Small businesses don’t need full CRMs

Small businesses get to solutions by hitting a problem repeatedly. This is true for many types of businesses, but the big businesses are supposed to have well paid visionaries and leaders, strategists who are supposed to design solutions well ahead of time, pre-empting a lot of the problems.

Small businesses simply don’t have this luxury and it’s because when you’re a small business you tend to wear many hats and generally do too much – as many small business owners delay hiring more employees to conserve cash. It’s being prudent, both with your own money, your own business, but also with your potential employees future – you don’t want to hire people just to have to let them go in a few months time.

All of the above simply mean that many times small business owners get so deep into the operations aspect of the business, that they don’t have time to think about the future, about the roadmap ahead. Many cannot see the forest because of the trees. In that state of play, it’s difficult to think of imaginary problems and their solutions as owners generally grapple with very real problems.

But after banging your head against the same problem over and over, small business owners inevitably get to a point where they have to do something about the problem, as it’s causing too many issues and blocking growth. Naturally they get to a point where a problem becomes the number 1 priority on their to-do list. At that point they’re looking for solutions.

One of the common problems for sales, marketing and customer support teams in small businesses is managing customer data and potential customer data (their leads). In the beginning, spreadsheets, google docs, emails are sufficient, but over time, as the team grows and the customer data grows (both number of customers and data associated with each customer), a better solution is needed. Enter a contact management system.

At this point the business owners will ask around, google it, read reviews to find what other people are using, what others recommend and what’s good for them. Their time is limited, so ideally they’d would like to start implementing a contact management system yesterday. Which is why so many times you see questions like “What’s the best contact management or CRM system?”.

It turns out there isn’t just one, it really depends on what your requirements are and many times the more features a system have, the more complex and difficult to use the system is. Once implemented, many of these systems don’t get used, because they’re too complex. So while starting with a swiss army knife CRM might sounds like a good idea, the truth is, many times, “less is more”. Simple and intuitive systems that people understand and like to use are many times preferable and increase productivity of sales/marketing/customer support teams, simply because they come with less hurdles, require less training and users can hit the ground running.

So, if you think your small business needs a full fledged CRM that comes with all the possible features in the world, think again. Think how Google managed to establish themselves as market leaders with a simple search engine, without fancy bells and whistles but which does what it says on the tin. Sometimes, less is indeed more.

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!

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.

Selling simplicity

Let me tell you about Clevertim.

And to set the stage, I’ll have to tell you we’re a small startup, based in London, UK and operating in a very competitive industry: CRM for small businesses, web contact management, etc. At least that’s what google thinks about us. We see ourselves differently: we sell simplicity.

I know what you’re thinking. We live in a predominantly quantitative world, where startups get measured by the number of features, whistles and bells they decorate their products with. In such a world, simplicity is like trying to sell snow to the eskimos simply because that’s all you’ve got. It is perceived to mean “no features”.

Now, I’ve never tried to sell snow to the eskimos and between you and me, I like to hang out in a milder climate, but here’s how I can imagine it a salesman go about it.

 

“Hi Mr. Eskimo. I hear winter’s coming and you need to build an igloo pretty soon”.

“Indeed”

“Well, I’ve got this snow that has 50% more adherence than normal snow and it never melts unless the Earth changes course and this becomes the tropics”.

“Hmm, sounds good, but what color is it?”

“White.”

“Well, I’ve got enough white snow, look around you…”

“We’ll color it green for you”

“You’ve got yourself a deal!”

 

What are the key points in the dialog above?

1. Identify needs and focus on solutions (need an igloo, we can help with our snow)

2. Add enough customization and eye candy for the customer to feel good about buying and using your product (replace igloo with iPhone in the dialog above)

An alternative sell pitch can promise a full eco-house, with remotely controlled thermostats and lifts to the first floor and basement; a good investment packed with goodness but only available in two winters time as the build and customization are likely to take a tiny bit longer. The eskimo, as most people, will end up using about 10% of the features but will likely be the envy of the whole village (if he survives the first winter that is).

At Clevertim, we decided to focus on the 10% that actually get used and leave the rest to our competitors. As simple as that (and no simpler – as the cliché goes).

After going through this process, we actually discovered that implementing 10% is actually more difficult than implementing say 80% of the solution, and that’s because, when you implement 10%, you need to:

– Identify needs better (what’s in that 10% really?). The appeal is to build 80% hoping that should cover more needs.

– Target certain customers (different customers will use a different 10% of your features). The appeal is again to build 80% to cover as many customers as possible.

– You need to subtract and simplify. The appeal is to build as many features, rather than improve the usability of critical features.

This last point is quite important. You don’t just stumble upon simple and intuitive solutions from your first attempt, instead you have to go through a slow process of improving the usability of your products guided by the experiences of your customers and your own experiences of using your product (we are big users of Clevertim CRM ourselves – eating our own eskimo food). As you learn more about usability, the more you and your customers use the product, the more insight you gain, the more you can improve it, simplify it, streamline it into a better product.

Every time you add a new feature, the process is the same and you have to start with the question: “How do I make this feature easier to use, more intuitive?”.

