The Path To Low Stress Sales: 6 Reasons To Use a CRM like Act! In Your Business

Act-propel-productivityThink back to the start of your business. You may have been the only one generating sales, serving customers and keeping the books. Once your business achieves some growth, you will start to add a few sales staff. Now you have a problem. As a manager, you are a few steps removed from the sales process. How can you be sure your sales team are spending their time productively?

Whether you own the company or manage the sales department, you need high quality, timely information about the sales group. In my experience, using a CRM (customer relationship management) tool like Act! is critical to improving productivity, reliability and sales effectiveness in a growing business. Let’s start with the benefits for sales managers and company owners.

1. Never miss another customer opportunity

Following up with customer questions and inquiries is critical to close sales. If your sales staff are “managing” customer follow up from their inbox, you are likely losing sales opportunities. By using Act! to monitor and manage interactions with clients and prospects, you can keep your staff focused on the opportunities that matter. For example, you can track when a prospect’s contract with a competitor is set to expire. That tracking allows you to focus your resources on higher value sales opportunities. At a minimum, you should strive to follow up on leads within two business days to keep up with other companies:

Insight: According to – Kayak Online Marketing:
“The average company takes 44 hours to respond to leads.”

Applying Act! To Your Business: Finding the “hot leads” for your business makes the sales process much easier. I recommend using Act’s Intelligent Call Lists feature to identify these leads. Calling a lead who has opened your weekly email newsletter for the past three weeks within minutes of receiving it may be a great fit for your business.

2. Detect high-performance sales activities and stars

Almost every sales team has one or two stars – the professional who significantly outperforms everyone else. They could be the person who never seems to have a “bad month” or who brings in the most profitable deals. Detecting the patterns behind these issues is difficult if you lack a system to organise the information. By using Act!, you can more quickly identify the indicators associated with top performance. For example, you may find that top performers routinely hit an individual activity metric each day (e.g. ten outbound messages to prospects attracted through inbound marketing). You can detect some of these patterns by using Act! to supplement your observations. With these insights, you can improve the productivity of your current sales staff and improve training for new hires.

Management Tip: Create a top performers report in Act! That shows your most productive sales staff and related metrics (e.g. number of deals, days elapsed to close the deal, new vs existing account and other measures).

Act! v19 Dashboard

3. Reduce sales administration time

Let’s say that your sales staff spend 4-8 hours per week on administration today. That covers everything from keeping up with email, filing orders and interacting with others parts of your company. While necessary, those efforts take time away generating new sales opportunities. By using Act!, you can cut that administration time significantly. For example, you can integrate email to Act! so that lead files are updated more quickly. Every automation measure means more time is available to deepen client relationships and start new ones.

Save Time Using Act! – With the “Smart Tasks” feature, you can make sure that your sales staff never miss another follow up with a potential customer. That is critical because larger value sales require you to build trust over time.

4. Deepen relationships at larger firms

It is easier to sell more to existing customers than attract new customers. Despite that truth, many companies do not have a systematic approach to their sales. Let’s say you were doing business with a division of BHP or IBM. There’s a good chance that other parts of the organisation could benefit from your products. However, selling more to a large firm often involves extensive research to discover the decision makers, subject matter experts and political situation. Asking your sales staff to keep track of this data without Act! is asking for trouble.

If you serve large, complex customers (or if you want to expand to that segment), a fully implemented CRM solution is critical.

5. Save time on accounting and customer service

Closing a sale on the phone or in a meeting is exciting for sales professionals. To maintain an excellent customer experience, the subsequent steps of your business process need to function smoothly. For example, issuing an accurate, complete quote or invoice to the client makes a positive impression. By integrating Act! with your accounting system, your sales staff save time in producing invoices and quotes and your accounting team has less paperwork to process.

Tip: If your company uses Quickbooks, Xero, or MYOB, you can easily integrate Act! into your accounting systems.

