Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The 10 best tablets of 2011 [UPDATED]

Takeaway: Tablets are the hot new thing and there are too many to choose from. See Jason Hiner’s picks for the 10 tablets that are worth your attention.

Tablets are the technology’s industry’s latest gold rush. With Apple selling 15 million iPads in 2010 and projected to sell as many as 45 million in 2011, everyone wants a piece of the public’s sudden infatuation with multitouch slabs of silicon.  From the world’s biggest computer companies to obscure little parts makers, there have been an obscene number of companies releasing tablets this year and the number will only increase next year.

Which ones are safe to ignore and which ones are worth your attention? In February, I wrote a piece called The 10 hottest tablets to watch in 2011. Most of these tablets have finally come to market, a lot of them flopped, and other new tablets have popped up. In May, after reviewing many of these tablets, I wrote the first version of my leaderboard, with a lot of tablets moving up or down in the rankings.

Heading into the fall buying season, here is my updated assessment of the top tablets of 2011.

10. Motorola Xoom

In the past, when Google was ready to make a leap forward with Android, it anointed a hardware partner to produce a device that would be something of a concept vehicle for Google’s vision. For the Android 3.0 tablet OS, Motorola was the chosen one and the Xoom was that device. This 10-inch widescreen tablet launched with drool-inducing tech specs but the Android tablet software was incomplete and desperately needed more apps. The other big drawback was the price. It launched at $799 without a contract ($599 for Wi-Fi version). Today, you can get the Xoom for as low as $439 for the Wi-Fi version through Amazon. It’s still the most industrial-strength Android tablet on the market, but it’s also a little heavy and bulky compared to newer hardware.

9. BlackBerry PlayBook

I was at the event last fall where RIM announced the BlackBerry PlayBook and my first impressions were not very good — mostly because RIM kept it behind glass. However, after getting my hands on the final product, I was a lot more impressed. There are things to like about the PlayBook, especially for businesses that are already invested and committed to BlackBerry smartphones and the BES backend infrastructure. This is a 7-inch tablet, so that limits its appeal a bit — except for the vocal minority who like the smaller form factor. Still, the hardware feels great, the tablet OS is easy to figure out, and the performance is staggeringly good. It’s also one of the best tablets for Web browsing because of its excellent implementation of Flash, although the 7-inch screen is a drawback for trying to read text from most web pages. Also, if you don’t have a BlackBerry smartphone to tether to this one, then it’s difficult to recommend it over other tablets. 

8. HTC Flyer

Over half of the tablets on this list are powered by Android and HTC is one of the powerhouses of the Android ecosystem. Unlike rivals Motorola, Samsung, and LG, who all unveiled high-end tablets at CES 2011 in January, HTC was remarkably silent on the tablet question. However, this spring, HTC announced the Flyer, a 7-incher with a 1.5 GHz CPU, 1.0 GB RAM, 32GB of Flash storage, and a special version of the HTC Sense UI designed for tablets. The Sense UI is by far the best Android skin on the market and it doesn’t disappoint on the Flyer, even though it’s running on top of Android 2.2 and not Android 3.0. Also, unlike most of the other Android tablets, the Flyer includes digital ink technology and a stylus — and it’s an excellent implementation. Unfortunately, the Flyer hardware leaves a lot to be desired. It is thick, awkward to hold, and feels like an oversized smartphone.

7. Acer Iconia Tab A500

Acer isn’t known for its innovative designs, and it doesn’t deliver one with this tablet, but the company does a decent job of delivering a lot of technology at a reasonable price. That’s what you get with the Acer Iconia Tab A500 — a 10-inch Android Honeycomb tablet with a dual-core Tegra2 processor, 1GB of RAM, dual cameras on front and back, and a price tag starting at $449. There’s nothing spectacular about this tablet, but it gives you plenty of hardware and features for the money.

6. HP TouchPad

A lot of people will think I’m being extremely generous by putting the TouchPad as high as number six since HP has officially killed product. But, if HP hadn’t killed it, I would have ranked the TouchPad No. 3 on the list (although keep in mind that my primary audience is people who use technology for business). Since HP is clearing out the TouchPad for $100 (16GB) and $150 (32GB) and you can still get them on eBay for $200-$300, this one still belongs on the list, for now. As I wrote in my review, the TouchPad actually trumps the iPad in productivity (especially messaging) and web browsing, but it lacks the entertainment and media options that most consumers want and the hardware feels cheap and clunky.

