10 Criteria Every SMB Should Use to Evaluate an “On Demand” Business Solution

by Alida.Borg 14. September 2010 00:45

What criteria should be exercised by small and midsize businesses when selecting a business solution? When evaluating on-demand business solutions, we suggest no less than 10 criteria be examined:

1. How easy and intuitive is the user interface? Solutions based on portal technology are the best way to go. A portal offers users the ability to tailor the way they interact with the application and functionality, much like they would customize a Yahoo site to fit their specific interests.

2. How quickly and easily can the solution be implemented? Does the solution offer an accelerated implementation approach to minimize demands on your resources? Rapid implementation techniques can reduce costs by more than 50 percent.

3. How easily can the solution integrate with your supply chain, product development, and business processes? Remember, no system operates in a vacuum, and it delivers the most value when embedded in the business!

4. Can the solution easily scale as your business grows? Take into account not only number of users, but also specific roles and functions and the need to support end-to-end business processes, which are constantly changing.

5. Is the business solution available as a subscription? You can’t always anticipate the future. Keeping cash is important. On-demand business solutions must be available on a subscription basis, virtually eliminating the traditional upfront investments. The solution should offer you flexible 12, 24, or 36 month subscription options – allowing you to keep your cash working while you get the benefits of the newest business technology solutions.

6. Does the solution offer you company-wide visibility into your business processes? The right solution can help you gain a competitive advantage through increased visibility into critical business functions, superior reporting, integrated processes, and even increased customer loyalty/retention, more in-depth customer insights, and an accelerated product time to market.

7. Are there ample resources to assist you with your implementation and ongoing support? Look for business partners with both long-term business experience and support services, as well as expertise with cross functional, strategic technology and software solutions.

8. Is industry-specific expertise built into the product? The best business solutions are not plain vanilla. Each solution needs to address industry-specific needs, and support roles and functions unique to vertical markets.

9. Does it provide you with any analytics? That is, does it provide the means to analyze collected data and generate reports that help your analysts and management to better understand your customers and then turn that knowledge into action? You should be able to measure performance, predict trends, plan for business success, and make the most of customer relationships.

10. Can it operate on the Web? On-demand systems need to work across the company as well as with your business partners. Look for a business solution that has the flexibility and open access to accommodate future change in business and technology.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Microsoft Dynamics GP Partner for Texas

Talking CRM With Your Service Manager

by Alida.Borg 14. September 2010 00:00

If your organization has to schedule resources of any kind—people, equipment, vehicles, buildings, and so forth—it’s a daily chore of your service manager to make sure these limited resources are used to best effect and that customer needs are met promptly. When this dispatching function is performed on paper by multiple people, mistakes that hurt customer service are virtually unavoidable.

Your service manager’s CRM priority: Centralized, intelligent scheduling
The service manager is focused on quickly and cost-effectively delivering services to customers and wants a system that can:

  • Show at a glance the availability of every service resource companywide.
  • Allow centralized service scheduling.
  • Give multiple people access to the scheduling resource from any location.
  • Intelligently apply your business rules to service scheduling (for example, “Bob and Sally are our only Xwidget experts”).
  • Monitor the use of resources.
  • Generate a history of which customers have received which services at which times.
  • Automatically record service requests (both open and closed) associated with specific customer records.
     

Questions for your service manager

  • Who schedules service appointments today?
  • How is it done? How do you wish it could be done?
  • How does your scheduler know which resources can deliver a service and when they are available?
  • Are the dispatchers a bottleneck in scheduling service for customers?
  • What are your most common customer complaints relating to service scheduling?
  • What kind of reporting do you need on your service team and on the services you’re delivering?
     

Conclusion

Scheduling services promptly and following through with excellent service when promised can go a long way toward enhancing customer relationships. A CRM solution with built-in service scheduling capabilities that work the way your business works can improve customer service and lower your service costs.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Dallas Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner

Talking CRM with your Marketing Manager

by Alida.Borg 13. September 2010 23:50


To effectively design compelling marketing campaigns that present new products and services to customers and new prospects, your marketing manager needs powerful, easy-to-use tools with which to analyze your customer and lead base. He or she then needs a way to quickly and easily pull together targeted lists, launch campaigns, track results, perform follow-up, and pass responses to the most suitable sales people.

