Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Customer Service Analytics: Metrics You Should be Tracking

By Jace Modavi

Traditional customer service metrics are ineffective in today’s world of social networking, Internet blogs, and instant communication. Nor are marketing programs that focus on attracting new customers necessarily the best approach. Yet many businesses still base their key measurements on increased sales and first-time buyers.

Revenue changes are, of course, still one of the metrics you should be paying attention to. However, there are many other factors that should be included when it is time to analyze what these results actually mean. Only by taking the complete picture into account can you make the proper decisions.

One area that is often overlooked is an evaluation of the nature of the issues handled by the customer service department. Are there an inordinate number of requests for information that you could handle by posting the information on your website or including in the instructions sent with your product? Are they primarily related to one fulfillment center or one sales representative? Is there a particular product that seems to cause the most problems? Your cloud-based customer relationship management solutions should be running automatic reports so that you can determine these things—and if they’re not, then you need to find an application, or build one, that will give you those reports.

Another important metric is the number of contacts required to resolve an issue. In a perfect world, all issues would be handled on the first contact. Well, actually, in a perfect world, there would never be any issues, but since we don’t live or conduct business in an ideal environment, problems will arise. You need to know how efficiently they are settled, because this leads to another metric you need to track, namely customer retention. Poor customer service, in the form of inadequate issue resolution, can have a dramatic impact on how many repeat customers you have.

Your customer service department is your eyes and ears, a liaison with your customers that you need to evaluate. The facts and figures they funnel to you can factor heavily into other metrics, such as the cost of an individual customer, the lifetime value of a customer, referrals and more. Listening closely to customer service feedback will also give you insight into product research and development, marketing, and sales.

Practical Application
Monitoring the right metrics enables a company to respond better to customer issues. The desire to do just that was not possible with New Jersey Transit’s old system. The agency oversees all bus, light rail, and rail routes in the state. With over 250 million riders annually, it was natural that there would be complaints—after all, people have been complaining about buses since the first person stepped onto the first public bus, and it’s a safe bet to say that they complained about stagecoaches before that.
What was holding New Jersey Transit back was the fact that there was no system in place to track the nature of the complaints or how long it took to resolve them. When a complaint was received, the customer service desk responded by email or phone call, and records were scarce. There was no overall picture that management could use to improve service.
They began with a Web site interface that would turn a customer complaint into a case file for customer service to handle. One thing this eliminated was multiple responses to the same complaint, since actions could be noted in the file. New Jersey Transit was also able to measure complaints and commendations regarding employees, so that they could better train and reward their staff, weed out the bad apples, and offer improvements in customer service. As a result of streamlining the customer service department, all aspects of the business became smoother. Customers could track their cases, customer service reps had an easier way to view, archive and follow up on issues, and everyone was able to focus on problem resolution rather than problem administration.
Your business can do this too. A cloud-based customer relationship management system will help, as well thinking outside of the box when it comes to your metrics and benchmarks. You can no longer afford to bury your head in the sand and look only at the sales figures—there are too many other factors that are as important as those numbers.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Interview Featured On

by Sidney Angelos

Connecting with your customers online is mandatory to compete in today’s business world. Our socially driven world is not separate from business, but rather integrated into it. Companies that fail to incorporate social media into their CRM are missing out.

Below we’ll examine 13 tips to using social media to improve CRM, seen in the industry as the most successful by experts in the field. Find the original post on

Social Listening Tools

Do you currently use free listening tools? Set up auto searches and when you have time, check out what others are saying about your brand, about your industry, about your keywords, etc… Tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are popular and the most well known. Via – Genuine Media


Twitter lists can be one of the easiest ways to see what your customers, clients, vendors, and competitors are saying. Keeping your audience on Twitter organized can help keep redundancy and wasted efforts at bay. Via – Jillian Koeneman of Freshlime Marketing.

Bank of Tweets and Posts

Set up a list of tweets, FB posts, and helpful blog posts for use in the future. Much like a to do list or creative brainstorm document, this bank of tweets or posts can help you when you get in a bind. These can be set up in your CRM system and pulled out for easy use. Have an intern put together a bunch of tweets and posts to keep handy.


Use LinkedIn! You can generate sales and network with others in a few simple easy steps. Integrate it into your normal and usual routines and you’ll soon find that you’re connecting with people you never thought possible. Just take the time to do it!  Via – Patrick O’Malley.

Exclusive Discounts

Make your Twitter followers or Facebook Fans feel important. Give them exclusive discounts, coupons, contests, or even content tailored to them. Via – Rosena Sammi of Rosena Sammi Jewelry.

