Friday, December 30, 2011

CRM 2012 Forecast - The Era of Customer Engagement - Part I

I have to tell you up front - this is not strictly a forecast. There are elements of a forecast - a few likely trends for 2012 are embedded in the piece. But just so expectations are clear, this is more of an assessment of what I think is an important shift in Social CRM and the customer facing side of social business. At least, important to me, since for the life of me, I can never understand why anyone pays attention to what I say, but in the spirit of the season, I am eternally grateful that someone does.

One other thing, what you are reading here is something longer than an executive summary of my assessment of the shift, but not the full monte. Based on some advice from my dear dear friend and major league thought leader Esteban Kolsky, I am working on the final parts of a longer report (20+ pages) which is a more complete discussion as my first “occasional paper” of 2012. It will be available for free upon request -  One of my new years resolutions is shorter posts with occasional PDFs that reflect more complete thinking. Not that this is a “shorter” post.  But then its not the new year yet either. (Please send all requests for the document to my email at

Also, truthfully, I’m kind of uncomfortable with this post too. While I’m pretty sure my conclusion is right, I’m not entirely at ease with what it took to get there. I’ll leave it at that. So I reserve the right to treat this as a work in progress.

What I Mean By Customer Engagement

For the purposes of this post and going forward, I’d like to start with a definition of what “customer engagement’ is and isn’t, so there is no doubt about what the era of customer engagement means.
  1. First, It doesn’t mean the era of customer intimacy though that is an optimally desired “condition” for a company’s view and relationship to its customers. But engagement doesn’t require intimacy or advocacy. However, aiming at creating advocates from among your customers is part of a smart strategy.
  2. It also doesn’t mean customer loyalty.  That may and I mean may be an outcome of successful engagement with the customer - though, as V. Kumar pointed out in 2000, the correlation of loyalty to profitability is mediocre to fair, not good, so there are questions of the value of that outcome.
  3. It also doesn’t mean it is identified by the length of time that the customer is involved with you without some extra analysis. Otherwise, inertia, which occurs when the cost of switching (financial, labor cost, emotional cost) is greater than the value perceived of the result, would seem to be engagement, when it isn’t. So it isn’t just a function of the time a customer and a company are involved.
  4. What customer engagement does mean (so there is no nebulosity here) is the company’s and the customer’s relationship is defined by the customer’s ongoing involvement with the company for their own specific reasons. The company doesn’t have to know all of them. But they have to have enough knowledge of the individual customer to support the determination of what it will take to maintain or expand the customer’s relationship with them.
  5. It does mean that it is an era where the engagement the customer has with the company is controlled by the customer - and it can be at any level. Intense, casual, continuous, occasional, deeply involved, barely transactional. The key phrase is “customer self-selection.”
  6. It does mean that the company model is to provide the customer with the products, services, tools and experiences that the customer needs to make an intelligent decision on how they want to be (selectively) engaged with the company. These are engagement programs organized around an ecosystem that are based on customer self-selection.
  7. It does mean the provision of a measurable result when it comes to that engagement via direct or indirect impact on revenue or some other key performance indicators that show the value of the engagement to the company - and the customer. Though they  are different values.
  8. It does mean the use of systems of engagement (see Ray Wang discussion here and Dion Hinchcliffe here) which are systems that foster the interaction of the company with the customer. They can range from enterprise feedback systems to insight solutions to online communities to internal collaboration. But fundamental is that they are systems that can foster activity among the choice multiple combinations of employees and customers e.g. customer to customer; employee to customer.

The Era of the Social Customer Ends…..

As you know for the last 10 years, I’ve been proselytizing about the era of the social customer. That meant that the social customer, a technology savvy, peer trusting, highly demanding, relatively affluent customer who leverages the web for conversations that can impact business - was becoming prominent and disproportionately influential.  Business’ requirements in era of the social customer were reflected by my definition of Social CRM’s last sentence  - “The company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation,” and its most recent permutation which adds the word “programmatic” in front of response.  This and its original formulation - “the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation” become the de facto definition - i.e. most quoted - of the time - with over 36,000 strict Google hits for the combination of the two (on December 20 at least).   Social customers, because of their aggressive approach to using the social web, stood out and forced businesses to start to respond to the new forms and channels of communication that the customers were engaging in. For the first time, marketers and customer service agents, and to a lesser extent, sales people were forced to respond to people they couldn’t push a message to or define a response to and to people who were communicating in channels the company didn’t control.
That led to a period of experimentation using social channels without a clear picture of an ROI, or best practices to latch onto or strategies that were fully formulated or technologies that were fully evolved that has been evolving as long as the external social networks like Twitter and Facebook have been growing. CRM began to morph into Social CRM, business into social business, and internal collaboration became more than just an advanced idea and was put into practice at many of the Global 2000 companies and some even smaller than that.  But the total spend in 2010 on social software was according to Gartner, $770 million, a fraction of the CRM market which was around $15 billion in 2010,  $16.5 billion in 2011 and projected to be more than $18 billion in 2012 by IDC.

But a significant number of those “social experiments” were successful. So rather than edge cases from a handful of progressive companies, as 2011 started to close, we began seeing story after story, case study after case study about the success of “social.” We began to see a positive return for CRM itself, with Nucleus Research identifying an average $5.60 return on the dollar for each CRM program that they reviewed. Multiple vendors provided so-called “Social CRM” products and services (more on that soon) and even more interesting, the key consulting firms like Accenture, Cognizant, Infosys, Booz-Allen, CAP Gemini, and CSC either created explicit Social CRM practices or began to compete on Social CRM projects, because they saw a significant market opportunity.  For the first time, we began seeing leading academicians and consultants, like Dr. V. Kumar, create a quantifiable metric for the revenue impact that social customers were having on a company that was designed to work with the traditional measure of customer lifetime value (CLV). He called it Customer Referral Value (CRV) which addressed the issue of a loyal customer versus an advocate and showed the indirect impact of “word of mouth” on company revenue. (For an excellent article on it, please read this Harvard Business Review article) (otherwise, read Dr. Kumar’s book, “Managing Customers for Profit”)

Additionally, studies began to appear to corroborate this. EConsultancy released its second annual “The State of Social Report 2011″ that appeared in November. What it confirmed is that just short of two thirds of the companies polled (more than 1000) were now using multichannel strategies across business functions that included social, rather than unique social channel strategies.  It was put as they were “beyond the experimental stage.”  These strategies encompassed things like marketing, customer service and customer feedback among other things.
Not only that, but what became increasingly apparent and was borne out by reading several hundred different articles, posts, comments, etc. on CRM and Social CRM was that Social CRM was what many, especially those new the world of CRM thought that CRM was. In other words, there was less and less reason to distinguish between CRM and Social CRM. Social CRM has almost (note the word “almost”) become what CRM is.

