Monday, September 24, 2012

Overcoming critical barriers to CRM adoption - Part #3: "How Will I Benefit?"

This blog series summarise the three barriers identified in a recent “High Impact CRM” blog post, and provides ways businesses can overcome them. You can read the full blog post here.

Part #3: “How will I benefit?”
“If employees feel that using the software is not helping them or consider it as a policing tool, they will be reluctant to use it.”

In order to give your business the best chance of success with regards to user adoption employees should be involved in the CRM planning and implementation right from the beginning. One of the best ways you can do this is by asking your employees to identify features and processes that would make their life easier. Remember it is these people that will be responsible for entering and maintaining the integrity of the data and these suggestions, in conjunction with the key objectives, should become the basis for evaluating your CRM options.

Once the business has selected the CRM it is important that you inform your employees on why the decision was made and what suggestions and business processes can (and will) be implemented as a result. It is useful to have these documented in a Policies and Procedures Manual which can be used in the future to re-educate existing staff, and also as a resource for new employees.

During the implementation phase businesses also need to get employees familiar with the idea that they will have to do things differently, by reinforcing the value that these new processes will bring to the organisation. These values should also be reinforced during training.

Listening and responding to your employees in this way will make them feel valued, and will give them a more positive attitude towards change which should ultimately increase end user adoption. However it is important to remember that this is a continuous process and businesses must make an effort to constantly monitor and evaluate the value that the CRM is bringing to the organisation. This feedback will enable you to refine your business processes and provide additional education and training to staff.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Making Sage-ACT! better , little by little

Helping to retain ACT! as the CRM of choice by customers over the years has been a design focus on ease of use and logical simplicity. Moving about the ACT! views in daily use is a far better experience  than many of the competing and often more expensive CRM products. You will often hear people comment, “ ACT! does what you expect it to do”.  That quality isn’t to be underestimated in maintaining ACT! user loyalty in a competitive world of increasing CRM choices.

The smooth continuity of navigation for instance, is typically illustrated by the back and forward buttons accessed from the toolbar. They readily allow moving back and forward through previous views and look-ups in ACT! avoiding the need to ‘peck-n-hunt’ through cascading menus trying to re-create a recent view or look-up. You do miss the ease of use that provides when you try other CRM software that lacks that feature. 

However there are more task specific functions that aren’t quite within reach of ACT!’s standard toolkit. These operations require a less direct approach or alternative work-around to complete and can be a source of frustration with users, in that they aren’t more easily performed.

Xact Software as an ACT! add-on developer focuses on building applications for ACT! that improve workflow, connecting ACT! to other office software such as accounting or providing charting tools that allow wider reach for ACT! so it becomes an integral part of office process.  Using ACT! every day in our own business, we are alert to those minor irritations that sometimes we feel could be handled a little better than they are. So from time to time in assisting the ACT! community, Xact Software provides free utilities through our site  to help overcome those little ‘I wish I could do this in ACT!’ moments that users experience.

For September we have released the following free ACT! addons at :
  1. Bulk Opportunity Status Update – a plugin that is accessible from the Tools menu can be applied to a lookup of ACT! opportunities saving the need to update opportunity status one at a time.
  2. Activity ID/Status – Using the ACT! activity Location field, this plugin displays the data from the Contact  ID/Status field in the Task List for easy identification of important customers or conditions
  3. Edit Append – complements the bulk update capability for ACT! fields, so now you can add data to an existing field without removing the current data. Readily accessible from the ACT! Edit menu.


Watch out for more  free utilities just  follow us on Twitter

Friday, September 14, 2012

Overcoming critical barriers to CRM adoption - Part #2: Training

This blog series summarise the three barriers identified in a recent “High Impact CRM” blog post, and provides ways businesses can overcome them. You can read the full blog post here.

Part #2: Training
“Effective CRM training is crucial to get users on board”

User adoption is extremely important for businesses that are investing in a CRM system, particularly if they are investing for the first time. Typically, your staff will be used to doing things a certain way and the prospect of learning a foreign system can be quite daunting for them. As such it is important to get end users involved so that they understand why the CRM system is in place and how it will benefit everyone. When users fully accept a new system businesses will find that they are more motivated to use it.

