5 Affordable Small Business CRM Options

Barbara Spagnola - Monday, October 17, 2016

Communication and Relationships rule the world, no matter whether it is personal or professional life. Hence Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has gained huge importance among small businesses. CRM Solution is a very well evolved area now; it is also constantly changing to meet the needs of the new age customers.

CRM is undoubtedly a very important requirement for small businesses. The way in which small business relationships, sales processes and services are managed play a major role in deciding one's competitive position in his/her respective domain.

Smart Small Businesses do realize the importance of effective CRM, very early in their business tenure. They do realize that a good CRM solution is a critical factor for their rapid growth and success. However, what they need to understand further is to know how best they can deploy a great CRM solution for their advantage and success.

Being a small business is no longer an excuse for being complacent. The internet has only aggravated the competition amongst small businesses and now, most small businesses are utilizing the best software and technology at their disposal to beat the competition.


1.         Agile CRM

Being in the CRM solutions business, Agile CRM understands that every business has different processes and business requirements. Agile's Small Business CRM Solution Combines the core Agile CRM suite (Contact & Account Management, Sales Automation, Marketing Automation and Customer Service/Help Desk) with Integration for MS Exchange eMail, the Agile Integration Module (for connecting to third-party databases) and Agile CRM Web (a web interface for remote user access to basic functionality), and it can be completely customized to meet any user requirements. Having focused on customized software solutions from a long time, we understand that one-size-fits all approach doesn't always work; small businesses should always choose a solution that allows them the level of flexibility that they need.

2.         Nimble

Nimble aims to help you to better manage social contacts including co-workers, customers and partners and all the online conversations you have with them over email, Twitter, Skype, Facebook and other services. All your contacts (and team contacts) can be managed in one screen using this lightweight online platform.

Nimble's Contact Manger interface provides options for adding people or companies as a contact and for syncing all messages from email or social media sites to a contact. You can then create new events and manage the list for upcoming and completed tasks.

3.         Zoho CRM

With features such as sales tracking, Google service synchronization and social profiles, Zoho CRM lets your business focus on customers, not data.

One important feature in Zoho CRM is the Opportunity Tracking Tool, which is designed to give your business a comprehensive view of all sales activities. You'll know where every customer is in the sales cycle, the deal size and contact history. You can even access competitor information. An editable Notes Section displays the time and content of past customer conversations; this lets you make each connection with the customer more personal and productive.

4.         ContactMe

ContactMe is Web-based small businesses CRM with a comfortable, easy-to-use interface. The CRM offers a number of useful tools for notes and email forwarding, calendar and reminders and task management in addition to the contact management and reporting tools.

The contact management tool will be useful for small businesses looking to consolidate and sort contacts. Most small business owners use a system of email, documents and spreadsheets to handle contacts. With ContactMe, though, you'll be able to update your contact list from one place and organize contacts into categories such as lead, potential and customer.

5.         Batchbook

Batchbook is a cloud-based social CRM platform. Any member of your or team can use Batchbook on any device to keep track of important customers, partners and deals. To get started, you can import existing contacts from a spreadsheet or collect contact information from your website.

Batchbook offers several ways to organize contacts to learn who customers are, how they relate to each other and what steps are needed to close a deal. You can organize contact lists by location, by last contact date or by using custom fields. You can also learn more about customers by connecting to their Facebook profile within the Batchbook interface.

Bringing a 'Customer-Centric' Focus to Life at Your Company

Barbara Spagnola - Thursday, February 25, 2016

by Alex Raymond, CEO and Founder of Kapta

What I call "customer centricity" begins with creating a business culture where the customer is at the center of everything you do. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, it doesn’t matter how great your products are or how exceptional your financial prowess. As Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote in Return on Customer, “Without customers, you don’t have a business. You have a hobby.”

In other words, “customer-centric” isn’t just a buzzword -- in the business world, it’s mandatory. But too many CEOs or entrepreneurs will just add “customer-focused” to their vision statement and call it a day. That isn’t enough, by far.

True, customer-centricity involves rethinking how business is done. It involves everything from strong efforts at insight and analytics to strategy and customer experience. It involves tearing down silos and thinking like a customer. For instance, your customer views all of your departments and functions as a single entity -- and so should you.