Varied Messaging Strategies to Increase Engagement

Thought provoking and interesting questions will illicit an interesting response. Asking funny questions help increase engagement as well. Carefully gauge your audience to find the right technique in messaging that will work for your brand. Via – Paul Draper of

Pay Attention

Some social media experts suggest paying careful attention to what your customers, vendors and client’s have to say online. Are they going to happy hour tonight? Why not surprise them with a free drink by arranging it with the restaurant prior to their visit? Via – Wally Bronner

Be Timely in Your Responses

No one likes to be forgotten. Act like a friend rather than a foe, this often will exude a personal feel to your communications and is likely going to be received well. Via – Carolyn Goodwin

Use Social To Help Customers Find Your Products

Using social media to help your customers can translate into a more personalized service offering, as well as help your bottom line. If your products sell out, aren’t in all locations, or only in one specific area – try your hand at helping others find what you have to offer through the use of social media. Via- Courtney Luck of Cape Classics.

Use Social As Market Research

Improve customer relationships by asking customers what they want. Allow them to be a part of product research, revamping  service, or changing an existing service. Give recognition to the customer who helps you make the final decision. Via – Scott Bradley

Frequent Tradeshows? Use Twitter to Engage Before/During/After

If you’re constantly going to tradeshows, why not connect with existing customers before you go. Do your research using social media and connect with them before, during and after the event.

These are just a few tips to using social media to improve customer relationship management. Have some insider tips to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The 25 worst passwords of 2011: ‘password,’ ‘123456′

By Joe McKendrick 

In spite of a constant drumbeat of news about hacking and cracking computer accounts, users still are employing extremely common and obvious phrases as passwords.  A compilation of the most commonly used — and potentially most insecure — passwords seen over the past year was recently drawn up by Splashdata and reported in Mashable. Splashdata found that incredibly enough, the leading password in use today is the word “password.” Interestingly, number 4 on the list, the keyboard lineup of “qwerty,” is counterbalanced by item number 23, “qazwsx,” which is the first three rows of keys typed vertically.

The list closely parallels that developed close to two years ago by Imperva, showing that these terms never go out of vogue.

Here is this year’s list:

1. password
2. 123456
4. qwerty
5. abc123
6. monkey
7. 1234567
8. letmein
9. trustno1
10. dragon
11. baseball
12. 111111
13. iloveyou
14. master
15. sunshine
16. ashley
17. bailey
18. passw0rd
19. shadow
20. 123123
21. 654321
22. superman
23. qazwsx
24. michael
25. football

SmartPlanet colleague Tuan C. Nguyen provides a surprisingly simple technique for deriving a strong password that makes it difficult for hacking programs to arrive at the right brute force combination — employing a symbol in combination with an upper-case and lower-case letter.

Not everyone thinks that strong passwords are the answer, however. In another study on passwords, a Microsoft researcher conducted a cost/benefit analysis of  efforts to encourage stronger passwords, and questions whether the costs of strong password management outweighs the benefits.

Monday, November 21, 2011

5 New Ways to Connect Online

Are you aware how easy it is to connect to life all around you? The internet and cell phone have made it possible and extremely user friendly to those who aren’t familiar with this new technology. Whether you want to find out about local events, or ask a question about a product you recently purchased, social media is available through many different websites and platforms. Social media is used by the majority of society on a day to day basis.

Social media has been used more for communications, conversation, and fun. However, nowadays it is being used for customer service and technology assistance. There is a wide variety of social media available for use through the internet and the cell phone. The newer cell phones come installed with many different social media applications. If certain applications are not already downloaded, it is very easy to download them yourself. You only need to access the internet through your cell phone. In this technological era, customer service and advertising are promoted through many different fun, quick, and alternative ways. 

YouTube is a great way for potential customers or current customers to view advertisements, press releases, and educational videos for a particular company as well. Many companies have “channels” on YouTube that you may subscribe to as well. You are able to view comments from other customers and view related videos associated with the current content that you are viewing. Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube are not the only types of social media that can be used for marketing purposes either.

Facebook, however, is one of the most popular forms of social media being used in this day and age. Everywhere you go there is an advertisement that says “Like Us” on Facebook. When Facebook knows your likes it combines that with other information that is on your computer, as well as your personal information. This will give other companies that have similar products and services the ability to seek you out, with various particular items and/or companies that you may like as well. This is a great way to target different segments of the market.

