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Should your MSP respond to “Quote and Hope” e-mail requests?

Crossed FingersI talk a lot to my IT Solution Provider and MSP clients about the need to have a strong sales process and stop writing sales proposals that are, quite simply, a waste of time and effort due to the fact the prospect has no intention of working with you – they’re just trawling for prices and possibly free Consultancy.

Hotmail and Googlemail

So it was with interest that I spoke to the owner of a medium sized MSP recently who said that their policy was to out of hand dismissed any request for information they had from prospects with a “free” e-mail address – Googlemail, Hotmail, Yahoomail, etc. These e-mails – typically with requests for license pricing information – often didn’t include a business name nor telephone number to respond to.

I can understand the MSP’s thinking here. If a prospect doesn’t have a legitimate e-mail address, nor any way of getting a telephone number to call them, it’s hard to take their enquiry seriously.

Measuring the results

But the MSP owner I spoke to went on to say that their policy had recently changed. During a quiet period in the office, the owner had received a license quotation request from a Googlemail e-mail address with no telephone number or business name, but rather than delete it – he asked a junior member of staff to respond to it.

Days later, the quote came good and the MSP ended up selling a large license deal which they made an excellent mark-up from.

The MSP owner shared with me that he believed the quotation request had come from a local business owner who simply wanted to shop on price. By sending an e-mail from a throwaway Google e-mail address with no telephone number or business name attached they were avoiding any sales telephone calls, avoiding being added to a mailing list, and avoiding any of what they perceived to be “hassle”. They wanted the price, end of story.

What can be measured, can be managed

This story made me think about how MSP’s approach such enquiries. In this example, the MSP was more than compensated for the time it took to respond to the e-mail. Based on the mark-up they made on the licensing deal, even if only 1 in 10 of these types of e-mails end up in a sale, it still makes responding to the other 9 quote requests worthwhile.

So why I still stand by my statement that MSP’s shouldn’t write long, complicated sales proposals without a very strong reason why, it’s worth re-visiting those elements of your sales process that can be automated or systemised and monitored and measured for effectiveness to the point where you know it’s worthwhile to undertake them.

Once you start doing this, it’s no longer a case of “quote and hope” – instead you’re effectively using your time.

Google Privacy Updates and the Information Google hold about you

Privacy LogoA heads-up that on March 1st, 2012, Google will be updating their privacy policies and terms and conditions. Google previously had some 70 such policies, which they are now reducing and simplifying.

What does this mean for you as a Google user? Well, Google are being very clear that if you’re signed in with a Google account (which you may well do via Google Search, YouTube, Google+, GoogleMail or any one of a number of other sites) then they may combine information gathered about you from any of those platforms.

This will present itself as you’ll see a much more integrated service from Google. So if you search for a certain technology brand, you may see search results that incorporate videos or blogs that others have shared with you on YouTube or Google+.

How to check the info Google hold about you

On the downside, not everyone is happy about these changes from a privacy perspective.

An interesting site to visit is Google.com/ads/preferences. From here you are shown the type of ads you’ll be served up with on Google sites, based on the assumptions Google have made from the data they’ve collected about you.

This can be a little hit and miss. If you see the screenshot below, Google has correctly guessed I’m a 35-44 year old Male, and that I like Business & Industrial, Computers & Electronics and so on. But I’ve got zero interest in some of the other topics it suggests for me.

Google Ads Preferences Screenshot

Google isn’t always so clever though. One young lady I know was listed as a 35-44 Male… Thankfully you can remove or edit these topics or information, or indeed, Opt-Out of these targeted advertisements altogether.

Be Aware of the value of your data

For the majority of people, they’re totally ignorant to the fact that companies like Google and Facebook are using our private information in this way. For others (myself included) I’m comfortable with this provided I know how the information is used.

It goes back to the saying – “If you don’t pay for a service, you are the product”.

As long as you’re aware of that and the implications, there’s no problem.

