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This online forum shares experiences, lessons and learning about the selection, deployment and continuous improvement of Sales Force Automaton software (SFA) systems, Customer Relationship Management software, Social CRM (SCRM) and to a lesser extent Marketing and Lead Management systems.


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10 Cloud Computing Business Benefits

How The Cloud CRM Makes Your Business Stronger

You've probably been barraged with the marketing claims about the value and benefits of cloud computing—so much so that it can be difficult to sort fact from fiction. Cloud computing benefits seem to vary depending upon who's pitching them and of course that person's vested financial interests. Hardware companies stress virtualization and the hardware aspects of the cloud while software suppliers frame the cloud conversation around software applications.

Here is a simple non-hype definition of the cloud intended for business and IT managers: the cloud is a global, on-demand, virtualized computing infrastructure and suite of services that can be purchased in a utility or subscription pricing model on an as-needed basis. In many ways the cloud is like a utility; you pay for the services you consume on a monthly basis.

A simple and straight-forward definition is helpful, but what does it really mean? Is the cloud simply the newest technology trend or is it more of a business evolution that can help you gain a competitive advantage? The reality is that it's the latter. If you are aware of the capabilities, flexibility and scale the cloud can deliver, and you actively take advantage of its benefits, you can run your business better with the cloud as part of your business toolbox.

Here are 10 benefits of the cloud that can make your business more effective and more efficient.

  1. Reduce Up Front Costs
    Unlike on-premises business applications, the cost of deploying Sales Force Automation software, Customer Relationship Management software and other business software systems in the cloud is much less. Not only is there less hardware cost but the software as a service (SaaS) delivery model empowers you to buy only the number of user subscriptions you need from month to month. "Because it is less costly for vendors to create the infrastructure needed to deliver cloud-based CRM software, they are able to keep the cost of their services in check," commented Brent Leary, president of CRM Essentials. "And they are able to scale their operations more easily when their customer base grows beyond its current needs."

  2. Remote Access for Staff and Partners
    On-premises business software is not quite in step with the trend toward employees working remotely or from home offices. In order to equip these remote workers with access to business applications, IT gets involved to manage dial-in systems, security, VPNs and the other technical requirements when connecting from outside the firewall. However, since the cloud essentially connects users to their application through just an Internet browser, it removes these obstacles.

  3. Business Continuity as a By-Product
    In the case of catastrophe, businesses typically incur unforeseen problems, but your cloud-based business software applications don't need to be one of them. Certainly you need to have a disaster recovery plan in place for restoring your business operations, but the business applications you access through the cloud don't reside where you do, so local and regional emergencies are unlikely to interrupt your systems utilization. Even when the data center where your business systems run is impaired, it's likely the applications and data are mirrored to another data center elsewhere in the world. All your staff need to do is connect with an Internet browser (from anywhere in the world) and they continue to use their applications on-demand.

  4. Always Up To Date Software
    Here are two common scenarios. First—you hear that a new version of your business software is coming out, then you hear that it's out, then you debate about whether to buy it and whether you have the resources to evaluate and install it, then you battle through the upgrade transition with your IT department, then you go back to your office and realize the clock's running until you'll repeat this process in a few more months with the next subsequent version. Second—you come into the office and discover your software's been updated via the cloud. Which sounds more rewarding to the staff and less disruptive to the business?

    From a business point of view, the ability to quickly update business software means that your cloud provider can convert user feedback into new features more frequently. There's no need to hold off on new features and enhancements until the next one to two year release; new functions can be released whenever they become available. And many CRM vendors also allow you to okay any changes, making sure you keep control over your application.

  5. More Software Options, Less Vendor Lock In
    Cloud computing offers significant cost savings not just for customers but also for software suppliers as well, allowing smaller software makers to compete in the global marketplace. These economies of scale, said Leary, have also allowed a number of new competitors to enter the business application software market—companies such as BatchBlue, Nimble and JitterJam. "These new companies can add functions rapidly and transform customer feedback into desired tools and services that along with lower prices attract smaller companies looking for easy to use systems that allow them to see immediate benefits."

    Leary also noted that these newer competitors help keep traditional vendors honest, "forcing them to keep up with the more socially-aware services built with Facebook, Twitter and other social services in mind." With more alternatives on the table, and without the risk of wasting large capital expenditures, as is required with an on-premises software system, cloud customers have flexibility to experiment, and to switch vendors if they so desire (as long as they clearly define data guidelines with their SaaS vendors ahead of time).

