Integrate Clevertim CRM will hundreds of applications

One of the key questions any customers should have when choosing a CRM system concerns the ability of integrating with other applications and services. Ease of integration is extremely important to small businesses as their IT budgets are either very small or non-existent.

To address this key aspect of developing a full solution for our small business customers, we have now successfully implemented our Zapier integration, which means you can now connect Clevertim CRM with hundreds of other applications and services using Zapier.

Zapier is an online platform that allows easy integration of various applications and services that support APIs to allow automated access to their data (API stands for Application Programming Interface).

So what can you integrate Clevertim CRM with? Here’s the list

Email automation, email lists, email marketing campaigns

Mailchimp, AWeber, Active Campaign, Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, Mailgun, GetResponse

Synchronize contacts automatically between Clevertim CRM and these applications.

Google services

Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Google Docs, Google Tasks, Gmail

Synchronize calendar, contacts, docs, send emails.

Accounting, invoicing, etc.

Quickbooks Online, FreshBooks, Xero, Free Agent, LessAccounting

Online forms

Wufoo, Formstack, JotForm

E-commerce

Magento, Foursquare, Bigcommerce, Paypal, Shopify, Stripe

Online collaboration and project management

Trello, Basecamp, Campfire, Redmine, Uservoice, AgileZen

Helpdesk

ZenDesk

Social media

Twitter, Facebook pages, WordPress, Hubspot, Yammer, YouTube

Other CRM platforms

Salesforce, SugarCRM

And many, many more …

Check the Zapier website for the complete list.

what is CRM?

One of the most basic problem when trying to sell CRM solutions to small businesses is the blank stare you get when you mention the term CRM. Coming from a technology background, it’s so easy to assume everyone knows what CRM is and why they need it. But the vast majority of small businesses do not know what this acronym mean.

So, what is CRM?

The next temptation is just to spell out the acronym: Customer Relationship Management. So while each word is instantly understood, it’s not immediately clear what “customer relationship management” means – and I mean customers really associating the term with some clear benefits and business process improvements, rather than a vague “Ohhh yeaah”. They all understand that’s it means managing your relationships with your actual or potential customers, but what does it really means for their small business?

So while pointing them to an article on wikipedia about CRM is a good bet, a more down to earth explanation is needed, where you describe the term in relation to the relevant small business’ domain of activity, business processes, etc, using a lot of examples as to how CRM would mean for them in terms of benefits, improvements, and so on.

Something like this:

“Imagine one of your leads calls you asking if the quote he was given is still valid. Now that implies you store all the quotes you give out in a common place, but most small businesses are not very organized, so that could be in a notebook, or the back of a napkin used at a conference or in a million other places. Further more, you won’t have any more information about this lead that might help close the deal there and then.
Now imagine you had one central repository of all this data and when the customer calls, you have all this information up to date.
Imagine you could use this information to help you following up when leads don’t call you back, or when you just want to surprise your existing clients by reminding them it’s time for another appointment, sending them a thank you note, a happy birthday note or other notes that you can only send when you have the right information on your customers and the right system to use this information.”

Now this is of course just a basic approach on starting explaining to someone what CRM is and what it can do for small business. My main point is that you should never assume that everyone knows what CRM is. You should not assume that because they don’t know what CRM is they don’t need it – spend some time educating these small businesses and you will start seeing the benefits.

Hold on to your customers

Customer retention is a hot topic at the moment and it tends to be so in every recession as the flow of new customers dries up as soon as the recession bites. At that point, companies turn their focus on keeping their existing customers in an effort to limit the financial damage.
And it’s not easy.
Not only new customers are hard to find during periods of economic stagnation, but the existing customers tend to go under more frequently, or review their costs and decide to cut down expenditure and inevitably more customers will leave during these times.
All this means you have to think more seriously about how to retain your customers before they actually leave you. Once they’ve made their minds up, it will be nearly impossible to change that. Be proactive and actively work on customer retention.
Here’s a starting point, a list of 5 points to keep your customers happy:

1. Establish a dialog

Tell your customers what you do, tell them about changes, improvements you’re making. Tell them about what’s new in the market.
But that’s only part of it. Encourage the customers to get into a dialog, so they tell you what they think, give you feedback, which leads into the next point … engagement.

2. Engage your customers

This is all about making your customers be more active, give you your feedback. Some ways to do that: feedback forms, surveys, forums, newsletter.
But go the extra step: call them and ask them for feedback, what they think. Some might not have the time to talk, but others will appreciate the extra mile you’re going.

