CRM – Can it help manage business risk?

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Sales & Marketing systems are not traditionally renowned for the role they can play to help manage business risk.  However, when customer service and the sales ordering processes are controlled within the context of a single integrated business system, with CRM at its heart, some commercial and operational risk factors can be mitigated.

 

CRM is recognised as a tool to increase sales and customer loyalty, which of course is what we all want, however we also want our customers to pay their bills on time, in full, and not take advantage of services for which they are not entitled.  As a finance man, my tendency is to focus on the ‘bottom line’ rather than the headline sales number, which excludes such costs as bad debts, interest payments on working capital and foreign currency losses.  Avoiding these costs as far as possible and maximizing the resources within any business in my view is as important as driving up the sales numbers.

Here are some issues you might like to consider:

  • When taking orders from either new or existing customers, understanding their credit status may be a simple case of checking your accounting system, however for those of you who have distributed sales and accounting processes (i.e. more than one of you!), this is never as simple as it sounds.  In addition to the credit issues, pre-existing customers may have been granted special payment terms which need to be considered when discounting or setting customer specific pricing.  With very tight margins, allowing customers extended payment periods may make a big dent in any anticipated profits.

  • If you deal with very large organisations or government agencies you will know getting paid can be, to say the least troublesome.  Very often even the invoice format and associated backing detail has to be a very specific format otherwise they simply will not pay.  The amount of management time worrying about this stuff just eats away at the margins.

  • With a globalised marketplace, small businesses now have to worry about foreign currency exchange rates.  When buying or selling products in any currency other than your own the exchange rate achieved on any given deal can sometimes be the difference between making a profit or not, not to mention the operational activity costs and associated costs importing and exporting.

  • CRM is about nurturing our prospects and retaining customers for as long as possible to maximise the return on the investment acquiring them.  That said we also need to recognise that we need to control any after-sales services provided within boundaries of what has been agreed.  ‘Revenue leakage’ can occur when we provide services which we can legitimately charge for but don’t because we either forget or are not clear whether they are entitled to these services under their contract agreement.  Whilst we might be making some customers very happy, receiving services for free, we probably will misappropriate resources away from paying unhappy customers.

There is no silver bullet to any of these problems; they are part of everyday business life, however with joined-up data and processes using integrated customer management systems, we can attempt to mitigate many of these risks and hopefully make more profit!

Easter Bunny at Great Ormond St. Hospital

With Easter nearly upon us, the team at Workbooks.com felt the need to make our marketing more philanthropic.

We ran a survey of 750 UK based IT resellers to gain some insight into their views of CRM and Business applications and for each response we received we donated an Easter Egg to kids at the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

As you can see from the pics below we had over 150 people take the time to fill in our short questionnaire and in the office we have quite a lot of fun packing the eggs for shipment!

 

In terms of the survey, there were some interesting results. 17% of the respondents didn’t have any kind of CRM system in place, which I thought was quite high considering we are talking about IT resellers who you would expect to be pretty savvy with the business benefits CRM can deliver.

Over a third felt their CRM implementations would be more effective if the CRM system contained sales transaction information. This is no surprise to us at all. For sales and marketing folks there is significant benefit in having access to transaction data, which is typically locked-up in the Accounting System. Marketeers can run up-sell / cross-sell campaigns based on customers’ transaction history for example.

Another significant advantage is for customer support teams; over the past few months we have come across several resellers who believe they are giving their customers free technical support – because their support engineers don’t know if the customer is entitled to support or not. Having a more ‘joined-up’ view of their business data, provides the opportunity for some quick revenue wins, by ensuring customers are renewing their support agreements.

We hope that kids enjoy the Eggs and make a speedy recovery.

John

Same Problems Just Smaller Numbers

people-looking-at-things_1.png Whether you run a small private business or you are director of a large corporate, the business challenges you face are pretty much the same, with the difference being a matter of scale.  Crucially however, small businesses do not generally have access to well rounded, integrated IT systems to support them in their daily battles and long term strategy planning, let alone the staff to run them.

For the ‘big boys’ and from the ‘big boys’ sophisticated enterprise class software applications can be procured and implemented.  These large systems, which come with a large price tag and consume huge amounts of management time can, despite these facts, show excellent return on investment because of the economies of the large scale enterprise.  Returns such as in increased productivity, better financial controls, and targeted investments all can conspire to produce increased customer loyalty and ultimately increase in sales and profit.

