Contact Richard:   +44 (0)121 663 0223 +44 (0) 7703 355045

Friday Favourites – 17th May, 2013

Thumbs UpOn a Friday I try to post my favourites from the week – links to cool content and tools that I’ve found or had recommended to me. Cool stuff I’ve found this week, ending 17th May, 2013:-

  • WeTransfer – Free and easy way to send files of up to 2GB. No registration required. Uses an innovative ad-supported model.
  • DropSync - Keep your Android Smartphone/Tablet in sync with your Dropbox. Full two-way sync.
  • One Page CRM – Simple contact management system which uses GTD philosophy, focusing on one thing – the sales process.

Do you have any cool content or tools to share with me? Why not e-mail meTweet me, or share with me on Google+ and I if I feature them in my blog you can be sure to give you credit! Have a great weekend! Smile

photo credit: Two Big Paws via photopin cc

Webinar – Social Tools for MSPs – 11th April, 2013

Social Media ToolsA heads-up that on Thursday April 11th, 2013 I’ll be joining my friend Rich Akullian, Business Development Manager for Autotask, for a free webinar where we talk Social Tools for MSP’s.

Those IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) who have embraced Social Media know it can be a valuable way to have conversations with prospective clients, but a common challenge for MSP’s is making the time to consistently maintain their Social Media presence and grow their following.

Rich Akullian of AutotaskIn this free one-hour webinar, I’ll present some key tricks and tools that you can use to build and maintain a Social Media presence without having to spend all day in front of the keyboard!

Rich will also be talking about how to incorporate Social Media into your IT business Customer Relationship Management, and we will both also be answering your questions on Social Media strategies.

Register for Social Tools for MSP’s

You can now register for the Social Tools for MSP’s webinar, which takes place on Thursday April 11th, 2013 at 3pm GMT Damned Daylight Savings time! 4pm GMT (11am EST).

Registration is free and open to all, so I hope you will join us! Smile

 

photo credit: L. Marie via photopin cc

Legrand CRM Partner Event – 29th Sept – Birmingham, UK

Hot on the heels of my blog post about choosing the right CRM Vendor to work with – here’s an opportunity to meet a CRM Vendor who is very clearly focused on partners working within the SMB market.

Legrand CRM Software LogoLegrand CRM has a strong presence in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, and they are now looking to meet UK partners to bring the product to these shores.

Legrand CRM’s founder Alain Legrand will be hosting the half day event, which is aimed at:-

  • IT consultants and advisors
  • Business process consultants
  • Software resellers looking to offer additional solutions and find new revenue streams
  • Companies and vendors who offer IT based solutions that could benefit from a CRM offering
  • IT support and hardware providers who also offer business and IT process advice

The event takes place at the Ramada Encore NEC in Birmingham on 29th September 2011, from 09:00 to 12:00.

Legrand CRM scores really highly on the integration front with Microsoft Office and a number of Accounting packages, offers both a Hosted and En-Site version, and in my experience, whilst being very powerful is also very easy to learn for both your clients and your engineers.

More details and details on how to register for the the event can be found at

 

How do I choose a CRM Vendor to work with?

My last blog post, entitled “How do you move from being the “IT Guy” into a Trusted Business Advisor?” prompted a lot of responses. It seems that becoming the “Trusted Business Advisor” is the goal of the majority of IT Solution Providers (ITSP’s) and Managed Service Providers (MSP’s), but achieving that status is easier said than done.

One of the techniques I suggested for ITSP’s and MSP’s moving away from providing purely maintenance and support and towards being seen as a valued business partner for clients is to become adept in offering a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution that can be customised for a clients specific business needs. There’s no quicker way than to both learn about and demonstrate an understanding of a clients business than taking the deep dive required to deploy a CRM solution.

Two Businessmen shaking handsBut where to begin? There are a slew of CRM packages on the market from many different vendors. Many of the e-mails I received on the subject of CRM’s spoke about being “too complicated”, “poor support” and “too expensive for SMB’s”.

I’m going to say right now that this blog post isn’t a CRM product comparison. I’m not going to recommend this CRM over another. As with all these types of topics, I do have my own preferred suppliers and software, but that’s based on my own experiences. You should find your own solutions by exploring the options and speaking with your peers on what works and what doesn’t.

