A CRM Solution For Small Businesses

Managing customers, conducting marketing campaigns and achieving timely follow-up on sales leads is a vital process that can overwhelm a small business. Keeping promises, storing correspondence, managing sales and being able to quickly determine the status of accounts is crucial to success. Having a single, integrated solution to accomplish all this makes the lives of small business people so much easier and more productive.

Internet-based customer relationship management (CRM) and contact management solutions offer significant advantages. Typically, they are more affordable for small businesses because there is no software to buy or maintain. Equally important, online CRM solutions are accessible from any Internet connection by authorized personnel, providing a good centralized answer for both far-flung sales forces and company management. Too, online CRM solutions circumvent the danger of viruses accessing or destroying vital company data. And most solutions do not require a long-term contract, so it’s easy to get started and companies are not locked into a solution that may not be right for them.

I recently helped a client modify his Website to communicate with AppShore’s online CRM and contact management solution. I was impressed by what I saw.

Why? First, AppShore is designed for small businesses, a market that my own consulting service targets. Having tried other online CRM solutions myself, I am familiar with their functionality. What struck me right away about AppShore is how simple it is to use. Things that seem complex in competitive Internet-based solutions like Salesforce.com or desktop packages such as Goldmine are straightforward and fairly easy to understand in AppShore. I believe this reflects the background of the AppShore team, which consists of seasoned software professionals experienced in start-ups and small businesses.

Speaking as a small business person myself, here are some things that I particularly like about AppShore:

  • It has an intuitive design and offers functionality that is a good fit for small businesses rather than enterprise-level companies. I did not have to spend hours studying a manual to understand the function of each tab or how to use it.
  • It employs “mouse over” technology to give you a quick overview of accounts and leads, as well as the ability to edit them.
  • Accounts and leads can be imported using csv files. This means your Outlook Contacts and ACT! files, for example, can be easily imported to AppShore.
  • Relevant documents, such as proposals, agreements and RFQ’s can be uploaded and stored for fast access and management.
  • AppShore even offers a means to seamlessly transfer captured data from Website forms into the AppShore “new leads” database and then automatically notify you via email. This is a terrific time saver that ensures that Web-generated sales leads never fall through the crack!
  • The ability to prioritize tasks by customer or prospect helps you to focus on activities that generate business.
  • Opportunities are easy to track and (by assigning a probability and dollar amount to each) provide a basis for forecasting sales. Setting up a sales funnel with different stages is straightforward and beneficial.
  • Versatile reporting capabilities facilitate management of marketing and sales functions, as well as providing fast looks at expected revenue.
  • AppShore includes a convenient outbound Webmail function that allows you to send email using your domain name. Emails can be linked to customer and prospect accounts for easy retrieval and reference.
  • The ability to set up and use templates with multiple “insert” fields for outbound email marketing campaigns and customer/lead follow-up is available with the premium plan. This is both convenient and effective, allowing small businesses to be responsive and conduct inexpensive marketing campaigns. Just be sure that emails are sent only to valid contacts to avoid violating CAN-SPAM laws and provide an “unsubscribe” capability if you use this feature to send email newsletters or promotions.
  • A “dashboard” tab allows you to quickly review upcoming activities, your latest leads and top opportunities.
  • Password-based access and a separate Administrator function provide adequate security. AppShore databases are also backed up on a regular basis. Having vital customer and sales information located offsite also facilitates disaster recovery.

Overall, AppShore is an excellent solution for a small business. It’s not too much, nor too little. Like any CRM package, however, set-up and terminology may be a little confusing for small businesses that have never used a CRM package before.

What would I like to see more of? The AppShore solution is surprisingly lacking in online tutorials and a Help tab to provide quick answers for “how to” questions. This oversight is balanced by AppShore’s free personalized training, set-up assistance, and excellent telephone support (I know because I tried it!). And, AppShore will release a new version in June 2008 that includes a searchable FAQ (answering “how to” questions), user manual downloads and online problem ticket submission.

Best of all, AppShore is affordable for small businesses, with prices starting at just $11 monthly per user after a thirty-day free trial. Moreover, there are no long-term contracts, so companies can export their data and discontinue AppShore at any time if they are dissatisfied. But from what I’ve seen, small businesses will be pleasantly surprised by the positive impact on their bottom line once they start using AppShore CRM.

Small Business Marketing – Adjust Or “Get Eaten”

Small businesses never have it easy with their marketing efforts. Customer loyalty only goes so far – especially during a recession. When customer start pinching their pennies price is more important than quality or features. As an example my local newspaper wrote about a contractor that did kitchen replacements and upgrades. His average order went down from $20,000 to $8,000 and of course his order book was not filled as much as it was before.