One of the best ways to get end users involved is via training. Below is a brief analysis on the main types of training businesses use:

  1. Do it Yourself (DIY)
    This is the option that many small businesses take, particularly if price is an issue. In most cases the business would have had a one-on-one demo with the vendor and a demo trial of their own to get familiar with the product which would have provided an overview of the basic features. In addition to this businesses may also choose to refer to help menus, online forums, demonstration videos and user manuals which are available for most of the popular CRM solutions.

    Having a DIY approach to training might be ok if the business has a small number of users, say 1-3, however it can be time consuming sifting through the resources to find the information you are looking for and and the end of the day you don’t know what you don’t know. Businesses that take this approach are less likely to be using their CRM to its full capabilities: staff are likely to be less motivated to use the system and might not be using it in a way that is beneficial to the business (e.g. not recording activities, or storing information in the wrong place). Unfortunately the impact of this is not usually experienced until much later, if at all.

  2. Buy the Book
    Some CRM systems have a variety of training resources available for purchase (such as the Quick Study Guide for Sage ACT!). These resources typically provide a complete overview of the CRM and puts all of the information in one place making it easier to access and search for the information, although this can still be quite time consuming and still may not motivate your staff to use the system to its full capabilities.

    In addition, one of the key downsides of both the DIY and Buy the book approaches is that they only focus on the “how do I?” and do not address is the “why should I?”. Often there will be many different ways to perform the same task and businesses may not always be aware of which one will benefit them the most. This is why vendor training is the most effective.

  3. Vendor Training
    Training by a vendor that is an expert in the CRM system you have implemented is one of the best ways to ensure end user adoption and is necessary if the business has significantly customized the database and/or has unique business processes or business rules that must be followed.

    Effective training goes beyond the simple “how do I do this?” approach and instead focuses on educating your staff on the company goals and training them on the procedures to meet those goals. Although this is something that someone internal to the organisation could do, having a vendor do this provides a neutral “hands on” environment where staff are more comfortable engaging and asking questions. Businesses can also benefit from the vendors experience and can be confident that they will be educated on the best way to do things, which may differ from what is found in help forums or publications.

    This method of training, when done immediately after implementation, is also useful to ensure that your staff get into good habits from day one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Overcoming critical barriers to CRM adoption - Part 1: Data Accuracy

This blog series summarise the three barriers identified in a recent “High Impact CRM” blog post, and provides ways businesses can overcome them. You can read the full blog post here.

Part #1: Data Accuracy
“Users often resist using a CRM solution if they feel that the data provided is riddled with errors or incomplete... Management needs to facilitate data cleansing and also integration with other core systems that ensure users get accurate and up-to-date data which they can put to action.”

In order to ensure that data in the CRM is accurate and up-to-date businesses must first ensure that any existing data is cleansed, and that there are processes and business rules in place to ensure that the data remains so.

Most popular CRMs should have built-in and/or third party tools that can help with the data cleansing process. They may also have features and settings that enable you to have some control over the quantity and quality of the data that is entered into the database, for example Sage ACT! has a duplicate checker, and also enables businesses to set up compulsory fields and field rules. Businesses can also create dynamic groups that identify contacts with incorrect or missing information.

One thing that businesses must be conscious of however, is the number of rules and processes that are in place as the quality of information you can extract out of the database will only be as good as the quality of information that is being entered. If a business has too many compulsory fields salespeople may be tempted to enter random information or might be reluctant to enter data at all. At Xact Software the compulsory fields we use are ID/Status, City and Country.

In addition to data cleansing the blog also suggests integrating with other core systems. One of the most common systems that is integrated with CRM is accounting. A good integration will ensure that basic contact data only needs to be entered once in any of the systems and the other will be updated. This will not only ensure the data in both systems is accurate and up to date but will reduce human error and double entry of data, and give sales staff a more holistic view of the customer.

