reviews. In these reviews you can sit together and review the performance in the last period and also agree on objectives for the next period. You can also rate your employees in various areas: technical skills, business skills, customer facing skills and identify areas that need improvement. Set pragmatic, quantifiable and achievable objectives rather than generic ones. Think: in the next period, how will I measure my employees’ performance on this particular objective. If you can’t think of an easy way, it’s probably too generic.

You can also keep online notes about your employees when something happens, either good or bad. For example: Julie impressed me today with her ability to conduct a very pragmatic team meeting, focus on actionable items, etc.
You can also track things that do no impress you about your employees. You need to write everything down otherwise you might forget some of that come appraisal time. We’re all humans and we forget if we’re not organized enough and keep notes. Instead we tend to retain just an emotional baggage – I vaguely know that Julie didn’t perform this year, but I can’t remember exactly why, some specific incidents that I can raise with her. This is not a very healthy attitude as employees will have no chance to improve if your feedback is very generic.

Start using your contact management system today and your employees will thank you for it!

Online CRM for small businesses

One of the main benefits of using online software is that you don’t have to pay for IT upfront, you don’t have a huge infrastructure cost as it is all outsourced and you don’t have to pay for IT employees to maintain it all – and IT salaries do not come cheap. Small businesses simply cannot afford these costs. Implementing an in-house IT strategy can take a long time too, which again, small businesses do not have. For small businesses it’s all about cashflow and growth – you cannot afford to have IT projects that run for years. You need to have systems that work now.

The other benefit for small businesses is that online CRM solutions generally charge monthly. So again, you do not have commit into long term expensive contracts and you don’t have to pay for a year upfront. At most, you pay for the current month. You can leave any time, without any penalties.

You might think this might come at a cost: the online IT providers will probably try to cut corners and have less than satisfactory customer support. But think for a moment about the incentives. A big company that signs its customers into long term contracts knows very well that its customers are “locked in”. They have signed contracts and that’s a guarantee they’ll get their money, no matter what. On the other hand, online IT providers know their customers pay monthly and they can leave at any time. They know they will have increased attrition if they drop the ball on customer support. So their incentive is to give you a really good customer support, because they want to keep your business from month to month.

So let’s recap: you get an affordable price, flexibility to pay monthly and no penalties from quitting at any time and you get best customer support as your CRM online provider knows you might leave otherwise. Sounds like a really great deal to me. So what are you waiting for, why not give online CRM a try and start growing your business today!

IT as an utility

As a small business, you’re used to paying your utility bills, which includes electricity, gas, water. You have no problem with that and it’s the cost of doing business. Why would IT be different? You pay for your internet connection as a fixed cost, utility type of bill.
Storing your data and applications online, in the cloud as the buzz words says, it’s trying to replicate the utility model.

With a CRM / contact management type of IT business application, you would have all your contacts, sales opportunities, tasks, cases and files online, accesible from anywhere, at any time on any device. It’s IT you can afford and it’s treating IT as an utility. Do you think  whether you can afford electricity this month? Do you think about hiring a full time electrician just to keep the lights on? No, you don’t.

It’s time to follow the same model with your IT. This is especially critical if you’re a small business and cannot afford to spend time or loads of precious cash on IT.
So why not switch your IT systems today and experience the liberation of being able to focus on what’s really important for your business?

Give our contact management system a free trial and see if it’s right for you!

When do you need a contact management system?

You’re a small business owner. You have a set of customers for your products or services you offer. In addition you have a list of potential customers – prospects. You probably also maintain a list of suppliers, manufacturers, affiliates, resellers, distributors, wholesalers, leads, etc. Depending on your business profile, some of the above might not be required – for example if you produce a tangible product, you might have different requirements from someone offering consultancy services to small businesses.

You might also maintain a list of competitors and maybe event contractors or consultants that you occassionally hire or who hire you.

You’re a one man band and you’re tracking all these people in your email inbox or perhaps in some kind of spreadsheet. In can be a bit challenging to find a particular message from one of your contacts when you need it – but nothing you cannot solve.

Do you need a contact management system at this point? You will probably say No – you have your inbox, spreadsheets and a list of solvable problems. A contact management system will offer some benefits as it will simplify organizing and keeping track of everything in a more structure way but it’s nothing you cannot live without and you’re not prepared to pay for the service.

Fair enough.

But then your business is doing quite well and you’re thinking you need more help. You need to hire people to help you out. It’s not a decision taken lightly – it’s a big change, but the point has come where you cannot keep up on your own. It’s a good point to be at, it means your business is thriving.

All of the sudden you realize your methods do not work that well anymore. Using your email inbox for tracking contacts and keeping a history of the communication with them or keeping a list of your sales opportunities is no longer sufficient. You now have another person, an employee, who needs access to the same list. Will you give them access to your email inbox? Likely not.

So then you’re thinking spreadsheets. One problem with spreadsheets is that they can become really complicated really quickly. They also rely on you and your employees having the same methodology and discipline when it comes to using the spreadsheet in a certain way. Spreadsheets are great but they are general purpose tools. There are so many way you can use them to do things – and they’re intended to be generic. It’s so easy to end up with a big mess, where your data is spread all over the place – multiple sheets, multiple unrelated columns/rows, etc.
An additional problem is keeping track of long notes, it’s just not pleasant. The text is not formatted correctly, you need to expand the cell to see it all. Not easy!
Linking various text files, pdf files, images or other resources into the spreadsheet is also a big nightmare and a total recipe for disaster.

It’s time to consider a dedicated contact management system. A contact management system will give you the structure behind your data. You do not have to think how to link things together – other people have spent time thinking about this problem and solving it. Why re-invent the wheel? You should be focusing on your customers, rather than spend your precious time organizing your data, keeping track of what goes where.

A contact management system also allows you to share the data easily with your employees, making them more productive but at the same time, allowing you to have visibility of what they’re working on. When they talk to a customer, they add a note in the shared conctact manager and you see it next time you log in. You have the knowledge of how your business is closing or not, sales deals, how your business is serving your customers. You can be more productive because the system is in place to allow you to focus on the customer.

If you go for an online contact manager, you can also add more flexibility to the way you access data – from your desktop, laptop or on the go, on your mobile phone. You can access it from a customer site or from home. Same goes for your employees, which opens up so many possibilities. You can offer them flexible hours, allow them to work from home (when needed) and allow them to access data on the road, before/during/after customer presentations, etc.
When they’re on the road, the data they enter is accessible to everyone in your company as soon as it’s entered in the system.

Another benefit of a web based contact manager is that you don’t need expensive in-house IT systems and the people to keep them running without problems. For small companies paying for in-house IT (systems & people) can be prohibitive and it can stop you from taking advantage of advanced IT systems. Let’s face it, with 2-5 employees it’s hard to justify paying tens of thousands of dollars/pounds/euros a month to maintain the systems and hire the people to keep them running without problems.

That being said, why not start with a free evaluation of our online contact manager and see if it is something that can help your business grow and keep your customers happy.