Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Six Ways Leaders Can Support Team Success

Since leaders lead others, usually in groups or teams, any conversation about effective leadership can’t go too far before beginning to discuss how leaders help their teams. 

People have spent their lives studying the dynamics of team interactions, how teams form and develop, and the skills needed for team members to be successful. When thought about from this perspective, it is hard to fathom how leaders can ever master these complexities.

On the other hand, people have been working in groups for a very long time, and so while complex, there are things people to do work together better, and so there are things that we as leaders can do to support those efforts.

Since this is such a critical piece of the leader’s list of activities, I’ve taken a dual path approach to these suggestions. In fact, rather than six ways a leader can support team success, it is actually a dozen.  For each area, I’ll suggest what the leader can do personally and in relationship to those they lead. While you can make some progress by doing the second action in each pair, they will be far more effective done in tandem, as your personal actions and modeling will be at least as powerful as the second half.

So call it six ways, or call it twelve ways . . . either way, let’s get on with it!

Expect and encourage teamwork
. It is difficult to expect people to come together as effective teams if there isn’t a clear and definitive expectation of the importance of that. It may seem obvious to you, but you probably know what assuming can do… if you want great teams, start by making your expectations clear. Then make sure you are encouraging teamwork through your conversations, feedback, recognition and rewards systems and more. Expectations are great, but your daily actions will show how important teamwork is to you and your organization.

Be committed to team success and help grow the commitment of others
. The best teams are committed to their success and to each other. Are you committed to both of those things? As the leader of a team you are also part of the team, too.  Yes your role is different, but are you all in for the team? If you aren’t, how can you expect them to be? While being committed yourself is important, you must recognize the importance of this commitment and engagement and encourage it in others as well. This may require conversations, coaching and even conflict resolution, but doing the things that help teams become more committed to the work and each other will pay huge dividends in results.

Create a team vision and help people personalize it
. A team can be committed and “get along” and do great work, but if they aren’t moving in a direction that is the desired direction for overall organizational success, they are less effective than they could be. Whether you set the goals or involve them in setting them, no team can succeed without them. Goals alone aren’t enough however. We must help people connect their personal work to the goals of the team and the vision of the organization. Our role as leaders is to help make that happen.

Focus on relationships and encourage others to do the same
. Often leaders make the mistake that if people get to know each other, they will get along better and most, if not all, team problems will melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. While many consultants make a living based on this basic premise, it is short sighted and incomplete. That said, relationships among team members matter and will aid in team development and success. If you want highly successful teams, be a relationship builder and allow time and space for team members to build relationships while they accomplish tasks.

Be available to help and let your team grow independent of you
. Your team will need you, you are committed and are excited and believe in the goals of the team.  You must have time and invest time in your team. And . . . you must leave them alone. Don’t micromanage them. People grow and learn with help, but you can’t do things for them. Give them space, opportunity and be patient. Finding this balance may be a challenge, but remember that as they learn and grow you are leveraging that learning for the lifetime of the team.

Be supportive and encourage team members to support each other
. Be supportive both of the team as a whole, which we have already talked about in several ways, but also of the individuals on the team. Remember that a team is made up of individuals, and when you support them you are building their confidence and creating positive attitudes. Since you know that confidence and a positive attitude and energy will improve individual (and team) results, it is important that you not only do this, but help people do the same for each other. Creating this upward spiral or support and encouragement will grow your team’s results as fast as almost any other thing, and it starts with you.

Pick something on this list and get started, and I recommend you start with the thing you feel least comfortable with, then make a plan to integrate all of these actions into your ongoing team leadership approach. You will create tremendous team results and learn a lot for yourself too.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

At-A-Glance Information with Sales Force Automation

Sales force automation, or SFA, is the application of technologies in efforts to improve the management of sales and salespeople through careful analysis of data related to customers. SFA is often referred to as customer relationship management (CRM). While CRM comprises the major areas of marketing, service, and sales, businesses may utilize SFA applications separately. In this case, SFA cannot be used interchangeably with CRM.

The purpose of SFA is to provide applications which automate business tasks that may otherwise cause strain and drain on business managers as well as their sales representatives. Sales force automation is not simply the over-reliance on software programs to complete a job, but it is the use of technologies to provide salespeople with the ability to place their customers’ needs at the center of focus. In an organized manner, sales teams learn about potential sellers and sales techniques by making full use of technologies. The aim of sales automation is to provide efficiency of work flow and customer satisfaction, thereby increasing sales.

At the height of SFA applications is the ability to have a multiple perspective view of the customer. SFA tools allow sellers access to customer and account contact information. This information enables sellers to build relationships with customers and anticipate their specific needs. A multiple perspective view of the customer can help sales representatives to share customer insight with others, increasing the chances for customer satisfaction. Quick access to these records allows salespeople to spend more time with their customers, increasing productivity.

