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Tag Archives: Google Apps
Customer relationship management (CRM) software, in case you’re not using it, can help you find new clients and keep the ones you already have by automating business processes involved in functions such as sales, marketing and customer support. While there are scads of CRM solutions on the market, WORKetc is one that recently caught my eye.
Cloud-based file storage service Box.net already has 6 million users storing 300 million files. And its free personal account offers up to 5 gigs of storage–more than twice what DropBox offers. The company just upped the ante big-time against hugely popular Microsoft SharePoint by integrating its service with Google Documents and Spreadsheets.
If you’ve let a domain or two expire, you might want to double-check those old accounts. Rip Empson at TechCrunch is reporting that expired domains could subject you to huge security risks. If an old domain is still linked to other online accounts, your personal information could be exposed, giving hackers (or just plain unscrupulous types) everything they need to wreck your life.
When financial planner Spencer Hill was considering moving his customer relations management (CRM) into the cloud, he test drove Redtail, a Web-based solution for financial advisors. In fact, confesses Hill, he “sneaked and used two free trial periods.” The trials convinced Hill that Redtail works well for his Kingstree, S.C., asset management company. Marjorie R. Asturias, president of Blue Volcano Media, a three-person digital marketing, content and SEO firm based in Dallas, has gradually turned much of her business operations over to cloud applications. But before she takes the plunge, Asturias takes advantage of free trial periods to evaluate cloud services. While cloud computing offers your small business the opportunity to leverage computing resources you might not otherwise have the expertise or wherewithal to employ, it can be intimidating to move critical operations out of your own hands. That’s where free trials come in. A number of cloud computing vendors offer free test runs that let you figure out how their services would meld with your current operations. For instance, you can try Google Apps Premier Edition, which costs $50 per user account per year, for a 30-day free trial period. Salesforce, the CRM cloud-based tool, offers a 30-day free trial with access to all features. Healy Jones, head of marketing for OfficeDrop, says his cloud-based digital filing company designed a 60-day free trial based on experiences gained by trying other cloud service trials. Make a trial work for you To get the most out of a free trial takes some planning and effort. “Many of our potential new users who start a trial account give it a very cursory look,” says Tom Greenhaw, founder of Cashier Live, which offers Web-based point-of-sale software. “Surprisingly, few actually give it a test drive. To get the most out of a free trial, you need to actually use the product for its intended purpose.” Cloud providers and small business users offer these guidelines for getting full value out of a trial period: Start small and go slowly. Migrate a non-critical system first, and consider evaluating a cloud service that won’t impact your clientele in any significant way. Consider using a test group. When one of business consultant Louis Rosas-Guyon’s customers decided to move e-mail and a few other services to Google Apps, the company began by migrating a subsidiary first. “The subsidiary only has five employees so it would not cause a major upheaval,” says Rosas-Guyon, president of R-Squared Computing. Look for a long trial. It takes time to evaluate how you’ll use a cloud service and how well it fits with your business. Remember that there are some functions your company may only need on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis and consider whether you can test for those needs during the trial, says David Rocamora, a senior consultant at Control Group, a technology services firm. “The worst thing you want to do is to migrate to another system, it’s going to be so much better and the next month you realize, ‘Oh, we run this report each month, and now we can’t do it,’” he says. Consider what you get. There’s nothing more annoying than signing up for a free trial and finding some features are available only to paying users, says Jones of OfficeDrop. You want as full an experience as possible. And use the trial to evaluate the service level agreement, says Pat O’Day, co-founder and CTO of BlueLock, a cloud hosting and managed IT services provider. Look for a comprehensive plan that outlines penalties “in line with the level of pain you’ll experience if there’s a problem,” says O’Day. Take time to review the cloud provider’s security policy. Hold onto that credit card. Some free trials require a credit card number during registration. Be cautious about handing over your number, and respect deadlines if you do, says Asturias of Blue Volcano Media. “I’ve had to pay for services I ultimately decided I didn’t need just because I forgot to cancel before the trial period ended.” Jones says OfficeDrop lost valuable time dealing with a free trial that kept billing the company credit card. Evaluate customer service. “Test hold times, responsiveness, and availability of customer service,” says Yehuda Cagen, director of marketing, business development division for Xvand’s IsUtility, a cloud computing IT provider. “Your employees will have to lean on these people for technical assistance. No customer service line is a huge red flag.” Involve stakeholders. Have a broad cross section of users try the service. “Having buy-in from users is incredibly important,” says Rocamora. “Get them involved early in the process so you can truly understand what they need.” Know what you want from a trial before you embark on the test drive, says Tim Bangert, founder of Catalyst Technology Solutions, which offers IT support for small businesses. “One simple way to evaluate the success of a trial is to answer the question, ‘Can I do what I need to do easier, faster or better than I already do it?’” says Bangert. “And don’t forget to consider ‘less expensive.’ A well-thought-out plan to maximize that free trial period to its fullest will pay off many times over as your business continues to grow.”