Aligning company and customer goals

Creating a customer-focused company means listening to your customers’ needs and prioritizing strategies and processes accordingly. It involves asking your customers: "What are you trying to accomplish?"

"How can we help you accomplish that -- faster, better cheaper?"

Company goals and processes must be guided by the people they’re meant to serve -- your customers. Ideally, you will develop an ongoing partnership that’s mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, though, most companies fail at this because they don’t have the systems or methodologies in place to engage customers. Even when individual employees have meaningful interactions with customers that provide valuable insight into individual customers' goals, there’s rarely a useful way to record and share that data.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t for lack of trying; it results from a lack of tools. To successfully understand your customers’ goals and articulate how your company fits into the achievement of those goals, you need a tool that not only tracks and records this data, but gives visibility to everyone.

This will allow you to tear down the silo approach that hinders so many companies. Instead, every individual within the organization will know exactly what the customer said and what the business is trying to accomplish. It also creates a cohesive overview for the leadership. Do HR and sales have the same goal? Is the entire company trying to help the customer reach his/her goals? By correcting gaps and misalignments, CEOs can intensify both company delivery and customer fulfillment.

Related: Delight Your Customers by Being Effortless, Not Over the Top.

It’s very simple: Listening to customers and then providing what they need is the definition of a successful company. The customer experience is the North Star of your company’s strategy and guides your people, processes and initiatives.

Fostering internal conversations on customer and company goals

Once you’ve resolved to pursue customer-centricity, you need to develop an internal conversation on what truly matters to the company and customers. But that’s not all; you have to view it through the lens of an ongoing partnership. The better you understand what employees and customers alike are trying to achieve, both on a personal level and a company level, the more successful you’re going to be.

Let’s say that you’re a software company and you discover through customer dialogue and data collection that customers want more training and onboarding resources: How is your organization going to respond? Are you going to ignore the feedback and prompt them to continue to struggle through figuring out your product? (Or worse, go elsewhere?)

Or, are you going to invest in training and resources, hire new staff to identify and develop these resources and expand your offerings to meet your customers’ needs? If you’re going to make your customers’ goals a priority, you can’t just pay them lip service. You have to collect data and infuse those insights through the company, from your budgeting process to your offerings to your resource allocations.

Here’s an important tip that can make or break a company. The customer is not going to say, “I want more service.” The customer is going to say, “I’m not saving as much money as I thought I would when I bought your product.” It’s up to you to help the customer articulate that feedback into something actionable: “I bought your software because I thought it would save us 10 percent, but we’re struggling with adoption.” Translate the message and actually respond with valuable solutions.

When you do that, you organically develop a culture that focuses on what’s important to the company and the customer. It creates a sense of shared responsibility within the company. Each person feels invested in the growth and success of the business. Do that and you achieve a strong alignment that ultimately builds trust. What company vision could be better?

Aim Directly at Your Target Market to Land New Clients

Barbara Spagnola - Thursday, February 25, 2016

by Karen Mishra, Assistant Director of Marketing

One of the hardest things for a small business owner to do is identify the target market: the group of customers he or she is aiming for. Once an entrepreneur understands more about the customer base and why these individuals buy from the company, that information can help withfinding new clients

To grow your target market, take the following six steps: 

1. Keep track of customers. 

Use a database or customer relationship management system to keep track of regular clients and their purchases. This will help you learn about their preferences to be sure you can provide what they need. 

As you get to know customers, keep track of other personal information about them, such as their interests, hobbies and children. Noting these details can help you find ways to start a conversation and find common ground.

2. Ask shoppers how they found the company.

When customers are paying for goods at the cash register, ask how they heard about your business and keep track of what seems to be the most effective method for promoting the company.

Go back to that promotional avenue and advertise again. Then other consumers in your target market will find you, too.

3. Thank regular patrons. 

Too often, businesspeople take their regular customers for granted. If you don’t thank clients for their patronage, another new and interesting firm might come along and snatch them away.Thanking your customers can go a long way toward making them feel proud to be affiliated with you and to buy from you.

