As technology systems become more and more integrated, maybe it’s time to review exactly what your current technology is doing for you instead of what you can do for the technology sales teams!
We have a saying, “if it’s not making you money, it must be called furniture!” This means that any item of capital equipment must be instrumental in generating revenue for your company. This must be the only prerequisite for acquiring new technology.
Most people are aware of the old adage that “time is money” but the reasons to upgrade your technology have to be based upon sound principles and you may want to carry out the following exercise before making any decisions:
- Establish that your current costs are as low as they can be
- Identify the business focus for the oncoming fiscal year (Business Plan)
- Ensure your marketing plan is in place
- Look to invest in the technology necessary to achieve your sales targets as specified in your Business Plan.
Securing a budget for a given department or business plan can be a much sweeter “pill to swallow” if you have been able to save costs in other areas. Before you embark upon any changes, it’s a good idea to ensure that your existing costs are at a minimum. Identifying savings to your phone bill, for example should be a relatively easy exercise.
However irrespective of the size of business or the funding required, any expenditure required must be cost justified, not only in terms of whether you can afford it but also in terms of the additional financial reward to be gained.
Attempting to secure a larger market share cannot be achieved without a sound business plan. If you determine what you want to achieve then the acquisition of new technology will be far easier and more logical.
To achieve the goals set out in your business plan, you must have a method to get your message out to prospective customers. The tools required to carry out your marketing plan should be the focus of your prioritization for budgeting.
There is no point replacing a server if you intend to spend the next twelve months ramping up a telesales campaign or recruiting new sales people.
To start at the beginning, your Marketing Activities will probably consist of the following:
- Email Marketing & Newsletters
- Flyers, Brochures & Advertising
- Web Site Development (ensuring customer attraction)
- Structured & consistent PR
The above activities will/should be focused towards the existing and prospective customers you hold on file.
In order to efficiently manage your marketing activities, a CRM Database should be used such as GoldMine, Salesforce, Act! etc. They are not just address books; these packages can help structure your business processes in order that you can standardise repetitive tasks such as sending out letters and automating tasks for new customers. E.g. if you have a process whereby a new prospect is sent a series of documents over a period of time, CRM packages can automate these tasks leaving both marketing and sales departments to concentrate on serving new customers whilst the technology can be left to do the “donkey work”.
Implementing CRM may mean that you need to review your server and/or some of your workstations. Depending on how your workforce is deployed, e.g. field-based, you may need to consider a CRM solution that can operate via the internet (e.g. on any browser in an internet café) so your team can also access the information via their laptops, wirelessly. Therefore, you may need to consider upgrading in order to allow for wireless access to your internal network and external access to WiFi hot spots depending on how you want to structure access to the CRM software.
On the subject of laptops and remote workers, if your business model allows for team members to work from home or away from the office, they can stay connected via VoIP. This means that telephone calls from your office telephone system can be transferred over the internet to extensions connected to the laptop/PC.
According to Cisco, home working can generate efficiency gains of at least 20 per cent for small businesses; however, the main concern for a home worker is staying part of the team. That’s where VoIP comes in to its own as each remote worker’s laptop or home PC can be set up as an extension off the main office telephone system. Whenever they are connected to the internet they can be connected, as a live extension, as if they were sitting at a desk back at the office. This means that all inbound and outbound calls are routed via company’s call provider and as with internal extension to extension calls are free.
Using the same broadband connection, the ability to use video conferencing technology will also benefit businesses, as employees can interact with colleagues or clients “face-to-face”. Users of video conferencing have increased by 200% since 2005 and with prices starting from as little as £50.00 for a webcam, entry level costs are minimal.
Depending on the sophistication of your telephone system, it may already have the ability to connect to a CRM database via your network making dialing the customers by the click of a mouse simple (please check with your current supplier/maintainer). This is computer telephony integration (or CTI) and uses a common program called TAPI (telephony application programming interface). These two elements, whilst inexpensive, can pave the way for integrating your whole communications infrastructure.
Once your salespeople are on the telephone, the next phase is to ensure that they are actually giving your prospective customers the right information and that they are presenting your company in your preferred format.
Call Recording is one of the most effective tools available. Consider this; every member of staff involved in any form of telephone contact with the customer can be recorded and assessed.
This has three distinct advantages. Firstly you’re able to coach each member of staff in handling customer contact and secondly, each member of staff can hear what they sound like and can be helped to understand specific areas for improvement. The third advantage is dispute resolution. As all your calls are recorded, the customers queries or complaints can be handled easily and efficiently to everyone’s benefit.
Raising the bar! Now that you have your team(s) working efficiently on the telephone, the next process to establish is how many telephone calls each salesperson is making. With Automated Progressive Dialling; the time wasted organising data, creating call lists, skipping records etc can be eliminated. Valuable time is maximised making calls. Calls are automatically allocated to users and management information is provided on their performance. These software packages work best in conjunction with CRM databases and can be purchased by single user and not by site. If you only have a few high users of the telephone you can budget accordingly.
Depending on your marketplace, if high users of mobile phones are part of your business demographic, then a simple software package and a GSM modem can provide your business with SMS Text Messaging from your desktop PC. Uses for this marketing medium are cropping up all the time e.g. the local restaurant with a promotion or estate agents promoting new instructions. The scope is as wide as your imagination.
Now that you have increased the output of your business and your sales teams are firing on all four cylinders there is now the question of the increased calls you’re receiving for customer support and from new business inquiries.
If you begin to view your activities in terms of communications “flow”, marketing and sales creates an increase in outbound flow which has a balancing inbound flow. This simply needs to be managed.
Whilst the description Contact Center conjures up visions of rows of staff using headsets, the reality is that we all run a contact center of one type or another. The difference is how we manage it. Depending on volume, the easiest structure is to ensure that the staff answering the calls can handle the inquiries quickly and efficiently. This will entail structuring ringing groups and skills-based routing (making sure that the people capable of handling queries do just that!) A variety of features are available which range from detailed information being displayed on users PC’s to reports that indicate the telephone numbers of missed callers who have not been called back.
The scale of contact center working depends on the importance of the calls you need to handle and not necessarily the quantity.
As your customer attraction activities increase, there is now an additional facility which can prove extremely beneficial to both customers and businesses which is called Web Chat. This functionality enables customers, when they are visiting your web site, to place a query message, the same as MSN. You can either communication on line or the browser can request that you call them back.
In addition to web chat, Email Management is becoming increasingly popular, i.e. emails which have been directed at a general email box, to be handled by a group of people in a similar way to receiving a telephone call directed to a hunt group. This means that each member of staff handles a fair share of emails.
To bring these facilities in to one process, Contact Center software can funnel all the above activities into one solution, blending phone calls, web chat and email to create your inbound communications flow handled by your designated team of staff.
The key to prioritizing your budget for the new fiscal year is to only spend money on items that will make money in order that you can profit from technology.
Some interesting statistics:
Voice Recording and Evaluation Software
- Maximizing return on investment in productivity & staff training 100%+
Integrated CRM Databases
- Increase in productivity 41%+ – Return on Investment 16% – 1000%
- Increase from 20 minutes to 45 minutes talk time per hour 100%
Contact Center Software
- Return on Investment up to 300%
The above statistical claims are made by manufacturers when their products are used in isolation; the overall increase in productivity will be significantly higher if they are used together. This may help to justify an investigation into the feasibility of such a structure for your business.