Over the past 12-18 months, major customer relationship management (CRM) players like Salesforce.com, Sage, SAP and others have been adding “social” abilities to traditional CRM applications — like viewing social profile information from Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, newer services such as BatchBook, BantamLive, and others are creating CRM applications on a social foundation aimed at the small and mid-sized business market. And with every passing day, social technologies are merging with traditional CRM functionality, giving companies more efficient ways of transforming clicks into valuable customer relationships. A little over two years ago I wrote about the Three A’s of Social CRM. Back then most people were focused on social media, but not so much on its impact on customer relationship management tools and strategies. Even a year ago when I compared traditional CRM with Social CRM the interest was pretty much limited to industry insiders. That’s not the case today, as the topic of Social CRM has become the focus of many in business. Having focused on CRM for almost two decades — as an application developer, early Salesforce.com certified implementation partner, and finally as an industry watcher — this may be the most important development I’ve seen. I say this because technology has amplified the voice of the customer, and given them greater control over who they engage with, when they do, and how they do so. This in turn is forcing those charged with engaging them to change their approach: in order to connect with customers who Tweet to thousands of followers, watch videos on mobile phones, and form their own online communities. This also is forcing CRM vendors to provide services that do more than just store customer information and track activities. But there’s one company that looks to be creating a platform small businesses can use to turn a variety of online interactions into stronger customer relationships — and it’s not even a CRM company, in the traditional sense. Keeping with the AAA theme from a couple of years back, below are a few reasons why Google is becoming the onramp to Social CRM success for small and mid-sized businesses. Apps — Internal Even with Facebook hitting the 500 million member mark — with billions of interactions taking place weekly — the majority of people in business-to-business (B2B) organizations I’ve come across say no more than 15-20 percent of their total interactions on Facebook are business related. Conversely, about 80-90 percent of e-mail interactions these same folks have are business related, and with much higher frequency. And in many cases, the e-mail exchanges are more intimate in nature, from a business perspective. This may be because the conversations are more direct and focused, and the people engaged in the conversations are more focused on each other — not the overall community — during these interaction. So even today, a large percentage of customer relationship building takes place in our inboxes. Just as Microsoft Outlook was (and still is) key to increasing CRM user adoption over the past decade, Gmail is looking to be that key in the Social Age. More small companies are using Google’s low-cost e-mail hosting services — making Gmail the fastest growing of the big online e-mail providers, closing in on 180 million accounts. But the choice to use Gmail goes well beyond price. Google has turned the inbox into a relationship-building platform enabling multiple points of contact, and increased opportunities for meaningful interactions. When you exchange e-mails with other Gmail users, Google can (based on your security settings) connect you with them if you both use Google Reader — giving you the ability to see what kind of information they are interested in, and start feeding them more of it. And when you go to YouTube, Google lists the YouTube channels of those you interact with via Gmail at the top of the page — giving you a chance to subscribe to them. So Google is building an interaction-based