4. Ask customers if they would be a reference. 

Ask your customers this question “How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?” This is called "The Ultimate Question" by Fred Reichheld

The best way to gauge the efficiency of a company's growth engine is to take the percentage of customers who are promoters and subtract the percentage who are detractors.

This equation is how a net promoter score for a company is calculated. The net promoter score can help an entrepreneur keep track of success in building a strong and loyal customer base.  

Notice that the question does not ask, “How likely is it that you would recommend us?” but instead asks, “How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?” If people are willing to refer a business to a friend, they are putting their own reputation on the line.

The thinking here is that if a friend has a bad experience, this will come back to haunt the person giving the referral.

5. Request friend referrals.

If your customers are loyal, and you're satisfied with your net promoter score, this means your current customers will be happy to give you names of people that they think will benefit from using your business. 

According to the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, you trust “a person like yourself" only just a bit less than an academic expert or a technical expert, especially when you're looking for information on a new company or business. Tap into the interpersonal trust between current customers and prospective ones to find new clients.

6. Thank current buyers for their referrals.

I refer friends to businesses I love and respect quite often. Some of the staff at these businesses are very good about thanking me for my referral and others are not. A thank you can be a simple note or even a referral discount. Over time, I tend to continue to recommend those that notice and thank me for my referral. 

Never Stop Wooing Your Customers and They Will Never Leave You

Barbara Spagnola - Thursday, February 25, 2016

by Joseph Pigato
Chief Marketing Officer of Sparked

It’s no fun getting dumped. As an entrepreneur, you take it personally when your customers stop buying your product or using your service. After all, your product is the result of your hard work and vision; you created it, and nursed it into being.

Here are several battle-tested interactions that will help you build deeper relationships with your customers, boost retention, grow your customer base, and enhance your brand. 

Charm them from the get-go.

When I ran an e-learning company, every time a new user registered on our site, we included cheesy pickup lines in our welcome email:  

  • “Wanna get some coffee? Because we like you a latte.”
  • “If you were a vegetable, you’d be a cute-cumber.”
  • “If nothing lasts forever, will you be our nothing?”

Yup, it’s cheesy, cheesy stuff, but people loved it. It set a tone that we were different and fun. 

However corny these lines were, the sentiment was light-hearted and clear: we were telling our new users that we liked them. Ongoing newsletter open rates were consistently high as we continued to use clever subject lines and deliver relevant, concise content.

Show them who you really are.

When customers first buy from you, let them know that you’re more than a product or service. Give them a sense of who you are. When I bought an Aviator Nation shirt, a tag sewn into the inside of the shirt featured a note from the founder that read, “This garment is rad. I know, because I made it. It will become even more rad with age.”

I was not just buying a shirt; I was enjoying the vision of a founder who cared about and stood behind her product, with a bit of casual edge that fit the style of the brand she’d created. I’ve been a loyal customer ever since that first purchase.

Be clever in learning more about them.

I once ran a site for college students, and we wanted to get as much information as possible about users when they registered. But with each additional question we asked, more people dropped off before completing registration. Therefore, we kept the registration to four necessary fields. But about once every five times users subsequently logged in, we showed them a fun modal that prompted them to give us more information in a whimsical way.

For example:  “Our global network of high-powered analytics engines have deduced your favorite hobby to be competitive dog grooming.” We then asked them to correct it in the “.00001 percent chance our ground-breaking algorithms were incorrect.”

It was obviously absurd, but users entered their correct answer about 70 percent of the time. We ended up with a lot of information on each user, and were then able to make better recommendations, improve the relevance of newsletter content and generally serve our customers in a more personal way.

Deliver quirky messages they love to read.

People receive a barrage of special offers and announcements from businesses on major holidays like Christmas and Valentines Day. Why not stand out from the crowd and celebrate something colorful and quirky?

There’s a holiday for everything now: Happiness Day, Yellow Fruit Day, International Belly Laughing Day, etc. Once, on April 20th (National Weed Day), I sent out an email to users saying, “Our prices aren’t celebrating 4/20 because they’re not high.”  We even created our own, National Pants Day, and offered 50 percent off to all “full- or part-time pants wearers.”