More than ever, people access online networking services to meet their communication needs. SFA Web-based contact management systems make full use of online networking programs such as Twitter and Facebook. These services provide businesses with the knowledge needed to maintain strong relationships with customers by quickly identifying their customers’ needs. Sales representatives identify improvements that can be made to their own practices by interacting with customers on the Web and by collaborating with colleagues. E-mailing access ensures that processes will occur in a timely manner. Business leaders of today use Web-based SFA services to properly assess customer complaints and alter sales approaches accordingly.

With a high percentage of sales leads lost because of poor management, a crucial part of sales force automation is providing the tools necessary for salespeople to effectively identify prospective buyers and companies, remain connected to prospects through consistent dialog based on the interests of the consumer, and distinguish profitable customers from others. SFA sales lead management services offer sales representatives and managers efficient control of leads by providing automated services which free up the time of the sales rep. Sales reps can easily correlate and organize their activities based on the needs of business leaders with the addition of activity management systems.

It is imperative for businesses to be provided with accurate data to forecast sales pipelines. SFA analytics and forecasting enable salespeople and businesses to make predictions regarding revenue, expenses, sales, and aims at higher profits. Businesses use these tools to generate reports that summarize these trends. With the application of data quality management systems, businesses can minimize the risk of errors in data.

SFA is a tool used at departmental level. Businesses need the flexibility to view the entire business productivity as a whole. As a Web-based tool, sales force automation can be integrated with other applications within the premise. In this way, data is in a constantly controlled environment as it is synchronized with other department applications. Information regrading customers is safely transferred and backed up with less cases of error.

SFA functions as a way salespeople can free up time and energy that would once be used finding leads, updating contacts, and managing paper work flow. With the customers’ needs at the center, SFA enables businesses to return to meet customer demands, limit the work-related stress many sales representatives have, save money, and increase sales.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Get the Most Out of Your Call Center with CRM Software

Do you think of your call center as a business necessity? Or do you consider it a competitive weapon.

Companies who view their call center operations as only a necessary part of conducting business are missing one of the best and least expensive ways to improve not just the bottom line but the top line also. Call centers are a wealth of information and are rife with opportunities for improving customer relationships, enhancing customer satisfaction—and increasing customer sales.

Traditional call centers were created to handle the increase in customers that technology helped to enable. As businesses grew and technology allowed them to reach beyond their immediate localities, companies added more and more customers, which, in turn, created the need to respond to their questions and issues. Initially, call centers were small and simple, consisting of agents, phones and terminals connected to rudimentary databases.

Additionally, the call center operated on local time or in some cases would include a contiguous time zone, if the customer base warranted. However, as the business grew, customers were added across several time zones and in some cases across them all. Globalization allowed a company’s footprint to extend far beyond its own borders and the call center evolved into the 24/7 contact center that is the standard today.

Forward-thinking companies began to see the call center not just as an expense but as an intimate view into their customer’s expectations, needs and preferences. The wealth and quality of the data coming in through calls to their agents could be leveraged to achieve two mission-critical tasks: keeping existing customers, and increasing existing customers’ sales. This was a revolutionary epiphany and if leveraged could dramatically change the business landscape. Unfortunately, there was no easy way to capture and harness the information coming in.

Enter the world of CRM software. CRM, or customer relationship management, is an umbrella term for the activities around identifying, acquiring, and retaining the best mix of customers for your business. CRM software or cloud-based applications integrate your back and front office systems and create a database of every aspect of your customer: contacts, purchases, information they’ve requested, technical support and complaints. This level of insight into your customer base, when analyzed, understood and leveraged, can have an incredibly favorable impact on your business.

For example, 24 Hour Fitness, a nation-wide chain of fitness facilities, used CRM applications run in the cloud to increase its sales by over 30 percent from the prior year. The software provided insight into customers in aggregate, not just at the store level, and allowed 24 Hour Fitness an understanding of its customers that ultimately produced a winning strategy for increasing sales. This, of course, is a testament to the revenue-enhancing side of CRM software, primarily the sales force automation component. On the expense side of the ledger, companies can use CRM applications to capture data and automate report generation—tasks that might once have been performed manually. Personnel can be freed up from the administrative tasks that render them less productive. And the IT team that would have handled your servers and hardware can be dramatically thinned when you move your data storage and workflows to the cloud.

Business intelligence creates a competitive advantage for companies who are open to new ways of viewing traditional operating components. CRM applications run in the cloud is one of those rare solutions that addresses both the revenue and expense side of your business. Capturing and successfully managing that priceless information can mean the difference between business success or business failure.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CRM: Avoid 3 User Identity Mistakes

Let's talk about your users who log in and work with CRM systems daily. Are you making any of these three big mistakes while managing user identities?