Small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) on the other hand are managing to survive despite their often very limited IT infrastructure.  Small business leaders are putting their time and talents and great skill to maximize the benefit of what they have available to them.  This unfortunately usually means long days, with rolled sleeves, knitting together and trying to make sense of commercial transaction data and management information residing on spreadsheets, word processors and standalone accounting systems.  Just imagine what they could achieve without this drain on their time.

As an accountant myself and having worked for many types of businesses, small and large, employed to improve business processes, I have often faced the choice of either going out and implementing an expensive heavyweight or to try my luck and stitch together a range of smaller systems.  Neither of these two options was particularly palatable, and the reality was there is only one choice that could pass the ROI test.

With the introduction of a very different economic model, where costs are shared across many consumers or subscribers of a single service, a third way can however be achieved.  Sharing the IT infrastructure costs and associated maintenance across many users can generate economies of scale required to allow smaller businesses share in an enterprise class service without the enterprise cost.  The ‘TCO’ or Total Cost of Ownership based on this model can show significant savings when compared to owning and managing self hosted and maintained IT systems, assuming the skills and infrastructure is available in the first place.

With the advancement in internet technologies, ‘Cloud computing’ or ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) it is now possible to take advantage of such an economic model.  Workbooks is an example of such a service, and competes successfully in this space with the ‘Prospect to Cash’ CRM offering. Workbooks long term will extend far beyond CRM; however the vision of an integrated platform, delivering rich business process functionality is already visible in the Workbooks CRM and Business Editions.

As the Workbooks Product Manager with an accounting upbringing, I am very excited about my future with Workbooks.  We will continue to listen to our chosen markets, understand the huge benefits of a single integrated platform and deliver our software in the most efficient cost effective way.  We understand that SMEs have the same problems as large enterprise, the numbers are just smaller.

Workbooks launches Greater Functionality in its Spring Release

Reading UK – March 29 2010 – Workbooks.com today announces the Spring 2010 upgrade to its service, including many significant new features and a number of enhancements.

“Most of our customers use our Workbooks service to drive their business and therefore we are always looking at ways to enhance it. We have collated feedback from them to make our service even better with features and functionality that adds value to their day-to-day business,” commented John Cheney, CEO, Workbooks.com.

Ongoing improvements to the platform provide an improved user experience along with the functional enhancements to make the service even easier to use.

“This upgrade provides deeper analysis of opportunities, greater integration with a customer’s existing website and enhanced de-duping facilities amongst other improvements,” added Cheney.

As Workbooks is a cloud-based solution, customers will immediately benefit from these new features the next time they log on. They will not need to upgrade software, reconfigure hardware or call an engineer.

About Workbooks.com

Workbooks.com (www.workbooks.com) provides a suite of easy-to-use business applications designed specifically for small and mid-size organizations to run their business – already fully integrated and delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS). Workbooks CRM and Workbooks Business comprehensively support organisations’ business lifecycle, including sales, marketing, sales order management, invoicing, customer service and purchasing and supplier management.

Workbooks Wins first Thames Dragon-Boat Race for Sport Relief

Workbooks Warriors (our dragon boat team) finished first in the Sport Relief Thames Dragon Boat race last Friday. It was not the most pleasant of afternoons to be messing about on the river but it was all in a good cause to raise money for Sport Relief. 

Ten teams  from the Thames Valley Business Park took to the water to race three heats. The rain came and even the spectators who gathered to cheer on their teams, were as wet as those taking part. The teams were made up of local businesses, including Oracle, Baxter Storey, Workbooks and many others. Workbooks started the race as the underdog but was soon seen as the front runner after their second heat landed a 1min 38sec time, nearly 5 seconds ahead of their closest rival.

 

Despite the rain getting heavier, all of the teams agreed to stay on and continue the event through to the final. And what a close race it was. Oracle’s team (called “A Complete Shambles”) was determined to take home the trophy.  

Despite their best efforts (and beating Workbooks Warriors’ previous best time) they could only manage second place, three seconds behind a blistering time set by Workbooks of 1min 32 seconds.

 

Workbooks was later presented with the trophy and confirmed that we would be back next year to defend it!

All in all the event raised over £1500 for Sport Relief and although the sun stayed away a great time was had by everyone. We proposed that next year we would donate the ‘Workbooks Warriors Trophy’ for the fastest time set. Bring on the competition!!!!

Made in the UK

understand-your-crm-_1.jpgOne of the decisions we took first at Workbooks was to build our own software, and to do so here in the UK.