Many companies are researching the use and popularity of Twitter to provide faster customer service. Twitter can be a great way to help customers. If someone has an F.A.Q. then it is very likely that question has already been asked and answered. Sometimes there may be a technological problem that has affected the entire network. If that is the case then everyone else is also having the same exact problem. One only needs to check Twitter or Facebook to see recent updates and questions already asked by someone else on that particular day.

Live Journal and are 2 blogging communities where people have similar interests. At you create an account and post regular blogs. You have the opportunity to share with other bloggers as well. This is much different than regular “blogging.” There is great interaction between the bloggers. Topics at can range anywhere from social media to news to health issues. You can even combine “blogher” with Facebook and Twitter as you normally can with everything else nowadays.

There is a very popular site called Examiner. It is both local and regional. Examiner has writers who choose a particular category of interest and then they submit an article from their own personal area of expertise. The writer of the particular section usually connects it somehow to a local area of interest. You can find a writer in the area where you live or even somewhere you would like to visit. First you pick the location, and then you pick the particular subject. There are so many areas of interest you have the capability to choose from. When it comes to the sky is the limit. If you find a particular writer that you like you may follow that writer on Facebook and Twitter. is another site that is somewhat similar to However, within the writer can choose pretty much anything they want to write about. WordPress is much more liberal than examiner. However, one can also gain exposure and a following as a knowledgeable writer on wordpress. And, those who desire more knowledge about a particular subject can peruse wordpress or examiner. With examiner the writer of the posted content must pick only one subject area and continue to write about only that particular subject.  With examiner you become an “authoritative” figure on the subject of your choice. This gives one exposure as well as allows for a variety of personal interactions and experiences with those who need information. Both wordpress and examiner have become like current live encyclopedias that display not only historical information, but also current information. It is all linked together with local entertainment and events.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gartner Identifies Top 10 Commercial Business Applications for Tablet Devices

GOLD COAST, Australia, November 15, 2011—   Business applications for the iPad and other tablet devices are moving beyond the first wave of personal productivity tools towards manageable and secure enterprise applications that support major business initiatives, according to Gartner Inc.

Speaking at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2011 on the Gold Coast today, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst David Willis said that initially, business applications in the commercial app stores were focused on personal productivity tools, which were inexpensive and allowed users to experiment liberally.

“Now, major software vendors are taking the tablet seriously and embracing the market, following where users want to take the platform,” said Mr. Willis. “As media tablets become more common in business, ERP, CRM and other business application vendors are looking to sell tablet versions of their software, but they will not all be equally usable or functional.

“Success lies in how the vendor re-factors the apps in a meaningful way, rather than just duplicating the traditional desktop or browser experience,” said Mr. Willis. “Businesses also need to understand the difference between an enterprise and a consumer application, and have a decision framework to select them.”
According to Gartner’s latest forecast, worldwide media tablet sales to end users will total 63.6 million units in 2011, a 261.4 percent increase from 2010 sales of 17.6 million units. Media tablet sales will continue to experience strong growth through to the end of 2015 when sales are forecast to reach 326.3 million units.

“By 2016, more than 900 million tablets will be in the hands of users,” Mr. Willis said. “As more consumers buy them, they then tend to bring them to the workplace and use them for their jobs – often led by executives. Leaders are finding legitimate business use and redefining processes for ‘ready at hand’ moments where other computer types are not as well adapted. CEOs often prefer tablets for distributing material for board of directors meetings. Salespeople are using them in client-facing situations; sales configuration tools help close more business and reduce error rates; sales and marketing leaders are using them as dashboards to their business; and marketers are designing campaigns around them. Doctors and nurses are carrying them; they are even being used on the manufacturing floor. Anywhere you once saw people carrying a clipboard or lugging printed reference material, you’ll find an application for a tablet. “

Combined sales of tablets and smartphones will be 44 percent bigger than the PC market in 2011, according to Gartner predictions. By the end of 2014, the installed base of devices based on new lightweight mobile operating systems like Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft Windows 8 will exceed the total installed base of all PC based systems.

According to Gartner, the top 10 commercial business application categories for tablet devices are:
  1. Sales automation systems for customer collateral, sales presentations, and ordering systems
  2. Business intelligence: analytical and performance applications with management dashboards
  3. Containerised email to separate corporate messaging environments from personal email
  4. Collaboration applications for meetings
  5. File utilities for sharing and document distribution
  6. General corporate/government enterprise applications for CRM, ERP, SCM and messaging
  7. Medical support systems for doctors, nurses, and physical therapists
  8. Hosted virtual desktop agents to provide secure remote operations of traditional desktop applications and environments
  9. Social networking applications with intelligent business insight
  10. Board books for secure document and report distribution
“There are many highly visible ‘quick wins’ for tablets such as board books and sales automation, which the CIO can use to break new ground,” said Mr Willis. “But not all tablet apps are created equal from an enterprise perspective. Businesses must evaluate tablet apps based on functionality and business process integration, user factors, system integration, management and security, application architecture and vendor viability.”

