So the search begins….

You’ll know when your business is ready for CRM when you are:

  • Spending too much time re-entering information over and over
  • Chasing people for information at the last minute
  • Losing out on enquiries or quotes that never got followed up
  • Failing to track customer complaints and service issues, or not responding quick enough
  • Not keeping on top of customer information and GDPR compliance
  • Storing vital information in people’s head – if someone leaves they take the knowledge with them

 

Maybe you are the owner of the business, or perhaps you’ve been tasked with selecting the CRM.  In either case you’ll be aware of the pains and challenges you are trying to solve for your business. Choosing a CRM system involves identifying systems that solve as many of these challenges as possible. Remember,  no software will meet your needs 100%, so be prepared to prioritise your ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ features.

Current pain points and objectives for CRM may include:

  • Tackling inefficiencies
  • Improving poor communication among your staff
  • Integrating sales and operations for faster order processing
  • Supporting strategic growth plans
  • GDPR Compliance
  • Monitoring and understanding sales activity
  • Improving customer satisfaction
  • Automating manual processes
  • Getting reports and insights into your business performance

We’ll tackle all of these pain points in this article. So, what should you be looking for?

 

Mapping out your process

Before you begin your research, you need to understand your own process.

With your team, get a whiteboard or some post it notes, and write down the stages of your typical customer journey, from initial enquiry, qualification, quotes, nurturing, decision, order, and ongoing relationship touchpoints. Think about the information you capture (and in many cases duplicate) at each stage. Look for inefficiencies and bottlenecks.

No off-the-shelf system will handle 100% of your requirements or processes. Once you have a map on your process you can see how different CRM systems can handle your needs. Prioritise your requirements and score these against the systems you are evaluating.

Then, it’s important to think about what outputs and metrics your CRM should give you.  What reports are essential for you to make decisions? Perhaps you want to track how many enquiries turn into closed deals, or forecast your sales for the year?  Think about your “must have” metrics and ensure they’re easily available in any solution you consider.

Understand the Flavours of CRM software

There are many different types of CRM systems, designed to meet the needs of different businesses and circumstances.  We’ve outlined 3 basic tiers below:

  • Basic systems – these typically manage customer contacts, sales pipeline data and help you manage sales and customer service.  These tend to be focused on sales and enquiry management, without much scope to expand into other areas of your business.  Most “free” CRMs are in this bracket.
  • Integrated CRM systems, also called “CRM+”- enable all of the above, but also allow you to add modules for other parts of your business, and integrate with your accounts:  Quoting, Sales Orders, Inventory Management, Dispatch and Service Jobs are all common features of Integrated CRMs. Flowlens is an example of a “CRM+”
  • Sector Specific CRMs – built around the needs of particularly sectors and processes, for example financial services, membership organisations, charities etc. and can have different names.  CRMs used by charities can also be called “Electronic Case Management” systems, for example

Each of these has positives and negatives that are worth weighing up. And depending on the size of your business and your budget, you may find an integrated system meets your needs even though a sector specific system would be ideal, but out of your budget, for example.

Ask colleagues in your sector about the systems they use. Are they effective? Do they require minimal data entry? Do they handle the needs of your sector well?

Tackling Wasted Effort

As most businesses grow, processes spring up to address basic needs. Some aren’t even aware that a process exists.

Typically these consist of basic emails, spreadsheets, documents, bits of paper and verbal communication.

These work fine when you’re a small operation, but they soon crumble as demand grows for your products/services, and as you bring on more staff. What made sense for a small team will fail as you add more customers and more people to your business.

The simple process mapping exercise outlined above is a good way to benchmark your current system.

Perhaps you want to grow faster, and bring on more sales people, or increase revenues from existing customers. How do you know how to do this without reliable reports and an agreed system that handles your processes?

Inefficiencies take many forms, it could be:

  • Rekeying of data between systems
  • Losing information that is stored in people’s heads
  • Losing paper
  • Information stuck in emails that you can no longer find or access
  • Unclear capture of customer requirements leading to poor handover between your sales and operations functions
  • Limited or no ability to get reports from your information
  • Errors in spreadsheets
  • The list goes on

A good CRM will let you streamline these inefficiencies and should at minimum replace the vast majority of these pain points.

 

Improving Communication

Confusion and misunderstandings are the most common cause of inefficiencies inside a business, and customer dissatisfaction. Many business have developed ‘silos’ around the main functions of sales, marketing, finance, operations and service.

This causes different teams to think inwardly, instead of collaboratively, which doesn’t serve the best needs of the customer.

A basic CRM will improve the communication of management and sales and enquiry teams while an integrated CRM allows the whole business to store data on a shared platform, for example.

Not only does this mean that you reduce the amount of rekeying of information, and potential for errors, you also get one ‘single version of the truth’ for your business. All customers, order, product and service information is in one place.

If you plan beyond the basics of capturing and storing customer data before choosing a CRM you might be able to see how systems can streamline your overall business process.