Most of the advice in this column has been about customer data: leads, contacts, accounts, and transactions. Too often ignored is the CRM data that's about your users: employees who log in and manipulate data every day.

There are some user policies that are tempting, but have some nasty consequences. Here are three big ones we see all too often.

1. Naming Users By Their Function, Rather Than Their Name

The default login for CRM users is their name or email address. But it can be tempting to have the login be the person's function, rather than their real name.

If you have a large pool of workers that do essentially the same thing (e.g., "customer support operator 13"), this isn't the worst idea in the world. It does provide contextual information that isn't available from the user's own name, but it de-personalizes your users — never a good thing for system adoption or for HR. A better approach is to use the user s Profile, Role, or other fields to provide that information in addition to the user's name.

The bigger issue, though, is that you're tempted to try...

2. Recycling License Identities

Due to the high turnover rates in low-level sales and marketing personnel, CRM systems are much more likely to have users come and go than any other part of enterprise software. In some groups, CRM users' life span averages little more than a year.

Of course when a user is gone, you want to deactivate their license as rapidly as possible so that the license can be used by the new user. But recycling the user license is not the same thing as recycling the license identity.

In most CRM systems, the license identity (which can be thought of as a user "slot" in the system) can never be deleted: the moment it is first instantiated, records and audit trails all over the system record pointers to the slot. Indeed, in, even the user name (e.g., can be used only once across all customer instances...forever.

It's tempting to have an administrative policy that takes that eternal slot and recycles it for a new user when the old one is gone. This avoids the clutter of slots from users who will never be on the system again. Do not fall for this temptation.

Why? Because all the system's history and audit trails will still be pointing to that slot, so that history will be falsely attributed to that new user. Six months from now, nobody will remember exactly when the new user transitioned in. If the new user has a different function in the organization, nobody will remember what the previous user's exact role was. It's really hard to reassign accounts if you don't remember what the original user's territory was. Any historical reports will yield misleading results that cast doubt on the credibility of all the system's data. Not a good plan.

Further, recycling slots practically guarantees data quality problems over time, as people try to "fix" the data or reports to adjust for blurred user identities.

The best practice: never recycle user slots. Instead, deactivate old users and create new slots, explicitly transitioning the defunct user's data to the new owner(s) in a bulk data change.

What about the situation where a user leaves the company and comes back months or even years later? Usually, it's best to reactivate the user's old slot and transition the data that belongs to them in their new role. However, if their new role is completely different from what they were doing before (e.g., they used to be in the customer service call center, but now they're in marketing after business school) and their old identity could cause confusion in reports, using a new slot may be justified. In this case, their old avatar should be
renamed (e.g., "joe.blow.OLD") to keep the identities clearly separated.

3. Sharing Licenses for Cloud Integrations

To be effective, CRM systems need to be integrated with other enterprise systems and infrastructure. That goes double for cloud-based CRM. Typically, each integration point must "log in" to the CRM system to securely share data.

If you've got several systems integrating with the CRM, it's tempting to have a policy where the systems share a single user license. Or, you might find it tempting to have each external system share logins with human users. Even if your CRM vendor's contract allows it, avoid these temptations.

The first issue here is audit trails and data forensics. If all the systems are taking action from a single login, it will be very difficult to troubleshoot bugs. In the other case, where systems are taking action while logged in as one or more users, management reports will soon become very complicated (to filter out the robot activities from the human ones) or misleading, or both.

Potentially worse is the potential for uncoordinated workloads. External system integrations operate asynchronously, and may need to update data at high speed. Having multiple integrations using the same user license may cause resource contention within the CRM system, leading to weird performance problems and bugs that can be tough to troubleshoot.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Three E's of CRM

Successful organizations need to deliver experience, execution, and equity to continue evolving strategies and capabilities.


As products become indistinguishable and markets and geographies converge, it will be the experience that differentiates and drives retention and loyalty among customers. Consider this example: an entrepreneurial manufacturer who is bringing garage-shop motorcycle design to the mainstream market. In his technology-driven business model, he will provide customers the opportunity to design form-fitting bikes complete with the most intricate artwork and details from custom handlebars to custom gas caps. Before the customer commits to a purchase, one of his approved dealers will provide a digitally created, online, 3D concept model of the bike. The dealer will also provide a simulated ride that mirrors the unique bike design. All the digital information about each design is saved. In addition, he will capture the entire design, build, and delivery experience in a personalized coffee table book that the customer can share with friends and other motorcycle enthusiasts.      