Interestingly, another pattern emerged. There was a specific perception of SCRM that was somewhat different than the definition of Social CRM that either I or others had given it. After running through those hundreds of discussions, here is an aggregate of the perception from the veteran practitioners of CRM to noobies as to what Social CRM is:
“Social CRM is the integration of traditional operational customer facing activities including strategies, programs, systems, and technologies with emergent social channels to provide businesses with the means to communicate and engage with customers in their preferred channels for mutual benefit.”
Note I said this is the perception of Social CRM. While it isn’t entirely accurate or comprehensive enough, it is good enough for now.  It is what most people will think when you use the term Social CRM - if they know what it is at all.
What this and other matters that are developed more fully in the 20 page opinion piece leads me to conclude is something that I think will impact business models, actions, strategies, programs and technology development well beyond 2012, though I think 2012 is a nodal point in this evolution.  The best way to put this?

…The Era of Customer Engagement Begins

The social customer is no longer a customer to gawk at, just a customer to deal with - like any other customer, with one explicit difference. He/she scales. Meaning they know how to impact other customers on a large scale who are “like them” in interests, and use the social channels that are not controlled by the company to do so.

But this is no longer what businesses take as a special case. What defines the Era of Customer Engagement more than anything is that so-called social channel strategy is now a normal part of multichannel strategy for the company. To be clear, customer engagement means that customers are part of the company’s collaborative value chain. The customer selects how they want to interact with you, and hopefully uses your products, services, tools and consumable experiences to make that decision.  Most companies recognize the value in being closer to the customer. In fact, IBM’s Institute for Business Value, in its 2010 CEO study found that the most important imperative for the next five years for CEOs - 88% of them to be exact - is to be closer to their customers.

But the era of customer engagement implies a lot more than that. Here are some of its characteristics and implications for your business. To make this clear, this is what I’m defining as the framework for the general level of maturity that we seem to be achieving.  This are what I think are the defining characteristics and some concepts that I think are appropriate given the current maturation of the new business models and channels and proofs of concept that we have for them.  This is not a definition of engagement itself. See above for my first rough attempts at that.

The era of customer engagement:
  1. Starts from the assumption that you are going to incorporate social channels into your customer communications.
  2. Identifies both the need for and how you can enable collaboration at your business for better productivity and effective employees.
  3. Says that you might even go as far as converting your overall culture and business focus to a social business which means empowering (and incentivizing) employees to be able to deal with customers wherever and whenever (among other things). The opportunity and some of the body of practice to guide your company is there.
  4. Means that your business understands how internal collaboration and customer interaction/involvement are not only converging but can be an important influence in your strategic direction.
  5. Means that you understand that the customers social information is as important as and complementary to their transactional information.
  6. Suggests that you realize that we have enough case studies, surveys, practical examples, business models, strategic parameters, frameworks, metrics, success and failure stories, programs, best practices and systems to sufficiently engage the customer. What is needed beyond that is internal cultural acceptance so that adoption of these new approaches is possible.
  7. Requires that you see the channels that are already there (much less the future ones) are communications media for you and your customer.
  8. Means that the mindset that you are working with is that your customers should be the subjects of an experience and partners, rather than objects of a sale and clients.
  9. Also means that you recognize that there is clear evidence that the use of traditional channels is not only not ending but will continue to be vibrant. While social channels, which are now part of mainstream communications are more highly scalable and will have more potential impact because of that, they will never replace traditional channels.
  10. Means that you’ll stop treating the social customer as an object of wonder that you bow down to because of their remarkable powers to change your business - and start treating them like a customer who is operating in a set of channels that have unique protocols that you have to learn.
  11. Means that we’ve reached the point that we can be proactive in dealing with all the “conversation out there” on the social web, rather than waiting to react to every little bad word that a customer says on Twitter when we see it.
  12. Means that the strategies to be considered should be multichannel (which combine social and traditional) and appropriate to the channels that your customers want to communicate in.  If its phone, its phone. There is no requirement that social channels be used.  They should be used if they provide some value in their use.
  13. Means that we need to recognize that there are tools that actually can do some good in a number of ways but they, like always, have to be chosen well, implemented properly, and adopted by those that are needed to use them so that you get the results that you are looking for.
  14. Is a recognition that while many customers are thinking differently and have much greater expectations of companies, they are still looking for, what the Edelman Trust Barometer in 2011 defined as “high quality products and services”, and a company that they can trust - something which hasn’t changed one iota - ever.
  15. Means understanding that now practitioners have their own perception of what Social CRM is (see above).  That perception isn’t entirely the analyst/pundit/influencer definition, but it is going to have to do.
  16. Is an understanding that while the strategies, programs et. al are now maturing and have a sufficient body of knowledge to back them up, the technologies capabilities tend to lag the strategies and programs requirements. It is time to set some standards as to what can be called “Social CRM” software.
  17. Is an understanding that while we have reached a more mature stage, that doesn’t mean that experimentation is entirely done for.  Each business still has to determine what makes sense for them to try (proof of concept) and what makes sense for them to use (roll out to the whole company).
  18. Is based on an idea that advocacy is a centralized focus for customer strategy - not the advocacy proposed by NPS but one closer to what Dr. V. Kumar proposed with Customer Referral value - a person who can indirectly impact revenue performance through his/her influence in any channels where he can communicate with a potential customer who is “someone like (him/her)” That means a focus on creating the environment that encourages the advocates but allows all customers to effectively self-select - decide how much and which way(s) they want to engage with you from passionate advocate to occasional buyer.
There is more but I’ll leave that to later. If you buy into this, there are a few trends that suggest themselves for major growth in 2012 or for at least the first inklings of major growth.  But to read them, you’ll have to click here which will take you to my other blog.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