5. B&N Nook Color

When the Barnes & Noble Nook Color e-reader got an update to Android 2.2 and its own app store earlier this year, it turned into a viable low-cost tablet. Some will argue against it, since it has a heavy-handed UI forced on top of Android and doesn’t run the full Android Market app store. But, I couldn’t leave this little 7-inch tablet off the list. It has a great form factor — thin and easy in the hands — and you can’t beat the price at $249. Plus, if you’re highly technical, you can hack it into a full Android tablet.

4. ASUS Eee Pad Transformer

ASUS believes that the iPad has two weaknesses — lack of choice and limited content creation ability — so that’s where the company has focused its attention in tablets. The Eee Pad Transformer is a 10-inch tablet with a dual core NVIDIA Tegra 2 CPU that runs Android 3.0. The most innovative thing about this one is that it has an optional keyboard dock that also functions as an extended battery, giving the device up to 16 hours of life. With the Transformer’s dock mode, ASUS has pulled off an Android tablet that also doubles as a laptop. Plus, the price is right. At $399, this tablet is one of the best values on the market, so it’s no surprise that it it sold out in the US on its first day of online sales.

3. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

The original Samsung Galaxy Tab was a 7-inch tablet that jumped the gun on Android tablets before Google was ready, but it offered the first legitimate challenge to the original iPad. If it wasn’t so expensive ($600), it might have faired even better than the respectable sales numbers it posted. Samsung’s second try at the tablet market is a lot more potent. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a gorgeous piece of hardware. I usually don’t like Samsung’s plastic mobile hardware (it always feels cheap to me), but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks and feels great. It is razor-thin, light, and still feels sturdy. It has all the specs you’d expect for a high-end tablet — great screen, dual cameras, solid battery life, and a dual-core NVIDIA processor. The only drawback is the software. It runs Android Honeycomb with the Samsung Touchwiz UX, which adds very little, doesn’t have a very appealing UI, and doesn’t have all of the experimental features (like browser thumb controls) as stock Android. But, Samsung is making these tablets very friendly for enterprise buyers and it can run on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

2. The Amazon tablet

Amazon is putting all the pieces in place to build its own Android tablet. In fact, it may be better positioned to compete with Apple than any of the other tablet makers because of its strengths in content and cloud computing. Amazon already had the Kindle e-book library and Web-based music and video stores, but in 2011 it has added the Amazon Appstore for Android and Amazon Cloud Drive. Amazon hasn’t made any official announcements yet, so this tablet benefits from lots of positive speculation, but the stars appear to be aligning for a formidable tablet product from the world’s e-commerce king, which will likely price it low and make money off the content sales. An Amazon tablet at under $300 would draw a lot of buyers and loosen the iPad’s stranglehold on the tablet market.

1. Apple iPad 2

The iPad remains the king of the category and, even with the invasion of an army of challengers, the iPad will retain a commanding market share lead when we get to the end of 2011. It still has too many factors in its favor: dead-simple usability, long battery life, a massive catalog of apps, and a respectable price. The last factor might be the most important. The iPad’s rivals have had a very hard time beating the iPad’s price tag while offering a comparable experience. The iPad 2 doesn’t offer any revolutionary changes over the original iPad. It’s thinner and lighter, has an upgraded processor and display, and adds front and rear cameras. It’s a nice refinement, and with its big advantages in apps and entertainment, it easily has enough value to keep it at the top of this list — even for business users, who want the apps for business tasks and the games and entertainment for plane rides (and to distract the kids once in a while).

Monday, August 29, 2011

outbound Qualification as a Company - Level Strategy

The Key Ingredients to Successful Outbound Calling

1. Focus only on those prospects that fit your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Take the time to define what your sweet spot looks like and build a target list of companies that fit those parameters. Don’t assume that just because a company is in your database that they fit your ICP!

2. Execute a Process That Includes (at minimum) 4 touches in 10 Business Days

Call, call, email, call. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming an inside sales rep that communicates primarily via email. Yes, I know people generally respond more to emails, but that’s because they can blow you off easier that way. You can’t control the sales process if you don’t have the ability to ask relevant questions, handle objections and position yourself against the competition. You don’t need a pen pal, you need a qualified prospect.

3. Always Leave Compelling Voice Mail Messages of Less than 90 Words

4. Emails Should be Text Only, Contain Only 1 Link, and be as Short as Possible

This allows your prospects to easily read your emails on a BlackBerry, smartphone or personal digital assistant (PDA). Emails also must contain a call to action and should not include attachments.