Your marketing manager’s CRM priority: Increasing awareness

The marketing manager wants easier, less expensive ways to help your company sell the right products and services to the right people at the right time. To do this, he or she needs to:

  • Know which products and services your customers are using and your leads are pursuing.
  • Easily segment customers and leads.
  • Quickly create new lead lists.
  • Send personalized e-mail messages to groups of leads or customers.
  • Track which customers have been targeted with past marketing campaigns.
  • Quantify new sales associated with various lead sources and marketing activities.
  • Monitor the progress, cost, and success of marketing campaigns.
     

Questions for your marketing manager

  • How do you manage lead lists today? How would you like to manage them?
  • How much work is involved in identifying target customers and prospects for marketing campaigns?
  • How do you track marketing campaigns?
  • How do you judge whether a marketing campaign has been successful?
  • Do you know how much revenue a campaign generates?
  • How do you compare the success of multiple campaigns?
  • How are new leads distributed to sales?
     

Conclusion

Your marketing staff has probably been underserved by sales automation or CRM solutions you may be using now. A CRM solution with built-in marketing capabilities can dramatically enhance your marketing staff’s ability to reach leads promptly with compelling messages—and up-sell existing customers through new offers.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Dallas Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner

Talking CRM With Your IT Manager

by Alida.Borg 26. July 2010 22:04

When evaluating the technical implications of CRM deployment, remember that CRM is foremost a technology that can help propel your business, instead of a tool that dictates your business processes. Discuss with your IT manager the business value of CRM, and get vital input on the technical corollaries of CRM implementation. The IT manager is your partner in ensuring that your CRM solution is up and running so it can support the business strategy as you planned.

 

Talking tactics: Your IT manager’s concerns about CRM

The IT manager keeps your organization’s information technologies running smoothly 24/7, and considers the following when evaluating new systems:

  • Wants technology that involve minimal interruption in your employees’ work
  • Looks for systems that are easy to set up and maintain while offering high availability and performance
  • Avoids deploying untried technology
  • Seeks scalable solutions that easily grow with the business
  • Wants technology that is highly secure and easy to restore after an adverse event
  • Looks for new solutions that take full advantage of existing IT resources as well as other company investments
  • Wants new technology that synchronizes and integrates well other applications, data sources, and systems.

 

Questions for the IT manager

Your IT manager can detail the essential technical considerations of a CRM implementation:

  • What proof do we have that the CRM system will enhance infrastructure?
  • What kind of deployment downtime can be expected?
  • How can a CRM system keep IT aligned with business goals?
  • What kinds of facts and referrals can assure product benefits and quality?
  • What are our data backup policies, and how do we ensure CRM data is protected?
  • What type of technical support is need after implementing CRM?

Conclusion

Your IT manager supports business goals by keeping the enterprise running, and by implementing tools that allow the company to pursue new opportunities and protect customer relationships. This guide will help you get the IT perspective on CRM so you can make a technology investment that will reinforce your competitive edge.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Dallas Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner

Talking CRM With Your Sales Manager

by Alida.Borg 26. July 2010 22:03

To ensure that sales representatives meet their objectives, your sales manager continually needs information from them about leads and active prospects. Here’s how you can work with your sales manager to find out how CRM can best support sales goals.

 

Your sales manager’s CRM priority: pursuing revenue

The sales manager is focused on moving your product and targets the following CRM evaluation issues:

  • Supporting sales staff’s efforts to secure business
  • Avoiding the disruption of a complete systems replacement
  • Obtaining personalized vendor support for new systems
  • Providing the data necessary to support sales goals
  • Integrating new solutions with existing data systems
  • Tracking leads with minimal data entry and paperwork
  • Helping sales force accept and adopt new CRM processes

 

Questions for your sales manager

Get the details you need on how CRM can support revenue-generating activities:

  • What kinds of sales history and forecasting data are now available?
  • What kinds of new CRM tools would help the team sell?
  • How much training do you foresee your team needing?
  • How are we currently tracking the competition?