6 Tips to Jump Start 2012 Sales Now

Want to know the best way to get your 2012 sales off to a great start?
I know 6 tips you shouldn’t ignore:

1. Get your CEO and other senior level people on the road visiting customers.
Too many sales managers and even C-Suite officers hold off on visiting customers until it’s time to close the sale.  In my book, this is a bad use of their time.

Get them out visiting customers now.  The reason is simple. They have the ability, by nature of their title, to get into conversations with people and about things many salespeople can’t get.  It’s their ability to have these meetings that will many times open up significant new leads.

The beauty is these new leads is that many times, they involve strategic opportunities your buyer or person you work with may not even be aware of.

2. Use the tail-end of 2011 and the first few days of 2012 to network like mad.
You should be reaching out to as many people as possible via email and the telephone.  Your objective is to wish them the best and find out from them what they expect in 2012.

It’s good old-fashioned talking, but it’s one of the few times of the year when you can get many people to even talk to you.  Don’t waste it!

3. Develop your plan now to go after the really big opportunities you have in 2012.
The sooner you start on the big ones, the more time you’ll have to actually land them.  Too many salespeople start off the year going after the easy stuff, and then by the time they get around to the big leads, too much time has lapsed to be able to close the deal in the same year.

4. Build awareness early.
Make it a commitment to be aggressive in getting key information out to customers and prospects that will keep your name in front of them.  I refer to this as seeding the farmland.

The method you use may vary, but the sooner you start doing it, the sooner the awareness can turn into actual business.  Best thing of all is many times it means the customer or prospect will call you to do business.   I like this, because in my book, a customer who calls you is a full-profit customer. They are motivated to do business with you.

5. Commit on your calendar a dedicated amount of time each week to prospect.
Don’t do it when you have time. Instead, create the time!  Habits don’t happen overnight — they take time, and if you want to build your sales, then you need to spend time prospecting.
Studies have shown salespeople who have a dedicated time to prospect and have a process are more successful than salespeople who do not have either.

6. Feed your positive attitude.
If you don’t have a positive attitude, you need to get one.  And once you have one, you need to feed it.   Hang around motivated, positive people.  Avoid people who are negative.  Read and pay attention to material that is going to help you with your goals.  Don’t get bogged down in bad news about the economy or your industry.

A positive attitude is not self-sufficient.  It must be fed — by you!

Let’s make 2012 a great year.   The only thing holding you back from having a great year is yourself.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

CRM and Small Business Essentials

Location. Employees. Customers. What do all of these things have in common? They are common components essential to any business.

For small businesses that often have limited resources, there are additional elements to consider that are imperative to success. Access to capital is critical to small businesses. In addition, small businesses benefit greatly from marketing and innovation. As they balance product or service innovation, aspects of human resources, and finances, among other things, find ways to manage one or many of these elements.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) first entered the business realm as a means of managing contacts. Rather than flip through the Rolodex or scroll through a spreadsheet to search for client information, CRM software tools can be utilized to quickly access customer contact information, as well as notes about recent business/customer interactions, appointments scheduled with the client, and other information.

Since the inception of CRM applications, the uses have expanded beyond simply being a means of maintaining contacts and have developed into a way for businesses to implement and maintain processes, access information with greater ease, improve business operations, and help build and maintain customer relationships.

Small businesses often do not have full-time IT staff available to maintain software and hardware. The cost of building an in-house infrastructure is not always attainable. Thus, when an IT related issue arises, it often means there is down time while the problem is resolved. Utilizing CRM can alleviate these problems by providing round the clock IT support reliably and convenience. CRM can allow businesses to increase their capabilities without investing capital or time into the development of new infrastructure, the training of new personnel, purchase of new hardware, or the licensing of new software.

In addition to providing businesses with reliable IT services and solutions, CRM also allows for businesses to improve the way they market their products or services to customers, target customers specifically, and establish relationships with customers that will have longevity and profitability. CRM helps businesses to maintain customer information such as purchase trends, determine what products sell or do not sell and generate plausible business leads. Such capabilities reduce the potential of losing important information about interactions the business has had with clients. Instead of worrying about keeping information organized, CRM technology will take care of it. The business can instead capitalize on the organized information in a meaningful way. Having readily available access to such information allows businesses to be much more efficient in the ways they manage marketing campaigns.

CRM technology can allow businesses to run on-demand. People can access customer and product information any time, anywhere. It is readily accessible, automatically upgraded, and is easy to use. Businesses also have the option of customizing the CRM tools to fit their specific needs, as well as integrate the CRM into their current business practices.  Since the data stored within the CRM is offered in real-time, it can be accessed wherever the employee connects to the Internet.  For a small business with only a few employees, being able to access data on the road, or in the boardroom has it’s advantages.

Customer relationship management is a viable solution to many of the needs small businesses have. Rather than concerning themselves with software glitches that may immobilize the system network for an hour, or try and analyze spreadsheets and databases to determine what markets to target, businesses can take advantage of their CRM. CRM takes care of important logistics that make for a successful business without investing significant amounts of time or funds. For small businesses CRM is a means of managing many elements of a business with ease. From record maintenance to marketing, and beyond, CRM provides simple solutions, cost effectiveness, convenience, and reliability.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sales: New Year—New Plan

The beauty of a new year is it’s a chance to start fresh—an opportunity to make improvements. For some it means eating healthier. For others it means reading more self-improvement books or spending more time with family. At the end of every year, one thing is for certain—someone is planning to be “better” in the new year.
The same idea applies for business—the new year is an opportunity to evaluate the previous year and devise a successful plan for the year ahead. Where many fall short however, is in executing the plan.