If you make up your own holidays, you can run special holiday offers any time you want. Test your response rates for emails with special offers for something like National Pants Day versus the 4th of July. Pants will beat patriotism every time.

Use the two magic words.

I once consulted for a major software company to help them improve customer service. We ran an A/B test where, after hearing a customer’s problem, the first words from a call agent or the first words of a response email to the customer were, “I’m sorry to hear that….” The satisfaction rating with the support interchange soared. We then added, “I’m sorry, if I were having this problem, I’d be frustrated as well.” Again, satisfaction scores improved. Every interaction with a customer matters. Apologize, empathize, assist and thank. It works like a charm.

As an entrepreneur and marketer, I care about building products and winning new customers. But keeping them is the most rewarding part. Your customers clearly like the product you’ve created since they’re using it. Don’t be afraid to let your personality come through to build a more human relationship with them. People like people. When they see that you and your company are people with a vision and passion for the product you’ve created, they are more likely to form a real relationship with you. When the relationship is strong, you are that much more likely to avoid the “It’s not you, it’s me…” from the person who completed you.

5 Steps to Creating a Valuable Customer Conference

Barbara Spagnola - Monday, March 30, 2015
by Shmulick Weller, CEO and co-founder of SundaySky

Attracting and retaining customers is an ongoing challenge for all companies, but for a startup trying to get off the ground (or a business looking to grow), customer relationships are crucial as these people fuel the business. Newsletters, social media and loyalty programs are basic ways to engage customers, but startups looking to stand out against their competitors and develop lasting relationships with their customers need to make a bigger, bolder effort. Enter the customer conference. These conferences can be an open forum for customers to share best practices and experiences with each other, as well as openly converse and collaborate with the company.

This April marked another milestone in SundaySky’s young, yet mature, timeline: We hosted our second annual customer conference. Our conference has significantly amplified in 12 months -- from the location and size to the number of guests and speakers -- but what remained the same (and will continue to in years to come) are the objectives as to why we kicked off the conference in the first place. We wanted to create a forum to empower our customers as first movers and thought leaders and enable them to connect and engage with each other and share their own expertise. We learned many lessons from our inaugural event, and even more from our second this year.

For startup companies and young organizations looking to develop their own customer, user or partner summits, here are five tips to act as a guiding blueprint to ensure your conference is highly valuable for both your attendees and your company.

1. Define objectives and goals for your organization. Naturally, this is the first step for any business endeavor. While objectives may be easier to define during conference development, goals should be just as targeted for your conference as they are for every other part of your business. Defined goals will support your main objectives and will help you measurably evaluate what was successful and what needs tweaking after the conference for next year. For instance, do you have a target number of users to attend or percentage of revenue for a new product? Start measuring these metrics so you can see year over year how they compare.  

2. Define attendee personas and value. Just as you define buyer personas for your company, you’ll need to define attendee personas for your conference. This is the first step in understanding the intended audience and, subsequently, the content to be presented. What are the role and responsibilities of your attendee? Are they executive buyers or product users? What are their pain points? What problem are you solving for them and what do they want to take away from the conference? What do they value most and what are their goals?

Whether you are announcing new products, teaching educational workshops or providing a platform for your customers to network with peers across industries, ensure there is high value for your audience so that the time they dedicate to attending the conference is worthwhile.

Additionally, your conference can be a compelling event to organize interactions between different subsets of customers (such as segmented by region or company size), or between customers and prospects, to let your customers share their own experiences and practices to each other, as well as speak about your product on your behalf.

3. Assemble a content committee. Like other initiatives in your company, assembling a committee to help define your conference content is key, and you earn bonus points for a task force that represents all facets of your organization and products or services. While conferences are typically spearheaded by the marketing department, try mixing in a delegate from various departments to ensure attendee personas are receiving value from different perspectives.

And if possible, consider adding an attendee perspective to your content development, too, from one or two early adopters or lighthouse customers. Of course this shouldn’t be a heavy time commitment for customers, so consider holding a 30-minute focus group or invite them to host a panel and speak on your behalf. Having customer perspective during the planning phase will help keep the conference hyper-focused on what is interesting and valuable for the audience.