3. Be there when they need you

Support should be fantastic. Reply to emails quickly and with good quality, helpful content. Do not reply for the sake of being responsive – aim to solve problems.
If you take phone calls, be helpful, polite and if you don’t know the answer be honest, tell them you will get back to them with an answer. Make sure you do.
When things go wrong, admit it, solve their problem, say sorry and maybe compensate them somehow – a small gift, discount and so on.

4. Improve the product / service

In a study done in the US, the main reason for customers leaving was poor customer support. The second main reason was poor product / service experience and quality.
Use all the feedback you get from your customers to improve your products and services.
Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing too and make sure you don’t fall behind.

5. Surprise your customers with little things

Surprise your customers with some unexpected little things: add something to their order, a thank you note, an extra small product, add a hand written note, call them to ask them how they’re doing, send a happy birthday note, give them a partial refund when you make a mistake, send them a small gift and so on.
The list is endless.
They will be pleasantly surprised because almost no other business does that and you will stand out.

“What’s the best CRM” question?

One of the first question I get when I talk to small business owners about CRM is: “what is CRM?”. Sometimes this is unspoken, in the form of a blank stare or maybe an insecure nod. The reality is the vast majority of small business, micro-businesses and solo-preneurs have never heard of CRM. They know they need to manage their sales better, improve the way they communicate with their customers, improve their customer support and retention, but they can’t put a name to it.
On the other hand, CRM is a bit of techie term and it probably sounds more complicated than it actually is. Once the term is explained to them, they do understand and they are able to map it onto their needs and they see how CRM can solve some of their problems.

The other most common question I get is: “What’s the best CRM”? At this point the customer understands and is familiar with the term. The first instinct is to go for a recommendation and, like in every buying process, try to get the market leader, the best in the class product.

The problem with this question is that the CRM market is very broad and deep. There are lots of solutions available, some targeted to big companies, some to medium, some to small businesses. Some are designed for usability, some for customizability, some are simple and easy to use, some come with a lot of batteries included that they can be overwhelming in the beginning and/or require a lot of customization.

So what should a buyer do?

A buyer should start by trying out as many CRM systems as possible and viable. This is for two main reasons:

  • To get a feel for what’s available on the market and to get familiar with what it means to use a CRM, which will lead and help with the second point:
  • The exercise will help you refine your understanding of your own requirements. What is the right CRM for you? What is the best fit for the way YOU work? Is it easy enough to use? Will you (and your team) like using it every day?

Ultimately you need something that’s easy to use, a system that you and your team are comfortable to use, meets your business requirements and makes your life easier.

At Clevertim, we’ve designed the system with the small businesses in mind – and we actually mean small businesses, mini-businesses, micro-businesses, sole proprietors, one man band, and so on. We’ve made it easy to use, easy to learn, we’ve made it easy to instantly collaborate with your co-workers. It’s also a CRM designed to improve your productivity by being quick, eliminating slow server refreshes, clicking on links is an instant operation. Small things add up to increased productivity.
Why don’t you give it a try today? We’ve made it easy by putting a big “Quick demo” button on our first page – no registration, personal details, credit cards or other non-sense.

Get the most out of your CRM system

Using a CRM app is a great way to improve your sales, customer retention, customer satisfaction and the happiness level, but it does require a lot of discipline to follow business processes consistently. In other words, in your interaction with your customers you want to be:

  • Thorough – ensure you follow up always, until the customer either buys or clearly tells you he is not buying. Follow interest until it moves into a clear Yes or No
  • Be consistent in your thorough-ness – ensure you apply the same methods and level of follow up to all your customers. Every day of every year and applies to every one of your employees/co-workers

Start by defining your business processes, in other words, the way you work to ensure you’re thorough and consistent. Here’s a list of 5 easy tips to get you started. Refine these tips as needed by your busines:

  1. Update the CRM system with every interaction with your customer – phone call notes, meeting notes, emails, proposals, documents, etc.
  2. Add tasks (for you or assign to other co-workers) to break down what needs to be done for each customer or lead to either convert to paying customer or sell more. In particular add follow up reminders, to ensure you don’t forget to follow up in 1 week/month/or more depending on your sales cycle
  3. Ensure you do call, email, or message on social media when you get the follow up reminders.
  4. Record again all those communications in the CRM system. This will help you build a valuable business & customer intelligence database
  5. Ensure EVERYONE in your team/company follows the same steps diligently. Sell the benefits of using the CRM system to your team.

Remember, a CRM app is only as good as the data you put in it and the business processes that it supports. That is, the way you work.