  “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan” - Eleanor Roosevelt

As a sales coach, you must walk the proverbial walk and have your own plan in place—but don’t stop there. You will see the true advantage of planning when you make everyone on your team create his/her own business plan for year—and here is why:
  • You’ll understand what motivates each of your team members personally and professionally.
  • A plan clearly defines an agreement between you and the salesperson. It provides the foundation for communication throughout the year and prevents miscommunication or ambiguity. Both parties have ownership of the goals contained within the plan.
  • The plan can be used as a compass to help guide salespeople and keep them on the right track throughout the year.
  • A plan defines performance goals.

Goal Setting Meetings—Make Things Happen

Even though you and your team have a plan, you can’t just sit back and expect them to follow it. A good coach periodically checks in with his/her team by holding goal-setting meetings (GSMs). A GSM is a weekly (or monthly) one-on-one meeting between you and the salesperson—it’s a chance to review performance from the previous period and create and commit to a game plan for the upcoming period.
What’s important about GSMs, is that they keep the salesperson accountable for the goals they have set forth for themselves. They also:
  • Open up communication between coaches and sales people by providing both parties the opportunity to voice any concerns in a private setting.
  • Provide an opportunity to reexamine agreed-upon priorities and make sure that daily activities are in line with long-term objectives.
  • Provide a dedicated time for training activities. During a GSM, the coach should identify individual strengths and weaknesses so that these areas may be addressed.
  • Allows the coach some one-on-one time to motivate and inspire each salesperson individually.

Common Planning Pitfalls

Often plans are created at the beginning of the fiscal year and then not revisited until it is time to create the plan for the next year.  However, both coach and salesperson must keep in mind that the business plan is a process, not an event.  The plan must be “visible” and be the basis for regular dialogue between coach and salesperson.
Make sure you don’t set goals too high or too low. Objectives that are too high are unattainable. Goals that are too low will not allow the salesperson the opportunity to reach his/her full potential. The best solution is for the coach and salesperson to mutually agree upon a set of objectives. Goals should be based on past performance data or other statistics that can be measured.
Make sure that you document your plan. If an informal planning session is held with merely a few notes scribbled down on a piece of paper, it is impossible to follow up effectively and hold one accountable to the plan.  Remember: “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Want to Empower Your Customers? Do it with Knowledge Management Software

How to succeed in business without really trying? Put your customers to work.
I’m only partly kidding. Stop and think about it for a minute—people love self-service. They like self-checkouts in supermarkets, they like pumping their own gas, and they love buffets (although, come to think of it, that might be more about the all-you-can-eat aspect). Even if you sell products on a Web site, you too can put your customers to work in order to empower them while cutting costs and streamlining operations.

Knowledge management applications that run in the cloud can provide your customers with everything they need to help themselves, at the same time that they free up your employees to focus on the segment of the customer base that does want or require your assistance. Take the knowledge base—an online collection of information that customers can use to troubleshoot, research and make decisions, all without ever talking to a customer service rep. Point the public to your knowledge base, FAQ, user forums and other resources online, and you’re also creating a great opportunity for upselling and cross-selling, as well as fostering communication and collaboration between customers.

Live chat, a dedicated customer service Twitter account, and a strong Facebook presence can also give your customers the answers they are seeking—while also capturing snapshots of customer preference and demographic data that can be used for sales and marketing purposes. The knowledge management applications you’ll use to do this can operate behind-the-scenes too, so that all departments of your company have access to continually updated, accurate customer information.

Customer relationship management applications, including contact management and knowledge management, can greatly improve your relationship with your customer. Let’s take a look at a case in point.
Practical Application:
Belkin Corporation is a leader in connectivity and electronics accessories—they make things like wireless routers, USB adapters, electronics battery chargers and computer-gaming equipment. If a customer has a problem with a Belkin product, they can troubleshoot that problem by going to the Support section of and accessing drivers, downloads or searchable how-to articles in the knowledge base. There is live chat with representatives, an option to email a question, and a telephone number. If your product is under warranty and needs to be replaced, you can request that replacement, then check its status later, all online.
Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a majority of Belkin users will try the knowledge base, live chat or email options first, before calling a rep. That means that Belkin saves on payroll, training and employee benefits costs. The employees who do still staff the help desk have more free time to devote to customers who do call—those who need a little hand-holding for whatever reason, or who have a particularly complicated issue to resolve.
The cloud-based knowledge management apps that Belkin employs also gives their call-center agents more information they need to do their job; they can access the customer profile, including products purchased, previous complaints or troubleshooting and any notes that other agents have made on that account. If necessary, another agent or manager can be brought into the conversation, and they have the ability to access the same information at the same time.
For the business, empowering customers by allowing them access to a vast knowledge base creates customer satisfaction, lowered business costs and increased sales. By empowering your customers with knowledge management software, they can do many things you previously would have needed an employee to manage. Customers love it, and they have no clue they are raising your bottom line with their do-it-yourself work.

The Cloud and The Grid

by Jace Modavi

There are two competing schools of thought when it comes to delivering CRM tools.  The first is through traditional methods, with software and servers.  This gives you a home-grown on-premises system, traditionally referred to as grid computing.  The other is a still-emerging technology that’s been on the market for about a decade now, and is one that I prefer.  Cloud computing delivers apps and information over the Internet, so you don’t have to worry about servers, network infrastructure, and other things that are expensive when they stop working.