4. Ensure specific calls to action. Your conference and each individual session should have clear and specific calls to action for the audience. This was one lesson we learned after our inaugural summit, and as our content committee developed sessions for each attendee persona this year, we ensured clear calls to action for the audience were present and delivered.

5. Get feedback from everyone. Feedback from every person at the conference is valuable, as each has a unique perspective of his or her individual experience. The audience is an obvious feedback source, and can be collected in real time after each speaker and in the form of post-event surveys. Additionally, be open to feedback from your speakers, employees and investors in attendance.

As growing startups know, constructive criticism is essential for growing and creating lasting value for your company, and a customer conference is a significant step in that direction.

5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships With Clients

Barbara Spagnola - Monday, March 30, 2015

by Allen Duet, Vice President, Product Management at Swiftpage

Forming strong relationships in every area of life is an essential component to success. The relationships you've formed with various types of people in many different areas of your life can serve as a foundation for your creating strong ties with clients.

It's always worthwhile, though, to reflect on what truly makes a relationship last.

Forging solid business relationships seems simple on the surface, but these ties require time, effort and tact. Developing and maintaining these connections can sometimes feel draining and even burdensome, but the rewards can be significant. A personal connection, whether developed over weeks, months or years, can lead to positive word-of-mouth, increased sales, additional connections, job security and satisfaction.

Keep the following tips in mind and strengthen the most important aspect of your business: the relationships you have with your customer base:

1. Treat others the way you want to be treated. This classic lesson seems like the simplest of tasks: Yet it is often the one forgotten. When engaging in business with a customer, put yourselves in the person's shoes and provide the same level of service and respect that you would want.

2. Honesty is key. Stretching the truth about your products or services in any way can seriously hinder your reputation. If you can be honest and realistic about any services that your business cannot provide, customers will appreciate this and a foundation for a lasting relationship can develop.

3. Remember that your customers are people, not numbers. After a first conversation with a client, remember not only the name but something about the individual as a person. Remembering a fact about the person will prompt you to recall how your business can suit the person's needs. And these little details can have a big impact on building the relationship.

4. Keep things lighthearted. Nothing is more upsetting than asking for a product and having a clerk or owner be rude. In contrast poking fun at yourself will help the client feel more comfortable so that he or she can better open up to you about a need.

5. Be cognizant of body language. People can tell, consciously and subconsciously, how you feel about being around them. Keeping your arms and legs uncrossed, smiling and making eye contact are great ways to ensure that a customer remembers interacting with you.

Each connection is unique and should be treated as such. Often the best tactic is to just be yourself and not overthink things. Take a genuine interest in a relationship and the rest will take care of itself.

While meaningful relationships, professional or otherwise, require significant time and effort to build, they often fall apart much more quickly. Take a relationship for granted, expect too much or appear apathetic, and rapport will deteriorate in a hurry.

Forming long-lasting, meaningful relationships is vital to any organization's success. So avoid these pitfalls to instead reap the rewards of positive, mutually beneficial business relationships throughout your career.


​​Turning Oops into An Opportunity

Barbara Spagnola - Monday, March 30, 2015
by Chip R Bell, Keynote Speaker, Author and Customer-Loyalty Consultant

Stuff happens! Fortunately, today’s customers, as short tempered and impatient as they may be, do not expect service providers to be perfect. They know customer service is powered by human relationships and “to err is human.” They do expect organizations, however, to always demonstrate that they care in the face of any customer disappointment. In the words of Texas A&M professor and friend Len Berry, “The acid test of service quality is how you solve customers' problems."

Unfortunately, the field of service recovery has had a rather troubled history. Ron Zemke and I once defined service recovery as "a thought-out, planned process for returning aggrieved customers to a state of satisfaction with the firm after a service or product has failed to live up to expectations." Take a look at the wall of shame for superbotched service-recovery efforts -- for the Ford Explorer, Exxon Valdez and, some might say, the BP oil spill: Someone at the helm determined that service recovery was all about damage control not customer healing. Without fixing the disappointed customer, physical repair of the issue is for naught.

Granted, fixing the customer’s problem is crucial. But as it's often said, customers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Therefore, it is the relationship side, not the engineering side of recovery, that keeps service providers off the wall of shame.