platform on the bedrock of Gmail. And as you exchange emails, you can grow the relationship wider by engaging across apps like Reader and Youtube. You can also deepen the engagement with real-time collaborative interactions via Google Docs, Sheets and Sites. Apps – External Not only has Google created a business interaction-based platform with their dizzying array of applications, but they’ve invited third-party application developers to extend that foundation through the Google Apps Marketplace. And according to a recent post on the Official Google Apps blog, the top search term for installable apps in the marketplace is CRM. Of the thirteen CRM apps in the marketplace, five of them are under the Social CRM umbrella, including Gist, BatchBook, and BantamLive. Vendors like Zoho and Tactile add more traditional CRM functionality to Google’s interaction platform. These and a growing group of application developers will continue building the CRM functionality Google doesn’t build itself. Android While everyone has been captivated by the developments surrounding the iPhone4 release, worldwide sales of phones with Google’s Android operating system crossed over the five million unit mark, according to Gartner. Google recently announced that 160,000 Android units get activated every day, and it expects Android to eventually be a $10 billion business. No doubt the same apps being used on Web browsers are also driving up Android activations, as people are able to work from wherever they need to. But Android tablet devices haven’t even hit the market yet. And with multiple vendors like Cisco, LG, and others committing to running Android on their upcoming tablets, Google will effectively be extending their business interaction platform to new areas. Cisco’s tablet — The Cius — is a key piece in the company’s push to enable the social enterprise. The device will be optimized for collaboration via video chat, Webex meetings, and conference calls. So the device will be optimized for video interactions, while other vendors may optimize their devices for different kinds of interactions. But the bottom line is Android will be extended to cover more ground, while still offering Apps people can run across vendor-specific tablet devices. Analytics Google Analytics has become of staple of many businesses to track their Web traffic. And Google’s ability to turn text into context to serve up ads when we do searches and read emails has driven targeted traffic via Google Adwords. And with this ability to analyze text for ads, Google should also be able to analyze text for sentiment. Just imagine if Google (or a third party developer) could analyze the interactions we’ve had with someone across all the Google channels we engage them over so we can know what’s on their mind, and also what is their state of mind — and how they feel about us. Or even being able to take a group of people we communicate with on Google channels, say VP’s of marketing in the retail industry, to find out what those interactions can reveal. This could lead to more targeted, efficient and meaningful interactions with those we’re trying to create relationships with — based on a business interaction lifecycle taking place across Google’s services. Social CRM is about meaningful interaction as well as information management. And while business interactions are taking place all over, Google — with search, e-mail, Web traffic, and collaborations via Docs, Sheets, etc. — has created an inexpensive platform for building relationships with customers in the Social Age. Through Apps (including third party apps), Android, and Analytics, Google is as much a Social CRM player as anyone else. And for small businesses it may be the most important player. Brent Leary is a small-business technology analyst, adviser, and award-winning blogger. He is the co-author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business. His blog can be found at http://brentleary.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brentleary .