Cloud computing has become a dominant force in customer relationship management.  It’s CRM for those on the go, for those who can’t afford the overhead of installing their own on-premises system, and for those that want scalability and custom applications.  With cloud computing, all of your data and applications are stored online, so it’s not locked up in your office.  This means that you can access account information, sales reports, and anything else you need from the road.  It’s safe and secure, so you don’t have to worry about backing up files – though you can – or protecting your network.  You also don’t have to worry about server costs and maintenance, software license fees, or costly upgrades when you outgrow your current system.  Everything is taken care of for you.  You pay a monthly subscription for the apps you use, but not for software that you don’t need.  And with custom application development tools, you can create your own apps to fit your business.
Practical Application
Looking forward, it doesn’t seem like the cloud computing momentum is going to end any time soon.  And with the way companies are also jumping on board, using cloud computing for their apps and CRM utilities, a lot of investment is going on to improve the way the cloud works.  So who’s buying into cloud computing?
Possibly Apple
Those are some of the biggest names in technology today, and they’re all getting into cloud computing.
What happened to grid computing?
Well, nothing.  It’s not like it broke and everyone just decided to move on.  Instead, it’s still around, and in fact cloud computing is based on grid computing; it’s just that it’s now something you don’t have to worry about.  What I mean is this: when you subscribe to a cloud computing vendor, your information is stored online.  Well, the Internet isn’t magic, it’s still stored in hard copy somewhere.  That’s where the vendor comes in.  They set up servers to host everything themselves, meaning they’re doing what you would be doing if you had to store your information.  What’s different, and this is the real dealbreaker, is what happens next.  They store the information, but instead of using software that’s run on those servers and only accessible by computers on that grid, they run applications that run over the Internet.  I can’t open a Word document unless I have Word on my computer.  However, I can check my Facebook messages from anywhere I want – including my phone.  But I don’t have any special Facebook software that I take with me.  It’s all delivered online.  So your vendor worries about the servers and the application and the grid stuff, and you focus on accomplishing your goals.  Which is good, because servers are expensive.  And a lot of work.  You don’t have to worry about outgrowing your system, complicated software installs, or upgrades; it’s all taken care of for you in the cloud.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Provide Superior Service, Get More Customers

With a very few exceptions, businesses today cannot afford to ignore the customers who want to reach them online. More and more, “service” today means “Internet presence,” as increasing numbers of people go online to get information – whether it’s hours of operation, product and price information, or troubleshooting common problems. If you don’t have that information available and easy to access, you might lose a potential customer.

So your online presence is the first glimpse of your service that many people will see. How do you maximize this first impression? Let’s take a look at how one small florist has embraced the multimedia opportunities presented by the Internet in order to show their customers the level of service they provide.
Practical Application
Avante Gardens, in Anaheim, CA, has a fairly standard retail blog. You can browse floral arrangements by category, flower or occasion, learn about the types of roses, and of course place orders for local or out of town delivery. There are testimonials from satisfied customers and a delivery map – all standard stuff. But Avante Gardens takes it several steps further by featuring a custom design service, in which the customer chooses all the elements of an arrangement, and then receives a picture via email of their design. The owner of the company, Catherine Hillen-Rulloda, also blogs about flowers, florists, and everything floral. Her posts are chatty and informative, and really make the customer feel as though this business cares about providing the best service and product available. There is also a gallery of custom designs, and a video tour of the brick-and-mortar establishment—both of these show the customer exactly what kind of style and quality they can expect. Lastly, Avante Gardens has a wedding flowers video on YouTube. That kind of service—presented free of charge to anyone who wants to use it—can help drive customers, and might even make or break a sale.
If you’re like me—and you want to know as much as possible about a business before giving them your money—online research can be invaluable. And seeing that a company has taken the time to make their online presence as compelling, warm, and thorough as Avante Gardens has, makes me want to patronize them. On the contrary, if I stumble across a website that is poorly designed, hard to read, or riddled with spelling and grammar errors, I click away. Your website and online community reflect your quality and professionalism, and tips off a potential customer to what kind of service they can expect from you. Why wouldn’t you put your best foot forward, and provide superior service across the board? It just might net you more customers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Year-end tips to keep sales high and anxiety low


Keep the Momentum Going 

Year-end tips to keep sales high and anxiety low

The end of the year is fast approaching—your team is well aware of their goals—they have the skills to sell, but do they possess the will to sell this late in the game?  It is your job to make sure they do.  Coaching takes a conscious effort.  It is not easy and it requires a great deal of time and energy.  But it’s worth it.  Here are some tactics to keep the momentum going.

‘Tis the Season (to be selling)

Generally speaking, people are in good spirits around the holidays.  It’s the perfect time for your team to reach out to customers just to say “thank you” or wish them “happy holidays.”  This simple call could be a great opportunity to gain some last minute business as well. The key is to find unique selling points or propositions that fit into the holiday spirit. Encourage your team to try some of these tactics in their next sales call:
  • Offer a slightly lower price structure between now and the end of the year.
  • Devise a deferred payment structure that might entice the customer to buy.
  • Create a sense of urgency for buying by presenting an attractive special, limited offer.
  • Demonstrate how your product/service is the best use of your client’s company resources.


Time to Check-in not Check-out

Just because it’s the holidays, don’t assume everyone is on vacation.  If you check out early, so will your team. This is the time that you need to be most engaged.  If you have been “in the game” all along, this will not come as a threat to your team—instead they will welcome the additional guidance and follow-up.
A boss instills fear; a coach inspires enthusiasm.
The major difference between a coach who demonstrates effective follow-up and one who micro-manages is based on what happens before the follow up takes place. Assuming that there was a clear agenda set during your goal setting meeting; then your follow-up, feedback, and attention should be to motivate you and your team. Great coaches correct improper behavior through open dialogue, constant feedback, and recognition. Here are some tips to help you stay engaged with your team:
Hold daily sales huddles—Three simple words are all it takes to stay connected: “How’s it going?”
Help your team look for opportunities—A coach succeeds by helping others succeed; a boss commands and demands.
Stay positive—When the going gets tough, don’t get discouraged.