  6. Empower IT to Become More Strategic
    It is possible the cloud may result in fewer IT staff in your organization, but those who remain will have a new and more strategic role in the organization. Instead of simply being the mechanics who maintenance, trouble-shoot and fix packaged software programs, IT staff can instead become the in-house analysts and experts to whom the people making business decisions will partner. Rather than being relegated to a strictly tactical and technical role, IT resources can become strategically oriented and think about ideas like system integration, user adoption, data sharing between departments and in finding the best combinations of SaaS applications. They can help make business decisions of which systems should go to the cloud and which are better served in house, and then they can integrate these two groups of systems. This strategic role will require IT staff to break out of the traditional limitations of a technical role and start to become real partners with the rest of the business. Those IT staff who can make the intellectual jump will have a far greater impact to their businesses and their careers than the IT staff of previous generations.

  7. Breaks Down Barriers to Entry
    If your company has competing factions battling for a limited budget, securing the necessary investment for an on-premises business system can be tough—you're not just buying the business application, but also the hardware, administrative costs and, potentially, additional IT staffing. These investments can sum to a pretty large figure, not to mention the ongoing annual maintenance fees and the new version upgrade projects that occur about every 12 to 16 months. If these investments mean you may lose the internal battle with other departments, cloud computing may provide an option that requires far less up-front investment and can overcome the resistance from your CFO, thus getting you into an SFA or CRM system earlier than you would have been able to otherwise. That earlier entry into managing your sales teams or customer relationships can make the difference between getting ahead of competitors, or falling further behind.

    "The cloud has accelerated the adoption of more favorable payment options, as many SaaS services now offer pay-as-you-go options that don't lock businesses into long term deals that once acted as a barrier in the not too distant past," said Leary.

  8. Faster Deployment and Time-To-Value
    If speed is your need, the cloud is an invaluable resource. Cloud systems acquisition permits you to go from negotiation to actually working with the business system in a fraction of the time required for an on-premises system. In order to take advantage of the clouds faster deployment, though, it's important that your data is in good shape—free of format inconsistencies, duplicate entries and other commonly experienced glitches that can slow you down. If you're starting from scratch, data issues won't be a problem. However, if you are migrating from another SFA or CRM application, you should give your data a review to make sure you can get to full speed as fast as possible.

  9. Scale as Needed, When Needed
    Cloud computing is unmatched in its ability to scale with your business, and not just by accommodating more users as you grow. SaaS CRM systems also allow you to reduce the size of your subscription should your organization need to shrink or, more strategically, to flex with seasonal variations. For instance, most retail companies do a bulk of their business during the holidays. In the past, that meant building out computing infrastructures to handle the maximum expected volume for that one time of the year. Once the holiday season passed, most of that infrastructure sat dark until the next year. Similarly, an adventure travel business might see its peak customer demand during the spring and summer.

    With the cloud, businesses can subscribe to what they need when they need it. In these seasonal situations, businesses do not have to pay for computing resources they don't need—they can instead fluctuate their software subscriptions and allow their payments to flex with their utilization.

  10. Go Green—Both Environmentally and Economically
    The energy to run on an internal data center costs a lot—not just to operate the hardware but to cool it and pay for the real estate. Cloud computing uses data centers as well, and they use more energy than most in-house operations, but because of the economies of scale a cloud data center can achieve, the average quantity of energy consumed per computational cycle in the cloud is far less than the average amount of a single-tenant internal operation.

    How much less? A study sponsored by CRM vendor Salesforce.com and WSP Environment and Energy found that cloud services produced 95% less carbon on average than a deployment running comparable software in on-site servers. While some may dispute the precise numbers, the cloud's greater efficiency is unmistakable, and the less energy you use, the less money you'll be paying.

    There is also the matter of what happens when you have to retire old servers. In an on-site environment, you're the one finding an environmentally correct method to recycle or dispose them. With the cloud, it's your provider's responsibility and they will be recycling fewer of them than on-site operations. That means fewer harmful materials into landfills. Cloud Computing Permalink »

Measure Customer Satisfaction with Survey Simplicity and Behaviorial History

Looking Past The Net Promoter Score

One of the perineal problems in Customer Relationship Management is determining exactly when your customers became satisfied, and then determining how you managed to satisfy them and how you can institutionalize those actions to grow your business. A classic customer satisfaction measure is the Net Promoter Score, which seems simple enough—ask your customers to answer the question, "how likely are you to recommend our business?" on a scale of 1 to 10. Then count the 9s and 10s as promoters, count anything from 1 to 6 as a detractor, and there's your score.

It seems pretty simple, but I think it's a bit over-simplistic. First, using a scale of 1 to 10 without clear definition is imperfect as a baseline. The scoring relies on the customer's understanding of how that scale works. One person's 6 might be another person's 9. That means that the survey results can be affected by the overall personality and unequal understanding among the customer base.