This business model delivers on the three core capabilities of experience management. From the personalized design to the visualization of the bike’s design and ride characteristics, the manufacturer has created a unique buying experience. The real hidden asset is the book. Through the book, the manufacturer can define a localized market of potential customers with a built-in advocate, building a customer colony. Colonization is distinguished by a high-touch interaction–a dialogue–that shapes the market and creates new opportunities to collaborate with distinct customer segments.


A growing manufacturer of exhibit booths provides a good example of aligning customer experience with effective execution. This company embarked on an initiative to improve its ability to execute–and to integrate the design and manufacturing processes within its business.

Many booth designers have adopted 3D rendering technology that can simulate the complete trade show experience for their clients. Creating a virtual experience that captures the prospective client’s vision of the booth plays to one of the emotional connections so important to the sale. Using 3D technology also creates another opportunity. These high-end rendering tools truly create digital art, but they also facilitate design-for- manufacturability. Our booth manufacturer recognized the value of this technology to enhance the selling process, deliver on the promised vision, and manage the client experience from sales pitch to booth delivery.
The design change process can become the hidden cost of manufacturing an exhibit booth.

Frequently designers are contacted directly by clients looking to alter the design. But with no tracking of the change, the change costs were not being passed on to the customer. Without a view of the client-designer interaction, the manufacturer was absorbing all the change cost. To eliminate this leakage, workflow and data management software tools along with the new 3D design tools are being evaluated. The manufacturer’s vision is to link these tools to the procurement system and create a means for designers to re-cost changes online, notify the sales rep via email, and request milling and manufacturing estimates to make the change. Sales reps will then have time to contact clients to negotiate the additional charges, review potential timing impact with the client, and release change approval.


Customer equity is defined as the total discounted value of all of a firm’s customers. By that definition, it incorporates quantity of purchases, operating margins, marketing, sales, and service costs (or development, acquisition, and retention costs), and a projection of future purchases.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pushing Sales Reps Away From Their Comfort Zones

Question: My salespeople are content to stay within their comfort zones – the same customers, the same products, etc.  How do I get them to push out into new areas?  

Dave Kahle:
Ah, comfort zones; the bane of the jan-san sales person.  I believe that the loss of productivity and effectiveness caused by the limitations of comfort zones is so widespread that it could be the number one problem for salespeople. It certainly is the biggest obstacle I come up against in my work.  Let’s dig into it a bit to understand the issue better, and then address the question head on.

What’s a comfort zone?

It’s some aspect of the salesperson’s job with which he/she is more comfortable than others.  It could be on the market side of things, where the salesperson is only comfortable with some market segments and uncomfortable with others.  For example, one salesperson may be comfortable calling on schools, but uncomfortable calling on manufacturers.

Salespeople create comfort zones composed of types of individual customers as well.  For example, one salesperson may be comfortable calling on production managers, but very uncomfortable calling on CFOs.  Another may be adepts at visiting with maintenance supervisors, but unwilling to stretch out to call on purchasing agents.

The same thing is true with the products and services on which salespeople choose to spend their time.  They may be comfortable with one product or product line in particular, and thus choose to focus most of their energies on it.

Finally, salespeople form comfort zones associated with the processes and tools they use.  For example, one may be very comfortable using a paper calendar, and not at all comfortable using a laptop or the company’s new CRM system.

Now, just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with comfort zones.  They are the product of human nature.  We all tend to be more comfortable with certain people, places and things than others.   The real problem lies in the white spaces around the issue.  It isn’t comfort zones that are the problem, it is the “uncomfort zones” that surround them. In other words, the issue isn’t that a salesperson is comfortable with some element of the job; it’s that they are uncomfortable with others.  There’s nothing wrong with preferring to call on schools, for example.  The problem comes when the salesperson has trouble dealing with manufacturers.

Even more precisely, the real issue is not the comfort zones themselves, but the inaction derived from uncomfort zones. The problem is behavioral – the salespeople don’t do what you want them to.
Now let’s get back to answering the original question…

How can you push you sales reps into new areas?

The answer is to identify the missing actions driven by these uncomfort zones and use them to develop additional comfort zones. Understand that comfort comes from confidence, and confidence comes from experience and practice. At some point, every current comfort zone was an uncomfort zone. And the salesperson, through practice and/or experience, was able to build some confidence and eventually become more comfortable.

There is a specific action you can take to help your sales reps overcome their lack of comfort with certain markets: create experience.  Try giving them a specific direction, something like this:
“I want you to call on 10 (fill in the uncomfort type of business or level of customer) over the next two weeks.  I don’t care if you sell anything.  I just want you to learn.  Fill out a little call report that indicates what you did, and more importantly what you learned about that market and yourself as a result of each call.  I’ll talk with you about them after you’ve completed the calls.”