Motivate, Motivate, Motivate

Here are some additional tips to keep you and your team motivated:
  • Post a jumbo scoreboard in the office.  Create a giant scoreboard that lights up when sales goals are achieved. The scoreboard provides immediate, positive feedback to sales team members.
  • Super charge your break room. Provide healthy foods, plenty of water, and energy drinks to keep people fueled.  Post daily motivational quotes or stories on the walls to keep your team inspired.
  • Give recognition and rewards. It’s a fact—people are motivated by recognition and rewards, both big and small. Thank individuals for their hard work, recognize their commitment, and set small rewards along the way to keep everyone revved up.
  • Pick a theme song. “Eye of the Tiger,” “Right Here, Right Now,” “We are the Champions”—no matter what song you choose, be sure keep those inspirational tunes playing to keep everyone pumped up

Remain Flexible

You can’t make progress unless you make mistakes, learn from them, and adjust your behavior for tomorrow. Keep track of what’s going on within yourself and your team by taking notes of what’s working well and the challenges you are currently facing. Remember, the end of this year only brings the beginning and promise of the next year. Your coaching obligations do not end on December 31. You must always be looking for better ways to communicate with your team, build cohesion, and achieve success.
Make a list of tactics you think you can improve upon. Do you need to improve your communication skills?  Have you earned the trust of your team?  Do you need to inject some creativity into your monthly sales meetings?  Did you clearly set goals and expectations for each individual?

When you have a clear image of the coach you would like to become, you can then sell yourself on becoming that person. You can do it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cyber Grinch – Avoid At All Costs

by Sidney Angelos


At present, December 12th, is coined “Green Monday” . As the second Monday in December, Green Monday starts cyber week – the last week for those red hot free shipping offers and the ability to receive an on line shipment in time for Christmas. This time of year also sparks on line theft too! If you’re one of many making that last dash this week shopping on line just remember these tips to help you avoid playing victim to cyber Grinch.

Debit Cards or Bank Cards vs. Credit Cards

While convenient, debit cards can turn an otherwise harmless on line buy into hours on the phone disputing charges if stolen. Debit cards are directly linked to your bank account which means easy access to all your hard earned dollars.

Experts suggest using a dedicated credit card for making purchases on line. Credit card companies can easily reverse fraudulent charges whereas banks aren’t as quick to reverse charges.

Auto Fill

Another convenience that can turn disastrous is auto fill. Don’t allow your laptop to save credit card data or passwords, especially on a shared laptop or on your cell phone. More and more consumers are using mobile phones to purchase on line. A stolen phone can result in thousands of dollars of counterfeit purchases. It’s best to be safe and not save any passwords or credit card information on any device.

“Remember Me”

Similar to the above point, clicking the “remember me” box can prove devastating. On a shared laptop or a lost cell phone someone could rapidly and easily log into your account and make purchases without you knowing. Don’t click “remember me” and you’ll reduce the risk of getting grinched.

Computer Safety Scans

Phishing scams and viruses are all ways hackers can get onto your system and steal your data. That’s why having an updated anti-virus program is essential if you wish to do any on line purchasing during Green Week.

Secure Internet Access

Along with an up-to-date anti-virus program you should also make use of secure access to the world wide web. If you have a wireless setup make sure your access is password protected. If you’re “using” an unsecure wireless connection of your neighbors – make sure you don’t buy any products on line.

Trust Your Gut

If an on line store looks sketchy or a deal seems too good to be true – trust your gut. Don’t make a buy on a site that doesn’t look trustworthy (no matter how many gold star emblems they have on their homepage).

Your Youngsters Can be Victims

Be mindful of your kids during this time of year as well. They can just as easily click on an unsafe link or be the victims of on line fraud as you can. Inform your children about the dangers of buying online and sharing information online or on their phone. Companies like internet provider Comcast suggest a family safety contract for your kids. Communicate with your kids and teach them to avoid dangerous situations online. Opening up the dialogue with your children about their online practices is important to keeping your family
secure .

How are you avoiding the cyber Grinch this holiday season?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Front Row for the Sales Rep

Great sales reps are constantly looking to improve their productivity. They are typically highly motivated individuals that are self-directed and strategic with their work ethic. They scrutinize every sales related function with an eye to its impact on improving performance.  With that in mind, Front Row Solutions was created to be the perfect fit to collaborate with this high level sales rep.

Companies must understand that a reporting tool is only as successful as the ability or willingness for the sales rep to input data.  We have created the fastest, easiest to use sales tool ever. The process starts with the creation of an activity card, which for most reps is the first time they have ever had a sales process in place. Imagine sales reps actually knowing what is expected of them on every sales call. Once the activity card is in place, the sales rep can do their sales call from the field by mobile phone in less than 30 seconds, 3 or 4 minutes per day; less time doing reports, more time selling.

Good sales reps know that having the time to make one extra call per day = 220 more calls per year, which means more commission dollars in their pockets. 

Sales reps are now doing their sales reports. What does the sales rep get out of it?

We take the information from these reports and populate a personal customized website for the sales rep. The sales rep can visit their private website and review:                           
§  All historical information by account
§  Number of visits to key accounts
§  Personal performance ratios by call type for best practice insight
§  Identification of personal strengths, weaknesses and tendencies, by report or chart for personal improvement
§  Review appointment calendar, automatically populated by activity card
§  Geo-locate accounts and organize your daily route
§  Review and analyze activities

Remember the sales rep get all this information and more because they have committed 30 seconds after every sales call, or 3-4 minutes per day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Implementation vs. Execution

By Tibor Shanto

Many companies implement things, be it software, process, training, a strategy, policy and more, only to find that they do not realize what they set out to do, or achieve results they were led to believe could be achieved by implementing one of the above. The specific reason is that they fail take steps and action that will make the implementation a success; in other words, they fail to Execute.

One national company "implemented" a new policy for 2011; each rep had to carry out four hours of outbound prospecting each and every week. It became a KPI, an element on the reps' scorecards. They got marketing to participate not only in terms of prepping leads lists, but also in developing campaigns to fuel the calls, and a host of other things. Based on stats and other inputs they were looking to generate a minimum of five new appointments a week, which would (could should) lead to the level of pipeline and sales they were looking to achieve.