5. Let the Prospect Know When it is Your Final Call

Bear in mind that even if a prospect does not respond immediately, it doesn’t mean your message was not absorbed. If they fit your ICP, put them through this process again in six months.

A properly executed outbound lead qualification effort adds measurable value, but as with any practice, it takes time and resources to get the practice off the ground, make adjustments, get it running smoothly, and produce the results you want. In addition, it will be essential that your marketing, sales, and product management teams are all involved with the effort; these departments will need to interact with the business development team and help implement ongoing improvements in order to ensure the program’s medium- and long-term success.

Given the length of time and cross-functional nature of the practice, the CEO and the rest of the executive team must buy-in to the value of the program, determine the long-term strategic goals and shorter-term goals for the practice, communicate its importance to employees, and dedicate the proper resources to the effort. In addition, participating employees should be given goals and the right measurements to track performance.

  • Setting the right long-term goals and shorter-term goals/milestones
  • Assigning senior sponsorship
  • Appointing a person (an outbound prospecting manager) to be responsible for the effort
  • Approving an approach and plan that is right for your situation
  • Properly resourcing the effort
  • Constantly communicating the importance of the effort to everyone involved
  • Reviewing results and making adjustments over time

Friday, August 26, 2011

Business Benefits of Outbound Prospecting

Outbound qualification offers significant value to your marketing efforts by enabling your people to 
  1. Communicate directly with users and buyers
  2. Significantly grow your sales pipeline.
Create more sales and opportunities. The most direct result from outbound qualification is the greater number of qualified prospects you’ll give your salespeople, which will ultimately result in more sales. In most instances, these sales opportunities would not be created through other marketing channels.

Lower the marketing cost for customer acquisition. For many companies, the marketing cost of a closed sale is higher than the cost of a closed sale through an outbound prospecting program. If this is the case for your company, then you will lower the marketing cost of acquisition as you expand your outbound qualification efforts.

Reduce the sales cycle time and increase conversion rates for your entire business — not just the business created by your outbound program. When the results from outbound qualification are closely tracked and turned into insights, and you use those insights to generate and implement ideas for improvement, you can substantially increase your business overall. Using the insights you gain will enable you to improve in a number of areas.

For Example:
  • Find better and more specific target customer segments and roles where your product is most appealing. Constantly adjusting the target lists based on results will help you increase your conversions and refine your other marketing channel results as well.
  • Improve your competitive-advantage messaging and content. Direct conversations with cold prospects will dramatically improve your ability to figure out what messages and content resonate with them and what kind of information will turn them into warm prospects. You can use that information to improve your messaging and content throughout all other marketing channels as well.
  • Identify the most frequent buyer objections and figure out ways to overcome them; you can then incorporate those replies into your messaging and content to prevent or mitigate similar objections in the future. Outbound prospecting gives you the best opportunity to identify the reasons why your target prospects may not want to buy a product like yours, or your product in particular. This gives you the opportunity to craft your messages and content in a way that addresses the objections across all of your marketing channels

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Outbound Prospecting Defined

Outbound lead qualification is a direct marketing channel, whereby you identify your target customers and then directly reach out and introduce them to your company, its products, and its services.

Outbound prospecting for B2B companies in its simplest form is essentially
  1. Compiling a list of companies and people that you believe are the best target prospects for your company’s products and services
  2. Calling those prospects to introduce them to your company and discover if they are indeed a good fit. Outbound prospecting for B2C companies is similar, although there are more potential people to call.

The output from your prospecting team, in its simplest form, is the hand-off of qualified leads or sales opportunities to your sales team. The leads might be handed-off during scheduled meetings or through your sales automation system. In some instances, an outbound prospector might end up taking the prospect all the way through the buying process to close the sale (particularly with low-priced B2B sales or with B2C sales).

Your prospecting, marketing, and sales teams should join together for retrospective meetings on a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly) to share what they’ve learned and identify ways to improve.

  • Better target lists (e.g., better target companies, target roles, and contact information)
  • More training of the prospectors in specific areas
  • Better sales content and pitches
  • Better prospect qualification criteria
  • Better hand-offs to the sales team

Teams that have a disciplined approach to identifying and executing improvements can dramatically boost their performance. Depending on the starting point, this can range from a 2X to 50X improvement in the number of great prospects that are handed off to the sales team as the practice ramps up.