For the small and mid-sized business, the “cloud” is already a familiar friend. Small businesses have increasingly found ways to reduce capital expenditures and operating costs through cloud computing, in which computing is provided by shared resources and software on the Internet on an on-demand model. As a result, they continue to move many business functions from on-site servers to the Web. However, few businesses truly have a cloud “migration” strategy and even fewer have successfully leveraged the cloud in vendor relations. Cloud-based outsourcing Maybe you’ve ditched the Microsoft Exchange server in favor of Google Apps. That was easy. It’s just like your Gmail account, but for work. Or perhaps all of your files are securely backed up — not on a bulky external hard drive, but on Box.net. And they’re accessible from any Internet browser on any computer.Whether you realize it or not, your business has already begun an important migration. But few small businesses have thoughtfully managed this transition and even fewer are fully taking advantage of business in the cloud. Using the cloud as a cost reduction tool is increasingly common — reducing paperwork, lowering transaction costs, and investing in less hardware (and with fewer resources to manage it) can yield immediate impact in accelerating your growth. Less understood, however, is how to use the cloud as a business enabler. On this front, companies like Salesforce.com and SuccessFators continue to push forward. Without installing any software, vendors can manage the entire customer lifecycle or HR processes with greater data detail and accuracy than ever before. No longer do you need a file cabinet of paperwork or indecipherable database for these important business processes. Outsourced to the cloud, your data becomes globally accessible and more secure and redundant — all while saving you real money. But as the cloud becomes more pervasive, maximizing the value for your business means going beyond Salesforce.com and Gmail. What if the cloud could help you keep your business on the cutting edge? Start thinking about the cloud as more than just a tool you use — anyone you do business with should be in the cloud as well. The cloud can level the playing field Small and mid-sized businesses have long missed out because of their size: they don’t have the budget to buy hardware and don’t have the scale to show up on the radar of innovative software vendors. The cloud is leveling this playing field. As an executive, your number-one job is to sell your product — and there are hundreds of hardware and software solutions that could potentially help you achieve that goal. If only it was easy to decide which one to choose. It’s not. You are inundated with calls, e-mails, and advertisements from countless vendors and, if you’re like me, ignore most of them. Or, you select a few to try and next thing you know, your team has invested days or weeks evaluating products. But here too, the cloud can help. There is a new cloud model for software sales that is enabled by what we call IT as a Service (ITaS). ITaS changes the economics of product demos and evaluations significantly — instead of days, they take minutes to set up. Using ITaS , software vendors can provide actual, hands-on IT (such as fully functional product demos) to multiple end-users in minutes without any on-site presence. In the end, it’s you (the buyer) who benefits most because you can test each product without the tribulations of costly and time-consuming on-site evaluations and ensure that ultimately you receive the best product for you. Some of the largest software vendors in the world have embraced this vision of using the cloud to optimize and speed sales cycles (Cisco, SAP, and McAfee are early adopters). This is where the cloud is going. Imagine if, instead of having to endure countless marketing pitches, you can get your hands on any IT product you are interested in and try it within minutes — without delay or download. This is yet another way the cloud can save you time and, as a result, money. Products that enable ITaS are by no means the first non-traditional uses of the cloud to make your life easier. Salesforce, Google, Ooyala, Discus, and Cordys for instance all deliver relevant cloud services to the small business market. Your business’s size is no longer a limiting factor. As we see more SaaS and ITaS, even a two-person company can buy from the big boys — the Ferrari’s of enterprise software — and test-drive before they buy. The cloud can help you gain access to new solutions and ensure they match your business needs — all without wasting your valuable time. SIDEBAR: Tips for proactively managing your Cloud migration If you can hold it, question it. Physical assets cost you money. In many instances, there is no longer a reason to have hardware. Wave goodbye to external hard drives, e-mail/Web servers and filing cabinets. Your business will be lower¬-cost in the cloud. Do what you do best. You have limited hours — spend them wisely. Why waste time with tedious CRM or HR processes — it’s not what you like to do OR what you are best at. Outsource those tasks — Saleforce.com and SuccessFactors would be happy to do it for you — and focus on your core business instead. Don’t just save money — make money. Be proactive. Don’t get caught up treating the cloud as merely a vehicle for cost reduction. Executing core functions in the cloud can make your company more agile and more effective. Expect others to move to the cloud. To fully capitalize on the cloud, you should ensure that your business partners are leveraging the cloud in their interactions with you. Expect instantaneous demos of software you are considering buying. (Zvi Guterman, is CEO and co-founder of CloudShare, a cloud computing service provider. Previously, Guterman co-founded and served as CTO of Safend, an endpoint security company. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from the Hebrew University.)