Great service recovery begins with humility. Imagine you're a parent with a small child who wakes up in the middle of the night frightened by a bad dream. In tears, the child comes into your bedroom. What would you do? The answer is easy: You would model bravery and confidence and carefully listen without judgment. And you would offer great empathy while seeking to calm and encourage. The principles applied should be the same for customers.

Angry customers feel victimized in some way. The source of the fury may vary. But humility is one quality that communicates, “I am not your enemy.” Humility expresses a desire for a “no-fight zone” to the raging customer to calm the person out of a “ready to fight” mode. It begins with creating a connection that demonstrates sincere interest and obvious concern. Use open posture and eye contact. Listen and look like you are listening to the customer.

Apologize with feeling. Avoid using “we” in apologizing to customers -- as in “we’re sorry.” An apology should always be delivered in the first person singular: “I’m sorry.” Now, “I’m sorry” doesn’t suggest you caused the problem. It says you care. Assume innocence, even in the face of prior history. Confidently lower your voice. Let the customer witness genuine concern.

Express empathy. Humility begins to set the stage for problem solving, but empathy and understanding prompt a customer to stop the “fight or flight” posture so the resolution stage can begin. Empathy is an expression of kinship and a powerful partnering tool. It includes communicating to the customer that you fully appreciate the impact the service failure has had. It is like saying, “I get it! I know just how much this hurts. I would feel just like you do if this had happened to me.”

Empathy means listening to learn not to make a point or correct. Whether you, as a service provider, agree with the customer’s view is not the point. The goal is to give evidence that you understand. It includes agreeing with the person's feelings (not necessarily the position). Deal with feelings before you deal with facts. Understanding customers in times of trial and tribulation includes getting insight into their expectations for a fair fix.

Approach problem solving as allies. Alliances are formed through joint discovery. Words like “what would you suggest?" or "what would you like to happen next?” are more inclusive and less threatening. The core of the emotional side of recovery is restoring trust: the customer’s belief that you can and will keep promises made or implied. Restoring trust is accomplished by involving the customer in solving the problem. “Can you give me a rundown on the history of this problem” reassures the client that the problem is fixable and will be resolved.

An alliance includes words and actions that show a can-do competence, a sense of attentive urgency and a take-charge attitude. If the infraction is major, forging an alliance may mean offering some type of atonement. And an atonement would involve providing a gesture that tangibly telegraphs sincere regret over the disappointment. Atonement does not mean “buying” the problem. It can be as simple as a small courtesy, a personal extra or a value-added favor. Act responsible for the recovery and never duck the issue or pass the buck for someone else to handle.

Follow up to show loyalty. Assuming a solution is found and agreed upon, the customer should witness something happening that communicates that the company can be reliable again. Great service recovery includes the after-the-fact customer experiences that communicate, “We are loyal to you. We will not abandon you now that we’ve solved your problem.”

Pick up the phone and call the customer to find out if everything has returned normal or if any problems are lingering. Send the customer an email. When the customer returns for future service, ask about the last problem.

If customers know you remember and are still concerned, they’ll realize that their bad experience was an exception. Remember to always keep promises. Service recovery starts with a broken promise (at least in the eyes of the customer). Don’t make a promise as a means of service recovery and then ignite more anger by disappointing the customer again.

Great service recovery starts and ends with remembering you can refashion memories, turning customer disappointment into customer delight, transforming an oops into an opportunity. Effectively dealing with customers in their darkest moment is powerful. Research shows that customers who have had their problem followed up quickly with great service recovery end up being more loyal than clients who have never had a problem. The problem-free customer operates on faith. But the great recovery customer operates with proof!

Related: 4 Common Customer-Service Obstacles (And How to Fix Them)

​​​​​Skip the Reluctant Customer. Start Resonating With the Right Crowd

Barbara Spagnola - Monday, March 30, 2015
by Kate Swoboda, Author, Creator of YourCourageousLife.com

A few years ago, I was on a call with business strategist Tara Gentile, when she said something that hit home: “You don’t actually want those customers that you have to convince to trust you,” she said.