6. Start using email marketing to improve the bottom line

“A June 2016 survey of US marketers conducted by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Demand Metric found that email had a median ROI of 122%—more than four times higher than other marketing formats examined, including social media, direct mail and paid search.” - eMarketer

Email marketing remains one of the most effective marketing methods on the market. Why? It all comes back to permission. If your prospects and clients have signed up to receive marketing email, you have direct access to your customers. If you are new to email marketing, there is a learning curve to get started. However, it is well worth the effort because of the high ROI email marketing delivers.

Act! makes it easy to get started with email marketing by providing an easy to use editor and templates. That means you can get started without paying for expensive graphic design services.

How do you “sell” your sales staff on adopting Act! in their daily work? We will cover that question in our next article.

Working with Act! again

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It has been a few months since I last posted on the status of where I am with Swiftpage and the direction of the product. In that time, I have received numerous requests for an update.

After a call back in March from John Oechsle, Swiftpage's CEO, and Rowan Koons, SVP and GM, followed by four months of detail discussions on how to continually improve the product and user experience, we have reached an agreement for how I can best continue to serve Act! and the broader Act! Community.

Swiftpage has recognised my expertise and passion, and as part of this working together, Swiftpage has endorsed me as an “Act! Certified Expert, sanctioned by Swiftpage” as at 1 August 2017.

I have also been fortunate, during these conversations, to have had a look at the future direction of roadmap for Act!. This has made me more excited to be working with them to try and bring these to market for you.

My Current Focus

It does have elements of the position of "P.O.P.E" as originally suggested as a comment in this LinkedIn thread from four years ago - https://www.linkedin.com/groups/49896/49896-214593198 by Paul Marentette, of Uptime Solutions in Canada, and seconded by many others including Bob Ogdon, Chairman and Founder of Swiftpage.

We have highlighted the following ways to work together:

1. Initially examining areas of the current build (19.2 Update 3), with a focus on MS-Office integration and other areas that users might suggest.

2. Become active again in the Act! Community Site and my Linkedin Act! Fanatics Group. Not just in supporting users, as I have done for many years, but also creating an analysis of the posts to identify the areas that users have the most issues with (usability or flaws).

3. Assist Swiftpage in updating and enhancing Act! Knowledgebase articles.

4. Alpha and Beta testing v20 as soon as it is available.

After this, I hope to assist Swiftpage in improving Act! eMarketing, WebAPI, Mobile Companion, and other areas. I also intend to help them enhance their relationships with the Act! Certified Consultants and other resellers channel.

Help Me To Help You

I have some requests for you, the Act! Fanatic community (users and the resale channel alike):

1. I would like to examine any systems where Act! v19 is having issues with Outlook integration. At this time, I would be happy to take on about three sites per week.
NOTE: This is a NO CHARGE offer - No charge to the user or reseller.

2. Could you please post, as a comment to this blog article, or in the LinkedIn Group, or via private communication to me, any bugs or areas where you think I should allocate additional time. If I do not understand your point, I may contact you to see it remotely on your system.

3. Please also comment in the forums above with any subjects that I could generate a blog article that you think could improve your use of Act!. I do have some ideas that I have not seen done before, but I would still value your opinions.

The Future

This agreement is a great opportunity for me, for the product and for the community of users who have been behind the product for up to 30 years.

Those of you who know me know that I will throw everything I have into testing every function I can - as a user. I will work with other users in the forums, via email or phone, to find the issues that matter most in keeping you productive. Then I will work to try and replicate the issues so that I can report them accurately to QA and Development so they can work on fixing them.

Once this is underway, I hope to also have a small say in helping them prioritise their resources so that they can deliver the best possible solution for us all and make Act! as great a product as we all know it can be.

About four years ago, a user asked me what I would do if the vendor put me in charge of the product. At that time, I described a roadmap over two-three years that I thought would be necessary without the funds of an Apple or Google. I still believe that, over a similar time-frame, we can have a leading solution again.

Please feel free to post any questions or comments you have on this.

Regards,

Mike Lazarus
Act! Evangelist

The Act! CRM 19.2 update is now available

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Swiftpage has, today, released version 19.2 of Act!.

You can get the downloads from: https://www.act.com/resources/downloads
Note: International people use the links under the US section because, at least under the Australian section, there is nothing about version 19 at all.