Second, because that scale is so unintuitive, it's also a question that requires some real thought by the person being surveyed. That can cause issues for your survey response rate, and the peril you face is that your survey will only be answered by people motivated to provide responses. Those are typically the people who are very unhappy or very happy with your organization, and while understanding them is important, you need to understand the people in the middle, because the direction they go will determine your fate.

Finally, it really doesn't matter if a customer is likely to recommend your business if that person doesn't actually make recommendations or have much influence among his peer groups. A person who has no friends giving you a 6 has the same weight in Net Promoter Score as the super-influencer giving you a 6, but clearly, one is far more important to your business. The real questions needs to be "have you recommended this organization?" and "to how many people have you recommended this organization?"

But Net Promoter Score begins at least an honest stab at attempting to apply a methodology to an emotional or subjective opinion, something that's never easy to do. I've written about similar attempts that went awry. My favorite was a survey for a luxury hotel for which the responses to the questions were "failed to meet expectations," "met expectations" and "exceeded expectations." The experience I expected going in was a wonderful one, and the hotel delivered precisely what it promised. They met my expectations, and that's how I filled out the survey. Then, about a week later, I got a near panic call from the hotel manager because they had failed to exceed my expectations.

It would have been better if the hotel was able to see that I'd spent a certain amount of time on their web site before I arrived or used several services during my stay, and could then relate my satisfaction to my actions with them. But, as I said, this is never easy to do.

A best practice in developing a customer satisfaction methodology is to make sure the survey is drop-dead easy, with very little ambiguity for the user. Beyond that, append your knowledge of the customer, business conditions, and context. It's easy on the customer, and thus can result in higher response rates, and allows you to put simple answers into context.

A good example of this practice was introduced by Zendesk, a cloud-based call center software system. They added a self-survey feature called Customer Satisfaction Ratings that asks customers one question: "Were you satisfied with the help you received?" The options are "yes" and "no." It doesn't get much easier.

The Zendesk survey solution takes those binary responses and applies some added intelligence. For example, are customers from a specific geography happier when dealing with a certain call center agent? Do frequent callers have a higher rate of satisfaction when routed to more technically astute agents? How do rates of returning customers correlate to rates of satisfaction with the help desk? These types of answers often identify patterns which can be very helpful in improving the customer service experience.

The Zendesk approach shifts a lot of the effort to the vendor and away from the customer, which makes sense for all the obvious reasons. It also phrases the question in a way that acknowledges the customer and his or her experience, as opposed to most surveys which still come across as blatant efforts to figure out how to wring more money out of the survey respondents.

Zendesk understands what works—ask a simple and relevant question, then correlate it to what you know about your customers and your own operations to add context. How well does your organization identify the right question to ask, and then compare the results to the context of your customer relationships? Customer Satisfaction Permalink »

Monitoring Customer Signals For Increased Customer Share

Growing Customers Into Super-Advocates

Marketing software and lead management applications have created unique opportunities to use software technology to monitor customer activities and flag timely customer buy signals for the sales team. Whether it's a buyer signal that immediately qualifies a customer or a series of buyer behaviors that boost a lead score to sales-ready status, the software accelerates our capability to identify, process and act on these buyer actions for the benefit of the sales team. Whether sales has the bandwidth to use this new information is still in question, but the software allows us to refine sales data in new ways and at new speeds.

Customer buy signals work great for sales—but sales is not the only customer facing beneficiary. Learning of and interpreting these customer signals are key to building long-term relationships with the customer base. So, while we have triggers to help us understand when buyers are ready to buy, do we have the technology and the understanding to spot the triggers that identify a customer who desires a deeper relationship with the supplier they purchase from? For most, that answer is no.

Here's a personal situation that got me thinking about this business opportunity. My wife and I have a favorite Thai restaurant, and since it's a culinary style of food neither of us is that familiar with, we ask a lot of questions. My wife will frequently ask the waitress for a quick background education of a new food, or for more of a new sauce, or ask how a dish was prepared. After several visits, she said, "I know I must be a terribly annoying customer … "

Our waitress was quick to say absolutely not, as she was pleased to talk about the cuisine with anybody who enjoys the food. That comment set off a spark. My wife had said something that flagged her as a potential customer advocate for the restaurant, who wanted to further engage in her relationship with the restaurant. She noted her greater than usual interest in the food and how it was made, and how she enjoyed it. But she also expressed a degree of empathy and personal interest for the staff working there. By doing those two things, she signaled she would be a great candidate for additional attention to nurture her as a super-advocate.