I’m also going to preface this list by stating the most important technique for offering CRM solutions that I believe you can adopt. My American friends use a phrase I love – “Eat your own Dog food”. What this means is don’t try to offer a solution to your clients that you don’t use yourself. In the world of IT, that perhaps doesn’t mean you have to use the same CRM package internally that you deploy to client sites – it’s likely that you use an IT industry specific product with CRM-like capabilities such as Autotask or ConnectWise – but it does mean you have processes that support your business internally, targeted and consistent marketing, strong customer management systems in place, and a generally good understanding of the benefits that using a CRM package can bring to a business.

Once you’ve got those things in place, and begin looking at your clients business through new eyes, starting conversations about a CRM solution becomes something that not only you want to do, but knowing the benefits it brings to your client – you can’t help but do.

Back to our list of questions I ask when choosing a CRM vendor. Does the CRM Vendor…

Offer both Hosted and En-Site Solutions

If you work with a vendor who provides purely Hosted based CRM solutions, then seemingly every client you speak to will express concerns about security and ask you for En-Site options.

If you work with a vendor who provides purely En-Site CRM solutions, then seemingly every client you speak to to will express concerns about cost, maintenance and support, and ask you for Cloud options.

Yes, regular readers of this blog will know I’m beating the drum on the Cloud topic again – but the answer remains the same whatever the solution you’re offering. Don’t try to dictate to your client what is best between Hosted and En-Site. Offer them both options and let them come to their own conclusions based on the honest pro’s and con’s.

Offer great levels of support

I define great support as:-

  • The Vendor offers support by telephone, e-mail and managed on-line forums that specifically covers your local hours of business
  • The Vendors Support team understands they are speaking with an IT company, and not an end-user. When needed we can skip the scripts and deep-dive straight into a techy problem.
  • The Vendors Support team offers dedicated implementation help, and doesn’t leave it to the Partner – especially during those first few implementations.
  • The Vendor offers training videos and materials allowing you to learn at your own pace, and regular training webinars and Conference calls which allow you to schedule time for your engineers to learn.
  • When required to and requested of, the Vendors Support team will speak directly with the end-user to swiftly resolve their issue.

Offers Integration with 3rd Party Products

… with popular accountancy packages. Not just exports and imports, but true integration wherein things such as invoices and credit notes are raised and synchronised back and forth between CRM and Accountancy.

If you’re working in the US, then integration with QuickBooks is essential.

If you’re working in the UK, then integration with Sage is essential.

Check with your existing clients on what Accountancy package they currently use. Then make sure the CRM product you’re looking at supports integration with that package.

Check the Integration has been tested as working with the local version of your Accountancy package. QuickBooks in North America is different to QuickBooks in the UK.

Imports and Exports are still important. Can end-users easily export data to an Excel spread sheet to work on, or are you as the IT company going to be fielding a regular stream of 1st Line Technical Support calls on how to do exports regularly?

Offers *Strong* Integration with Microsoft Outlook

Every CRM package integrates with Microsoft Outlook. But not every CRM-Outlook integration actually works. Outlook hanging. Outlook crashing. Add-ins that have to be deployed individually rather than centrally. One way integration rather than two way synchronisation. All these things can cause a head-ache.

If your client is like the majority and uses Outlook as their trusted source for keeping data, then trying to educate them to instead work solely within the CRM instead will be an up-hill struggle. Strong Outlook integration allows the client to dump data in either Outlook or the CRM, and know the data is then synchronised to both systems for future use.

Product is aimed at SMB’s

There are a lot of CRM products that profess to cover both the Enterprise and the Small and Medium (SMB) business space.

In my experience, choosing a CRM product that is aimed specifically at the SMB space alone pays dividends.

Many vendors definition of what SMB is are radically different. Microsoft defines SMB as 5-500 seats. The rest of us tend to speak about SMB as 5-75 seats.

The easiest way to find out where the CRM vendors product sits is to ask them to describe typically deployments.

Typically, SMB CRM products have a much shorter cycle to deploy, and as an IT company you can teach your staff and clients how to use the system at a basic level in a day or two, not a week.

Licensing costs will be talked about in hundreds instead of tens of thousands, and you’ll be able to buy licenses individually instead of in SMB unfriendly blocks of five or ten.

Offers a mutually beneficial Partnership

Before entering a Partnership with a CRM vendor, ask them what their perfect partner looks like.

If the answer is simply “They sell lots of licenses”, then tread carefully. If you’re taking your first steps into CRM deployment, then you might only do one or two small deals initially whilst you find your feet. You don’t want to sell a product and then not appear on the vendors radar because you’re small fry.