Here are some of the improvements according to documents I’ve seen. I’ll be doing some testing over the next week or two and will post my findings.

Compatibility

Microsoft Windows Server 2016 Certification

Provides compatibility with the latest Windows Server operating system.

  • Windows Server 2016 has passed our internal certification for use with Act! v19.2.
  • This release resolves fundamental defects to ensure compatibility and includes an update to InstallShield for a more stable installation on later operating systems.
Microsoft SQL Server 2016 Certification

Adds compatibility with SQL Server 2016 for customers who like to stay updated with the latest SQL database technology.

  • SQL Server 2016 has passed our internal certification for use with Act! v19.2.
  • The Act! installation process now detects an ‘ACT7’ instance created using SQL Server 2016 Express or Standard editions.
  • Important: Act! v19.2 will continue to ship with and install SQL Server 2014 by default. Customers wishing to use SQL Server 2016 must either manually create an ACT7 instance before installing Act!, or upgrade the default SQL Server 2014 instance following their Act! installation.
  • Customers wishing to use SQL Server 2016 Standard Edition must own the applicable licenses required to conform to Microsoft’s licensing requirements.
Update to InstallShield 2016

Provides a more stable installation platform with later operating systems.

  • The Act! installer package has been updated to the current InstallShield version, giving improved native support for the latest Windows operating systems.
  • This upgrade also helps us to make future installer-related improvements, and more easily add support for new and updated operating systems in later Act! releases.
Improved Google Chrome user experience

Provides improvements for web customers using the Google Chrome browser to access their database.

  • Important: While this release provides an improved experience for users of Chrome for Mac, full certification of this browser is not included in Act! v19.2. This certification will be completed in a later Act! release.
  • Act! v19.2 resolves 30+ specific issues affecting the Chrome browser
  • This includes 15 areas where unnecessary full-screen refreshes were affecting performance and customer experience.
  • Further details of the specific issues resolved are included below.

Web Client Improvements

New web client rich text (RTF) controls

Provides web users with improved formatting controls when entering free text.

  • New rich text (RTF) controls added to the Details sections on Notes, Histories, Activities and Relationships dialogues.
  • Includes additional web-friendly fonts and an improved selection of font sizes.
  • New options for strikethrough formatting, text background colours, and bullet points.
  • Addresses some in-market issues affecting the previous rich text controls.

Act! eMarketing Improvements

Improved Act! eMarketing Call List

Improves the performance and usability of the Act! eMarketing Call List feature for both desktop and web client users.

  • New date range filter for campaigns, so users can focus on just the results they need, and quickly follow up.
  • Downloaded campaign lists are cached, giving an improved performance as users navigate to and from the Act! eMarketing view.

Commercial Improvements

New Welcome Page views based on product tier and subscription

Allows more targeted messaging to better support and nurture different customer segments.

  • Includes new Welcome Page views for customers using:
    • Act! Pro
    • Act! Premium with no subscription
    • Act! Premium Cloud paid accounts

Integrations and Web API

New Act! Companion features

New mobile functionality gives users even more power to manage their activities on the move.
Schedule activities from within Act! Companion

  • Clear (Complete) activities
  • Update activities
  • Schedule follow-ups
  • Cache server URL and database name (Remember me feature)
On-going improvements to the Act! Web API

Swiftpage continues to improve the performance, stability and functionality of the Web API, enhancing the power of both Swiftpage and partner driven integrations.

  • An updated Web API version is available alongside Act! v19.2.

To Cloud your #CRM or Not to Cloud. For that is the question

Cloud Computing

How to make users feel that using cloud can like trekking through a Brazilian jungle.

I’m guessing that many you might be aware of the issue with Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service which led to massive outages across the internet.

So far, Amazon has not given an indication as to the cause.

 

The only news on their site at this time is that the problems have been resolved: https://status.aws.amazon.com/
Amazon

But why did it take down so much of the internet?

Yes, many applications were down for some hours. Buffer, Slack, Trello, and a great many more were unusable (or barely usable) during the time that Amazon had their outage.

According to the Synergy Research Group’s 2017 report, Amazon Web Services owns more than a whopping 40 percent share of the global public cloud services market.Other providers, such as Google, Microsoft and IBM are small players by comparison.