How To efficiently schedule meetings with Tungle

imageHere’s a tool I’ve overlooked for ages, despite Susanne and Vaughan telling me to get myself signed up for it.

Ever tried to schedule a meeting with somebody, and played e-mail ping pong to try and find a mutually convenient time and date? I know I have – and it wastes an awful lot of time and effort doesn’t it?

Screenshot of Tungle.me homepage

Tungle eliminates the back and forth of trying to find a time to meet, and allows you to easily share your availability with anyone.

Plug-In’s for Outlook and GoogleMail

There are Tungle plug-in’s for Microsoft Outlook, and it’s compatible with Google Mail and other hosted services too – ensuring your availability information is always up to date.

You can block out particular times to make them unavailable (I don’t attend meetings before 10am or on a weekend for instance) and nobody gets to see why you are unavailable, only that you are unavailable for certain time slots.

I’ve found the tool invaluable in coordinating meeting times, especially with those in different time zones (Tungle does the Time Zone calculations for you) – and as the service is free, it’s well worth checking out!

How to Protect the Data on your Laptop or Mobile Device – Part Two

SmartphonesRead Part One of this article here.

***

I recently wrote about the lessons I’d learned from losing my laptop computer, and the measures I’d taken to ensure my devices and data were protected going forwards.

I was lucky enough to have my laptop returned to me, but what would happen if you lost a mobile device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet?

Earlier in the week I looked at tracking your lost device, but now I’m looking at protecting the most valuable part of any Laptop or other mobile device – your data.

In yesterday’s article I looked at using Encryption and Device Lock mechanisms to protect your mobile device data.

In the second part of my guide on how to protect the data on your laptop or mobile device, let’s take a look at how you’d recover your data if you ever lost the mobile device that data is stored upon.

Backing up your basic Data

For all mobile devices – including laptops – there are a plethora of backup  which involve synchronising your essential data – such as contacts and calendar – to the cloud, enabling you to access that data from other devices and restore it to the same or a different device.

For Android users, Google already does a great job of making sure most of your basic data (such as contacts and calendar) is synchronised to the Cloud. Additionally, using an app like AppBrain ensures that all those apps you’ve installed are quickly and easily restored to any new device – albeit you’ll need to re-configure their settings. You could also use an App like SMS Backup+ to backup all your SMS, MMS and Call Log entries to GoogleMail, and Google+ ensures all your phone camera photographs are automatically synchronised on-line too.

If you’re using Microsoft Exchange or GoogleMail for your e-mail, then your E-Mail, Contacts and Calendar are typically automatically synchronised to a central server. Re-connect any device to Exchange or GMail and this information will be downloaded to the new device.

Even if you’re not using a Smartphone but an older more traditionally mobile phone – a service like Mobyko enables you to backup all of your photos, videos, texts, calendar entries and contacts on-line – so if you get a new device, you don’t have to manually re-input them all.

Typically though, all of these Cloud Synchronisation methods are aimed at backing up your most basic data – E-Mail, Contacts, Calendar, etc. What about the documents you work with such as Spreadsheets, Music and more?

Backing up your Files and Documents

A more robust Cloud based Backup solution will give you the option to select pretty much any set of data to back up, limited only by the capacity of the Cloud Backup provider you use.

Typically, this data would include your private documents such as Spreadsheets, Word Processor documents and more – but could easily be extended to include Pictures, Music, Videos and just about any other type of data you wish.

imageApple’s iTunes software already does a good job of backing up your iPhone, iPod or iPad – meaning if you lost your device, typically your music, apps and purchases are easily transferred to a new device – even if your original device is not available. With iOS 5, iPhone and iPad users also have access to Apple’s free iCloud service – which backs up your e-mail, contacts, calendars and documents to the Cloud.

But for more flexibility, a service such as Dropbox is a must-have.

Dropbox LogoA free Dropbox account gives 2GB of Cloud based storage away for free, and has software clients available for nearly all major platforms – including PC, Mac, iOS and Android.