Lastly, for larger organisations it might be worthwhile appointing a database manager who would have full access to all the features in the database, be conversant in the business processes and rules, and well trained to use the database to its full advantage. This person would be responsible for overseeing the quality of the data (i.e. running regular duplicate checks) and re-educating staff when required.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More tips for evaluating CRM

In 2010 we wrote about some of our key tips for choosing the right CRM system. In summary these were:
  • Implementation Cost vs. Added Value
  • Vendor Reputation and Product Popularity
  • Ease of Use
  • Customisation
  • Interactivity and Connectivity
  • Mobility and Information Sharing
(Read the full post here)

Whilst these tips are still very much relevant today with the changes in business attitudes towards investing in software/hardware infrastructure we have come up with some additional tips for evaluating fully featured (paid) CRM systems vs. “freemium” solutions.

Consider future growth: Freemium solutions are good for businesses starting out with CRM and wanting to minimise their risk, however they generally have limits on the number of users, contacts and/or features. If your business is likely to grow in the near future it might be worthwhile spending the money now and invest in a system that will grow with you as the cost to move data from freemium to paid (i.e. money, time, resources and productivity costs) may end up being more than if you had invested in a paid solution from the beginning.

Who owns the data?: Regardless of whether you choose a freemium or a paid solution it is important to understand who owns the data and how easy/difficult it may be to move to another solution if you so choose. Most solutions will enable you to export basic contact data to Excel although extracting sales opportunities, communication history and activities can be a bit harder and will typically require services from a CRM vendor (if it can be done at all).

Free is only free if you don’t value your time: Despite popular belief, freemium solutions are rarely free at all. Many businesses simply fail to account for the time and resource costs associated with implementation, customisation, support and training - services which are typically included with a paid solution. Freemium solutions may also lack adequate documentation (for support/training etc.) and the time and hassle spent on a DIY approach may outweigh the benefits of a paid solution. Further to this, as freemium solutions often bypass solution vendors the business may lack valuable insight into the way things should be done. (Good) CRM vendors will challenge the way you do things, highlight potential pitfalls and use past experience to ensure you have the best solution - something you won’t get with a freemium product.

Ultimately CRM should empower salespeople to sell, and to do so efficiently. CRM should enable you to organise data in a way that makes sense to your business and that enables your staff to find information and complete tasks faster. Furthermore, CRM should ensure that businesses can continually monitor and make sense of the data in their database - this is best achieved through reporting tools. These tools enable businesses to get a snapshot of the business, compare trends, identify new opportunities, measure sales performance and monitor sales people.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Managing Customer Relationships: What's Cheap vs. What Works

Summary of the paper by Aberdeen Group (download it here)

Many businesses feel the need to automate and streamline their customer interactions as their customer base grows and as their customer data gets more spread out across the organisation. Once a business has identified that they need to do things differently they typically start to look at ways they can organise their customer information more efficiently and develop more solid sales processes.

Businesses that are in this stage will typically come across three solutions that will help them manage their customer information...

1. Spreadsheets and Email
When businesses start up and invest in computers and software office productivity tools (such as Microsoft Outlook and Excel) are usually near the top of the list and hence become the foremost method of managing customer information. When a business is looking into better ways to manage customer information, they may start to look into how they can use these existing applications more effectively. However, using spreadsheets and email to manage customer information poses a number of issues for businesses:
  • Labour intensive: Staff will find they spend a large part of their day entering, re-entering, organising and searching for information. This can become frustrating and difficult for salespeople to respond to customers in a timely manner, and the organisation may begin to suffer from “information overload” as the number of contacts and complexity of information grows.
  • Not conducive to collaboration: When using email programs communication resides in one salespersons inbox (and in their head!) making it difficult to access and share. As a result staff will spend more time discussing and swapping customer information, and if a salesperson leaves most of the customer information will leave with them. This can become a huge time waster and can negatively impact customer relationships.
  • Limited functionality: Spreadsheets and Emails are not designed to support more complex sales and marketing tasks such as email marketing, opportunity management and customer analysis (reporting).