In a tough economic climate, it can be easy to slip into the mind-set of trying to convince people to trust you. You want clients to see how your company differentiates itself from the pack and believe that you’ll actually deliver the promised results.

But always feeling the need to convince people of something means operating out of a fear-based energy. The customers drawn to this type of dynamic are skeptical and unlikely to become loyal fans. They’ll always try to get you to prove your worth. Instead, partner with clients who come to the table with trust and who feel that your company’s message, offerings and way of doing business resonates with them.

Here are three ways to move away from always trying to convince clients and head toward relationships that resonate.

1. Avoid comparing your company's wares to another firm’s.

If a client walks into a business meeting and asks for a demonstration of the value of your offerings as compared to another company's, he or she is setting up a dynamic of pitting your organization against another firm. And that’s a red flag that this person isn’t coming to the table with trust about what you can deliver.

If you respond by running through comparisons to convince a customer that your company is better, you play right into that dynamic. The same goes for creating sales pages with charts that compare the value of your offering to another's. Sales pages need to focus on the benefits of your product not grant airtime to competitors'. The way to win at the comparison game is to not play it at all, keeping the focus on your company.

2. Stop endlessly giving away freebies to secure business.

It’s great when a company shares a sample of that work that will be generated but not so much so when this leads to a pattern of doing work on spec or constantly providing a client extra work for free. This is particularly rampant in the service industry, where it’s become the expectation that some clients get freebies.

Clients who constantly expect freebies are freeloaders. While there's the fear that they’ll go elsewhere if the freebies stop being offered, the truth is that if they do leave, you’ll have more energy and time to devote to securing clients who don’t expect constant kickbacks.

3. Don't undercharge to undercut the competition.

The era of Walmart-style competition is flagging. Customers are more savvy than ever before and they understand that saving a little money on the front end only to receive poor service or a shoddy product later isn’t worth their time (or money).

If a client tries to enlist you in a bidding war on a proposal or spreads the fear of possibly not paying and you then send a last-minute coupon to your subscriber list, rethink your strategy. You’re essentially teaching your customers to associate your brand with discounts. This means you are poking at your company's pricing or teaching them to wait to buy until something goes on sale.

Instead, examine every aspect of your sales operation, from the website to the fulfillment process and from the sales team to the creative team. Ask yourself what cost-effective ways can make the process excellent for customers. Have people on your team make your clients feel truly cared for.

It's said, “They won’t remember what you did, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.”

The biggest issue with always trying to convince customers to do business with you is that it just doesn’t feel good. It not only hits your bottom line but also saps your energy and makes the work less fun. When you eradicate a fear-based dynamic of trying so hard to convince clients and start creating resonance with the right people, you'll open up more room for working with clients who appreciate your company. They'll become raving fans and a source of referrals.

Treat Them Well: 5 Keys to Lasting Customer Service

Barbara Spagnola - Monday, March 30, 2015
by Eric Schiffer, CEO of Digitalmarketing.com

“Build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful." -- Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon.com

If you attended a party where the host snarled at you, reluctantly offered you a drink, looked past you to greet someone deemed more important and basically couldn't wait until you left -- chances are you would leave, slamming the door behind you.

Unfortunately, that's the experience many of us receive today. We're not treated as a valued customer -- a guest -- to be respected, we're a nuisance to be endured. We're the blaring car alarm when they're trying to sleep. Flipping to the company view: customer service has become a dirty phrase.

In my experience as CEO of a large digital marketing company and board member to others, companies that are too focused on new business risk ignoring, alienating and then losing the clients and business they already have. Customers that are taken for granted soon leave, and business suffers.

Here are five simple keys I follow and expect people in my organization(s) to follow, and hope they’ll unlock the door to your greater success:

1. Use the right term. First, I don't call people clients, or even customers. At my company we refer to them as “guests,” for they are our guests, and we are their host. We are always happy to see them and strive to make their time with each of us a great experience.

2. Anticipate needs. A great waiter knows when to refill your glass or bring the check, just as a great company anticipates what their guests need -- often before they know it themselves.

3. Give respect. It costs nothing to be courteous, but you can pay dearly if you aren't.

4. Treat everyone like a VIP. “There's only one boss, the customer,” Sam Walton once said. “He can fire everybody from the chairman on down simply by spending his money elsewhere.”