The advertising market is changing a lot. More and more traditional advertising channels are seeing a loss of customers moving their advertising budgets online. However, with this change prices for online advertising get more expensive, too – effectively pricing some businesses out of the market. So, marketing efforts need to go from broad to extremely targeted and that move requires even more skills in online advertising. Learning online advertising is time consuming and almost a job by itself and not many small businesses have the necessary resources to do so.

However, there are options available. While some of these options can be expensive, they can also be less than satisfying as the risk is often pushed to the small business and the service provider walks away with money in their pocket no matter the success rate. These providers work with the money of the small business. An example would be they get paid a percentage of the amount that the small business spends on pay per click marketing. The service provider manages the PPC account for the small business. But again, they get paid based on the money spent on pay per click advertising and not based on how well the PPC campaign is going.

It is better though to consider a lead generation service that sends targeted sales leads to the business. The only risk the business then assumes is the risk of not closing the deal. However, the entire risk of generating traffic and to collect the leads is with the service provider. The service provider and the business agree on a price per lead and then the service provider receives the matching dollar amount per lead from the small business. The service provider only gets paid when they deliver and the small business does not have to pay for anything if nothing is delivered. Local Sales Lead Generation is one of the most successful ways to gain new customers. Very limited risk in acquiring the leads + full control over the actual sales process put the small business in control. It reduces the need to learn and to stay current with online advertising and allows the business owner to fully concentrate on the business and what s/he can do best.

Networking: It’s A Mistake For Small Businesses To Overlook This Marketing Tool

It’s been said, “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” This phrase applies especially to those who want to master the art of brown-nosing as they climb up the corporate ladder in a large, multi-billion dollar company.

But this article isn’t for those people. This article is for the entrepreneurs and small business owners out there who are wondering:

a.) “How can I get the word out about my company?”

b) “Where can I get more leads and sales?”

c.) “Where can I meet other like-minded business owners and employees to learn and exchange ideas?

There are many ways to market a business. The obvious one is direct marketing such as newspaper ads, flyers, brochures, TV commercials, and radio spots. All of these are great when done correctly. But first, you have to decide which medium is right for you, and then you have to design or pay someone to develop your message. Once that’s done, you sit and wait for a response. Direct marketing works, but it has to be done correctly to get a good return on investment. You probably won’t get it right on the first try and fine-tuning your strategy is the only way to go about get profitable results.

Networking as a Marketing Tool

There is another way to market your business with a lot of extra benefits that you just can’t get with direct marketing. It’s called Networking. Most small business owners and new business owners either don’t do it, or don’t do it enough. Those who are doing it know that it works. There are many ways to network and this article will go into detail on many of them. And no, we’re not talking about “networking” with the stranger at the gas station and telling him all about your business.

My business, a graphic and web design studio, was only a few months old when I realized it was time to start meeting new leads face to face. Yes, I was initially keeping busy as I exhausted the “friends, family and their referrals” resource, but I knew that my business needed something else if I was going to be in it for the long haul. I started with one networking event which I dreaded going to because I did not like meeting new people. I’m great around people when I know them, but I had a hard time talking to complete strangers, especially business professionals.

The first event was a Chamber of Commerce lunch. From then on, my desire to meet other business owners hit the ceiling. I was shy at first, but you just have to throw yourself in with the sharks, so to speak. I quickly got over my fear of talking to new people as well as my fear of public speaking. If you love talking to new people, than you can just skip the whole “getting used to it” step. Some small business owners are very good at running their business, but contact with other people may not be their strong point. That is why you either have to force yourself to network, or have another, more gregarious person in the business do it for you.
Networking is great because there are a lot of things happening at once. You are meeting driven people like yourself. You are talking about your business and learning about other small businesses. You are exchanging ideas that will benefit everybody in the group. Eventually, once people know and trust you, you will start getting leads and sales.

You have to put in the work and time to get results from networking. Networking is about developing relationships and that doesn’t always happen on the first try. There is a lot of commerce going on in our capitalistic society, so when you are producing a high ticket item like a custom website, home remodeling or financial services, people will be much more inclined to buy from you if they trust you. The same principal applies to pretty much anything you are selling. Once people learn that you are a legitimate business owner, then they will have no problem buying from you or referring someone who will.

OK, enough about networking in theory. Let’s explore some groups, organizations, and other ways to actually network.

Open Networking Groups

Chamber of Commerce – Almost every city has one. Some are invaluable while others can be a complete bummer. It really depends on where you are and who is running the organization. Our local chamber of commerce has been great for kick starting my networking bug. Although I met other people in my industry that may be competition, I have actually formed alliances and a referral system for exchanging business with them. In addition, you’re meeting a ton of people in other industries that you can learn from. There are some common factors that apply to all businesses, so its beneficial for you to learn how other people are running their business so you can borrow or innovate upon their ideas.

Just search Google for “Your city: chamber of commerce.”