2. Freemium
“Freemium” software refers to any software that has a “free” version and a “paid” version - where the free version will offer limited features and functionality. One of the attractions to this solution, particularly for small businesses, is the ability to try before you buy. Freemium solutions offer a low-risk way to enter the contact management market without investing heavily in software and infrastructure required for a full-blown CRM. However the pitfalls of these solutions are often overlooked by decision makers including:
  • Who owns the data? Businesses should be careful to investigate how easy or complex it is to migrate the data to another system. Many solutions will enable you to export basic contact data to Excel, but extracting sales opportunities, notes and activity histories can be much more difficult.
  • Will it support scalability? At what cost? Most freemium solutions will have a cap on the functionality and/or the number of contacts a business can have. Once a business reaches these caps they will have to make a decision: do we invest in the paid version, revert back to the way we use to do things, or research alternative paid solutions? In each case the business must evaluate the cost vs. benefits taking into account the time investment that has already been invested in the freemium solution.
  • What about support and training? Business must also investigate whether the freemium solution will provide adequate resources to train staff and deal with support issues, or if this is provided at a cost. If they are provided for free the business must then evaluate the time investment required to learn and apply the correct techniques.

3. Fully functional contact management (CRM)
Compared to the other solutions fully functional Contact Management requires a higher investment (either initially or through ongoing costs). As such it is important that businesses spend the time researching and deciding on which solution to choose as the cost to change will be much higher. Despite this, Contact Management overcomes many of the barriers that spreadsheets, email and freemium solutions create. A good Contact Management solution will support collaboration, scalability and customization, and will typically come with a free trial period.

Overall the cost of a solution will often influence a business' decision when choosing to improve the way they manage their customer information - and many businesses choose freemium or lower cost solutions in order to reduce their investment risk. However, many businesses are not aware of the non-financial costs associated with their decisions such as time, productivity, resources, and impact on customer relationships. What is free now may become more costly later on.

Monday, July 9, 2012

6 Tell-tale signs you need CRM - Part 2

Continuing from our last post...
  1. Order takers not being advised when a customer is put on hold
    This is probably one of the biggest pet peeves for accountants (in addition to sales reps quoting with outdated pricing); a customer doesn’t pay an account and the sales person puts through another order.

    Whilst CRMs aren’t designed to manage accounts it is important that they work alongside your accounting system to ensure sales reps are up-to-date with customer account information and product availability (if required). This result is typically achieved through integration; but be warned, not all integration is the same.

    Integration between accounting and CRM needs to achieve the following:
    • Bring the right accounting information and tools to your sales staff as they need it. For most organisations, being able to see account summaries, a list of current sales documents and aged receivables is sufficient however others may require sales staff to be able to create sales documents and run accounting-based reports within the CRM too. Furthermore, most organisations will require real-time data which is achieved through a “live” connection rather than a synchronisation process.
    • Improve productivity. The key feature of any CRM/accounting integration will be to provide a connection between the corresponding contacts in either database. In doing so staff should be able to make changes in either program and see those changes reflected in the other. Doing this ensures that data only needs to be entered once - saving time, reducing the potential for human error and ensuring the data is up-to-date and accurate at all times.
    • Protect accounting functions. While it is important to give sales staff access to accounting functions you won’t want them to do such as edit product details or prices. Effective CRM/accounting integration should eliminate the need for salespeople to directly access accounting software and may also have access control built-in and therefore protect these accounting functions.
    • Cost savings. Following the above, if the integration is sufficient enough that salespeople do not need to access accounting software then organsiations can save significantly on licence costs. In situations where multiple salespeople “share” accounting licences organisations may not see a significant reduction in licence costs by are likely to experience an increase in productivity as staff do not need to “take turns” using the accounting software.
  2. Being unable to access real-time information when you are out of the office
    With more people working on the road and out of the office, the ability to access your customer information on the go is becoming increasingly important. Most CRM systems these days are accessible via mobile devices. If this is a requirement for you make sure that it is compatible with your mobile devices and that all the features you require on the go are available to you.
  3. Continually losing prospects/customers
    One of the key areas within a CRM is the sales opportunities area. This area helps you track potential sales and most importantly record why a sale was won or lost. This information can be vital to ensure the business is attracting the right kind of prospects and that these prospects don’t fall through the cracks.

    For example, if you find that the main reason behind lost opportunities is price and the main reason for won opportunities is customer service then you can make some assumptions and corresponding actions:
    • Your prospects are too price sensitive: Perhaps you should advertise elsewhere and/or create a questionnaire that helps you identify the prospects that are not worth pursuing.
    • Your prospects don’t see the value: Case studies, customer referrals and educational material might be useful here to help your prospects justify their purchase (i.e. they are paying for your great customer service).
    • Your pricing model needs adjusting: You may choose to modify your pricing model to accommodate your price sensitive prospects.