If the answer is “Work with us to grow both our businesses”, then we’re getting closer to a good match. The Vendor might offer Not-for-Resale (NFR) software for internal use, regular training, a steady stream of referrals in your local area and marketing development funds. In return you should offer to make up-front commitments to your vendor about training staff, targeted marketing campaigns you will run, case studies you will help them to develop, and sales targets you will strive to achieve.

My thoughts here are that your small business clients probably work with you because you’re an small business too, understanding the problems and challenges that small businesses face. With that logic in mind, you should probably be looking to work with a CRM vendor who values fewer good quality, deep relationships over larger volumes of relationships.

***

So that’s my take! There are many, many CRM packages out there. But remember that you don’t just want to be selling another box of software here – you want to be offering your clients a real value added service that helps you become a Trusted Business Advisor. That means understanding their business and their business challenges, and working with a CRM partner who supports you in that goal.

 

How do you move from being the “IT Guy” into a Trusted Business Advisor?

GeekThis time last year I wrote a blog post about a hot topic amongst IT Solution Providers. Entitled “Cloud Computing – Good for Clients, Bad for IT Companies? “ – I suggested that with the advent of Microsoft BPOS and other Cloud Solutions, IT Solution Providers would need to change their focus from fixing the “pipes and plumbing” of clients infrastructures to providing Business Consultancy – being perceived less as a necessary cost, and more as a value add to a business clients.

At that time it’s fair to say that I although I was not alone in this view, I was in the minority. Change is hard, and if you’re making a good living from the status quo of installing and maintaining servers then it’s tough to consider a world where you don’t do this.

Fast forward twelve months and I recently wrote an article for MSP Business Management entitled “Should IT Companies Fear the Cloud?” in which I restated that Managed Service Providers should be looking to expand their scope beyond support and maintenance to offering expertise in areas such as Sharepoint and CRM customisation – specialities where business owners will understand and value the help you can offer them.

To my mild surprise, the article was well received by Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) and the majority of e-mails I received supported that view.

Although there are still a lot of IT Solution Providers who think the Cloud and services like Microsoft Office 365 are the worst thing ever to affect their business, I’ve been encouraged by the number of conversations I’ve had with IT Solution Providers who are not only open to the idea of changing their business models away from pure monitoring and maintenance contracts, but now really believe that they can be more than the “IT Guy” to their clients – that that they can grow into true “Trusted Business Advisors”.

For MSP’s and other IT Solution Providers, I think there are a number of  techniques you can begin to use to start the transition away from the “IT Guy” to “Trusted Business Advisor”.

Raise the bar of professionalism internally

Think about the type of company you’d like to do business with. Everything from how they answer the telephone, to how they dress and carry themselves, to how they keep the lines of communication open internally and externally. Set standards, create systems internally to support this vision, and start being that type of company. People (including your clients) will notice and you’ll be surprised to find your clients approach you for more than just Technical advice, but much more besides.

Implement Quarterly Business Reviews

Meet with your clients to talk about their business. Not technology. Not licensing. Not projects. Simply a chat about their business and the challenges they face. You should be doing this a minimum of every quarter, but the best companies realise the value of regularly dropping by for a cup of tea and a chat. Doing so will surprisingly uncover a lot of opportunities for you, but more importantly helps your client understand that you’re interested in the success of their business and are therefore someone who can support their progress.

Use a PSA Tool

If you’re not already using a Professional Services Automation (PSA) tool such as Autotask or ConnectWise, start thinking about doing so tomorrow. Using such a tool, which is designed specifically for IT Solution Providers, forces you to clearly understand the necessary business processes required to support your own businesses growth. You’ll then begin to look at your clients businesses in a different light and understand how you can help them to become more efficient too. Which leads me on to…

Sell CRM

A PSA tool such as Autotask is designed specifically for IT Solution Providers. For most other industries, including those of your clients, such a dedicated tool doesn’t exist – but your clients have a need for such a tool anyway. This is where you come in. Simply selling your clients a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software package is one thing, but offering them your expertise to configure that CRM package to support their specific business requirements is a real value add that enables you to deeply understand your clients business inside and out.

Conclusion

This stuff works. I know because I’ve helped some of my clients focus on making these changes this year and I’ve seen the subtle difference in the way they now carry themselves with more confidence, the improved relationships they subsequently have with their clients, and the increase in the amount of money they earn as a result.

Start using any one of these techniques, and whilst you’ll notice changes, you’ll quickly begin to realise the other techniques go hand in hand. They all support one another in your goal to grow your business to cope with the changing market.

Start using all of the techniques, even at their most basic level, and your clients and prospective clients will begin to perceive you less as the “IT Guy” and more as their “Trusted Business Advisor”.

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