 

Conclusion

The sales manager is your best ally for initiating a CRM project. Champion the CRM selection process with sales input to gain compliance when the sales division uses the new tools. Investing in the right CRM solution supports your sales team’s best practices, resulting in the optimal outcome: closing more deals.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Dallas Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner

Thinking About Software As A Solution (SaaS)?

by Alida.Borg 26. July 2010 22:02

In a recent (2009) conference, hosted by Computerworld, it became clear that SaaS is now mainstream.  To quote some of the attendees:

  • “SaaS adoption has moved past the ‘tipping point’”
  • “A new ecosystem is forming around Cloud computing that will transform the IT sector.”
  • “SaaS is not an optional disruptive technology.”
  • “Cloud, SaaS and Mobility are helping to make the “boundary-free enterprise”

 

In a nutshell, subscription-based software and services are getting stronger and stronger, offering more and more benefits to businesses.  For example, nine out of ten companies plan to grow their use of “Software as a Service,” according to the Gartner Group.  Should you be on this list?  Consider the following:

Business Drivers

Businesses of all sizes are moving to SaaS because of lower upfront costs, shorter implementation times, less implementation risk, reduced need for hard-to-find in-house technical resources and more flexibility to right size systems (up or down).  SaaS has a proven track record of reducing ongoing IT operations costs, freeing up capital and resource to focus on driving the business forward to new advantage and competitiveness.

Businesses are adopting SaaS as ‘insurance’ against business disruption and security threats.  They’re doing this by taking advantage of the most advanced, comprehensive, and easy to use data backup/restore, virus/spam protection, device recovery services – all automatically and without having to purchase a single piece of software.

Businesses are using SaaS tools to run their businesses better.  Whereas in the past, small and medium businesses would lag behind the technology advantages that larger businesses could afford. SaaS levels the playing field for customer management, manufacturing and distribution, HR/payroll, accounting, banking, collaboration, and productivity.  Small and medium businesses, through SaaS, have access to the latest, most powerful, and cost effective technology without any capital investment or the need for ‘in-house’ technical expertise.

The adage that ‘old is new again’ is true.  Return on investment, risk mitigation, total cost of ownership, and a focus on the business remain central to technology discussions.  SaaS has proved it’s worth using these traditional criteria.

  

Where is the fit?

An additional, recent survey pointed to collaboration products of all sorts as the top application area for SaaS based solutions, with human resources and customer service next on the list. Finance and accounting moved up from 10th place to 5th place in 2010 – one indicator that SaaS is on the move from the edges to the core of the business as the technology continues to mature.

For mid-sized companies, a mix of in-house and SaaS based solutions has been demonstrated by True Religion jeans. True Religion Jeans found that vendor experience and the ability to “try before you buy” testing of potential SaaS solutions improved operation and avoided common adoption mistakes.  True Religion also realized the benefit of being able to spend more time focusing on the business needs instead of on technology.

For small companies, the savings are even more pronounced.  In a recent presentation, Tom Kelly CFO/CIO at Kardia Healthcare discussed his experience with SaaS applications when he was with 2nd Wind.  As an exercise equipment company, 2nd Wind was able to replace virtually all the in-house systems with SaaS solutions and reduced costs by 61%.

The bottom line:

More and more businesses are exploring, understanding, and implementing Software as a Service to drive their bottom line. Isn’t time to explore if SaaS is right for your business?

SaaS is no longer a theory, but is a viable reality that has demonstrated business and financial benefits.  Small and medium business, today, benefit the most through the elimination of capital spend, reduction in technical resource requirement, increased business continuity and safety, and lowered overall IT cost.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Microsoft Dynamics GP Partner for Texas

11 Tips For Choosing Your Accounting Partner

by Alida.Borg 24. July 2010 00:29

Successful Accounting Partnerships

Trusting your accounting processes and information to an ‘outsider’ is a big step for any small and medium sized business owner.  After all, the ability to track inventory, place orders, send out bills, and collect and managing cash is core to every business and something that every business owner should take very seriously.

But, you’re at the point where your ‘in-house’ accounting option – be it spreadsheets, QuickBooks, or other – just isn’t meeting the needs of the business any more.  You’re exploring options and some of those options include subscribing to accounting software.  How do you make sure you don’t get ‘stung’ by your accounting software partner?  Here are eleven things to look out for as you narrow the choices and make your decision:

1. Know your requirements:  undertaking an evaluation of accounting solutions and potential partners can’t be done casually.  At least have a good grasp of your high-level requirements for tracking and managing your business, customers, and cash.