Important note
Remember, at the end of the day CRM software is not a mind reader and the value that an organisation can get out of a CRM is largely dependent on the quality of the information that goes into it. Continuous “tweaking” and training are required to ensure that the database and its users are up to the business’ standards.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

6 Tell-tale signs you need CRM - Part 1

At some stage, many businesses will recognise that they need to improve the way that they manage their customers and contacts - this is when they typically begin to ask "Do I need CRM?".

If your business is at this stage then this blog might help you identify specific areas in which CRM can be useful. It also identifies some of the key criteria and features that CRM should have for it to be successful.
  1. Frustrated customers complain that your staff don’t know their specific requirements
    An effective CRM will enable you to store all the data you need to about a customer, typically in custom fields. This data usually includes demographic details and product interests which have been collected over time. Organisations that do not have a CRM are likely to find this information scattered in Excel/Word Documents, Outlook emails and brief notes jotted around the place.

    Having this valuable data centralised into one location that everyone can access provides the ability to be instantly informed about a customer. It also allows the organisation to provide more specialised offerings for different groups of customers based on location/product interest etc.
  2. Your sales team not knowing what issues your service team/accounting team is currently working on before calling the customer

    When data is not shared throughout the organisation you will find that each department may create its own ‘silo’ of information. The problem with this is often staff in different departments will have no idea of what is going on and have to request the information, wasting valuable time that could be better spent on other tasks.

    Whilst it is important for departments to share data, one of the complexities of introducing a CRM is to find one that can meet the needs of every user - keeping in mind that CRM is designed to manage contacts, not services or accounts. This is where integration and customization comes in - the CRM you choose should be capable of bringing together the important information about your customers to all the staff that need it.
  3. Not knowing whether valuable sales leads are being followed up
    When staff are dealing with multiple customers, suppliers and prospects every day it can be difficult to lose track of the potential sales. Without an effective system of storing the information (including products/services, value of the potential sale, what is happening now and what needs to happen next) sales opportunities can easily walk out the door.

    CRM is an effective way to manage potential sales. An effective CRM will enable you to create and manage your own sales process. It will enable you to:
    • See all of your upcoming sales opportunities then prioritise and manage them based on their potential value to the business or their probability of converting to a sale
    • Keep a record of all the notes, activities, products and people involved in the opportunity,
    • Assist you with sales budgets and revenue forecasting

Thursday, May 31, 2012

CRM + Social = Social CRM

Contact information and relationship management has long been a key success factor for any businesses. Amongst other benefits, CRM helps businesses:
  • Learn more about its customers and prospects and help to identify new market opportunities
  • Store unique and relevant information about individual customers so that staff can have it on hand when it's needed
  • Improve internal processes to create an efficient and effective workforce
Traditionally, CRM is focused on managing two way communication: Business to Customer and Customer to Business. However in recent times, the importance of social media in the business environment has encouraged a new frontier in CRM: social customer relationship management (SCRM). Social brings a new element into CRM; instead of dealing only with data and information businesses are now dealing with conversations and relationships with the social customer. These conversations and relationships take place not only from company to consumer but also from consumer to consumer.

Social CRM understands that businesses communicate with their prospects and customers in ways other than phone and email and it recognises that customer service reps, marketing and front-line staff need to have access to relevant social streams. With this information they can identify trends, prospects and opportunities for the business.

Introduce Nimble - one of the leading Social CRM platforms available today. Nimble is a revolution in the way business is done - injecting social listening and engagement tools into a simple web-based solution. Nimble presents SMEs with one solution to help them find individuals relevant to their business, listen and engage with them in a variety of ways, and build relationships that can lead to opportunity.

By integrating a product like Nimble, businesses can arm themselves with a competitive advantage that, when used correctly, can help them listen, engage and respond to their customers and reach their full potential.
If you would like to know more about Nimble, social CRM or the CRM process in general then feel free to contact us, we will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Using social media more effectively

Here are a few key tips that all businesses can adopt to get them started, or improve on their use of social media.