We’d looked around at a number of open source software packages on which we could build a service, some with licences which we could live with but none met enough of our requirements: it had to support multiple customers efficiently, support a powerful security model, be easy to use and allow us to deliver a service that wasn’t just another CRM solution. Workbooks was to deliver a complete ‘Prospect to Cash’ solution and it became obvious the only route to this was to create our own.

Having decided that we also got to choose to deliver a few more goodies, such as a completely flexible system to generate reports, and a Windows-like user interface (implemented using a Javascript framework running in all widely-deployed modern web browsers without plugins or compromise). We’re particularly proud of the user interface: comparing a traditional Web UI with the Workbooks Desktop is a bit like comparing DOS with Windows (if you’re old enough, can you remember when you could only see one form at a time?).

The next decision was that we’d build it here in the UK. This is deeply unfashionable (schoolchildren aren’t even offered the option to learn basic programming skills in most UK schools) and there is a widespread view that pretty soon all software development will be offshore. But we wanted the flexibility to react quickly as our understanding of the requirements solidified and to build a capability to respond quickly to customer requirements in the future. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to work with some very skilled developers with whom we’d built great things in the past.

Thankfully the UK government’s R&D tax credit scheme (just about to reach its tenth birthday) made things a little less daunting than otherwise. And although it still costs us more than our offshored competitors to produce software we believe it is worth it for the flexibility and responsiveness it delivers to us.

Another unfashionable thing we did was to commit to a UK-based customer support function: one of the things we have set out to do is to differentiate ourselves from our competitors through the quality of our support team.

So we’re proud to report that Workbooks was born in the UK, continues to be built in the UK and is supported by our completely UK-based team.

Winning hearts and minds in the Sales Team to support the adoption of CRM

people-looking-at-things_1_0.pngAs the adoption of Workbooks’ applications continues to grow, we get to meet leaders of a lot of UK companies, who are keen to improve the performance of their businesses.

It’s still really exciting for us to hear about just how big a difference the adoption of a broader CRM solution makes to our customers, not only in sales and marketing, but in order admin and fulfilment – removing the reliance on Word and Excel for quotations, sales orders and invoices – and giving the rest of the company visibility of the status of order fulfilment and payment.

But few implementations of any new business system are without issues along the way.

In my experience, marketeers and sales operations staff tend to embrace new systems – it’s easy for them to see how their lives will be made easier, and how they will be more productive post implementation.

But sales people have often long since come to see the CRM system as a necessary evil; a system that must be updated in order for their management to be able to measure pipeline and productivity. CRM systems often provide little or no value to the sales person in return.

So when thinking about the implementation of a new CRM system, how open is the sales team to change? Unless you can convince your sales people that a new CRM system will help them be more productive or more successful, how fully can you expect them to adopt a new CRM system?

In other words, how do we ‘sell’ CRM to the sales team?

Let them vent  asset-10.png

As with any other stakeholders in the implementation of a new system, we advocate engaging the sales team early, and getting from them a list of issues with regard to the systems they need to use to process business and report to management. And of course, sales people are typically not slow in coming forward.

Their challenges often include having to provide the same information to management multiple times in multiple formats (think sales forecasts) and having to demonstrate that they really have followed up any leads assigned to them. They may need to complete activity reports of the calls they made or the meetings they attended in a given period, and when they close business, processing it may seem like the biggest challenge of all.

Furthermore they may be frustrated that it’s not easy for them to keep their customers up to date on the fulfilment of their orders, because sales people often have no systems-based visibility of order status.

asset-31.pngNurture Champions 

Since most businesses are dependent on their sales team for capturing the data they need to fulfil orders and to invoice, it makes an awful lot of sense to get them on board with any new CRM system. Working hard to demonstrate how the system will address their issues is key, but is not all you can do.

Identifying and cultivating ‘champions’ in your team for a new system is one of the most effective tactics. You know the most influential members of the sales team; by harnessing their influence you help to ensure the adoption of your new system. Appointing them as part of the project team or even setting MBO objectives should ensure their buy-in.

asset-29.pngMake it fun

Sales people are by nature competitive. Why not put in place an incentive to reinforce adoption? It’s pretty easy to measure the completeness of data on key accounts, or the cleanliness of orders submitted under the new process. Cases of wine, commission kickers or tickets to the Rugby can go a long way.

asset-16.pngGet feedback – (and act on it)

After a few weeks – or most definitely after the first sales period end – take the time to seek feedback. Invite your CRM application vendor or implementation partner to one of your team meetings; they should be keen to help you address outstanding niggles in your implementation, not least so that you can become a reference site for them

asset-12.pngDon’t be afraid to use a little coercion

Once properly implemented, the on-going success (and return on investment) for any business application is determined by the quality of data entered into it (think accuracy and completeness for your process). A good CRM system, with appropriate monitoring and reporting, will quickly reveal data quality issues.