Notice how you are forcing the salesperson into the uncomfortable area and stimulating thoughtful learning by giving a specific, measurable direction.   You are holding them accountable via the written call report and conversation with you that follows.  We all know that the salesperson will be more comfortable and confident with the new market after those 10 calls, so by doing this you create confidence through experience.
But what if you don’t see yourself pulling this off?  In that case, fall back on practice.  Bring them into the office for a training session on the product, market, customer, or process that is the source of discomfort.  Help them learn by educating them on the details of the subject.  For example, if the problem is discomfort with a particular market segment, help them learn as much as possible about that market.  How big is it?

How many people are there? Who makes the decisions? What are their problems? What are their objectives and objections?

But don’t stop there.  Many jan-san CSO’s (Chief Sales Officers) make the mistake of thinking that new knowledge automatically leads to new behavior. It rarely does.  So take things one step further by focusing on the action that needs to happen.  Help your reps practice by role playing various scenarios, then comment on the role plays and help them learn.

If you do this effectively, your reps will begin to gain confidence in their ability to handle the market, person, or product they were uncomfortable with.  Once they develop some confidence, that confidence will spill over into action.  And that action will lead them to developing comfort in an area that was previously the opposite.
Ultimately, you solve the problem of comfort zones by creating more of them.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Implementation vs. Execution

Sales is a game of words and meanings; the words we use, how we communicate them, their interpretations by the receiver, directly impact the meaning others take away from our message. It all count in sales, and therefore has to be actively managed and results dealt with. This is why language is an important aspect of sales; further, a key attribute of a solid sales culture is a "common language." The key in sales is that the communications have to align with actions.
It is no surprise that people often hide behind words, or get very different results than they set out to achieve, based on what and how they communicate, then act. Case in point is how some in sales the words: Implementation and 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.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Future of Customer Relationship Management with Social Media

Most businesses have the common goal of maximizing their ability to generate revenues. With this goal in mind, companies large and small tend to focus on producing quality products and services for their customers to purchase; hopefully again and again. The adage that it costs more to obtain a customer than to keep one generally holds true regardless of the type of customer, and as such, managing relationships tends to become paramount within most business organizations.

Technology, specifically the development of online communities and an area known as social media marketing, is providing traditional brick and mortar business marketing the tools required to compete in the new online world of the Internet. The future is sure to hold some interesting surprises for both the companies selling products and services as well as for the consumers buying the same.

Corporations have been around for a few hundred years. But older than both is the concept of the customer. Even simple trading practices saw one or both sides of the transaction from the view point of the client who was receiving goods or services for their money or barter items.

As the company grew in complexity of structure and offerings, layers of executive management, boards of directors, middle management and workers also expanded to fill the needs of the business entity, but all with the same focus.

That directed effort was nearly universally about providing a paying customer with a product or service. Scales of efficiency have been implemented over the past 100 or so years in order to allow a business to do more with less.

Even today, this mantra is heard around many board room tables, upper level management meetings, and all the way down to the shipping departments.

For much of the early part of the 20th century in this country, the concept of managing the company’s relationship with its customers was unheard of; not because of a general lack of concern for those who purchased from the business, but because previous history had left no precedent for the company to have cause to worry about who would spend money for what the company sold.

During the 1980′s, the concept of database marketing became a familiar axiom in the business world. With the promise of speaking individually to countless customers, the prospect of using new and ever powerful computers to aid with the increase of a company’s bottom line held quite an allure.

The challenge, as history is showing, was in the difficulties of using this new marketing tool. It was very costly for any business daring enough to invest in the tools. The computers and required knowledge and experience to use the data for advancing sales through marketing efforts was simply more than most companies were able to manage.

As it turns out, knowing just a few key demographics about their customers recent purchases greatly simplified the process of keeping tabs on the paying clients.

In the 90′s, the concept of relationship marketing took root in the business culture and customers now had to deal with the likes of airline rewards programs. One of the biggest challenges businesses faced in this new paradigm was the expectation of their implementing whatever relationship program was put into place by the competition.

Many man-hours and millions of dollars were spent in the keeping up with the business Jones’ during this period of time. At the end of the day most businesses had invested far more than they would ever see in returns in the areas of relationship management.

Early at the beginning of the 21st century, the Internet began to provide a number of tools and channels that enterprising, experienced professionals realized could be put to good use in a new area that was coming to be known as Customer Relationship Management, or CRM.

At first, much like the past few decades, the idea was grander than its implementation. The Internet would change everything was the new mantra of the day. The reality was there were 3 major areas preventing the effective use of technology in the arena of providing the best service to customers.