Unfortunately, it did not take long, for not only the reps, but the managers, to begin to find exceptions. Two of the most popular songs on the hit parade were "I have a big deal I am working on, the proposal is due Tuesday, but I will start Wednesday", which manager can resist that age-old favourite. The other, "I have an appointment I have to get to, it is an important one". I am just relieved that no one has had the leads list eaten by their dog, although I am sure that will come after they read this article.

After 10 weeks of the program being "implemented", there has not been one week of full compliance, they have definitely seen improvement in activity and more appointments, but somewhat short of where they were looking to be by the end of Q1, given the headcount.

The company, like many who "implement" and fail to "execute", made a couple of key mistakes. First, they failed to get buy in from the reps, second, they failed to translate the implementation into an action plan, for both the managers, and the reps. Not surprisingly, these two are related and fixing one will go some way to fixing the other.

First, the people putting together the plan, be they the VP of Sales or Sales Ops, need to understand that just because it was conceived and makes sense, does not lead to it happening. When it come to activities, habit based activities, it requires much more than a sound plan, it requires a detailed action plan, and selling and support points for each step of the action plan. This leads to a disciplined approach, which will take time and effort.

Many sales leaders forget that we are not dealing with numbers, but with people's perceptions and habits. Let's face it, if they saw things as the VP does, there would be no need for the whole exercise. When trying to change people's habits, sales habits, it is no different from a smoker going "cold turkey", that's why they call it quitting the habit. Few can do it that way, most need help.

Simply telling a rep that they will make more money as a result of the "newly implemented" policy, is like telling a two pack a day smoker that they will be healthier once they quit, good luck with that. You need to find a specific motivation, an action plan, support, and yes, consequences for non-compliance beyond reduced income.

Where many fall short on motivation is putting too much emphasis on money, "if you get more prospects, you'll get more sales and make oodles more cash." The reality is, if they are an "80% of goal type" rep, which in many instances is deemed to be good, they are usually happy with the money they are making. If not they would have taken steps on their own to increase it, the fact that they have not is a clear statement that money is not a driver for them. You need to tie the effort required to change to something that is important to them.

This will vary from rep to rep, but is usually tied to something personal, ego, or other non-monetary goal.
For example, one rep I know has made a commitment that he will not miss any of his son's hockey games, no matter what, and he works diligently to manage his calendar to meet that goal. One way to motivate him is to show him how the newly implemented policy will increase his ability to be at all the games. His execution of the plan is not the resulting appointments; it is the son's games. I remember that I was resolved never to go to a sales meeting and not be presented an award. As long as I was a rep I always worked to ensure I would be getting an award, be it for most deals, size of deal, top revenue, whatever, I was going to get one, and did. My director knew this and used it when I needed to get something done.

These are great "levers" for a manager to work with, it may take a bit to figure out what these may be, but if you are a real sales manager, interacting with and regularly coaching your team, it does not take long to understand and figure out where the button is for each of your team. That is the first step, engaging your team the same way as you would expect them to engage with their clients.

You can then tie this to a specific action plan; this action plan can be part of your ongoing (weekly) coaching with each team member. Rather than saying "right we're gonna do some prospecting now, 4 hours a week, 5 new prospects, no brainer, you'll make more money; off you go then". Break it down, knowing the desired results, knowing the person involved, likes dislikes, current habits, etc., create an ongoing plan. The plan needs to have a series of objective, clear and measurable actions, with deadlines; each step moving them towards the desired new habits.

Introduce the first element, get buy in, which means more than the person nodding and smiling. One way is to jointly or mutually create the objective; even something as simple as getting the rep to figure out how much time it will take him to generate five new appointments a week. More than getting agreement on the objective, the rep feels ownership when you leave it to the rep to come up with the action item. This allows you to set an agreed on timeframe, and measurable related to the objective. Again, it drives ownership by the rep, which is much more likely to succeed than an edict from on high. As they success with this step, you introduce another, each realistic, not easy, but doable; each moving towards the long term desired objective, each allowing the rep to own their progress, and drive mutual accountability.

This means the manager also has obligations, which is to coach on a consistent basis, if they do not, then the whole thing falls apart, and you experience what many organizations do, which is implementing something that does not get executed.

One last related point: Given the smoking analogy, the goal should be to avoid the whole need for changing the habit by adopting the right habits to begin with. If you don't take up smoking you will not have to quit. If you get people doing the right things to begin with, you will not have to have as many "change exercises", and avoid the friction and use the energy for the important things from the start, which still comes down to execution.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It’s Not Like Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks: Automating Your Existing Sales Force

By: Jace Modavi

Sales force automation is not your father’s sales technique, that’s for sure.  However, it’s not all that different.  Yes, it uses computers and automation techniques that are new, it makes life easier on sales reps in the field, it connects sales team members and uses marketing information in ways that we never could have before.  But even Willy Loman would recognize that sales deals aren’t closed by computers, they’re closed by sales reps.  And so, while sales force automation is new and different, it doesn’t change the sales game that your reps have been playing; it makes them better at it.

Look at it this way: in sports, better equipment doesn’t change the game.  No matter how big the padding you’re wearing, you still have to carry the football over the goal line.  That much stays the same.  So updating the tools your sales team uses will only help in the long run.  Employees who are hesitant of this change might be encouraged by this.  Here’s how it works:

Contact management
To begin, sales force automation – much as you’d suspect from the name – automates the sales process.  It records information about every contact made with a potential customer, and it does it for all of the potential customers you have.  This helps reps build relationships because they can create profiles of all of their prospects, taking note of personal details, product preferences, and other details that are helpful in establishing trust and closing the deal.  You also get up to the minute product information, inventory figures, and other data that can impact a deal, so you’re not blindsided by something that’s out of your control.

Lead tracking

With lead tracking software, you can channel all of your prospective customers’ information into one database, where it can be evaluated and directed to the right rep.  This allows you to prioritize your efforts, putting resources where they’ll do the most.  Define the spread of leads on a geographic basis or on any number of other factors, and the system will automatically send the information to the rep that is right for the job.