In addition, IT management systems for mobile device management will be a growing market.
Before handing out media tablets to employees for enterprise use, Gartner recommends that all devices have a corporate suite of applications and utilities installed by default. This process serves a number of purposes: to provide security in compliance with policies; to manage the device as an asset; software licensing; convenience; better collaboration; and to more effectively use the device quickly. Out of the box, a user may operate insecurely, more expensively, less collaboratively and may be frustrated.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jason Hiner's 20 most useful iPad apps

By Jason Hiner

Takeaway: The iPad has its limits, but it’s really good at a few basic functions. Here are 20 useful apps that play to the iPad’s strengths.

I previously said that the Apple iPad is only good for two things (I later added a third), but it’s really good at those things. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of the 20 most useful apps for taking advantage of the iPad’s strengths.

Keep in mind that this list is skewed toward professionals and technophiles who are using the iPad on a daily basis, but I also realize that these folks tend to use tablets like the iPad for non-work stuff as well, like reading the news in the morning during breakfast or a little entertainment on the plane during a business flight.

Photo gallery

The best way to view this list is the photo gallery of screenshots of the 20 apps. But, you can also view the full text of the list below, including links to download each of the apps from the iOS App Store.

1. Flipboard

This is a 21st century newsreader based on your social graph. It displays news stories based on what’s being shared by your friends in Twitter or Facebook and auto-formats them in a newspaper-like column format. You can scan the headlines and first couple paragraphs and then click through to the site to the open the full story right in the built-in web browser in the app. (Tip: search for TechRepublic or Jason Hiner and you can set us up as one of your sections in Flipboard.)

2. Kindle

The best way to read books on the iPad is the Amazon Kindle app, mostly because it has a large selection of titles available and it does the best job of syncing between multiple devices — iPad, iPhone, Android phone, PC, Mac, and more. Of course, there are also strong alternatives such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook app and Apple’s iBooks app.

3. Documents to Go

The best way to collect, manage, and read business documents on the iPad is with Dataviz Documents to Go, which not only allows you to sync local files from your computer but also connect to cloud services such as Google Docs, Dropbox,, SugarSync, and iDisk.

4. Things

Tablets are great for people who spend most of their days in meetings. For that crowd and everyone else who needs a task list and project planner, the best app I’ve found is Things. It’s a little expensive ($19.99 at the time I’m writing this), but I’ve tried cheaper solutions and none of them are as easy to figure out and as powerful to use as Things. It has a few limitations (syncing between multiple devices), but it does a great job of getting the process out of the way and helping you effectively track and organize your to-do items.

5. Analytics HD

One of the great ways to take advantage of the iPad as a viewer is to use it for quick glances at business dashboard metrics. This even translates to the simple task of checking traffic metrics and user info for your website. If you use Google Analytics, the Analytics HD app is a great way to view site data from the iPad. (Also see QlikView, SAP Business Objects Explorer, and Roambi.)

6. Evernote

The iPad is a surprisingly good note taker. The keyboard is about 80% as good as a laptop keyboard but the convenience of a more portable device is valuable. Evernote is a great note taking companion for the iPad, since it can auto-sync your meeting notes back to your PC and smartphone. Just keep in mind that it’s an online service and so be careful that you don’t use it for any business-sensitive data. For that stuff, you can use locally-controlled files with Apple’s built-in Notes app, for example.

7. Penultimate

Now that we’ve talked about the value of using the iPad for note taking, there are ways to do it that go beyond just typing things out. You can use an app like Penultimate to jot down handwritten notes and sketch out pictures and diagrams. There are several apps that can do this (such as Adobe Ideas, Ideate, and Idea Boards) but I think Penultimate is the most effective. If you get tired of using your finger as the writing device, you can get an iPad stylus like the Bamboo Stylus or the Griffin Stylus. In addition to using it for notes, I’ve even used Penultimate to sketch out an idea for a colleague in a meeting. It works great as a mini whiteboard in a coffee shop or a taxi cab.