2. Experience:  determine what types of projects the potential partner has done in the past. Have they done any accounting projects that are similar to your business; and, who from their team will be working with you?

3. Solution options:  seek out those potential partners that have multiple solutions available for evaluation.  Your business has some unique characteristics that may not ‘fit’ into a single solution.  Also, look for solutions that are configurable, open to changes, and have migration tools for ease of setup and transition.

4. References:  require that any potential partner provide references for their solutions, their company, and their people.  Make sure that you’re able to determine the ‘good, bad, and ugly’ before you make a decision.  Remember, whoever you end up choosing, you’ll be partners for some time to come.

5. Partner characteristics:  get the company details.  Length of time in business, office locations, employees, employee experience, number of customers, industries served, best successes and worst failures.

6. Delivery successes:  determine the processes that the potential partner uses to increase success rates.  Find out how often the potential partner has been successful.  Don’t use the potential partner’s success criteria;  judge success by the customer’s criteria.  Become confident that if the partner undertakes your project, they will be able to deliver — on-time and on-budget.

7. Automated tools:  does the potential partner have automated tools that will smooth out, speed up, or lower the cost of your transition and implementation?  Or, is most of the work going to be done by people?  What are the limits of their tools and what is their overall plan to fill in the gaps to successful project completion.

8. Hidden costs:  find out up front what the potential ‘hidden costs’ of the solution are. Are they in the assessment, configuration, implementation, testing, roll-out, support, additional licenses, or other items?  Strive for a ‘no surprises’ environment when understanding the cost of the solution, before, during, and after the implementation.

9. Business impact:  every time a business adopts new technology or undertakes a new project there is an impact on the business.  Ideally, the impact is minimal.  Find out from the potential partner what they expect from you and your people through the process.  Determine the time, information, and technology impact to your business ahead of time and calculate the financial cost.  Remember that the cost of the accounting solution is only one part of the cost.  A disruption in your business is also a cost to be considered.

10. Risk mitigation:  every project has risks.  Ask the potential partner their process for mitigating risks such as project slippage, cost escalation, and data loss.  Make sure they have your success at the heart of the project.

11. Partnership/communication:  Remember that the potential partner is in full ‘sales mode’ at the beginning.  Once they have your business, make sure they continue to value you as a customer.  Understand their communication methods, vehicles, problem escalation path options, who you will be dealing with, and how you can remain a priority to them.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Microsoft Dynamics GP Partner for Texas

How to Choose CRM Software: 6 Questions To Ask Your Customer Service Manager

by Alida.Borg 30. June 2010 00:12

Today competitive advantage increasingly depends on how organizations manage their customer relationships—and not simply on how well they design and build their products. Companies must implement strategies that enable them to be more customer-centric in a world where customer expectations will continue to escalate.

This guide can help you to plan discussions with your customer service manager to make informed decisions about how you can implement business processes to meet customer expectations.

Your customer service manager’s CRM priority: customer care

The customer service manager, who is responsible for cultivating advantageous customer relationships, considers the following when evaluating new systems:

Questions for the customer service manager

Your customer service manager has know-how for maintaining service efficiency and customer satisfaction:

1) What are the current barriers to good customer service that CRM technology might alleviate?

2) How much training do you foresee your team needing, and what suggestions can you make for accommodating training?

3) What does current survey data on customer satisfaction imply about our need for new tools?

4) What information do service representatives have difficulty or delays in accessing?

5) What is the company organized around? Customers, product, or service?

6) How can we make doing business with us easier for our customers?

Conclusion – How to Choose The Right CRM Software

Your customer service manager knows that customers are at the center of your CRM selection process and that technology solutions should accommodate customer service instead of customer service bending to fit the technology. The talking points in this article can help you get the information you need to keep your CRM decisions service-focused. The right CRM solution doesn’t just make your life easier—it helps you succeed because it simplifies doing business with you.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Dallas Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner

Improving SMB Planning, Budgeting & Forecasting

by Alida.Borg 30. June 2010 00:09

Technology Creates “Best-in-Class” SMBs

Smaller companies have historically lacked tools to help formulate and execute against solid financial plans and budgets.  Yet in today’s uncertain economy, operating by the ‘seat of the pants’ is like setting a boat adrift in a stormy sea.  Tools and technologies are the rudder by which to successfully steer a course through the turbulent economy.  Small and medium businesses have taken notice of prior warnings, are batter armed, and are achieving results superior to the upper ranges of mid-size companies.  What have they done and what have they accomplished?