3 Keys Social CRM Must Address For Successful Implementation

  •  Cultural Challenges: Unfortunately, study after study has shown that many of the larger companies maintain and even promote a corporate culture of showing little regard for its customers. Overcoming these challenges is compounded when considering the implementation and use of any sort of CRM solution.One of the most effective ways to surmount the attitudes of the old guard within the business culture is by the use of social media marketing, the communities which grow up around the various online social sites, and dedicating individuals within the company with the authority to speak on behalf of the business directly to the social communities and the individuals making up those groups.

  • Economic Hurdles: While the Internet has greatly lowered the cost of doing many aspects of business, there are still a number of tools and services the company will have to dedicate operating budget for. In the past, cost of implementing the computer systems, database applications, hiring and maintaining the employees who look after all this could quickly become not so cost effective.With many corporate structures failing to look past the next quarter of the businesses future, finding the investment on unproven and even harder to justify technologies such as social CRM applications or even active participation in the communities where the company’s brand is most often talked about was an extremely hard sale.
    Good news here is the cost of entry of using a great number of social sites and their built in tools is drastically lower than some of the legacy applications once sold to a business.

  • Linguistic Frustrations: The jargon of acronyms, definitions and various other terms required for understanding CRM seemed to provide the proverbial camel’s back breaking with each straw of knowledge necessary for a decision maker to give the green light for buy in.While many of those terms are still in place, and even required for effective use today, social CRM limits the need for in-depth understanding on the parts of those least familiar with the intimate aspects of customer relationship management.
    What is required is a willingness on the part of the company’s decision makers to green light the use of social CRM tools and access to social communities by its employees.

While the tools and technologies evolve to provide businesses with even more powerful channels to reach the consumer, the age old truth is still as prevalent as ever. Either use it or lose it. The future of customer relationships management with Social Media is rather clear cut: the brand must be monitored within the various social communities.

Dedicated members of the company must interact in the various conversations being held within the social community networks. This talk is going to happen regardless of whether there is someone from the company there to defend, explain or apologize. Wise money indicates those businesses who invest in participation and use of social media will benefit in both the near and far terms.

What are your predictions for the future of customer relationship management with social media?


Friday, July 8, 2011

Creating Loyal Customers through Cloud CRM

Cloud CRM, or customer relationship management, applications are opening doors for increased customer satisfaction while simultaneously lowering a company’s cost of providing for those experiences. By creating environments where a business can quickly and easily implement software solutions, on infinitely scalable hardware platforms, the cloud computing providers have made for effective channels of two-way communications between the business and its customers.
Hosting a CRM application on a cloud platform makes sense for the business because it:
  • Greatly reduces costs. Original applications required dedicated servers hosted directly in data centers (for the best performance.) In addition to the tens of thousands of dollars required to pay for software licenses, the cost of purchasing and maintaining server hardware could become astronomical to the business.
  • Provides near-instant scalability. Things happen fast in today’s online world. Being able to fulfill demand by quickly creating additional server instances can spell the difference between success and failure.
  • Eliminate Need of Dedicated Professionals. Many of the current cloud CRM solutions are so automated and easy to use, the business using such solutions no longer need an IT professional on their own staff. With the wages now commanded by such trained professionals, this savings alone often times more than covers the cost of implementation and maintenance of the Cloud CRM solution.
With this establishment of what Cloud CRM is and why it makes sense, now let’s discuss a focus on how to use this new technology platform to create loyal customers.

Many of today’s tech savvy customers are quickly becoming used to having information about their purchasing habits collected by equally savvy companies. In order to get maximum use of the data collected, businesses are regularly implementing Cloud CRM solutions. With a little fore thought and systems design, even the smallest businesses might realize a number of benefits in providing superior customer service through the cloud.

What are some of those benefits? The following list will briefly describe the more effective ways the business can ensure a happy customer experience; one that has higher chances of being repeated.

5 Benefits To the Business Of Implementing Cloud CRM Solutions

Capture & Management of Customer Information
If information is power, then the effective collection and management of customer data allows the company the power it needs in order to provide quick, easy and cost effective customer service. Cloud CRM solutions which make the harvesting of customer info its top priority should be at the top of one’s list when seeking a CRM solution.

Brand Recognition
Whether employing social CRM modules in ones relationship management or simply taking advantages of cloud scalability, having low cost, immediate delivery of the company’s marketing message increases brand awareness, and does so at previously unrealized cost and effort.

Sales Cycle Management
Even the simplest retail sales have specific sales cycles. Cloud CRM solutions provide the company with both customer data as well as meta data associated with how the customer behaves. Having immediate access to when a customer buys, what they are spending their money on, whether or not returns are happening, and if so, to what level, and more, can provide management with a more complete picture of the entire sales cycle. The use of that information in constructive and relevant manners could make the difference between increasing sales to existing customers and seeing quotas go unmet.

