Small Office, Home Office Solutions

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Managing who you know while on the go with customer contact tools

By Lynn Haber

Where there’s a customer, there’s opportunity. For SOHO and small business owners, maintaining customer contacts both inside and outside of the office is tantamount to success. The good news for all business owners is that there’s no shortage of customer contact and management solutions.

With the breadth of tools available today, such as card readers, contact management software, customer relationship management (CRM), and web and video conferencing solutions, keeping on top of customer information can be organized, automated and simplified.

In today’s business world, simplified means digital. The beauty of keeping digital records of customer information is integration with any number of business productivity tools, i.e. email, calendar, documents, messaging, planners, projects, collaboration and accounting, to name a handful.

It also means that whether in the office, at an off-site business meeting or on the road using a laptop, tablet or smartphone, users have ubiquitous access to customer information and the ability to respond quickly to customer inquiries.

Contact management in the cards

Maybe your first introduction to a potential business customer is the exchange of a business card. Certainly, you don’t want that point of contact to be your last. Yet, keeping track of stacks of paper business cards is not only tedious, but the process is prone to failure and the likelihood of misplacing or losing precious customer contact information is all too real.

There’s a convenient way of handling unwieldy stacks of business cards and getting on with working with your contacts. Companies such as Ambir Technology, Dymo, I.R.I.S., Penpower and Xerox, for example, sell business card scanners that turn paper business cards into digital contacts and more.

Penpower, for example, sells a line of portable WorldCard business card readers that are as easy to use in the office as they are on the road. The WorldCard Ultra, for example, is a palm-sized color business card scanner with software features for multiple language support that has the flexibility to organize business cards based on personal preferences such as category for customers, vendors, trade shows, alphabetically, or by other fields with the ability to add notes to a card

WorldCard readers also manage double-sided cards, can scan into contact managers and can export/import/sync contacts to and from Outlook, Outlook Express, Lotus Notes, Palm, Pocket PC, ACT!, Goldmine, Salesforce, Windows Mobile devices and smartphones.

IRISCard and Cardiris is a hardware and software solution from I.R.I.S. that scans business cards, more than 600 per hour, according to the company, and sends contacts to popular contact managers such as Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express, Lotus Notes, Address Book, Entourage, etc.

Products are available for Windows, Mac and smartphones. Business card readers range in price from under $100 to over $200.

Taking action on interactions

There are several contact organizers products available for the database novice such as PrimaSoft’s Contact Organization Deluxe v3.6. The contact organizer software provides an easy way to gather and organize information about business contacts, business/account information, related contacts information, history of all activities, contact notes, etc. The software runs on Windows.

Business contact management software is designed to help users by giving them an organized view of their customer interactions.

Microsoft Outlook 2010, for example, has business contact management features that consolidate customer information related to contacts, including email messages, appointments and documents in a single place. Users can also link and track emails; share customer information with colleagues, synchronize business contacts with Outlook, SharePoint, or Windows Live contacts and stay connected when out of the office.

While many business people rely on Outlook for contact management, particularly as an email client, they often turn to other contact management solutions for more robust functionality.

Greg Miller, partner at Charter Capital, a Scottsdale, AZ.-based company that helps customers finance business equipment and technology purchases, says Outlook is the company’s main application for email, calendaring, etc. Sage ACT! customer contact and management software, however, is the mission critical application for customer management and customer relationship building, he says.

“We’re in ACT! from the time we log on in the morning until the time we log out at night,” says Miller. In business since 1977, Charter Capital has 10 employees and made $30 million in loans last year.

Miller and other Charter employees use ACT! for contact management, sales, marketing as well as forecasting and pricing. “For us, it’s more like a CRM tool,” he adds, noting that he can even slice and dice the data as needed.

According to Katherine Stalcup, Sage ACT! senior product manager, the ACT! target market is the SMB. “Most of these businesses are coming from using Post-it Notes, Excel spreadsheets or Outlook and are looking for a product that can grow with their business. ACT!, she adds, fits the bill.

Touted for being intuitive and easy-to-use, Sage ACT! puts phone numbers, emails, meeting notes, and documents within reach of contacts and makes them easy to find and update. Users can rely on the contact manager for sales and marketing efforts for leads, marketing campaigns and for tracking overall performance.

For access to Sage ACT! outside of the office, the company offers ACT! Mobile Live, which lets users access Sage ACT! from a Blackberry or Windows Mobile device, providing access to contacts, calendar, meetings notes, conversation history, and upcoming activities.

Calling its product the “easy CRM software for Outlook”, Prophet 5, from Avidian Technologies, is designed to help small businesses manage customer relationships from contact to sales and marketing to service.

Prophet is available in a Server edition and OnDemand as a Web-based service. There is also a version for Windows Mobile, and for Blackberry.

Catching a cloud for productivity solutions

When it comes to managing business customers, many SOHO and small businesses are finding the ideal match in cloud-based solutions, according to Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research.

“With cloud apps, companies don’t have to worry about storing data locally and backing up data which is a big problem at small organizations, users can collaborate and there’s a mobile client,” he says.

When it comes to cloud, users are turning to Google Apps, Lotus Live, Skype and AOL Instant Messenger for making calls over the Internet or video conferencing, and, Salesforce and Zoho for CRM, to name some popular choices.

Steve Collard, COO, CFO at D-Tools, a 30-person company that makes system integration software, says the company’s been a Zoho CRM customer for years.

“We use Zoho CRM to take managed leads to prospects and prospects to customers. We use it for email campaigns, orders and tech support,” he says.

Offering more than two-dozen applications, Zoho is the cloud app provider for many SMBs with its free and low cost solutions in the areas of Collaboration Apps, Business Apps, and Productivity Apps.

“Zoho targets SOHO to small organizations who want to centralize storage of their business contact info, such as prospects, customers and accounts, who want to be able to share that information and later manage the sales process and marketing,” says Rodrigo Vaca, director of marketing at Zoho.

CRM features include sales, marketing, inventory, support, analytics, customization, security, workflow, webforms and plugins.

The company also offers collaboration tools such as Zoho Meeting for web conferencing. Users can deliver online demonstrations and meetings with customers and prospects.

With a plethora of tools available for customer contact management, every business owner should have a complete view of the customer that’s easily accessible for the duration of the relationship.

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