  • An email marketing program that enables you to send emails to warm up prospects prior to the first call.
  • Website content that your prospector can direct the prospect to during or after the call.
  • Events, website content, outside (social media) discussions, and/or newsletters that your prospector can offer to your prospects — content that will provide prospects with ongoing value and improve their understanding of and relationship with your company.
  • Periodic follow-up calls from the prospector to further build the relationship and determine how the prospects are progressing in their readiness to purchase.
  • For B2B, using the first calls as a springboard to help identify other people in the company who might be additional prospective buyers, or who might be better suited for your company’s products.
  • You can also use outbound prospecting as part of a coordinated multi-channel marketing program, which is very effective given that it generally takes a few impressions from different angles to warm up a prospect. Outbound prospecting tends to cut through the marketing clutter better than other marketing channels and helps to prime prospects for marketing contacts through other channels. For example, in a B2B situation, emailing and then calling a prospect who will probably be attending an event where you’ll be exhibiting has proven to be an effective marketing strategy; while the person is walking the floor, he/she will probably stop by to “meet the people who were nice enough to call.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Small Business, Big Dreams: Realize Your Potential with CRM

When you think about it, “doing business” really means fostering relationships. And just like in your personal life, some of those relationships last longer than others, while some have great potential but never really get off the ground, maybe because of a miscommunication. Some relationships begin early and last for a lifetime.

What kind of relationships do you have with your customers?

Small businesses can have the ability to build solid, long-lasting customer relationships, but unfortunately, they often don’t have the time to devote to that. After all, an employee in a small business wears a lot of hats. One great way to stay on top of all the emails, phone calls, social media initiatives, promotions and incentives—not to mention the products themselves—is to invest in a customer relationship management, or CRM, system.

A customer relationship management system, specifically one that runs in the cloud, can free up a small business owner from the administrative tasks that eat time. But this is more than just a tool for organizing data: cloud-based CRM apps can actually analyze and automate that data, presenting you with a real-time, 360-degree view of your customers. With this information, you can capture leads, empower sales reps, fine-tune marketing campaigns, and run forecasting reports that will enable you to maximize resources while minimizing costs. CRM systems also allow you to provide excellent customer service and identify new opportunities for cross-selling.

What does it mean to run a system like this “in the cloud”? It’s simple. You simply log in to applications run over the Internet, rather than opening software that runs on a hard drive or centralized server. This means that you don’t even have to have a centralized server—or the bills, maintenance and headaches that would come along with it. All you need are Internet-ready devices—computers or laptops, smartphones, iPads—and the log-in information. You contract with a cloud-computing CRM vendor to provide you only the apps and server capacity you need, and nothing more.

This saves money, sure, but it’s also easy for your employees to use. The interfaces of these apps are customizable and intuitive. Tabs help users switch quickly from one task to another. Open multiple screens to create a tailor-made view of an account, or enable one or more employees to view the same information and collaborate on a document in real-time.

One thing to consider is the possibilities for elastic expansion offered by applications operated through cloud computing. Applications run through cloud computing can expand with your business. In fact, they’re so flexible you may be able to get started right now, even if your enterprise is still relatively small. As you add employees—and customers—your infrastructure can grow with you to ensure that your profit margin stays as high as possible. The scalability of cloud computing also means that seasonal businesses, such as those that sell strawberries, Halloween costumes or Christmas decorations, don’t have to buy excessive server capacity just to handle peak periods. You only pay for what you need, when you need it.

If you’re in business, you’ve got big dreams. No matter how small you start out, cloud-based customer relationship management systems can help you achieve those dreams, even while you’re cutting costs and building lifelong relationships with customers.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Front Row Solutions is part of CRM Idol 2011

Here is what we are all about, check us out at

Front Row Solutions offers comprehensive CRM solutions that includes Mobile CRM for the fastest updates to a CRM in the industry.

Revolutionize your business with Real-time Sales Activity data

Having real-time sales data and metrics at your fingertips provides invaluable insight to provide direction and training to your sales staff. With our system, effective sales call tracking and sales rep tracking are now possible enabling your company to enhance sales performance.

Any effective sales management tool must be designed with user acceptance and ease of use in mind and we’ve incorporated several features in our system that strive to ease the daily sales call report activity for all sales representatives.

Sales representatives can transmit sales data and sales metrics seamlessly into Front Row’s management dashboard via SMS Text Message, mobile browser on smart phones, Smart Phone Apps or via a web browser for laptops & tablets.