First, SMBs have cut in half their use of spreadsheets as their primary financial planning tool (Aberdeen Group Study April 2008 – April 2009).  Instead, spreadsheets have become a support tool to enterprise financial applications.  Enterprise applications have become the centerpiece of an SMBs financial planning, budgeting, and forecasting as a critical weapon in creating new value, tighter operational integration, and anticipating the future.  The use of enterprise applications has allowed the SMB immediate feedback on the financial transactions and trends, driving quick updates to planning assumptions and re-forecasting of the business – all benefiting the business by being exactly ‘tuned’ to the current and future business climate.

Second, there has been widespread adoption of formalized query and reporting tools along with workflow automation.  Both give the SMB the ‘hands on’ tools to see the exact condition of the business at any point in time as well as to virtually eliminate ‘human error’ within the execution of the business transactions – most notably during the planning and budgeting process.  Together, these two deliver lower business cost, better forecasting and budgeting accuracy, along with the ability to more quickly react to an ever-changing business environment.

Third, “Best-in-Class” SMBs have created ‘end-to-end’ visibility throughout the planning and budgeting process.  Additionally, they’ve continued transparency with respect to performance throughout all fiscal periods.  Doing so has increased the adaptability of the business to change, driven innovation around business process (lowering costs), while accelerating the pace at which business can occur.

So, what can your business do?

  • Formalize your planning and budgeting process.  Don’t use the excuse of market volatility or uncertainty to put this off. Rapidly changing business conditions heighten the need to formalize business processes, plans, and budgets all the more important.
  • Continually adapt to the changing market.  Don’t enforce budgetary rigidity within the organization.  If need be, reforecast each quarter instead of relying upon the original annual agreed-to budget.  Less than half (44%) of SMBs reforecast more than once a year (Aberdeen, 2009).
  • Invest in new tools. Fully exploit the use of technology – specifically enterprise resource planning – across the business.  Such tools add speed and flexibility by allowing more frequent and formalized forecasting.  Additionally, using technology to handle routine business tasks brings lower cost, eliminates redundancy, and drives new competitive value in the market.

SMBs are far better positioned than they were just a year ago.  Now is not the time to slow down or ease up on the ‘throttle.’  As each SMB weathers the current storm, companies of all sizes can benefit from automating and streamlining processes and adding visibility to performance against plan.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Microsoft Dynamics GP Partner

Talking CRM Software with a CFO

by Alida.Borg 28. June 2010 22:44

To ensure that finance meets its objectives, your CFO needs information about issues like total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI). Here’s how you can talk to your CFO and get the information you need to make fiscally sound decisions.


Your CFO’s Customer Relationship Management priority: fiscal fitness
Your CFO, who is responsible for the fiscal well being of your organization, evaluates investments with the following concerns in mind:

  • Increase shareholder value and expand the company’s revenue opportunities
  • Help manage the company’s operational strengths and weaknesses
  • Ensure CRM introduces efficiencies into the organization through the automation of many common sales and service activities
  • Identify and expand new and existing opportunities
  • Make sure that investments in technology are necessary and that the technology gets used
  • Ensure that the goals for a new system deployment are clear, and improvements are measurable
  • Establish a reasonable timeframe for increases in productivity and returns on investment
  • Measure the success of a CRM implementation


Questions for the CFO
Your CFO can deliver the specifics of protecting corporate assets:

  • How will a CRM investment increase productivity and scalability to help the company grow?
  • How will the investment support the overall business strategy?
  • Which compliance issues will impact our data assets?
  • What second-tier costs can we expect from deploying a comprehensive software solution?
  • What are the short- and long-term economic returns of CRM?


Conclusion

Your CFO has the fiscal know-how that can help you accurately evaluate how a CRM solution fits your needs and benefits your organization. The talking points in this post can help you get the evaluation data you need to make a sound technology investment. Get your team together and begin building more profitable customer relationships. The right CRM solution can sharpen your competitive edge and transform the way your business succeeds.

By NextCorp, Ltd., Dallas Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner

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