8. Twitter

Twitter’s official iPad app is the best way to access Twitter and is an example of the kind of imaginative new UIs that good developers will attempt once they get grounded in touch-based tablets like the iPad. Check out the way the Twitter app exposes more or less info by sliding left and right. (Other useful Twitter apps include Osfoora and Twitterific.) The bottom line is that Twitter is an amazing real time news aggregator, as long as you follow the right people.

9. TED Talks

By far, the most inspiring app on the iPad is the TED Talks app. TED is a series of events featuring some of society’s most fascinating and innovative ideas and most influential thinkers. You’ll definitely disagree with some of them, because there’s a large diversity of opinions. But, there are a lot of talks worth listening to and they’re all free. Many of the talks are short and succinct, somewhere between 5-20 minutes.

10. Pulse

Pulse is another iPad news aggregator like Flipboard, only instead of building its sections based on social feeds it uses RSS feeds. Like Flipboard, it presents the info in a visually-compelling format using images from the articles that it is linking to. You can use the RSS feeds for TechRepublic and/or Tech Sanity Check if you’d like to use Pulse to keep up with our latest posts.

11. SkyGrid

Yet another great news aggregator for the iPad is SkyGrid, but its specialty is pulling together news on hot trends in real time. It’s not nearly as visual as Flipboard or Pulse, but SkyGrid helps fill in the gaps by surfacing hot news and articles that might have been missed by your favorite RSS sources and your social network.

12. ProPublica

ProPublica, a non-profit publication of investigative reporters, is doing some of the most important work in journalism today — the work that has increasingly been cut out of the profit-driven newsrooms. Plus, they have an excellent iPad app. The three column layout gives you the latest stories from ProPublica (most of which don’t make the mainstream news), the middle column links to good investigative news pieces from the mainstream media (many of the stories are buried), and the third columns has ProPublica’s “Projects” or groups of stories where you can stay up to date on on-going issues such as the Gulf oil spill. Keep in mind that ProPublica is non-profit and funded completely by donations.

13. NPR

Another one of the best iPad news apps from a media organization is the NPR app. It lets you quickly skim top stories, read related text articles, and quickly add radio/audio stories to a playlist that you can then listen to all at once.

14. The Guardian Eyewitness

A real diamond in the rough among iPad apps is The Guardian Eyewitness, which features amazing photojournalism from across the planet from the popular UK news publication. The photos look fantastic on the iPad screen and provide a great way to scan through some of the most important current events on the planet.

15. Big Picture

Another great world news photo app is the Big Picture from, a site that has had some of the web’s best news photographs and slideshows for a long time. While The Guardian Eyewitness app lets you scan world events, the Big Picture app lets you dive into them as there are full sets of photos from each event. The two apps compliment each other well and are great for visual storytelling of the most important news.

16. Rosetta Stone

The popular language software Rosetta Stone has an excellent iPad app called TOTALe HD. Unlike the Rosetta Stone iPhone app, which simply serves as a review for your full lessons on a PC or a Mac, the iPad app has basically all of the same content from the PC/Mac and delivers it in a multitouch experience. It also syncs back to the Rosetta Stone servers (for Version 4 of the software) so you can pick up right where you left off when you get back to your computer. You have to have a full license of a Rosetta Stone language pack and an online account set up in order to use the iPad app. You can’t just buy language modules directly for the iPad app.

17. iA Writer

If you want to use the iPad for note taking, journaling, or writing, then iA Writer offers a very simple solution for writing and managing your files. It is a completely bare bones word processor that can save your stuff directly to your Dropbox. Another similar program is WriteRoom ($4.99) and there’s always Apple’s own Pages ($9.99), but at $0.99 you can’t beat the price and basic capabilities of iA Writer.

18. The Weather Channel

Unlike the iPhone, the iPad does not come with a built-in weather app. However, The Weather Channel has filled the void with an excellent app that takes advantage of the tablet interface. I’ve never been a big fan of The Weather Channel’s desktop PC widgets, but they’ve done a great job with the iPad app.

19. NASA

Let’s face it, most of us geeks love space. The iPad itself was, in part, inspired by science fiction such as Star Trek. NASA has a strong tradition of sharing its space exploration advances and research and they’ve continued that tradition in multi-touch style with an excellent iPad app that lets you explore photography from satellites, see NASA’s launch schedules, research historical information about missions, and watch NASA TV live.