As a result  of our system’s ease of use and multiple data entry opportunities, sales representatives can now spend less than 5 minutes per day reporting all sales activity. Less time spent on reporting and administration equates to more available time for additional sales calls and the opportunity to increase productivity and revenue.

Built-in Sales Productivity Tools
Sales representatives will love all of the built-in productivity tools associated with Front Row Solutions’ software including:
  • Full Customer Contact & negotiation notes data entry fields
  • Outlook Calendar sync capability with all Front Row Solutions scheduled calls, follow-ups and reminder
  • Route Planning & Mapping Systems to assist in daily/weekly sales call logistics
  • Remote sales negotiation notes entry
Easy to use, fast to populate, rich in real time reporting and the high user adoption rates makes Front Row CRM a clear choice for businesses looking to grow.

Managers will love the visibility and deep reporting including:
  • Tracking of meeting updates to determine if meeting locations laid out in the most efficient way
  • The ability to compare reps performance to provide coaching opportunities
  • Lead to close ratio reports
  • Sales cycle analytics to provide a frame work for success

Easy to use for sales professionals, meaningful reporting for Managers and tangible results make Front Row Solutions a clear choice for businesses looking to take their growth to the next level.

Corporate Description

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.

As a software innovator, we create solutions that are easy to use, have a high user adoption rate, increases sales and as a standalone CRM or integrated with other software, creates a best of breed solution for those who want more.

Front Row Solutions can increase your company’s sales revenue by providing real time data, enabling daily clarity on your company’s sales performance.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

CRM Strategies Examined

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is being embraced by an ever-widening number of businesses as more and more people come to understand the great benefits a successful CRM strategy can offer for today’s companies.

Of course, there is really no such thing as one strategy. The best CRM plans bring together a number of strategies that complement one another and work together to give a multi-layered approach to improving a business’s performance by improving the customer’s experience.

While every strategy will be different for each business, there are a number of key areas that can be adapted to create an overall strategy:
  1. One of the key CRM strategies is to ensure that it is fully embedded in the culture of the organization. The way this is best achieved is to have full buy-in from the whole of the sales team. In practise this means everyone from the head of sales right down to the frontline staff. Successful CRM businesses have come to understand that if this is not the case there is a weak link that can derail the whole operation. Therefore, they make it a priority that CRM is fully embraced.
  2. As simple as it sounds, the absolute bedrock of any CRM success is the quality of the data that is held in the system. Put simply, the better the data the better the results. It should be a business’s priority to ensure a strategy of all data being of the utmost quality. Every customer’s entry should be as complete and up-to-date as possible with everything from the correct spelling (few things irritate customers as much as having names such as Linda spelt Lynda) to purchase history being in place. It may only seem a small point, but successful businesses know that it can often be the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity.
  3. One of the key revolutions that CRM has provided is the way in which it has liberated staff. The days when the best staff were isolated from their customers are slowly receding into history. Forward-looking companies understand the value these staff can have for their business. Of course, no one is suggesting that the head of product development should be sitting on a counter somewhere on the off chance a customer has a query. However, it could well be a great idea to have that member of staff blog on the business’s official website so that he or she can discuss new products/future developments and importantly give the customers a chance to ask questions and offer suggestions. This strategy of a two-way dialogue is one of the key benefits of social CRM and can have real advantages for the company. An extreme, yet innovative example of this was when European wireless provider Giff Gaff replaced their call centre with an online community. The concept of customers helping customer may be radical, but it has resulted in award winning service and an increase in profitability.
  4. Another key CRM strategy is to not think of CRM as a ring-fenced section of a business’s overall strategy, but rather one element (albeit a very important one) that is integrated with others. A CRM system can be linked well with email, order entries and other programmes so that the user can access a wide range of information quickly and efficiently without having an ever-increasing number of windows open.
  5. The final key strategy is one that is often overlooked by even the most experienced business. The desire to make the move to CRM can often mean that things are unnecessarily rushed. This can lead to poor implementation, a training issue and a steep learning curve for all involved. It is a much better CRM strategy to go for a phased implantation as this will help guaranteed a successful beginning to a business’s CRM strategy.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Contact Management and Workflow Automation

Missed appointments, forgotten numbers, and lost leads. All of these are factors that contribute to the loss of sales and workflow. These are common challenges that face countless individuals in the business world. Are you constantly burdened with paperwork and adding to the stress of your employees because of lost files and mundane business tasks? Do you feel that you know little about your customers? Are the needs and interests of your customers first in line?

