Hot cross buns Get back to contact management basics with Highrise

Posted by tom klein October 16, 2007 at 2:30 am

Almost every company has been through the well known cycle when it comes to CRM. First, expend a great deal of effort to configure a system, maybe customize a process, and of course pay for many licenses, these days mostly for a software as a service (SaaS). Then, sit back and wait, while no one uses the system because it’s too slow, dull, tedious, klunky – take your pick. Forcing people into a process can generate a lot of antibodies.

If you’re facing this challenge, try getting back to the future with Highrise. With a groovy Web 2.0 look and feel, and developed by the makers of Basecamp (discussed in Before Everest), it carves out the heart of CRM – tracking and managing prospects, contacts, and of course, customers. When do you use it? Think about what you do if a customer calls and you want to take notes on the conversation. Where do you put these notes? Once you write them, how do you share them? And, even better, how do you make sure anyone on your sales team can search and find them? Highrise solves this problem, in addition to of course creating a company-wide set of constantly updated contacts.

Even better, it lets you simply forward an email (including attachments) and have it automatically append to a specific contact. When was the last time your sales team uploaded a document to your CRM system? This capability along with a nothing short of seductive ease-of-use can have your sales team working together, without even realizing it. There’s a free plan and all for-pay plans include a 30-day free trial period. Why not give it a try?

Most service companies have to work with two important currencies - people and projects. This system will let you manage people before they become attached to a project. Also, we can’t resist adding that the system has a delightfully easy to use tasking system, making it easy to assign or be assigned tasks by anyone.

You might say that your customers matter most. But, do they? This system can help your entire company bring together its knowledge about a customer, both the company and the many, many people that are part of it. Given the turnover of sales teams, it makes sense to work hard at capturing customer information.

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  What are fora? Let your customers engage each other with a bulletin board like vBulletin

Posted by tom klein August 2, 2007 at 2:30 am

While it’s tempting to think of your communications with your customers and prospects as a broadcast, it’s really just a conversation. What’s surprising is that one of the best tools available to facilitate online conversations, exists in most companies, if at all, as part of the customer support function. Don’t you want to engage your customers and prospects BEFORE something goes wrong?

VBulletin provides one of the best web bulletin board systems (aka “BBS”). These systems let you structure and support a conversation with your customers. What’s key here is to understand that your customers can have a perfectly fruitful conversation . . . without you. BBS’s have existed, egads, well before the advent of the web, way back in the dial-up era.

For under $200, you can have a BBS up and running on any subject imaginable (dog lice, Cooking Light, crappie fishing) carrying your brand registration (or even just using one of many low cost themes available online, perhaps a nice orange one with a science theme ), and engaging your customers. Aren’t you interested to know what your customers might say to each other?

Systems like vBulletin, while charging a relatively low fee, also give you access to all of the software code, so you can customize beyond the cosmetic.  Also, it makes use of free database software (MySQL) that almost any web host can set up and manage for about $5 / month.

Creating your bulletin board is just a start. Next, you need to promote it, structure some of the subject areas covered, and ensure that whatever gets created is integrated throughout your site. A successful BBS is likely to be very sticky, bringing customers and prospects back to your site over and over.

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  Now, click means hello Increase prospect calls with Jaduka’s click to call

Posted by tom klein July 25, 2007 at 2:30 am

Ask anyone who runs a call center and he/she will tell you that when your customer calls you with questions, there’s really no hotter sales lead. It is the 20th century version of showing up at the front door, asking to buy something. How easy is it for your customers or prospects to call you?

Jaduka’s Click-and-Connect service (and others like it) lets you make it unbelievably easy for a customer to initiate a call. From any web page (or HTML email), a user clicks on a button, and then enters a phone number. The system then places a call to each person and connects the call. Think about it – there are valid reasons why someone would prefer an inbound call from your company, instead of picking up the phone and calling. It may be too hard to find the correct number; they may decide to buy on a page without a phone number. Or, even more important these days, they’re on the cell phone and dialing is inconvenient.

It doesn’t really matter why they use it; studies show that customers tend to prefer these inbound calls. It may just drive incremental responses to your email marketing and search marketing efforts. The bottom line – better response rates translate into real dollars. With the first 60 minutes free and simple setup (afterwards, an hour of connect time is 5 bucks), why not give it (or the alternative eStara) a try?

Consider trying this type of service wherever you find it. Google (tested and cancelled) and Windows/Verizon are exploring in this area - tying click to call to their mapping offering. What’s great about this kind of offering is that you can simply test it to see if it’s worth the incremental cost.

Of course, phone calls are expensive compared to email.  Remember that you can and probably should offer differentiated service (and selling) methods based on your targeted segments. If someone is looking for the low cost and low margin offering, let them use self-service. If you’re trying to entice someone to a high margin product, getting him or her on the phone may be worth it.

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  Close the loop Connect marketing to sales

Posted by tom klein June 26, 2007 at 2:30 am

Sales discipline may be simple. It’s just not easy. Are you using digital tools to create and manage your sales pipeline effectively?

Google Adwords and Salesforce.com have just announced a partnership to connect text ads to lead generation and sales pipeline management. The joint offering can help you understand which Google keywords get clicked on (as ads) and convert into sales leads. From there, you can then access Salesforce.com’s CRM suite. A $600 commitment will buy 5 people access to the base level of SalesForce.com service for a year. 

If you need the entrepreneur’s solution, consider using a shared Google Apps online spreadsheet. It can always be up to date and accessible to anyone with a Google email (Gmail) account. Customize your spreadsheet with the details of your sales pipeline, e.g. client name, opportunity, rating, opportunity size, likelihood of close, contact information. Presto! You have a free CRM system.

For less than an hour of your time, you can keep your sales force on the same page (literally and figuratively) and apply sales process discipline to grow your company.

Given that it can be managed on a spreadsheet, CRM doesn't require fancy technology as much as it requires discipline. You have to make the effort to conduct your sales calls, record your opportunities, and think about how you're allocating your time across your customers.

Remember that your marketing must connect to sales if you want to have any idea what works and what doesn't.  Even a shared spreadsheet can help you recognize which marketing investments translated into results, as Dave Sutton and I showed in this marketing investment analysis from Enterprise Marketing Management.

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