Small Business Alliances – I know my town has one and it’s incredibly beneficial because they focus on the growth side of running a business. They help with all the questions a small business owner could have like: What do I need to know about my lease, do I want a 401K plan for employees, or who can help me find a good insurance? Anything in regards to the growing pains of a small business! Try this site and see if there’s a local chapter http://amiba.net/. Keep in mind, there are a bunch of other small business alliances that don’t have to do with American Independent Business Alliance. My SBA is actually a local one that is not associated with the AMIBA.

Meetup.com – Yes, there’s actually a site out there that networks people and brings them together in real life. I have yet to go Meetup.com event, but that’s only because I found out about the site a few weeks ago. It looks very promising. The “Meet-ups” are usually free, and if they cost money then it is usually going to pay for food, drinks, and the space.

Meetup.com has every kind of group imaginable, from single mother meet-ups to Dungeons & Dragons meet-ups. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the golden nuggets that relate directly to small businesses, entrepreneurs, or even your industry. The good thing about Meetup.com is that you can start your own group if they don’t have what you’re looking for!

Rotary Clubs – We are not part of a Rotary club yet, but it is a well established business networking organization that helps out the community. Being part of a Rotary can add extra credibility to your business. From their site: “Rotary is the world’s oldest service club organization. It’s made up of more than 32,000 Rotary clubs in nearly 170 countries. The members of these autonomous clubs are called Rotarians, and they form a global network of 1.2 million business and professional leaders, all volunteering their time and talents to serve their communities and the world. Individual Rotary clubs, in turn, belong to the global association Rotary International”

Leads Groups – These groups have one goal in mind: networking. Some are national and others have one chapter. Some are open and others are closed. You have to look hard to find these groups, but they can be some of the best resources out there.

Search Google for “Leads Groups: Your City”

Closed Groups
LeTip – This is a networking group that only allows one company from each industry, hence the closed group title. The exclusivity of closed groups is great if you can get in with a good group that has every intention of getting bigger. That means you will have all of the members acting as your salespeople, which is far more cost-effective than hiring a sales team of 20+ individuals.

This group has a greater sense of trust among the members than say a “Chamber of Commerce,” because you are with them every week and you get to know each member and their business individually. There are a ton of chapters throughout the US so check it out at http://www.letip.com

BNI – Very similar to LeTip. One company per industry. Both BNI and LeTip have training programs that help you learn how to market yourself to other people quickly and effectively. The one catch is that closed groups usually do not let you be a part of other closed groups, so you have to pick one you like and stick with it. Loyalty is important. If you have more than one person in your company, divide yourselves among the different closed groups. Visit http://www.bni.com for more information.

Networking is essential for small business growth.

I’m sure I missed a lot of groups in the list because I don’t know what they all are. Some heavy searching on the internet or communication with other business owners can yield some great results for your area.

I’m fairly new to the networking game. I can’t imagine what it will be like a year or two down the road but I promise you it will be exciting. There is no other way to grow a business like small business networking because you’re going to be face to face with like-minded people. They are either going to be your clients, allies, or in some cases both.

One thing is for sure though: if you stick with these like-minded individuals in the groups and organizations mentioned above, your business will grow faster than you could have imagined. If you’re sick of spending money on direct marketing or if you just sit around on your butt wondering why your business is not growing, get out there and meet new people. The worst case scenario is that you’ll make a friend and get a free meal.

Getting More Leads For Your Small Business

When you have started a small business, one of the worst mistakes that someone could make is by not having enough leads out there so that they can get the right kind of customers shopping with them. It’s really hard for some people to get exactly the right kind of audience interested in what a small business might be providing. This is no longer an issue when you really start focusing on generation of the best leads that you can get.

You are not a Scam

When website business burst onto the scene, everyone was really excited about it. Now people are a touch more leery because of all the scams, bogus products and unreliable services that have become almost commonplace. With some expertise and research, you will learn how to set yourself apart from other companies who have fallen into the pit of scams and who simply have a fraudulent reputation because they weren’t smart enough to use their brains that would help them avoid fraudulent activities. You will also learn how to have people understand what it is that you are selling or offering, so that they see your company for what it really is and not for what makes you stand still in a sea of scam artists already.

Professional Lead Generation

When you get your hands on the most powerful lead generator tool out in the market today, it will teach you exactly what you need to know about making new contacts, building trust and having people truly understand and recommend you to others. You want happy customers and this would be the first step in doing just that. Word of mouth is just as important now as it was when industry started long ago. Getting proper leads into the door means that you can truly have people who will like your product or service and they will tell their family and friends about it. By this, you will have not only word of mouth business, but also repeat business that is absolutely needed for a good company.

Focused One on One Attention

When you start having a clear picture of where you want your business to go, then you will be able to focus on one on one attention that each customer deserves to have. You will be able to get yourself that laser focus, so that you can really tend to each customer on their own levels and with a style that will truly depicts that you are listening to them and want to improve their experience with your company. This is not just another bogus scam, this is an investment in the future of your small business and generating leads to help you succeed.