1. Build a strong profile
Start with a compelling summary. Tell people who you are and what you stand for. Remember to use keywords related to your area of expertise so others can find you in relevant searches. With Twitter, make sure your bio actually tells people who you are and what you do. With LinkedIn, reinforce your message by adding relevant, thought-leading content via blogs, video/ppt presentations, and customer testimonials.

An extra note for LinkedIn users: LinkedIn is best used as a peer-to-peer personal network - NOT an online CV. Try to make your summary sound less like a cover letter and more like an "about us" page that you would find on a company website. Check out Tom Skotidas' profile (he's an expert in B2B social media) as an example of a great LinkedIn summary.

2. Build your connections
Larger networks equal more exposure. In LinkedIn and Twitter you can start by connecting with people you already know (colleagues, business partners, clients, professional friends), then move onto harder targets by connecting with those who share the same group or know someone that you know. If you are able to identify people in your target market try connecting with them too.

In Facebook, one of the best ways to build your connections is to ensure that you have content that actively encourages user participation e.g. "Likes", comments or polls.

3. Post Status Updates
Let people know you're there. Status updates enable you to distribute relevant content to those in your network and helps you to be perceived as an expert in your field. Status updates can also help to build your personal and company brand, generate click-throughs to your website and generate leads.

In Twitter, use hashtags (#), mentions (@) and retweets (RT) to spread the word but remember to keep your posts on-brand to attract the right kind of follower. In LinkedIn, status updates tend to be "sticky", so try not to post more than 2 times per day. In LinkedIn remember that you can write your own commentary about a link, and when you do this ensure that you use unique thought provoking content to attract readers attention. Also avoid using Twitter speak (#’s and @’s) in your LinkedIn posts, they will make you look lazy.

4. Keep it professional
Separate your personal accounts from your business accounts. If you are using social media for business purposes it is important that you stay professional. People are connected with you because they're interested in what you have to say... So, unless it is part of your business strategy, try to keep random/personal posts to a minimum (especially on LinkedIn) as this can annoy your existing followers and attract people outside your target market.

5. Design your social media strategy
A Social Media strategy is a plan for how and why your business is using social media. It can be as brief or as complex as you like but ultimately it needs to justify the time and effort you are going to spend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Introducing the Social Business

People don’t do business with companies; they do business with people.

Naturally, humans are social beings-they love to socialise and are designed to collaborate. Long before the Internet and social media dominated the business world, people did business in social ways. They would ask friends and family for advice on products and talk about their experiences with each other over the garden fence or write letters to firms when products failed to meet their expectations. Today, the Internet and social media has radically changed the way that consumers share information and interact with each other and with the businesses they care about.

An impersonal, faceless organisation is not a fruitful approach in a socially-connected world. The benefits of personal customer service are well established, and in order to implement a personal approach, it is necessary for businesses to be more ‘social’. However a social business is not just having Facebook page and Twitter account, it involves a philosophy which embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organisation, both internally and externally.

A social business is:
  • Engaged with its customers, employees and partners to build deeper relationships,
  • Transparent with no boundaries to information-there are no secrets, and
  • Nimble to anticipate and address change

Although social media enables businesses to listen to online social conversations, gain valuable information and keep track of what is being said about their brand and their competitors, being ‘social’ also means getting involved with these online communities, by directly interacting and responding to their conversations. It means recognising the need for employees to become “digital citizens”. In doing so, more personal and long-term relationships are fostered.

So how do businesses become socially engaged, and profit from it? Firstly, they learn how to use social media effectively and secondly, they integrate social media with existing business processes, such as CRM. We will look at these two factors in the following posts.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Social Media, what is it and why it’s important to your business

Social media is about people connecting with each other; between businesses, communities and individuals. Social media is also about user-generated content; it is highly interactive and driven by the people that use it. Most importantly however, social media is about relationships.

Businesses all know that relationships are key to success - good relationships make it easier to maintain profitable and loyal customers.

In recent times, the adoption of social media has changed the way that customers build and maintain relationships with companies and their brands. Today, customers want to share their experiences with their friends, both good and bad - and they want to hear about others’ experiences and recommendations. Social media gives them instant access to the information they require. With social media people can now connect with others anywhere, anytime.