From experience, nothing focuses the attention of your sales team like the threat of sanctions for non-compliance. Paying reduced commission where the appropriate order information is not provided, or on deals that were not properly forecasted may seem heavy handed, but once you’ve invested in a new system and process, just might help to ensure that you reap the business benefits you seek.

asset-20.pngAnd finally – Lead from the front!

A lot of sales and business leaders pay lip service to the importance of CRM but continue to request spreadsheets from their people and may never log in themselves. With few exceptions, the most successful CRM implementations are those embraced by the management team.

Get into the habit of pulling your key management information from the CRM system. Run sales team meetings and sales reviews from it. Yes there’ll be teething issues, but when your team gets to understand that their pipeline needs to be accurate for Monday morning sales meetings – or else – they’ll soon get on board.

Workbooks Partners with InvisibleCRM to accelerate Outlook Integration

Mountain View, CA & Reading – March 4 2010 – Workbooks.com (www.workbooks.com), the leading provider of CRM and business applications delivered via Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to the small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) and InvisibleCRM (www.invisiblecrm.com), a technology provider of tools engineered to bridge the gap between enterprise and personal productivity applications, announced today that they have signed a partnership agreement.  The two firms will jointly create a new Outlook integration offering for Workbooks.com based on InvisibleCRM’s InvisibleSync Bridge and OutlookBridge technology platform.  

The new offering will allow users of Workbooks application suite to integrate contacts, appointments and emails with Microsoft Outlook increasing usability and productivity even when they are offline. Additional enhancements will more fully integrate Workbooks CRM and Outlook, allowing Workbooks users to manage their core CRM data from within the Outlook client. 

“By providing our users instant access to the CRM data and components of Workbooks from within the Microsoft Office suite, we can dramatically increase their productivity, data quality and adoption rate,” said John Cheney, Workbooks.com CEO.  “By partnering with InvisibleCRM, we can deliver World class Outlook integration to our customers quickly and effectively.”

“We are proud to partner with Workbooks.com.  They have a remarkable SaaS business suite that provides incredible value to the SME marketplace”, said Vlad Voskresensky, CEO of InvisibleCRM.  “Our partnership focus is to extend that value by providing a single place to manage all of a client’s CRM data within Outlook and an elegant approach to melding customer information found in email into the Workbooks.com environment.  Access offline means taking Workbooks.com with you anywhere and anytime.”

About InvisibleCRM

InvisibleCRM is a technology provider of tools engineered to increase user adoption and ROI of enterprise applications by seamlessly integrating them into the way business people work every day. These tools enable users to work with their customer and corporate information, without leaving their favorite applications – Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Note and the Windows environment. InvisibleCRM was named Cool Vendor by Gartner and was an “Under the Radar” winner in 2007.  

About Workbooks.com 

Workbooks.com (www.workbooks.com) provides a suite of easy-to-use business applications designed specifically for small and mid-size organisations to run their business – already fully integrated and delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS). Workbooks CRM and Workbooks Business comprehensively support organisations’ business lifecycle, including sales, marketing, sales order management, invoicing, customer service and purchasing and supplier management. 

Workbooks secures additional £2 million in funding

Growing British CRM company to accelerate Sales and Marketing activities with new funding from Angel Investors

Reading – UK – 24 February 2010 – Workbooks.com, a leading UK-based provider of web-based CRM for small businesses, today announces that it has secured £2 million in its second round of funding. The new investment builds on the £2.1 million the company raised in July 2008 and was completed through the Government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), which helps smaller companies raise finance through tax reliefs for investors that purchase new shares.

Workbooks.com will use the new funding to accelerate sales and marketing activities, building on the success of the company’s web-based CRM system to date, which has already been used by multiple organisations as a replacement for Salesforce.com, ACT! and Goldmine.

“We are delighted to secure this second round of funding, which will enable Workbooks.com to build on the success that we have achieved since the company was launched just nine months ago,” says John Cheney, CEO and founder of Workbooks.com. “Our ability to raise funds in the Angel market, at a time when the majority of VCs are not investing in early stage technologies, is testament to the robustness of our business model. Our investors are a group of high net worth individuals, the majority of whom have run their own businesses and so understand the challenges that the Workbooks.com CRM suite helps small business overcome.