Dropbox works by making sure that any data stored within a folder you create as home for your data is automatically and near instantly backed up to the Cloud, and additionally can be sychronised to any other device you choose too.

For myself, I have Dropbox installed on my Laptop PC under Windows 7 and within my Dropbox folder have sub-folders containing all everything from work to travel documents. I then have Dropbox installed on my Notebook PC so that if I’m travelling I have access to all my work, and any changes I make are automatically backed up on-line and synchronised to my laptop.

Furthermore I have Dropbox installed on my Android Smartphone, iPhone and iPad, so I can quickly refer to any of my documents in a flash.

I therefore always have the latest copy of my document with me, whichever device I’m using.

The added benefit of Dropbox is that because everything is also stored on a secure central server, I can also access any of my documents from any other PC in the world via a secure login. What’s more, if I want to share documents with another Dropbox user – I can simply right-click a folder and grant them permissions (ranging from Read Only, to full Edit) and the document appears on their device for their use – and they can do the same with me.

Knowing all of your data is continuously backed up and available wherever you are in the world gives real peace of mind. Never lose or forget a document again!

Obviously, you need to be aware of the capacity limits of your free Dropbox account – start using it to backup your large Music or Picture collection and you’ll soon run out of space – but Dropbox do offer a paid for premium  account with much greater capacity should you chose.

There are a plethora of other free and optionally premium backup solutions out there too – such as Mozy – and many other Synchronisation tools such as SugarSync and Windows Live Mesh – and there’s nothing stopping you using more than one service! On my Home Server in addition to having a local NAS based backup, I also use Mozy for home documents, SugarSync for my Videos, and Windows Live Mesh for old Archived documents. All are accessible from a web-browser from any device, so I figure there’s no harm in having your data backed up in more than one place!

 

Full Device Backup

For real belt and braces backup of your mobile devices, you’ll want to take a full device backup in addition to cloud based backups of your ever changing data.

A full device backup will backup all the settings on your device and often all the Operating System files too, meaning that if you ever experience a faulty device or catastrophic software issue then you can quickly reset the device back to full working order by restoring from the original image backup. The restore will then be complimented with your most current data from your Cloud backup.

Android Smartphone and Tablet users have a number of other options for full device backup. Check out Titanium Backup Root and Sprite Backup amongst many others.

StorageCraft ShadowProtect LogoFor Laptop computers and Netbooks, I use StorageCraft ShadowProtect to make a full image backup of my PC once it’s created and store this locally on a USB Hard Disk kept at home, as well as on a spare data partition. In conjunction with a Recovery CD or USB Key Disk (provided by StorageCraft) this means that even when I’m on the road travelling, in the event of a particularly nasty software failure I can restore my PC back to a working state using the original image, and have a backup stored at home in the event of a total Hard Disk failure.

Whenever you’re making a local backup of your device, always make sure that  any backup of your laptop or device is password protected (most backup software has this option) to ensure the data contained within that backup is safe. Otherwise a lost backup could offer someone the chance to snoop at all of your private data in one fell swoop!

 

Conclusion

I hope you’ve found this short guide, born out of the fact I thought I’d lost my own laptop, useful!

By making sure you use tools for tracking your lost laptop, smartphone or tablet, implementing both a Device Lock and Data Encryption, and ensuring that all of your data is backed up and synchronised to the Cloud, perhaps in conjunction with a full device backup – you should feel assured that in the event that you do lose your mobile device, you’ve given yourself every chance of recovering it and can rest safe in the knowledge that any data contained upon that device will remain secure.

Thoughts or feedback? Do you use different tools or strategies? I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment or get in touch!

 

My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part One – Thoughts on the iPhone

Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve been a long-standing fan of the Windows Mobile Smartphone. I’ve always owned Windows Mobile devices, including my last phone – a HTC HD2. Unfortunately, with that device dying a death and Microsoft slowly killing off support for Windows Mobile, it’s now time for me to upgrade. But to which device? Android, iPhone or Windows Phone?