Why do we think simplicity is so important? Three main reasons:

1. The joy of user experience

Using simple, intuitive products is pure joy. You don’t have to think twice when you click, you don’t hesitate when you have to accomplish certain operations. It is all very obvious. Using such products that do exactly what you need and they’re easy to learn and use is a real pleasure. They’re products that don’t get in the way of you doing your stuff (with all the associated frustration or lack of). Think google search. Simple, powerful.

If they look good and they’re optimized for performance for the operations you use every day, you also get a much needed productivity boost and feel good factor.

2. The target customer

We target small businesses with our CRM product and generally small businesses that have had no previous experience with CRM systems or other web based contact managers. Some of these sales people working in these small businesses are not IT or computer savvy. This means we had to come up with a simple CRM app that is easy to learn and use and makes you feel like you hit the ground running.

3. The CRM market we operate in

A crowded market, I know.

There are better and more complete CRM solutions out there in this market but most of them require a steeper learning curve and a longer period of customization. Generally bigger businesses need that and our product is not for them.

Small businesses on the other hand need a system that is better than the alternatives they’ve used until then (email inbox and/or spreadsheets) and they want something simple that doesn’t get in the way, as they need to focus on their business, not CRM.

We believe our target customers in this market are buyers of simplicity.

All I have said here is just the tip of the iceberg, as our friend Mr. Eskimo would put it, but I do intend to talk more in a follow up article about the practical steps we have gone through to simplify our product and make it easier to use and about some of the core features that helps us in our goal of improving usability for our users.

In the meantime, being true to our goal of making CRM simpler, we made it really easy for you to try out our product, should you wish to. On our main page, we put a big “Quick Demo” button that won’t ask for your emails, credit cards or likes on Facebook. All you have left to do is press it. Simple!

Disclosure: Mr. Eskimo is a fully fictional character and while his preference for green snow is dubious, he does tend to be representative for the vast majority of buyers who want uncomplicated solutions to their problems that look good, make them feel good for buying and allow for some customization that doesn’t take years to implement. After all, winters are quite harsh in Eskimo land and they simply don’t have years to implement solutions.

Best small business CRM

When small businesses realize they need some sort of CRM solution to manage their contacts and leads, the first question that comes to their mind is:

What’s the best small business CRM?

A quick search with the google keyword tool suggests there are 1600 global monthly searches for “best small business CRM” or variants like “best crm for small busineses”.
“best crm software” scores 6600 global monthly searches, while “best of crm” is top of the list with a whopping 33,100 monthly searches.

This is a common question people that just start the market research for a CRM solution have. It’s understandable everyone wants the best solution, the best software out there. No one really wants the second or third best.
It’s a question from people who want to find out who the market leader, the accepted CRM solution by the vast majority of users is and go for that.

There is a problem with this question though.

CRM is a mature market and like every mature markets, there are solution for various needs, various niches and they come with various degrees of customization and 3rd party tool integration and so on. In looking at mature markets, the question doesn’t work and that’s because there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

What’s the best car?

A similar question for a similarly mature market. And while some people settle on an answer to this question, it’s always a personal answer. After all, we’re all driving different makes…

So the question should be a more personal question: What’s the best CRM for me?
The key difference here is that you start by looking at your needs first: what are you after? what are your business processes? how do you intend to use the CRM system? how much complexity can you tolerate? how much customization will you need?

These questions are not easy, but they underline the main point I am trying to make here: there is no one-size-fits-all in mature markets and the answer is always a personal one.

Here at Clevertim we focus on google-like simplicity as we believe that will make small businesses more productive. We also use the latest technologies to make sure you take advantage of the cloud while making our app feel more like a desktop app.

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!

Hello world!

We are here!

Our mission? To convince our customers to part with their hard earned cash. Boo hoo. Yes, unlike other start-ups, we admit it from the start. We need to make money to survive. One of the conscious decisions from the start was not to take VC funding. We want to be able to focus on our customers, not on our investors.

So, as not many customers will part with their cash just because we say so, the way we plan to do it is to have a great product, start with an initial version and then let our customer drive it. It’s key for us to keep our customers happy and listen to them, adapt the product to serve better their needs. After all, the more customers we keep happy, the more money we have and we might actually survive. The odds of survival are against us for now. Only 23% of the new startups make it, according to the statistics.

What is the product we are developing?

We are working on an easy to use and very intuitive web based contact management system, targeted at small businesses. The utmost emphasis is on usability. We believe most CRM (customer relationship management) tools for small businesses out there, including online contact managers, are way too complicated for the average small business. Managing your customers online needs to be simple, intuitive and quick. It should follow closely your work flow, rather than try to adapt it to the CRM system.

There are many CRM solutions out there, but most are either bloated and not very intuitive. Moreover, most companies do not focus exclusively on small businesses, they only provide support for small companies with the expectation they will sign up for larger packages and pay them more money. They tend to focus on bigger, more profitable accounts.

Not us. We are here to help small businesses, we are not after the big businesses. We’re not here to compete with salesforce.com or Microsoft. It would be crazy for us to try. We are here to focus all our love on small businesses. We hope to get you on board.

Let the adventure begin!

If you’d like to stay in touch, find out when we’re fully launched, please go to www.clevertim.com and leave your email address. We absolutely hate spam and we never sell emails – we care about our business more than that.