Contact management software available on the Web has created solutions to the most troubling challenges that arise when trying to run an efficient business. By placing all necessary data in a centralized location, you fee up the time of your sales representatives and encourage them to interact more with customers. More importantly, contact management solutions as part of your customer relationship management (CRM) service frees up your time, allowing you to oversee the workflow and direct your employees. The benefits to contact management services are endless.

1. Never Miss a Lead
In order for you to know the latest history and status of a contact, it is important to be able to access data at a moment’s notice. CRM, customer relationship management offers Web-based contact management applications that maintain data over the Web. Whether you need to store upcoming meetings, check pending tasks, or view opportunities for leads, the contact data you need is available by accessing the Internet.

Contact management systems also have tools that enable users to assign and dedicate tasks to employees with due dates. Your sales representatives have access to updated information on the Web relative to what they should be doing and when. This is especially useful when leading a group of sales representatives assigned to a single task. Communication has never been easier with the tools offered through CRM contact management programs.

2. Professional Reporting Made Easy
Daily, weekly, and monthly reporting is a hassle, and when do businesses have time? An advantage to CRM contact management is that reports of all kinds are quickly generated and easily viewed by all. Perhaps you need to create a to-do list for the day. Reporting tools enable you to do so with creative and professional templates that automatically import data needed. Not satisfied with your reports? You can use applications to create custom reports that match the style and creativity of your company. More importantly, cloud computing allows users to integrated software applications with others that are commonly used in office settings, such as Word, Excel and Outlook.

3. Make Work Fun
Some of the everyday business tasks are often repetitive and daunting for your employees. Employees struggle to keep motivation levels high and are quick to lose momentum when facing the same tasks day after day. Not only does contact management cut down the time spent keeping files and transferring data, but it is also a useful tool for keeping track of important dates. The calendar feature lets managers record birthdays and other important events relative to employees. Sales representatives feel as though they are important members of your business. Items such as these are needed to maintain good rapport with employees and positive attitudes in your company. A welcoming atmosphere is then directed towards customers, improving sales and creating a friendly place to be.

Paperwork and contact management are unavoidable challenges that face all businesses. However, they are now becoming easier to tackle as companies use the features offered to them through contact management programs. Companies are letting go of their old address rotaries and making use of the tools now available on the Internet. Taking steps towards entering a modern world is the key to sales success.

Friday, August 12, 2011

CRM Wars: Using Jedi Mind Tricks to Defeat Customer Service Reps

As many people know dealing with customer service representative (CSR) can be a horrible experience. With a little help from the force we have come up with 10 steps to effectively get customer service reps to solve your problem. Check them out below:

CRM Wars: Using Jedi Mind Tricks to Defeat Customer Service Reps

Source:CRM Wars: Using Jedi Mind Tricks to Defeat Customer Service Reps

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Small Businesses Benefit with CRM Applications

Be honest: what do you think when you hear “customer relationship management”? Is it that CRM systems are only for big business? Or that since you don’t have a customer service department, you don’t need CRM?

Hate to tell ya, but you’re wrong on both counts. The truth is that a small business may actually have more to gain from CRM and cloud computing than some larger companies. If you need to not only attract more customers but retain the ones you have, and if you would like to have an efficient method of analyzing the various aspects of your business, keep reading.

A cloud-based CRM system can pull all the information into one central, easily accessible data center. You can look up a customer, see what he is purchasing, review quotes, analyze problems the customer may have reported, and track which marketing programs have been directed his way. In addition to helping target this particular customer, you can use the data to plan more accurate forecasts, identify future opportunities for sales, and offer unparalleled support should he call with any problems.

Consolidating all of your customer information in one location lets you be ready at any moment to intelligently discuss all aspects pertinent to the account. You don’t have to put customers on hold to retrieve a paper file or switch from one program to another just to find basic information. You have the opportunity to make the customer feel special, as if you have committed to memory what he buys and how often, whether he ever received a defective shipment, and how long he has been your customer.
Practical Application:
Aerospace Composite Products is a manufacturer and distributor of composite materials, primarily for military, medical, automotive and sports equipment applications. This family-owned business, with a staff of 10, had been attempting to track sales flow with a paper and pen. They had no centralized database of documents and contacts.

Much of the critical data on vendors, procedures, and customers was not written down anywhere. The founders, who launched the company out of their garage in the mid-1980s, kept a lot of the information in their heads. This was going to make it difficult for them to retire.