Because social media revolves around user-generated content, social media platforms create an environment that is social, hyper-connected, creative and collaborative. This can be both good and bad for companies.
With the increasing popularity of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, users are continually bombarded with new information. The impact of this information overload is that consumers are building higher expectations, have shorter attention spans and a more powerful voice which they can use to talk to both organisations and peers through a public, unstructured medium. Consumers now dictate how, where and when they want to interact with a company - not the other way around.

This presents a number of obstacles for businesses:
  • Competition is global: through increased internet adoption, the boundaries between businesses and their customers are expanding and competition can exist anywhere in the world. Not every business can offer the cheapest price or the best deal so building a good brand image is extremely important - and one of the best ways to build a good brand image is by satisfying its customers, and going over-and-above what is expected so that these customers to spread the word.
  • Customer service is more important than ever: word of mouth is now word of mouse and because people are more connected than ever before, customer feedback, product reviews and user experiences can spread around the world reaching to millions of people in an instant. Consumers are using social media to ask questions, complain (just search #fail on Twitter and see what comes up), and suggest improvements and they expect businesses to respond using the same medium. Failing to do so can make the business appear “behind the times” and like they don’t care about their customers.
  • Businesses need to have a face: consumers want to do business with people, they want to see who they are dealing with and know that what they have to say is important. Businesses need to be listening and responding to their customers, and to do this they need to be “social” (we’ll talk more about this in the next blog).
Despite the above, social media presents a unique opportunity for businesses to engage in a more personal level with its customers. Businesses can leverage social media to identify new customer segments, improve or come up with new product/service offerings, and build popularity for the brand.

Keep an eye out in future posts for techniques you can use to achieve these benefits.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Xact Software Exposed , Part 3

This is part 3 of our ongoing Xact Software Exposed series, In the last part we talked about Project management and how we put together a project tracking system that did the job and didn't cost us the world.

Today we'll be focusing on how we use the data we've collected over the years to make sense of whats going on within our business.

Like most businesses out there we have a customers database (you do have a customers database right??) , this database is fed information from all sources, leads from our website, phone calls, Emails, referrals etc.

In addition to all of that our database is used to manage our day to day activities, our sales process and few other things.

Collecting this amount of information is pointless if you had no way to make sense of it, luckily our CRM database comes with some built in reports and Dashboard views, not to mention some very powerful search features.

However, that wasn't enough for us, we wanted more. there were a lot of things that we wanted to analyze which we couldn't get from the out of the box tools so we went ahead and built our own.

Being a visual person I've always believed in the good old saying "A Picture is worth a 1000 words" , when it comes to looking at summaries and trends I believe that a graphical representation of your data is the way to go.

Enter the Xact Dashboard (as its currently known in the office) , a dashboard control for ACT which allows anyone to build their own dashboard views using the data in their ACT database or any other compatible data source (read: ODBC and OLE Enabled databases).

We've been using this little gadget for sometime now and even as the creator of this tool I am sometimes amazed by what it can do, for those of you who enjoy doing data analysis here is a small sample of what you can do with this dashboard:

  • Break down your contacts by their status (e.g. how many customers have we got , how many prospects are in the pipeline etc).
  • View your prospect by products , lead source, geographical distribution and more.
  • Analyze your prospect to customer conversion rate over a given period of time
  • View your staff's activities summary, how many call have been made, how many meeting they've had, how many tasks have they yet to complete.
  • View the location of your meetings on a map, use that to workout a more efficient meeting schedule for the day.
Plus much much more....

The idea here is that any business with a customers database is practically sitting on a gold mine of information, this information can be analyzed , disected and as a result it can be used to make informed business decisions.

This process of analysis applies to all levels of a business , managers might be interested in seeing trends and financial summaries at a strategic level, team leaders and project managers might want to see how their staff are doing over a given month, sales personnel and shopfloor staff might just want to view a summary of what they need to do on a given day.

At the end of the day the goal is to provide the tools, processes and the knowhow to help steer a business forward, what we've done is provide just that , we've been analyzing our own database for a while now and believe me when I say it, you sometimes dont know whats going on within your business until you take a step back and look at the big picture.

If you would like to know more about Xact software then make sure to visit our website at , you can also contact us directly by emailing