20. Scrabble

I’ve been a Scrabble fan for a long time but hadn’t pulled out a board in a while when the game suddenly saw a revival in recent years in digital form, including several knock-offs such as Words with Friends. My favorite way to play digital Scrabble is the Pass’n Play mode on iPad. But the iPad also has an individual learning mode, a local network mode, Party Play (where you can use an iPhone or iPod Touch as a tile rack), and a mode where you can play against a Facebook friend. So, you can have a little fun and expand your vocabulary at the same time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sales Forecasting is Sunny with Cloud Computing

Everyone is happier when the clouds have broken and the sun begins to shine.  The same can be said for when business is on the rise.  Accurate sales forecasting is a crucial part of creating more business and understanding where, and how, the company is growing.  Yet this can often be a challenging task for most companies.  Cloud computing offers customer relationship management (CRM) platforms that can keep sales forecasting out of the shade – and into the sun.

Cloud computing
, although it sounds like something meteorologists might do, is actually a cost-effective and streamlined alternative to using traditional server-based software and business applications. Instead of buying software in boxes and installing it on every company computer, cloud computing allows you to plug into the cloud – a bank of Internet-based apps that can be customized – in order to perform all administrative, analytical and forecasting tasks.

Cloud-based platforms are easy to use, affordable options for both large and small companies.  Since no software or maintenance is required, implementing a CRM system for sales forecasting is simple.  All of the company’s applications and data are available, via the Internet, anywhere your staff can jump on-line – whether using a standard desktop Web browser or one in a mobile device such as a PDA. This can be especially useful in board meetings when important decisions are being made about the future of your company.

With cloud computing, all information is updated in real-time, and can be seen by the right people who need that information to make important business decisions. There’s no waiting around for reports to be submitted, results to be collated and analyzed, and new reports to be distributed.

Concrete sales forecasting provides a company with many advantages, such as calculating profits, estimating sales revenue, launching new goods and services and formulating marketing campaigns that effectively target the proper market.  Using the power of real-time data, companies have the flexibility to alter forecasts on an as-needed basis. The payoff is having more certainty in financial projections, improving decision making, and planning investments.  This invaluable knowledge not only makes business easier, but gives a company an edge over the competition.

Here are some ways sales forecasting can help your business:
  • View Sales: Sales can be viewed in a cloud-based CRM system, and sorted by timeline, manager, sales representative, territory, or product line.  Taking a closer look at the data by detail offers a comprehensive and informative view.
  • Tracking: Monitor competitors and perform win-loss analyses.  Also, cloud-based apps make it a breeze to track individual sales performances, such as quota requirements.
  • History: Maintaining a forecast history can demonstrate discrepancies in predictions made versus actual sales.  Seeing previous customer demand is also useful in understanding your customers’ needs.
  • Access:  Sales reports, graphics, and business accounts are all easily accessible with point-and click configuration. CRM applications that are Web-based can be customized so that the user’s interface is as friendly and easy to use as a Web site.
  • Analysis: Pipeline accuracy is when salespeople are meeting all opportunities and sales stages. This can be easily analyzed on the real-time basis offered by the cloud.
  • Management: Review your complete sales process from your dashboard, wherever you are and   spend less time gathering pipeline data or updates.
  • Override: Being able to override forecasts can provide more achievable goals.  Amounts, closing dates, and forecast categories can all be adjusted in response to market fluctuations.
The sales cloud can provide your company with the next generation of technology.  Cloud computing has the potential to help any company rise above its competitors and accurately predict future prosperity.  Sales forecasting is imperative for all business, and with the power of the cloud, sunny days can be enjoyed by all.

Friday, November 11, 2011

CRM & Google + – What You Need to Know

by Sidney Angelos

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is now established as a superb tool for businesses to use for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of their customer relationships and in turn, increasing profitability.

One of the key strengths of CRM is the way in which it integrates with other products and services. It is therefore little surprise that there has been much speculation as to whether and/or to what degree, Google + can be used as part of an overall CRM strategy.

The initial impression of many who have used Google + is that it lends itself well to the world of CRM. It does this through a number of refinements and improvements of previously available features along with the introduction of some new tools


Arguably the most discussed feature of Google +, Circles is at its most basic and group management tool. However, it is also much more than this. Facebook has long had a method of organizing contacts into user-defined groups. This is a very useful tool for CRM as it allows a business to create groups of their customers, so an electrical retailer could have a list of customers who have bought microwave ovens and another who have purchased hi-fi separates, instead of just a list of all customers. The advantages are self-evident: the retailer can target its customer base much more accurately and in turn customers will not receive marketing that is inappropriate. The problem has been that group management tools have often been hard to use. Circles changes that by creating a simple UI that utilizes drag and drop so that a user can build much better groups. Google + provides a list of recommended contacts (based on Google Contacts and/or Gmail) from which a user can easily set up their groups (or circles). This ability to target marketing means that Circles is a first rate CRM tool.