In face to face settings, nurturing this type of customer relationship is much easier. However, just like much of Customer Relationship Management (CRM), the difficulty is in making repeatable business processes and making it scale. Are there any signals, activities or transactional cues that customers are sending your company – possibly in response to marketing campaigns, warranty support calls, product renewals, blogs posts or social media channels – where your customers are signaling that they are ready to be turned into super-advocates?

As is the case in many company business processes, some of those customer signals will be unique to your industry, location or particular business model. The key is to develop a process to identify those signals, but that's only step one. Step two is to design the business processes for following up on those signals to establish that deeper customer relationship – and then making sure those follow-up processes are responded to consistently.

Implementing such processes creates a valuable group of customer advocates for your business who work without salary – and who will influence many additional customers. While paying attention to sales signals can result in one sale, paying attention to "relationship signals" can influence many sales. Customer Signals Permalink »


Demandbase Lead Management Software Compliments CRM

The Integrated Components of Customer Relationship Management Solutions

Too many business leaders believe that getting a CRM software application in place is a one-stop answer to their sales problems. It isn't. But it can be a good first step, particularly if you look at it not as a single, solid blanket but as a patch in a sales/marketing/service infrastructure quilt. There are many software tools out there to help with specific functions of Customer Relationship Management, and being thoughtful and strategic about sewing your quilt can deliver real competitive advantage.

You generally can't kick off a sales process until you have figured out how to acquire new qualified leads. Lead generation remains as much an art as science for most. That makes sense in a way as we're talking about people and their behaviors, so it's difficult to get technology to accommodate that. That challenge however should not short change your efforts to make software technology a partner in lead generation, and the vast number of marketing automation software vendors crowding the market are reinforcing this.

It's not enough to have high volumes of of contact information alone any more. Your sales efforts and sales conversion rates don't go up just because you've dumped tons of contact records into your sales force automation (SFA) system. Getting the right qualified leads to the right sales staff at the right time – when those buyers are ready to buy – is what will achieve the best results from the sales team.

A method to achieve this difficult task is to identify buyer signals, or behaviors that qualified buyers share at the time they're ready to buy. One such behavior may be a buyer spending increased time on your company's website. The more pages a buyer reviews, especially when they are pages you know buyers often read just before making a purchase, the greater likelihood they're qualified prospects for the sales team to follow-up.

That's the simple idea driving marketing automation company Demandbase, a San Francisco-based software company that introduced its third generation flagship product. Demandbase goes beyond telling its customers how many page views the website served up and goes into which pages individual visitors looked at – and can then identify where the viewer is coming from as well as the visitors buy signals. "It's not about quantity of analysis any more, it's about quality," says Chris Golec, the company's CEO.

It's also about speed. The lead management application permits marketing and sales professionals to see who's viewing the website in real time, so they can truly strike while the sales iron is hot. Early releases of the lead generation product offered a ticker across the bottom of the screen, a feature that Golec says was an effective visibility tool. The newest version of Demandbase Professional is more like having an assistant monitor this data on your behalf. When a potential buyer shows behaviors while browsing your website that suggest he's ready to buy, behaviors you can define when you configure the system, a pop-up box appears on the sales persons screen explaining who the lead is and what the lead's done to trigger the real-time notification.

The 'who' determination of the system is based on a proprietary IP database, which can pinpoint IP addresses about 80% of the time. "That goes up every time the software vendor adds new customers," said Golec. The 'what' determination is based on the lead generation system's ability to walk users through a simple process of defining their buyer parameters and behaviors which then signal them as a sales-ready lead. This lead acquisition process signals a great opportunity for a sales and marketing teams to get-together. Too often, marketing and sales are misaligned with regard to the definition of a lead and the process to forward leads. The introduction of a new lead management software system provides a chance for marketing and sales to hash out some common definitions about leads.

Demandbase can help in identifying new leads, but tracking people as they visit websites can also aid lead nurturing campaigns. A lead that went cold some time in the past could later deliver a new signal that it's heating upon re-visiting the website.

The lead acquisition system also offers marketing staff a chance to see how effective online ads perform. By keeping track of the data about who clicks what ad, "it's no longer about the number of clicks one gets," notes Golec. "It's about the quality of the traffic," a much more meaningful measure of success.

Demandbase is the kind of lead management system that couldn't have been offered economically before the advent of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing. The volume of online traffic handled now, in excess of 100 million page views per month across the company's customer base, continues to grow; and without the cloud, scaling support for the lead application would have been complex to the point where it threatened the company's viability. Instead, Demandbase is a SaaS solution that can scale with the cloud and deliver a product that marketers and sales people with imagination can put to many different uses. Marketing Software Permalink »


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