So maybe you can understand that when Amazon coughs, we all get colds.

What does this have to do with CRM?

Remember: There is no cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer

More and more, the major (and not so major) CRM providers have been pushing users to move their data to the vendors’ cloud systems. Even Swiftpage has been doing this with Act!.

Of course, there is a big advantage to the vendor to push for these subscriptions – They don’t have to add any real value to the product in order to keep getting your money. A case in point for this is the lack of any new serious functionality in Act! v19. Something I blogged about, here: What’s coming in Act! v19 – Good, bad or very ugly?

Although, more recently, the vendors have even put their on-premises products on the subscription model (Microsoft’s Office 365 and Swiftpage’s Act! are examples of this strategy to get users paying every year. They’ve both overly inflated the pricing of the “outright purchase” or “perpetual” licenses. They’ve also come down hard on the users who would consider buying outright, by making some features only available on subscription and (as Swiftpage says they’ll be doing for Act!) refusing to provide bug-fix updates within the version you purchased.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to you?

 

Advantages of cloud implementations:

  • No need for server hardware CAPEX
  • The IT costs can be reduced
  • Maintenance, upgrades and support are handled by the vendor
    • This can be an issue when they update their version and break things that you use
  • Can be easier to access from anywhere – This requires extra work for on-premises
  • You, or your IT, are responsible for security if you make it available externally.
  • There used to be a reduced upfront cost for the cloud, when compared to on-premises. But, with more vendors moving their on-premises versions to subscription, this is nolonger an advantage

 

Advantages of on-premises implementations:

  • Retain 100% ownership of your data
    • How well do you trust the vendor to stay in business?
    • What happens to your data if they close?
  • Retain 100% of the integrity of your data
  • Retain 100% of the security of your data
  • Less susceptible to external connectivity
    • Not all areas have great internet access
    • Because Handheld Contact for Act! stores the data on the device, I regard it as the best solution for Act! users with iPhones, iPads, Androids or Blackberrys
  • Less susceptible to an issue like the recent Amazon one
  • Sometimes greater functionality is available in the desktop version
  • Often a wider range of integration possibilities
  • Ability to customise your CRM solution with add-ons or custom written code that might not be possible in a cloud version
 

How about a hybrid solution?

One of the areas that Act! does best at, is the hybrid solution of using both delivery systems.

This can be a useful compromise:

  • You still need your own IT – In-house or out-sourced
  • You might still be susceptible to the security issues above … at both sides.
  • You can pull your data out in any way you choose
  • You are not constrained by internet access and can use the data via an app on your phone or laptop even when out of range.
  • Access to both sets of integration and customisation options.
  • You’d barely notice an outage from Amazon or the software vendor
 

After all this, what’s best for you?

And that’s really the question to ask. Each person will have a quite different view on this.

  • You need to properly document your needs. This article might help: What’s the best CRM?
  • You should try to find a VAR or Consultant who’s unbiased in this area so they can look at YOUR needs, rather than selling you something when there were better options. For some assistance in this area, read: How to pick the right CRM consultant for you

Please add a comment to this post with any thoughts you might have on the subject.

 

A warning about uninstallers – this time the MS Office one

Warning-DangerA little warning ...

Due to an issue with an Office Runtime installation on a Windows 2012 R2 Server, I decided to use this official Microsoft tool to remove all traces of MS Office: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Uninstall-Office-2016-Office-2013-or-Office-365-from-a-PC-9dd49b83-264a-477a-8fcc-2fdf5dbf61d8

However, it not only removed all traces of the Office Runtime, it wiped many of the exe and dll files across many folders in the Program Files and Program Files(x86) folders as well as some in the Windows System folder.

I have no idea why and haven’t had the time to delve into it ... but it reminded me of when I found that the Act! Uninstaller for v9 would wipe files in other programs' folders and in the Windows folder itself if it didn’t see Act! in the default install folder.

I just thought I'd post this to remind people to backup systems before running uninstallers. In my case, I can rebuild the VM pretty quickly, but would be less happy if this happened on a client system where not everything was as easy to restore.

 

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