Small business CRM lessons to be learned from real customers

A while ago, I came across a message on one of the CRM forums I read; a message from a small business owner who needed a CRM system. Here’s a rough description of the problem, as described by the small business owner:

Hi, I have a beauty parlor and I have a lot of customers (around 1000). I use an Excel spreadsheet at the moment, but my biggest problem is that I know nothing about marketing and it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me.
I want to ring or email people to get them booked for another appointment. Is there a system that tells me what to do for my business?
All the CRM ones I have seen want me to tell them what to do and I’m not sure what to actually do. It’s all too complicated.
Any help would be appreciated!

Some of you might be smirking now and some of you might even feel a bit patronizing after reading the above, but the reality is … these are the problems small business users face and the reasons they cannot easily connect with CRM are hidden within this message above.
There are so many lessons to be learn from this one single message. Now, let’s see.

Lesson 1: Why small businesses need CRM

This is such a basic thing, yet, many technical people, who see themselves mostly as problem solvers (which implies the problem is felt, understood, defined) and even some sales people, forget the simple reasons small businesses get to the conclusion they need CRM. This message spells out some of those reasons:

Small businesses reach out a critical mass of customers where maintaining customers in Excel is no longer manageable
Small businesses need a more controlled way of interacting with customers for sales (booking appointments) and for marketing, customer retention etc. (ring or email customers)

This is a very important lesson because small businesses do not just go out and buy CRM systems because they can or because you and I think it’s a good idea for them to do so. They buy it because they have a problem managing their customers and because they realize they have a problem.

Lesson 2: Small businesses is a market that needs to be educated

It is clear from this message that this one business owner is not very IT savvy.
The first clue is that she is looking for answers on a free forum and the second clue is in the way she defines her problem and asks the question (“it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me”). It is clear the business need is there, the problem is understood, but the solution is not clear.
She wants to learn how to solve her problem.
It is also clear that she wants to solve her problem cheaply or low cost, otherwise she would go to a specialized IT company for answers.
This is true for a lot of the small businesses out there.
CRM solutions focusing on small businesses need to educate the customers, not just sell to them.
At Clevertim, we’re fulfilling this duty by writing a meaningful blog, full of free and useful advice for small businesses.

Lesson 3: Word of mouth and social media is how small business owners educate themselves

This is the same idea as in Lesson 2, but it needs to be spelled out explicitly.
Small businesses will get word of mouth advice first, from friends, colleagues, other business owners. It is obvious this has happened in this case: “it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me”.
Word of mouth will be the first bit of advice they will get and the advice they will trust the most, because it comes from people they know and trust already.
But if word of mouth cannot provide a full solution, the next stop is social media, and this small business owner is already making use of it by posting questions, asking for help on a social media forum. It is clear she wants to learn, she wants to reach out to people who can help her learn and help her solve her problem.
The fact that she mentions the use of some CRM systems in her message suggests this might not be her first message on social media. She has already tried a few CRM systems and she’s hitting a few limitations …

Lesson 4: CRMs are generic solutions

One of the limitation she hit is the fact that most CRM solution out there are not targetted at her particular business or at beauty parlors in general. They require the user to “tell them what to do”. In other words, they require quite a bit of customization before they can be used to solve real world problems.
This customization is too expensive for small businesses.
Another point is that the user’s expectations were out of sync with what CRM systems can do. She expected the CRM software to be able to tell her how to run her business, maybe provide some business models, or templates of marketing models.

Lesson 5: CRMs require business processes

Yes, this user realized that a CRM on its own will not solve her problems. A CRM system is just a tool to support and automate some of your business processes – in other words, the way you work. You have to “tell it what to do” through your business processes (the way you do things) and then CRM can act like an intelligence bank on your customers, your interactions with your customers, and so on.
Although the term “business process” might sound a bit scary or too abstract, it is really “the way you do things” and that’s best illustrated with an example. Let’s describe a few rules that this small business owner could implement (or most likely she already implements them but doesn’t call them business processes):

Rule 1: After every appointment, enter a note in the CRM system, for that customer. Enter a small description of how the session went, comments, suggestions, complaints from the customer, your impressions on the customer and on the session, any bit of extra information you can extract on the customer e.g.: does she have siblings, children, a spouse, when is her birthday, etc. You can later on use this information to target the customer better, maybe get extra customers (e.g. her spouse) or send them a Happy Birthday note.

Rule 2: After every appointment, add a task to follow up with the customer in 1 week/1 month/a few months, depending on the length of your sales cycle. The CRM system will them automatically notify you when it’s time to pick up the phone or fire an email to follow up and ask your customers if they want another appointment.

