Rejection therapy

When you start out in sales, one of the most challenging aspects of your work when dealing with prospects (especially if you do cold calling – in other words dealing with cold prospects/leads) is the rejection. Being told No repeatedly can have a demoralizing effect on you in the short run and some people quit at that point. In time you learn to deal with it as you get used to it and it becomes a regular part of your job, but at that initial point, you’re vulnerable.

Nothing in our society prepares us for rejection. In fact, society prepares us all for success but the truth is, success is not always easy or straightforward and many times it takes many failures and rejections before achieving (some) success. So perhaps society should prepare us more for rejection. Perhaps failure in general should be embraced as a learning experience. Some work methodologies do that already and encourage their followers to fail often and learn from it, as long as you can 1. fail fast and 2. failure is not life threatening.

Failing fast is key, because if you spend all your life in one long drawn failure, then it’s a bit difficult to learn from it and apply it to the next venture that hopefully can be more successful. I recently watched a show on TV where a couple spent 20 years on the same business idea. They spent their entire life savings, lost their home in the process and in the end didn’t get anywhere with the business. They didn’t even get the funding needed as part of the TV show. I felt sad and the investors felt sad for them but still they didn’t invest in the couple. They recognized a slow failure. It’s nearly impossible to recover from a slow failure because you’re so entrenched in it that you have serious difficulties seeing different angles and being agile about problem solving. You’re also running out of time. We are on this planet for a very limited amount of time, after all.

Failing fast is important because it allows us to detach ourselves from the burden of a failed venture while still gaining experience that can be used in the next venture. The idea here is: don’t make the same mistake twice. Fail enough and soon there will be no more types of failure left for you to go through. Surely success is next. If only it was that easy…
Reusing the experience gained comes with one big assumption too: that none of the failed ventures kill you, so you can continue on.

One thing you can speed up the whole process is to put yourself through a controlled rejection/failure therapy. Try out things that you know you’re going to be failed at. Ask for things that you know are going to lead to rejections. Ask for free upgrades. Try to negotiate the price down. Try to chat up the opposite sex when you feel hopeless about the end result. There are millions of ways you can set yourself up for rejection. It’s a controlled process that will get you used to rejection and failure, while at the same time learn a lot about people, situations, business models, the flexibility of businesses and people. You can even have fun in the process. But don’t think of it as guaranteed failure, instead try hard to “close” the deal. It’s a painful experiment, but you can end up not just a better sales person, but a better person for it.

Data entry from within your inbox

A contact management system is only as good as the data that goes into it. To realize the benefits of a CRM / shared contact management system, everyone in your team must adhere to the clear rules of entering sales, marketing and customer support data into the shared CRM system (CRM stands for customer relationship management and it builds on the concept of contact/client management). That means entering notes and emails into the system whenever important data is exchanged, communicated and agreed with your prospects and existing customers.

That sounds great in principle, but sometimes people forget to enter the data, sometimes they don’t understand the importance of the imposed discipline. As a small business owner you should try to get people to buy into the vision by explaining the benefits of sharing the data and the efficiencies that brings. It makes everyone’s lives easier and the users can focus on selling, marketing or customer support, without having to worry about where the data is, about scrambling to put it all together just before a deadline hits.

On our side, we’re always looking at making the data entry simpler, more intuitive, effortless, in order to encourage users to do it and to make the whole process as efficient as possible.

The personal dropbox is part of that effort. The personal dropbox is just a set of dedicated email addresses that users can forward customer emails to or they can CC or BCC on emails sent to their contacts. This automatically attaches that email as a note under the respective contact. If the contact is not in the CRM, the contact will be added.
How does the system know which contact to attach the note to? It auto-detects the contact by their email address. So, it’s important to add all the known email addresses for your contacts into the CRM.

The other dropbox emails are for adding cases, opportunities or tasks. They work in a similar fashion. You forward, CC or BCC emails to these email addresses and the system will add cases, opportunities or tasks respectively, with the details in the email.

Small businesses need a simple CRM

Last week I had another look at Salesforce, something I do from time to time, to see for myself what’s new in terms of features, usability, plugins, etc. Salesforce is a great platform, but every time I log in, my head hurts. It’s just so complex – it can do so many things, which is great for big enterprises, especially when they have lots of money for customizations (and they inevitably need to customize it big time).

But when you’re a small business, complexity kills productivity. If it takes you 10 minutes instead of 1 minute to perform an action, then that’s 9 minutes you won’t get back. 9 minutes you won’t sell, you won’t market, you won’t support your customers and you won’t spend time with your love ones.
It’s not just time though. It’s the frustration. If you’re like me, I tend to lose my patience, start pulling my hair out when things are not immediately obvious and when, something that I think of as “this should be easy” proves out to be more complicated or take longer that what I’ve prepared myself for.

Now this post is obviously a rant. It’s not about Salesforce. Again, Salesforce is a great business and a great CRM swiss army knife. It’s about complexity, it’s about optimizing the use of your time and time is so much more precious when you work with the limited resources of a small company.

Time and time again, I keep telling small business owners that they should choose a simple CRM, a system that works for them. But most of them like to think big … in 6 months we’ll outgrow it. We need something that can grow with us. And inevitably they fall into the “complexity trap”. They go for something more complex, something they don’t need now, just because they’ll need it in 6 months. Many of them turn out not to grow as they expected to, but they’re still saddled with the complexity of a behemoth. It just kills their productivity.

Start with something simple that you can use today. Cross the complexity bridge  when you absolutely have to, because complexity is not a nice problem to have. Complexity kills productivity.

View your sales opportunity pipeline

Did you know you can switch the Opportunities screen to show as a pipeline view?
A sales pipeline allows you to define a set of states that a sales lead normally goes through from the initial contact all through the sale completion. Clevertim CRM comes with a very basic pipeline (Open/Won/Closed/Lost). You can define a more complex sales pipeline in the Business preferences. Let’s look at an example:

Initial contact / Discover Needs / Present Proposal / Revise / Close

In this pipeline, when a new contact is contacted for the first time, she is placed in the Initial contact pipeline state. This will be a state at the top of your sales funnel. The next step is to follow up and discuss with the contact to discover needs and requirements, so that a solution can be proposed.
Once it’s clear what the contact needs, a proposal can be put together and presented to the contact. The contact is likely to have questions, perhaps concerns, which would lead to revisions to the proposal and ultimately to the deal being closed.

As the negotiations advance, the contact is moved to the right on the pipeline, or, if you prefer to visualise it as a funnel, down the funnel until the deal is closed or the contact drops off at a particular stage in the process.

Clevertim CRM allows you to display visually this pipeline. In the Opportunities screen, just click on the “Switch to pipeline view” link. You can always switch back by clicking the “Switch to list view”. In pipeline view you can more easily see at a glance what opportunities you have at each stage and the total dollar (or your own currency) value for that particular stage in the pipeline.
While in the pipeline view, you can easily move opportunities between stages by “drag-n’drop”.

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.

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!