Initially, this could be seen as simply an area for entering text to be taken to a search engine. However, it becomes apparent that Sparks is much more than this and is a useful CRM tool. Essentially, it is a method by which a user can enter an interest (say bird watching) and be taken to a list of books, blog posts, video clips (and indeed anything that a normal Google search would show). This is really useful for businesses from a CRM point of view as a business’s product or service could be entered (say “hi-fi turntable”). When the list is brought up, the user can add it to an “interest list” for future reference. The user is then in a position to see what others are saying about the product and gain an easy snapshot of what customers are talking about. This could prove invaluable in not just gauging how customers feel about a current product, but also in the process of developing future products. There is also a “Featured Interests” section that is particularly useful for finding out what are trending topics.


This is an app that is designed to allow a user to group message across key mobile platforms (including iPhone, Android and SMS). The possibilities here are superb for CRM implementation. A business with user groups set up (such as the electrical retailer’s hi-fi list) can send a group message concerning an upcoming hi-fi campaign just to the customers in that list. This will help improve customer relationships by providing targeted information to those who stand a high chance of being interested.
Google + is in some ways a refinement of previous Google tools that also brings some new ones to the social media party. For business, it enhances their CRM capability by offering users the opportunity to streamline the process of customer interaction as well as providing a platform for the discussion that lies at the heart of all CRM.

Reach Out To Your Customers with Social CRM


Customer satisfaction comes in different styles. Some companies focus on producing quality products, while others like to engage their customers in conversations. The most forward thinking companies are using social media platforms to reach out to their customers, solicit feedback from them, and develop a more personal and meaningful relationship on the B2C front.

The most popular social media sites—Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and others—provide a rich, interactive way to connect businesses, whether big or small, to both current and potential customers. Each of these platforms has a different focus, and so each can be used in different ways. Companies who want to maximize customer relationship management should take a closer look at all of them, and decide where best to focus their social media energy.

Twitter allows users to broadcast short messages viareal-time communication to their “followers.” Companies can use Twitter to spread the word about sales, discounts, events, publicity and other news; they can also use it to speak directly to customer and address their concerns or answer questions.

Take Hunt Country Wines, a small, family-run winery in Upstate New York. The owners have both a Twitter and a Facebook account, and through both media they interact with followers and customers on a very personal, down-to-earth basis. They announce what’s going on at the winery—bottling, harvesting or festivals, for example—and also respond directly to customers’ compliments and suggestions. Additionally, they sometimes retweet or share with Facebook fans links about the family’s other interests—local food, recipes, wellness, sustainability and climate change. Although the Hunts sometimes offer discounts through social media, they don’t do it so often that they seem like they’re selling. It’s more like a gift from a friend, because they’ve taken the time to establish a bonafide relationship with followers.

Another small—but growing—company that gets social media right is Stacy’s Snacks. Not long ago they were introducing a new pita chip, with a gingerbread-inspired flavor, and they turned to the Facebook community to solicit suggestions for the snack’s name. You can bet this got the crowd buzzing about the new flavor that was already in the works, as well as suggesting additional varieties that could be developed. It also kept the Stacy’s name on everyone’s lips—and shopping lists. And it helped show the customers that Stacy’s valued their opinions and input.

The latest entrant into the social media world is Foursquare, which is almost more like a game to play. By “checking in” from restaurants, coffee shops, bars and other places, via a mobile device such as a smartphone, users can let followers and friends know their whereabouts. But the genius aspect of Foursquare for business is that users can rack up points and badges, and collect rewards from those businesses—say a free latte or cocktail, a discount on your meal, etc. For example, Lucky Strike Lanes in Denver, Colorado rewards a certain level of Foursquare users, called “Mayors,” with a free appetizer and a free hour of bowling. In return for these lagniappes, your business gets an awful lot of publicity and word-of-mouth advertising.

These are just a few of the ways you can reach out to your customers through social media in order to build stronger customer relationships, as well as building your company’s brand. Social networking has ceased to be a “trendy” thing to do—it’s now vital if you want your products to stay in the public eye.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jason Hiner's 10 best tablets of 2011

By Jason Hiner
Takeaway: New tablets have hit the market week after week throughout 2011, but here are the 10 best that are worth your attention, and your money.

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 these 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 in 2012.

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. I updated it again in August.