With some SFA systems – ones that use cloud computing – reps can also update their profiles from their mobile devices, so they can keep you in the loop even when they’re on the road.  You can monitor deal progress at any time with tools that allow you to see what stage the deal has reached.  You can tell when prospects are still considering your product, when there’s been an actual proposal or deal put on the table, or when the deal is closed.

Collaboration tools
With all of your deal information in the same system, collaboration between reps is easy.  New team members can be brought up to speed quickly, training is possible even when the reps are apart, and best practice tips and advice can be spread based on real case studies and examples.  Not only do your reps get a clear picture of what their customers habits and needs are, so does your marketing team, making advertising and promotional efforts more efficient.

So while sales force automation is a revolutionary new tool that makes sales teams more efficient, it’s not changing the way salespeople do their jobs. It’s just making them better at it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Five Ways CRM Can Help Your Salesforce

When companies purchase a customer relationship management (CRM) system, they are often surprised to find that the new solution is not always immediately embraced by the salesforce.

In fact, some sales reps believe that the primary purpose of CRM is to enhance sales management functions such as performance reporting and forecasting, and that it does little to make the day-to-day activities of the salesforce easier and more effective. Others may perceive CRM to be too complicated, and fear that the solution will add a new layer of complexity to their jobs.

But, for many businesses, CRM has clearly demonstrated its ability to provide immediate value to the salesforce by improving their ability to sell, and significantly increasing their success rates. In fact, a recent survey conducted by research firm CSO Insights found that almost 72% of firms surveyed indicated that

CRM was having a positive affect on salesforce performance.

CRM can benefit the members of your salesforce in five key ways:

* Increased Productivity
Almost every salesforce is burdened with numerous routine, cumbersome, manual procedures that can disrupt sales cycles and interfere with actual selling time. A CRM solution can streamline and automate pricing, order processing, and other administrative tasks, so reps can focus their efforts on those activities that directly impact revenues and profits, and spend more time working with potential customers.

* Stronger Relationships
CRM solutions provide highly-interactive analytical tools that empower a salesforce with valuable, timely, and accurate insight into buyer interests and needs. This allows reps to have better, more productive conversations with their prospects so they can build stronger, more personalized relationships with buyers which can help shorten sales cycles, increase the number of deals closed, and boost revenue-per-sale.

* Best Practices
With a CRM solution, a company can identify the activities that are most likely to result in sales success, and use that knowledge to implement and share a best practices methodology across their entire salesforce. Sales reps can gain insight into proven processes, and receive step-by-step guidance throughout the sales cycle. So, new members of the salesforce can get up-to-speed faster, and more seasoned reps have the tools and intelligence they need to close more deals.

* Enhanced Communication
CRM systems can help close the communication loop between the salesforce and sales management, as well as the support teams who will service the customer after the deal is closed.
This ability to share critical, time-sensitive information about a sale in progress (for example, a rep may need to request approval from a manager before they can offer a discount to a prospective buyer) can help make the entire end-to-end sales cycle more efficient, and help the salesforce close deals and earn their commissions faster.

* Reduced Costs
A CRM solution can reduce sales costs by increasing the accuracy and effectiveness of related processes. For example, when the dollar value and product mix of deals are forecasted more precisely, inventory costs can be dramatically reduced.

Additionally CRM can minimize order errors, saving the salesforce significant amounts of time by reducing the need to re-process incorrect orders, and eliminating the costs associated with replacing incorrect items that have been shipped to customers.

By conveying the key benefits of the new CRM system to your salesforce, you can help them realize the tremendous value the solution can provide them, and help increase adoption and usage rates.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Front Row CRM launches Prospect Auditing Module bringing Sales and Marketing together

Front Row CRM is pleased to announce the launch of their Prospect Auditing Module. The Prospect Auditing Module allows companies to track the progress of a new prospect from the time of its creation to its resolution.
The Front Row CRM Prospect Auditing Module allows companies the advantage of tracking and auditing every prospect created. Front Row CRM is the easiest, fastest sales reporting tool on the market allowing a sales person the advantage of completing a sales report in less than 30 seconds immediately after the sales call is complete. When the sales report is sent to the Front Row CRM servers, the custom dashboards are instantly populated, date and time stamped. Management gets real time insights about all sales activity. What the Front Row CRM Prospect Auditing Module adds is the ability to synchronize the company’s marketing and prospecting activity with Front Row CRM.
Companies spend millions of dollars on marketing and prospecting for new clients. Money goes into advertising, email programs, SEO efforts, etc. The purpose is to gain new clients, new growth and new revenue. Unfortunately most companies have no feedback regarding the effectiveness of their marketing programs. This is particularly true for marketing departments that hand off prospects to their sales force.
When a lead is generated by a website, email program, call center, SEO or other marketing campaigns, the lead record is date and time stamped while automatically assigned to a sales rep for follow up. Based on a number of custom criteria such as zip code, geographical area, area code, district, vertical or custom criteria, the lead is added to their dashboard and prioritized. New leads can also be flagged by text or email in real time to allow the sales person to follow up sometimes while the potential prospect is still looking at your marketing campaign.
By leveraging the date and time stamp feature, marketing and management can instantly audit the sales cycle including understanding when and how the lead was generated, when it was assigned to a sales person, how many calls were required to convert the prospect into a client, the close ratios of leads to customers, bench marking information by rep, by district and/or by region, that specifically identify of the most successful marketing programs.
With the Prospect Auditing Module, companies gain new insight into pre sales costs, which campaigns were successful and can truly understand where to direct their marketing efforts while increasing the value of CRM as a fundamental sales tool. 

About Front Row Solutions:
Front Row CRM is located in Fort Collins, Colorado with clients in 5 continents. Front Row Solutions’ unique Sales Productivity & Accountability management system fulfills the promise of ‘Real Time’ information. Our software provides both management and sales representatives with an instant overview of their sales performance at any given moment.