A few weeks ago I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, an Android device and a Windows Phone device for a few weeks at a time each, and use them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.

You can read my original blog post on the “experiment” here (go on, have a read – I’ll wait here for you).

For clarification – and to head off the hundreds of e-mails I’ll get about using an iPhone 4 instead of an iPhone 3GS, and a HTC HD7 instead of a HTC Pro, and any one of a million Android devices instead of the one I choose… the idea of the experiment is to get a feel for how each of the mobile Operating Systems looks and feels in day-to-day use. It’s not a handset –vs- handset comparison, more an OS –vs- OS round-up.

With that in mind, for the past three weeks I’ve been using an iPhone 3GS. How did I find it?

***

iPhone 3GSOne of my main justifications for resisting the iPhone for so long is the “Apple Tax”. In terms of comparison with other Smartphones – you pay a lot for both the handset and network carrier tariff to own a new iPhone.

My way of avoiding the “Apple Tax” for this experiment was to procure an old iPhone 3GS. Yes, I know the iPhone 4 is faster, slimmer, sexier – but remember that I’m testing the O/S, not the handset.

Setup

Setting up the iPhone was simplicity itself. I was connected, making and receiving phone calls and text messages, hooked up to Wi-Fi, sending and receiving e-mail and installing Apps really quickly.

My only niggle here is the fact I could only do this once I’d hooked the iPhone up to my PC through the frustrating iTunes software. But for simply installing the ‘phone and syncing the odd update and Podcast, iTunes did it’s job.

I like the fact you can start the device without having a SIM card present (I’m still using the iPhone without a SIM as a glorified iPod Touch at the moment) but hot-insert a SIM and you’re on-line. I’d have preferred a more convenient mechanism for getting to the SIM holder than having to carry paperclips around with me to pull the SIM slot out with, but this is a niggle.

In-Car Use

The ability to hot swap SIM’s was very useful to me during the experiment when I needed to return to my HTC HD2 briefly for certain things – such as using a Sat Nav. I tried using Google Maps on the iPhone as a Sat Nav, but I found the 3GS screen too small to use in-car and so I yielded to temptation and used my HTC HD2 with Alk Co-Pilot for journeys, before swapping back to the iPhone when I had reached my destination.

In-Car use with the iPhone was also frustrating due to the fact the iPhone has no quick access to a Bluetooth Switch. If I wanted to use my In-Car Bluetooth Hands free kit with the iPhone, I needed to go into Settings > General > Bluetooth to do so. It was frustrating and could have been made easier by having an app that allows one touch on/off of Bluetooth – but apparently Apple forbid this in their Terms of Service, so no 3rd Party app is available to do this. So I was constantly forgetting to turn Bluetooth off and so it was draining my battery life.

Battery Life

Talking of Battery life. The plus side of the iPhone is that because it’s so versatile, with so many cool apps and features – I was using it a lot more than any Smartphone before it. In fact, I was using it a worrying amount. iPhone addiction? The downside is, as a result of this constant usage and without regularly hooking the iPhone up to an external power source, the battery depleted before a full days use.

Being the party animal that I am, from a full charge at 4pm, and with a night out on the town including taking photos of friends, checking in to Facebook places, updating Twitter, taking and receiving the odd phone call and sending the odd SMS – by 2am the iPhone had run out of juice. And it’s not like you can pop in a spare battery as the battery compartment is sealed.

I know there are ways around this, and I’ll give a nod to the iPhone 4’s increased battery life – so this goes down as handset failure rather than an O/S failure.