Now that the holiday buying season has arrived, here is my latest assessment of the top tablets of 2011. You can view it as a slide show or as a list below.

10. 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.

9. 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 you can still buy the TouchPad on eBay for $200-$300 and there are continual rumors about HP resurrecting the product, I’m going to keep it 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. Read my full review.

8. 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. Read my full review.

7. 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 $429 for the Wi-Fi version. 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. The Xoom rising again on this list because the 4G version is now available and the Xoom 2 is just around the corner. Read my full review.

6. 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. The Nook Color tablet will get ahardware upgrade in November.

5. Toshiba Thrive

This is the Swiss Army Knife of tablets, and I’m talking about the big Swiss Army Knife that has a zillion tools including scissors and a plastic toothpick. The Thrive is all about the specs and ports. It’s a 10-inch tablet running Android Honeycomb 3.1 and it features a removable battery, a full HDMI port, full USB port, Mini USB port, and full SD card slot. This tablet is a bit of a tank. It’s bulky and a little heavy, but also feels very sturdy, similar to the Motorola Xoom. With all of these features and a price starting at $400, the Thrive is winning over plenty of technophiles and Windows enthusiasts.

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. Amazon Kindle Fire

I’ve had the Amazon tablet on this list for most of the year, and I’ve taken a lot of heat for it since the product wasn’t officially announced until September 28. I’ve maintained throughout the year that the Amazon tablet is destined to be No. 2 in the market by the end of 2011, and I still believe that now that Amazon has unveiled the Kindle Fire. The fact is that Amazon is 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. The Kindle Fire has one other huge asset going for it — a $199 price tag.

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). Read my full review.

Which tablet would you pick? 

To view this in a slide show click here:
Jason Hiner’s 10 best tablets of 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

How Many Sales Is Your Non-Mobile Website Costing Your Business?

by Sidney Angelos

When the World Wide Web emerged on the scene in the late 1990s, there was a rush to get one’s business online and in front of the ever-expanding number of potential customers all clamoring to see what was happening in this new world known as cyberspace. In less than two decades, simply having a website is no longer enough. Businesses that hope to compete across the widest spectrum have to consider if and how they are appearing to potential customers who access the Internet via handheld smart phone computing devices.
Setting aside the argument that some businesses simply don’t or won’t do well in an attempt to acquire customers via mobile devices, the vast majority of businesses with an online presence need to consider what they may be losing in the way of sales by not having mobile-friendly versions of their sites.

Statistics indicate that people on the move who perform searches to find businesses or products tend to be consumers ready to make purchases. Considering these facts, it makes sense to have one’s company website easily accessible for those mobile users to quickly get to the information they are looking for to answer their questions or fulfill their needs.
The formula is actually rather simple:
  1. Create a Web Presence–if one doesn’t already exist
  2. Choose a Mobile Web Presentation–this is where one has a number of choices depending upon the platform the company web site is built upon
  3. Include Mobile Device Detection–today’s technologies provide web developers with the ability to code automatic detection of the type of device which a potential customer is accessing the website
  4. Let the World Know–about the fact the company can now be accessed via mobile, wireless computing devices
The first two items on the list above are relatively cut and dry. A few decisions need be made in order to put things in place, but all of that exists and shouldn’t require wheel recreation in order to generate a high-quality mobile-friendly website.

But marketing the fact that users on the go can now have easy access to one’s site may be a bit more challenging. In order to get closer to securing more sales as a result of ones investment in an optimized mobile website, a marketing campaign should accompany the site’s development.
Effective use of social media can be an excellent channel to broadcast one’s mobile accessibility news for very little money. Services exist now which provide inexpensive or free ways to automate messages within social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Other effective marketing methods might include having employees add a link and short message about the new access capabilities to all of their outgoing email messages. This is another example of setting things up and the rest happens automatically.

Traditional broadcasting methods of company news would also be important here as well. Press releases, direct mail and even voice calls to parties who could spread the message further will all provide high quality dissemination of the company’s new mobile website.

Another important consideration one might want to undertake when working on the new site optimized for mobile access is making the company’s messages and access to products and services easy and intuitive. Too often, websites which provide plethora of knowledge and data on their desktop versions attempt to do the same with the mobile version.

If this is applicable to mobile users–they are coming to one’s site specifically to access this type of content–by all means make that the focus of the mobile site. If, on the other hand, the mobile users are more interested in aspects like physical locations of the business or being able to quickly order a product, make their journey to answers and purchases easy, quick and as hassle free as possible.

Chances are mobile online sales will increase with good attention paid to the right details.