Ease of Delivery of Priority Customer Service
Most customers want to feel they are the only thing important to the company. It can be a challenge to know which customer should be treated with priority and which ones should simply be respected, but not necessarily promoted to the level of those getting the very best treatment.
The harsh reality is that there are certain customers who pay much more to a business with the expectation of being taken care of. This does not, of course, excuse a company for ignoring or otherwise offending all of their customers, but with the information made available to the sales associates via a Could CRM solution, those who spend the most will be immediately identified and treated as the company wishes them to be.

Highly Personalized Service
Even with the last benefit having been stated, one of the most alluring aspects of a business using Cloud CRM is the ability to personalize many of its interactions with its customers at little to no extra cost. Today’s computer power and Internet delivery speeds makes it very easy for a cloud based solution to present an employee with a massive amount of data when dealing with the current customer. Even in an online approach where the company provides the customer with direct access to their individual account information, the use of Cloud CRM solutions can provide a richer more robust user experience.

At the end of the business day, it is usually the customer’s purchases which make the company’s world go round. For a minimal investment in Cloud CRM technologies, the savvy business can provide for superior customer relationship while still holding down its costs of doing so. Happy customers tend to spend more money. They also tend to tell their friends, family and associates.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How To Know When Your CRM Is Broken

During the 1990s when customer relationship management or CRM was just beginning to be implemented in business processes, one of the biggest challenges was simply getting the corporate structure to use the tools and channels of communication effectively. Today, the evolution of the Internet, and its various channels, has increased the contents of the marketer’s tool box with more innovative ways to manage the business’s relationships with its customers.

The challenge with all the latest bells and whistles is to know when something is amiss. When does the company understand that their CRM efforts are not working, or being as effective as they might be?
Too many marketing executives wait to see the reports. Even on a weekly basis, the time it takes for the feedback to enter into the conversation may be longer than is healthy for regular, successful business operations.

Fortunately for today’s business marketing professional, in addition to a wide array of low cost, effective CRM applications, the employment of social media with the specific application towards customer relationships management can provide near real time feedback on the current state of CRM affairs.
In the past, sales was a direct indicator of how a company was doing. Though still true today, taking the time to wait for sales data, making a determination of response, and then implementing that response can take too much time.

With the use of social CRM tools and communities, the business can be more active in the direct interaction with its customers. When something goes wrong, the conversations usually start with the communities of users. Active company representatives continually monitoring the various social channels can be clued into the negative conversations within minutes, not the days, weeks or months of the past.

When it comes to monitoring the working efficacy of the CRM application in place, one of the best mechanisms is to simply ask ones customers how things are going. How has their experience with the company affected them?

Again, social CRM provides a number of tools that are both easy to use and relatively inexpensive as well. The following list briefly describes some of these tools, and how the savvy marketing department can use them to promote the company brand, while still providing top quality service to the customers:

Tools To Use In Effective CRM

  • Cloud CRM Applications: Cloud computing, or the hosting of applications on servers (or parts of servers) not wholly owned by ones company, can provide the business with effective, scalable solutions when it comes to providing quality relationships management. An effective indicator of shoddy CRM can be the over-burdening of in-house servers loaded up with various software applications required to provide acceptable customer experiences.By enlisting the help of instantly scalable software and hardware solutions, the business can do away with the excuse of technology as an inhibitor to the customer being treated fast and in good fashion.
  • Monitoring the Conversation: Knowing what is being said about ones customer is as important as being able to take quick action to remedy less than positive scenarios. In the past, this sort of continual around the clock monitoring simply was not possible.Today, however, with active use of social communities, the company is able to set up automated services which check any mention of a brand. Now, with dedicated individuals whose primary focus is spotting and reacting to the mention of its brand names, the conversation can always be heard.When others are speaking ill, social CRM provides a fast, easy, and low cost way to deal with the challenges. When bad things are spread about the brand, it becomes paramount for the company to address the problem head on, in good timely order, and with intelligent, compassionate solutions. Social CRM will provide the communication channels for this to happen.
  • Continual Content Creation: If the company is receiving a number of similar questions or complaints about some aspect of its operations, a clue might be picked up on that CRM is broken. Maintaining a database of the various questions asked easily leads to an FAQ page, or knowledge base of solutions where current and potential customers can find the answers they seek fast.
  • Setting Automated Notifications: As stated, people will talk about ones company and brands. In addition to the real-time conversations taking place within the confines of social communities like Facebook or Twitter, thousands of bloggers and other website owners publish new articles and blog posts every day. Many of them will talk about the brand that is important to the company in question.Search engines like Google have free, easy to use mechanisms in place to monitor a specific keyword or phrase and then email those references to someone in the company who needs to know what’s being said. Whether having an email delivered immediately, or on a daily or weekly basis, it is important to hear what is being said outside of the traditional social community venues.The quicker one is receiving this information, the faster a determination can be made on how to deal with it. For a large percentage of the conversations, simply logging into the speaker’s website and leaving an official, informed comment can make the difference between representing the brand well, and inviting further challenging criticism.
In a nutshell, if the paying customers are complaining about products, or the way they are being treated, one should know there are challenges with the CRM process. When the conversation is a bit harder to locate, extra efforts need to be employed in order to better deal with amicable solutions.