While Google’s much-hyped Android platform debuted in late 2008, the smartphone operating system didn’t hit its stride until the recent launch of the Motorola Droid and Google’s own phone, the Nexus One. But do these new Android devices outshine competitors — including handsets powered by BlackBerry, iPhone OS, or Windows Mobile — when it comes to a mobile device for small and mid-sized businesses? And does the Google phone amount to the reputed “iPhone killer” many had hoped for? The answer, according to industry analysts, seems to be yes and no. Promising future Google’s Nexus One came up short of being the groundbreaking device that would halt the trajectory of the iPhone, but the Android-based smartphone does have its share of benefits. “The ubiquity of Google and its integration across devices — PCs and mobile devices — as well as applications, voice calling and Internet search, as well as its mobile platform, give it a unique position over its competition,” says Tim Doherty, associate research analyst for the small and mid-sized business markets at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm. “However, taking that unique position and applying it to the mobile market will be the true test as it explores the various segments and finds a place where its complete ‘package’ can resonate,” Doherty adds. Doherty says IDC has been looking for Android to emerge as a player in the small business space for some time. “Google has already made a name for itself through Google Apps, its hosted suite of e-mail, messaging, and collaboration solutions,” maintains Doherty. “The hosted nature, scalable and predictable pricing, and lack of need for IT hardware investment make Google Apps a natural fit for small businesses, and so this may have an impact on adoption of Android mobile devices.” Chris Silva, an analyst at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester technology research company, also believes Android has a promising future for businesses. “IT’s constituents are, at the end of the day, consumers and, as consumers, they’re likely going to be exploring how and whether they can use the newest smartphones on the market with their enterprise e-mail and other services,” says Silva. “Statistically speaking, if a user is going after the newest smartphone, it’s very likely to be an Android device, so IT had better have a plan,” Silva adds. Immediate hurdles While Doherty believes the Android platform is beginning to “gain a footing in the small business space,” a few obstacles still exist for Google. “RIM [Research in Motion], Apple, and Palm have an advantage by virtue of controlling both their hardware and proprietary platforms, which can allow for a tighter user experience,” Doherty believes. “Google is exploring new models for deploying mobile devices, as we saw with the Nexus One, but there will be hiccups — in the case of Nexus One, Google was not prepared to handle customer troubleshooting.” “The Nexus One received a great deal of press upon its release, however, the growing pains that Google has had in supporting a hardware platform that it is selling directly are evidence that this is early days for Google playing a major role in the smartphone space,” adds Silva. “We saw Apple getting dinged for this a lot when the iPhone came out — the prospect of IT sending its users to the nearest Apple Store for hardware support has been a hard sell.” Silva says the ownership model in the business space is changing, however, as we’re now seeing companies enter into agreements with users to support personal devices. “Many companies are still paying for the device and service and treating the smartphone as a corporate IT asset, but this model is giving way to others in which IT can satisfy users’ demand for the newest platforms while not having to take on the cost of the device and, in some cases, service, if the user supplies the device and IT supplies the tools to manage it,” explains Silva. Not (yet) for big business But replacing the BlackBerry as the de facto mobile operating system for enterprise-level companies might be more of a challenge. “Certainly, Android devices are being brought unofficially into enterprises by individuals in the same way that the iPhone has been since launch, buy it will be a challenge for any vendor, however, to displace incumbent RIM in the enterprise from a corporate-adoption standpoint, especially with the crucial need for information security,” says Doherty. Silva agrees: “At present, I don’t see the Android OS as better than BlackBerry or iPhone for enterprise users.” One of the reasons is the lack of support for features of ActiveSync, the data synchronization program developed by Microsoft for use the Microsoft Windows operating systems. While Android supports ActiveSync though some smartphone maker’s tools, such as HTC’s work e-mail application, and some third-party applications, such as Nitro Desk’s TouchDown, as a native feature to the operating system, there’s no support for ActiveSync policies, Silva adds Currently, there are nearly 30 policies that IT can choose from natively in the Exchange Server architecture. “For example, limitations of the Android OS make full device encryption tricky to impossible today,” adds Doherty. “These ActiveSync-based security features are table stakes for most enterprise devices and, lacking them, Android is going to have a tough time in the enterprise.”