Rule 3: When you get reminders from the CRM system, pick up the phone and talk to your customers

Rule 4: After the phone call, enter a note on how the call went, any extra information you extracted

Rule 5: After the phone call, enter another appointment in the CRM system or another task to follow up in 1 week/1 month time if the customer hasn’t booked yet. Do not give up, always follow up.

Above we have 5 simple rules for running a small beauty parlor with the help of a CRM system. It doesn’t need a lot of work, it’ll get the small business owner much more organized and selling more (because she always follows up now) and it’ll not cost a fortune – web based CRM systems are very affordable these days.

Conclusion: Just listen to your customers and potential customers and you will be amazed how much you can learn. Learning about your customers means you can help your customers better, which in turns means they are more likely to buy and stay with you.

Information overload

One of the main problems with the digital world today (read: most websites out there) and with CRM systems in particular is that the amount of information that needs to be presented to the user is ever increasing and it can easily overwhelm not just the new users but even the veterans. As customers, we’re bombarded with ever increasing amounts of information, be it solicited or unsolicited. The web becomes more and more complex, cluttered with junk or just more and more options that are very similar to each other, to the point that it’s very difficult to make sense of.
There are a few consequences, mostly defence mechanism that we employ as customers

  • Attention span is reduced significantly, to the point that the information needs to be grasped under 3 seconds, or we give up
  • We are sceptical about new information (we take it with a pinch of salt) and we need repeated confirmations of the message before we can accept it
  • We value more tools that organize data and help us make sense of the vast data out there (e.g. google)
  • We value simplicity more
  • Complexity and the information overload does make us, customers, more irate, frustrated and less patient, which makes us value simplicity even more

Overall, simplicity is much more valuable nowadays than ever before and the main reason is the information overload we’re experiencing and the frustration that comes with it. Simplicity does not mean just less information, it means information that is intuitive, easy to understand, quick to grasp, something that can make us feel extremely productive without a very steep learning curve.

So, considering all the above, here are a few things we’ve done at Clevertim to make our contact manager for small businesses more intuitive, easier to use, a tool to help our customers be very productive without the unwanted frustration:

  • We’ve kept the information displayed to the user at minimum, but no less than that – the user can understand at a glance what is going on.
  • Visually, we’re using controls like tabs, accordions, collapsible widgets and widgets that hide/show information based on the current state of the user interface. Again, we just want to display the relevant information, not clutter the UI with unwanted information
  • Adding new information requires only the minimum amount of information. For example, “New contact” requires either the first or last name and an indication whether the contact is public or shared. Everything else can be added later, as needed. No more long dialogs or multi-page wizard forms for adding new contacts or sales opportunities. Store only what you really need
  • Only store common fields, everything else can be a custom field – if and whenever you need it, not by default
  • Keep the UI spaced and airy, with clear buttons labelled with clear names that are very intuitive
  • Everything is on one page, like a desktop application – no more long round trips to the server to refresh a page on each click. This makes the application really quick and will save you hours each year and make you more productive

We’re constantly looking at better ways to simplify our website because we always keep the “information overload” in mind. We are customers of our own CRM system – we use it in house, so we experience first hand the frustrations (or we hope lack of) and we constantly feed that back into our design. If you have any suggestion on how we can improve further, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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!

 

Tip of the Day: CRM systems are what you make of them

A lot of companies invest in a CRM system or maybe just a contact manager – be it an online, cloud stored, or a desktop/server in-house solution – and they hope their customer relationships will automatically improve. This is generally the case, as using any CRM system will introduce some structure in the way you talk to your customers and in the way you manage the relationships with them.

However, CRM systems on their own will not work on their own – your sales, marketing, support employees, partners, associates, etc. need to fill them with quality data. A contact manager will only be as good as the quality of the data in it – it gives you the structure and the analytics, you provide the data. It’s vital everyone is trained into using the CRM system and it’s vital the vision about how the system is supposed to be used is shared with everyone. Most importantly, everyone in your company must buy into it, rather than the new system being imposed on users.

What can you do about it?
Write a one page (not more as not everyone will read it) document about your vision for improving the customer relationships. Add a set of rules to ensure everyone fills in notes when they communicate with customers and promptly fill in sales opportunities and use the system to track their tasks. Add a section about the quality of data you expect. Circulate it to everyone and include it in the onboarding documentation you give out to new employees. You might have to keep an eye on the quality of data and ask for improvements where you see the rules are not being followed.

If you’re consistent in your commitment to data quality, this will ultimately reflect in the quality of your relationships with your customers and your business will be much more succesfull as a result.

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?