Taking the time to monitor the chatter, separate the noise from the legitimate concerns will be a win for the company in a number of ways. Existing customers like to know they are valued. They’ll tell everyone within their spheres of influence when the business goes out of their way to make the customer feel valued and worthy.

But customers will also tell their friends and associates when they’ve been done wrong. With today’s communications capabilities this bad news can spread much faster than wildfire.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Customer Services are Integral to Business Growth, A New Study Shows

A recent survey performed by the Federation of Small Businesses indicates that many of the 1,700 polled believe providing better customer service is an integral key to growing their businesses. Whether exposing employees to in-house training in areas such as sales, marketing or public relations, the overriding sentiment was that increasing the company’s care and concern for the paying client seemed paramount to its success.

One of the more recent developments in the ways businesses operate is a focus on something known as customer relationship management, or CRM. In effect, CRM is akin to taking customer service to new levels by providing employees with tools and data they need to exceed the customer’s expectations.

The implementation of CRM into the company’s operations has multi-tiered effects on information organization, sales forecasting and indeed tends to lead to increased sales, and as importantly to the long term growth of the business and increased perceptions of customer service. The following list will focus on and expand how a business’s use of CRM affects the customer directly.

4 Direct Effects of CRM on the Customer Experience

  1. More Satisfied Customer Base: The early part of the 20th century saw a number of brand names become synonymous with the products sold by the company. Think Kleenex or Band-aid. Of course in those days, there was very little, if any competition and this allowed the company to develop a large base of customers who became habitual buyers. As long as the business treated the paying clients well, their growth and profits seemed guaranteed.Today’s markets certainly have much more competition, however the concept of developing a satisfied customer base holds true. Providing the ones main source of revenues with satisfactory customer service is an excellent way to firmly establish the company in the marketplace and ensure its growth in the long term.
  2. Customer Loyalty Improvement: Some savvy marketer once came up with a concept for the tobacco industry that fully encapsulates the concept of customer loyalty. The paradigm that was filtered into their customer base was that a cigarette smoker would rather fight than to give up their particular brand. This very same concept holds true for any brand looking to increase the loyalty of their paying consumers. By providing excellent customer services, the company increases the chance that someone who buys their products would actually pay a little more or go a little farther in order to have the quality and service they have come to expect. Lower priced imitations of their favorite goods would only cause them to reaffirm their brand loyalty that much more.
  3. Customer Retention: It is certainly true that it costs more to get a customer than to keep one. Retaining the businesses best customers is one of the key focuses of CRM and when considering the implementation of such a plan, bearing in mind the cost factors of getting new clients versus keeping existing ones can be a strong rationale for investing in the technology required.While some customers look for the deal with every purchase they make, others look to be cared for. They become loyal to a brand and its company when they know they can expect quality products and be serviced even beyond their expectations. The business looking for long term customer retention must place excellent service to the paying clients above even their own goals of profits. Customers see this in the company and tend to reward the business by staying with them for very longer periods of time.
  4. Direct Customer Referrals/WOM: Most businesses understand the power of word of mouth advertising. When the above three factors come together to produce an extremely satisfied customer, an inevitable result is that customer’s desire to spread word of the treatment he or she has had at the hand of the company.In days past, the rule of thumb was that each person knew or had some direct connections with upwards to about 150 others. Known as the Dunbar Number, this sphere of influence was one way that a company would hope to get knowledge its brand products passed around. Today, however, the concept of spreading the word to only 150 others seems quaint. With the advent of social media and the communities which have spawned as a result, even the most average of individuals can have hundreds or thousands of others they communicate with on a regular basis. Today, direct customer referral is big business, and the best way to understand the power of this phenomenon is to harness social CRM for the benefit of the company and its customers.
The speed and power of the Internet can make amazing things happen very fast. It is important, however that when considering how to grow ones business, to have a realistic expectation on what will happen and when. Yes information travels faster today thanks to email and the World Wide Web. But when considering the implementation of a plan which may include CRM, it is important to remember that investing in such a game plan is a long term proposition.

Information gathering, storage and processing takes time. Training employees on use of the tools and various other aspects of providing quality customer services will also take some time. Most importantly, the business needs to put the time and effort into helping their customers feel important and appreciated in order to begin to see returns on any CRM investment.

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