Apps

iPhone AppsTalking of cool apps – the iPhone has them. In spades. This is where I fell in love with the iPhone and started to find myself overlooking all of its niggling shortcomings. The ability to carry around all my passwords securely, check train times, search for flight prices, scan barcodes, do price comparisons, read the latest news, buy stuff on eBay, read Kindle e-books, sync files, make Skype calls and play cool casual games (I’m virtually addicted to Words with Friends now) all made the iPhone much more than a mobile phone. As I said, I felt almost addicted – trying out new ideas (I’m now using FourSquare and other Geo-Location apps, for instance) due to the vast amount of free and cheap (79p) apps on offer, and then using them a lot.

I appreciate this will come as no surprise to anyone who’s used an iPhone, but I can tell you know that having come from the Windows Mobile platform where there are virtually no cool apps – this is a revelation.

(I can also give you a peek into the future of this experiment and tell you that a few days into using a Windows Phone, and I’m pining for my old apps which simply aren’t available on that platform)

E-Mail and Productivity

Using e-mail on the iPhone was enjoyable. E-Mails loaded quickly and were easy to read. I use Microsoft Exchange for business e-mails, and GoogleMail for personal e-mails. Both were very easy to setup, and I like the iPhones support for GoogleMail features – such as allowing me to Archive off old e-mails easily.

The ability to see both e-mail accounts in a single unified mailbox was a nice touch too. It made scanning e-mails simple.

Replying to e-mails (and SMS, for that matter) was easy, the iPhone on-screen keyboard simple to use and very good at correcting mistakes and predicting words.

I did miss the ability to “Send As” an e-mail address from the iPhone. I have a number of personal e-mail addresses in Googlemail, but the iPhone didn’t allow me to choose which mail to send messages from. I found workarounds for this, but they were clumsy and kludgey.

imageI also found the iPhone Calendar fairly slow and unintuitive, and the lack of support for Exchange Tasks and Notes was frustrating. Again, 3rd party apps exist to bridge the gap – but it’s really surprising that this isn’t natively supported by now. When out on the road, I found the iPhone an incredibly good device for consuming information – but for creating it? Not so much. I found myself e-mailing myself ideas, notes and appointments rather than using the familiar Tasks and Calendar – and then when I got back to my Desk I was putting them into Outlook “properly”.

I also found the iPhone Contacts navigation slow and clunky. With over 2,000 contacts in my Outlook address book, what I really wanted to do was tap the screen and start typing a name to be found – but the “All Contacts” screen didn’t have a dedicated search option unless I’m being dumb and overlooking something obvious – EDIT: Thanks Hilary and Bryony for pointing out that there is a search feature in Contacts, top right hand corner of the screen!  I’d still like to start typing a name and for it to appear, as this would feel more intuitive, but at least I’m able to search now!

Call Quality

Then there’s using the iPhone as an erm… phone! Compared to other handsets I’ve used, I found call quality a little poor at times and the ‘phone getting hot against my ear during long calls.

Conclusion

At this stage you may get the impression that I didn’t like the iPhone. I’ve acknowledged that it has many shortcomings, and doesn’t seem to be “Best of Breed” in any particularly category other than it’s 3rd party app support.

But the reality is – I loved using the iPhone. It is simplicity itself to start using and I like the way that it “just works”. It does have lots of niggles, and due to Apple’s locked down attitude – you can find it hard to work around those niggles. But you know what? None of those things are show-stoppers. I found nothing wrong with the iPhone (perhaps other than Battery life) that would stop me using it as my main phone on a day-to-day basis.

My thinking is that owning an iPhone is like falling in love. In most new relationships you start off deeply in love, often overlooking your new beau’s shortcomings because you like so much else about them. But then, over time – you get used to those new features, they become expected – and then you start to get irritated about the shortcomings.

Ok – so I’m not going to be writing for Mills and Boon anytime soon, but my gut feeling is that I’ll be this same way with the iPhone – overlooking its shortcomings for now, but as time grows on finding they become more than an irritation.

For now though, I’m in love. And I can secretly tell you that a few days in to using the second phone in my experiment, a HTC Pro handset running Windows Phone 7, all I can think about is the iPhone…

Thoughts on Windows Phone coming in a couple of weeks. Smile

 

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