The company installed a CRM system, complete with mobile access for when the owners are traveling, to consolidate customer information, vendor data and processes in one location. A formal return authorization program was also added, and they were also able to identify additional sales opportunities.
Now consider how similar information is handled in your business. Can you access the data you need from a remote location? Can your employees find information quickly, or must they go on a scavenger hunt every time a customer calls? How much vital information is kept “in your head”? If you decided to retire tomorrow, would you be able to leave behind a clear and concise picture of your clients, your suppliers, and your flow of business? Could a new employee decipher your marketing strategies or your sales forecasts?

One of the biggest advantages of cloud-based CRM to a small business is the scalability and the low overhead. Instead of maxing out your credit to purchase a server and a bunch of expensive, off-the-shelf software programs, cloud computing is billed on a subscription model. You pay only for what you need, when you need it. When you need more, the capacity is available almost instantly. There’s no infrastructure to mess around with, no wasted server capacity during less-than-peak times, and no need to hire an IT person to take care of the technical side of business. Cloud-based CRM platforms are usually so intuitive and user-friendly—much like popular interactive Web sites—that there practically is no technical side.

Even if your customer service department is called Margaret—and she also makes the coffee, keeps the books and designed your logo—you should be supporting that customer service department, as well as your sales team and the rest of your employees. Keep everyone on the same page, and build a solid business foundation with a comprehensive CRM system run in the cloud.

Monday, August 8, 2011

7 Essential Steps When Considering a CRM Solution

For many advisers, choosing a specific customer relationship management technology can be a challenge. There are hundreds of CRM systems, and more than a dozen are focused specifically on financial planning practices. So where do you start?

While it can be tempting to choose a CRM system based on the cost and list of features, you need to take a step back and consider your practice from a broader business perspective. Here are seven essential questions for you to answer to make sure your CRM investment gives you a great return.

1) What are your business objectives?
Software that allows you to easily create professional e-mail templates can be exciting, but it doesn’t do you any good if it doesn’t help you achieve your objectives. List your business objectives and make sure they are clear and measurable. For example, one of your business objectives could be to increase retention of current clients by 5 percent over the next three years.

2) What processes will the CRM impact?
Even before you decide to buy the software, consider your current customer relationship strategies and processes. How do you currently handle contact information? What is your process for preparing for client meetings? How do you communicate with your clients throughout the year? Understanding what could be impacted can help you identify areas you want to adjust, change or keep intact once the software is installed.

3) What are the anticipated gains from implementing CRM?
Clearly identify what it is you expect your CRM to ultimately give you. Is it scalability to help you serve more clients, or efficiency in daily tasks so you can spend more time prospecting to increase revenue? These gains should relate to achieving your overall business objectives, but should also be very specific and relate directly to your anticipated use of CRM.

4) What features and functions are most critical to achieving your objectives?
Once you have answered the questions above, you can use that collective information to help identify the functions you need in a CRM system. Here’s a hypothetical example:
  • Business objective: Increase client base by 10 percent with a corresponding 10 percent increase in revenue in the next three years.
  • Processes impacted: Lead conversion process, which includes looking up pertinent client information before contacting the client (currently a long, manual process).
  • Anticipated gains: Time savings to free up more time for prospecting.
  • Function needed: The ability to quickly look up pertinent client information, including updated portfolio information, goals, net worth, etc. Track the stage each prospect is in.
By using this information you can outline exactly what you need the software to accomplish to achieve your objectives.

5) What incentives and measurements exist to support the adoption of CRM?
Before you purchase and install a CRM system, you need to consider how you will motivate your staff to use the software. If it takes your assistant an extra 20 minutes to input complete client information into the software, he or she will need to understand how this extra work benefits the entire practice in the long run. It may also be appropriate to award him or her in some way for taking on additional work.

6) Who will be responsible for evaluating and improving your business processes?
It is important to know if you are actually getting the value you want and need from your software purchase. To that end, identify who will evaluate the software and any gains (or losses) you have received from using the software on an ongoing basis. This individual can also be tasked with identifying new ways to improve your process that can save you time and money.

7) Which CRM is the best fit?
Now that you know what you need the CRM software to do for you and how you are going to ensure return on your investment, you can evaluate the various CRM options available in light of how the software will improve your business.

While going through all of these questions may seem like a daunting task, you will ultimately be better equipped to choose and use a software system that will help you take your practice to the next level.