“SMEs typically don’t have the spending power to make huge investments in integrated IT systems and as a result, are often left with a mish-mash of different applications for accounting, sales and marketing that can’t communicate with one another. The result in most cases is a confusing mess and despite the best efforts of managers building spreadsheets to plug the gap, all-too-often business opportunities are compromised or missed altogether. With this additional funding, we will be able to deliver enterprise-class business process functionality at SME prices to even more organisations, helping them to shorten the prospect-to-cash timeline and ultimately grow their businesses more quickly.”

Workbooks.com was founded by a team of entrepreneurs with a track record in creating and building successful technology companies. This includes John Cheney (CEO), James Kay (CTO), Jenny Robb (CFO) and Edward Berks (Sales Director) – previously co-founders of BlackSpider.

About Workbooks.com

Workbooks.com provides a suite of easy-to-use business applications designed specifically for small and mid-size organisations to run their business – already fully integrated and delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS). Workbooks CRM and Workbooks Business comprehensively support organisations’ business lifecycle, including sales, marketing, sales order management, invoicing, customer service and purchasing and supplier management.

Workbooks CRM and Workbooks Business help organisations to improve the performance of their business; with real-time visibility of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Workbooks.com solutions help to increase productivity through efficiency gains and provide the framework to better manage business risk.

Workbooks.com applications are built on the WorkbooksOne™ technology platform as a pre-integrated suite of applications. This removes the traditional requirement for small and mid-size businesses to select, purchase, implement, integrate and manage separate CRM and back-office software and associated hardware; in contrast Workbooks.com is ready for use as soon as organisations subscribe – and starts to deliver value immediately. Founded and led by an experienced team of SaaS entrepreneurs, Workbooks.com delivers low up-front and ongoing costs and delivers unlimited scalability and guaranteed reliability.

Getting Started

Welcome to our new Workbooks blog!

 

The intention behind this blog is to keep everyone up to date with the progress of our business and our products.  We might also use it to occasionally pass comment on our industry and the world in general.

 

asset-31.pngThe origin of Workbooks

Let’s start by giving you the background on the company and the people involved.  We founded Workbooks back in October 2007 at Jenny’s kitchen table over coffee.

Four of us got together with a view to building a leading SaaS provider of business applications for the SME market.   You might ask why would anyone create a business that competes with industry giants like Salesforce.com or Sage?

The answer is we were very frustrated!

The four of us had previously founded a company called BlackSpider Technologies.  BlackSpider was an SaaS provider of email security solutions and when we sold the company in 2006 (to SurfControl PLC) we had approximately 2000 customers and 90 staff operating in 3 countries.   Having grown the company from inception we were frustrated at the lack of good business applications for small and medium size businesses.

Like many companies we have purchased IT systems for specific departments, Sage for accounting, Salesforce.com for CRM.  These standalone applications quickly became ‘islands of information’ which caused no end of problems for the business.  For example all our transaction information (purchase order, invoices, credit limits, etc) were in Sage.  This was great for the accountants, but meant that the sales, marketing and support folks didn’t have access to the information.

The accounts department rightly didn’t want sales and marketing people logging into Sage where they could create invoices and post journal entries!  But in reality the sales team needs access to some key pieces of information, such as credit limits and previous transaction history.

 

asset-30.pngCreation of our CRM system

So if a sales guy wanted to see how much a customer had previously paid, or if a marketer wanted to run a campaign based on purchase history the only way was to export data from Sage and import it into our CRM system.  Then we had to try and ‘dedupe’ the data and the whole process became a real can of worms.

We wanted some joined up business systems which were targeted for the SME market.  When we looked round the only products which were close were Oracle and SAP, however they came with a seven figure price tag and required a small army of IT staff to make it work.

So having sold BlackSpider in 2006 and having completed the 18 month transition period at SurfControl, we decided we could build an integrated suite of business applications that would be delivered online, so you wouldn’t need your own army of IT folks.

So here we are in February 2010, over two years later and having built Workbooks CRM and Workbooks Business, which addresses the problems I described.

 

asset-33.pngDevelopment of our activity

We made our first sale back in May 2009 and have been rapidly developing our product’s capabilities based on the feedback of our ever-growing customer base.

We have had lots of good ideas from people on how we can improve Workbooks, so we now have a feature list as long as your arm.  We are continuing to roll-out new enhancements about every 8 weeks, so if you are a customer please don’t hesitate to drop us a note about what else you would like and we’ll do our best to include it in a future release.

We have a release of the product scheduled for early March and I’ll provide more details on what’s coming with the next few posts.

John Cheney