5. Show immediate action and solutions, not blame. Sometimes things get messed up, but apologies, which matter, mean nothing if they aren't followed by action. Well done is better than well said.

In short, a great guest experience isn't a department. At my company it's everybody's job and, as Henry Ford said: “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”


6 Reasons Every Company Needs a Customer Service Roadmap

Barbara Spagnola - Monday, March 30, 2015

by Leyla Seka, SVP & GM of Desk.com

In today’s hyperconnected world, your product is only as good as the service you back it with. It’s easy for small companies to think of customer service as just a checkbox item, but to be competitive and offer a seamless experience as you grow, you need to look ahead.

Planning how to evolve your customer service in advance is becoming as critical to your business as setting your product roadmap. Here at Desk.com, we talk to a lot of fast-­growing companies about how to future-­proof their customer support. Here are six reasons you need to build a service roadmap so you can be sure to offer amazing service, no matter how fast you grow.

1. You plan to support multiple channels.

Most small businesses start out by supporting customers exclusively with email, and maybe Twitter, but as their company and customer base grows, they may need to add real­-time support via phone or live chat to keep up with requests.

Related: 7 Key Steps to a Growth Strategy That Works Immediately

Making the transition is a big step. Not only do you need the tools to support this effort, but you may need a different type of agent. Phone agents need a good phone presence. Chat agents need to be able to multi­task as they typically work more than one case at a time. For different types of agents you need different training materials. And you need a different version of your knowledge base for agents to pull answers from (the answers typically used on email will be too long for chat).

2. You may tier your support team as you grow.

Small businesses typically start out with one or two customer-service agents that answer all inquiries, but as you grow you need to segment that out. This is especially important for complex products and technology.

Most businesses will have a first-response tier who will figure out what the problem is and route customers to the right agents. As a company gets even bigger there might be a third layer of engineering experts who handle the really gnarly calls.

Deciding in advance how you will tier your support team will enable to you to put the right systems and people in place to divide and conquer support requests without disruption.

3. Your business will expand geographically.

If you start to support customers in different time zones, you may need to expand the hours that you offer support or look to hire local support agents in those regions. You may need to rethink how you route cases to let agents just starting their days easily pick up cases from agents that are ending theirs.

Language is another consideration. Not only do you need a support solution that is multi­lingual but you need to be sure that your knowledge articles are translated into multiple languages and that you have a plan for curation and maintenance so that agents and customers can get up-to-date answers in every language.

4. You may outsource some of your service.

It’s typical for growing companies to outsource some of their support operations (usually the tier one front lines) to a third party, especially if they expand across the globe or start offering service-level agreements that require a rapid response. This isn’t something that can happen overnight.

You need to look at the best ways to share information, route cases and seamlessly pass cases back and forth. Training is also important. It can take longer than you ever thought possible to work with an outsourced call center to make them sound smart and represent your brand correctly, but to offer customers a quality experience you need to invest the time.

5. You need to integrate with other business systems.

When you put a customer-service solution in place, you need to consider what the most important systems powering your business are, and if and how you will need to integrate with them. There are typically two ways to integrate systems.

The first is via data, so that you can visualize one system within another, for example making it easy for you agents to view shipping data in your support solution so that they can quickly and accurately respond to delivery questions.

The second kind of integration is when an action in one system triggers an action in another. For example, if an agent identifies a bug in a product it can be automatically logged in Jira so that it can be fixed quickly and everyone stays in sync.

6. You’re hoping to grow really fast.

Sure, you’d like to be the next Lyft or FitBit, but growing fast can be a downer if you’re caught off guard. I’ve already mentioned some of the things that you need to plan for, such as global expansion and what systems you need to integrate with, but you should also think about whether you will be supporting multiple brands and products over time and whether your customer support solution can scale as you grow.

Can you accommodate call centers around the globe? Can you customize it as your needs change? Can you integrate with complex back­office and ERP systems if needed?

Rapid growth is every small business’s dream. To make sure your company easily scales, be sure to think ahead about every aspect of your business including customer service. With the right advanced planning, fast growth will be a reason to celebrate.