Friday, August 5, 2011

3 Trends in Customer Service that Your GrandPa Would Love

How many times have you gone into a store and been greeted by a surprisingly cheerful cashier and thought to yourself that you just want to pay for your purchases and go home?  Technology has changed and we’ve found that there were faster ways to do things, sacrificing along the way, to the point that now; we miss the good ole days.  We want friendly customer service. We want technology to take a back seat to providing an experience that we will have the desire to duplicate.

The grocery store chain Albertsons has responded to this feeling among consumers by announcing their intention to remove all of their “self-check” registers at their stores.  Kroger is also going to take on a similar policy. Reactions are mixed; with some feeling like it will do wonders for customer service (as well as adding additional jobs) and others feel it takes the “choice” to interact with a human being away from the consumer.

This comes at the same time that Albertsons is also announcing a DMV Kiosk in Las Vegas.
The trend here, when you consider it, is pretty simple to see: People want great customer service, but they don’t want to deal with rude employees. If you’re planning on removing a “self-service” or “automated” system, here are some things that I think you need to be sure to do.
  • Retrain front line employees in the art of customer service. You have to make customer representatives care about the interactions with their customers. It has to be a pleasing part of their day.
  • Create a Twitter account and assign someone (not an intern) to the responsibility.  There will be some people who will not be excited about the new approach to customer service, so you have to give options on how they can get in contact a member of your team.
  • Trust employees to make the right decisions. You have to give people some room to maneuver to turn what could be a losing situation into a winning one.  This comes down to educating phone operators and giving them some room to help.
It can be a bit of a daunting thought to remove all of the “non-personable” aspects of your customer service.  Albertsons and Kroger are both looking at a situation where they will need more staff on hand to create a great experience that will keep people coming back. If you’re currently considering this, just be sure that you plan ahead and be prepared to handle the additional volume that will occur.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

May the Sales Force Be With You

The component of business responsible for selling products or services is the sales force.  The workers of a sales force must hold specific requirements if they wish to be successful. First and foremost, salespeople need to have the skills and capabilities necessary to foster sales. Second, they must be equipped with exceptional customer knowledge. This requires identifying target groups, researching customers, and maintaining customer contacts while incorporating an effective customer relationship management (CRM) system.  Sales representatives often require access to tools that will enable them to be successful in these areas. Another important aspect of a strong sales force is management. Sales depend not only on the responsibilities of the sales representatives, but on their managers as well – managing the performance of sales representatives ensures that customers needs are being met.

Locating the best salespeople is simple when provided with web-based tools and services. Businesses are rethinking strategies in sales by making the best uses of the social media. LinkedIn is a primary example of an online resource that is commonly used among the business community. Companies use this social networking site to view recommendations and locate talented individuals to work for them.

Gaining customer knowledge, however, can be difficult. Using web-based CRM systems, businesses have found it easier to manage the task of learning about customers and maintaining contact with them. As a part of these systems, sales force automation applications can use cloud computing technologies to automate the pencil-and-paper business tasks that would otherwise require a lot of time. These sales tools automatically manage prospects so that more deals are closed.  Sales automation provides businesses with contact management services as well. Sales representatives need to be able to locate information about clients quickly and easily.  All information is regularly updated in real-time, so sellers avoid lost sales.  These applications can help businesses examine customers from all angles and maintain long lasting contact.  Additionally, more businesses are looking to sale force automation tools to help them view trend lines and predict future demands. Reports are automatically generated and data is always on-hand.

Strong sales requires strong management. However, managing a sales force is challenging, especially if salespeople are using multiple systems to satisfy sales demands. A unified sales force automation application that utilizes the web can allow mangers to do their jobs. Since data is maintained on real-time platforms, managers always have updated data. With cloud computing technology, integrating applications is a seamless process.  The flow of information is kept consistent within various departments of a company. When all information is updated, data is assessed more accurately resulting in better management. By avoiding time spent on approvals and the spread of bad information, managers can keep employees on strict schedules.

With a web-based approach to sales, companies can now implement the best of mobile technologies. New applications permit salespeople to complete business transactions from anywhere in the world. Integrating applications with mobile devices means businesses can close more deals and managers can oversee work flow. Wireless capabilities adds convenience to business tasks.

A powerful sales force is one that uses an effective CRM method. Now, more than ever, customers hold  the most power during a sale. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of salespeople is crucial.  It’s vital that they have good interactions with their clients to improve customer retention. By increasing customer loyalty by 5 percent, businesses open themselves up to an increase in sales by as much as 85 percent. A good salesperson is not sufficient to maintain customer loyalty – an excellent one is.