This will save your time and money in the long run, and make it easy to onboard new team members as your business grows.

 

Strategic Growth & Sales Tracking

You want to grow your business, but how can you develop your business plan without data?

CRM system can help you quantify your sales cycle, giving you valuable data to obtain funding/loans for your business, and justify spending money on sales and marketing.

If growth is a key concern you’ll want your CRM to include

  • Tracking of inbound enquiries, sources and conversions
  • Tracking of sales cycle
  • Customer service / retention
  • Customer repeat sales

Manual systems and disjointed spreadsheets make it difficult to capture and analyse this information. With the right CRM you can quantify how much it costs to get new prospects, how long it takes to convert them into customers and how long they stay.

 

GDPR Compliance

All businesses have a duty to protect sensitive customer and personal information. The GDPR regulations are providing additional impetus for businesses to develop compliant policies and systems to track the information they store.

If you handle personal information about customers, it is important that you’ve gained their consent to store relevant information. For communication purposes who also need to know if they’ve consented to receive emails, phone calls, etc, and for what purpose.

Similarly, individuals have the ‘right to be forgotten’ meaning upon request you must delete personally identifiable data/information stored about them.

When choosing a CRM system, look at it’s features for handling GDPRs, and ensure it aligns with your company policy for data and privacy.

 

Controlling Sales Activity

Do you know how effective your sales process, and your people are? Do you rely on the gut instinct of your sales people and their memory for quotes, dates and promises made to produce a sales forecast?

Sales-focused CRM systems offer a range of features to help you take the guess-work out of sales, and at the same time give your team tools to help them, and you, make more money!

Many CRMs support the concept of Marketing and Sales Pipelines, structuring your sales process around the key stages of your buyer journey.

If you sell bigger ticket items, or have a long sales cycle, Sales Pipeline management tools will help you stay on top of the process, and monitor sales team activities to ensure it is optimised for success.

For businesses who buy and supply materials, products or services with a shorter and more repetitive sales cycle, you need to consider a CRM that offers integrated sales quotes and order processing. This will keep all your customer enquiries, quotes and orders in one place, and reduce delays in serving customers.

 

Improving Customer Satisfaction

You may have heard the rule of thumb that its seven times easier to sell to existing customers than to acquire new customers. So how can a CRM help you enhance your existing customer relationships.

Making it easier for customers to do business with you is paramount. Look at your current ‘after sales’ interactions with customers and figure out what information requests and processes are being followed. Is it simply handling calls, or do you need to provide service or maintenance support? These will be important factors in choosing a system, as it should help you capture customer information, respond quickly to requests, and handle service-related processes to their conclusion.

Capturing data about your response times can also provide a useful internal benchmark and powerful marketing tool. Do you know how quickly you respond to customers? How quickly you address their problem? Most companies don’t monitor this information, but it can be powerful competitive tool when winning new customers and keeping existing ones.

 

Getting Reports and Insights

Most business start looking for a CRM out of frustration around reporting. It’s natural to assume a CRM system will help you get better reports, because it captures structured information.

Some CRM systems include basic reporting as standard, for others it’s an expensive upgrade, whilst some system will let you integrate with your preferred reporting tool.

Before you start, consider the key metrics that are essential for managing your business growth. These could include:

  • New Sales pipeline growth
  • Customer Repeat Orders
  • Margin
  • Marketing Channel Effectiveness
  • Service Response Time
  • Sales Team Activity and Effectiveness

Handling Your Existing Process

Your team will be very familiar with the current manual process they follow to manage your customers currently, as well as the terminology used. In most cases there is nothing wrong with this process, its simply the manual steps, paperwork, unnecessary repetition and errors that are not sustainable.

Basic CRMs will generally aim to improve the sales or enquiry management process.

Integrated CRMs (CRM+) can also offer modules to streamline and integrate other parts of your business your stock management, purchase order and after sales processes too.

Most businesses struggle with communication between the sales and operations functions. If this is a concern for you, consider a CRM+, which can offer Stock Management, Order Processing, Purchasing, Manufacturing and After-sales Service features.

No system will perfectly mimic your processes, unless you’re prepared to invest in bespoke software, so its important to first understand your process, and then to find a good match in a CRM.

 

Justifying CRM investment / Budgeting for CRM

If you’ve never had a system, budgeting for CRM can be tricky, however its is the return on investment that will truly help you justify the spend.

Your existing, clunky, error prone manual processes cost your business money. Count the minutes and hours needed to manage the process to estimate the savings a system will bring your business.

For example, if you process 50 sales orders a month, how long in admin time does it take to take a sales order from enquiry all the way to despatch?  If the average wage (in the UK, at least) is £14/hour, how much does each sales order cost you in salary alone? If you could cut that time in half, by improving processes, you’re instantly saving money.

In most cases the level of duplicated effort and time wasted copying between spreadsheets, document and emails alone will justify the investment. The CRM system can make your team more productive by giving time back to find and nurture more customers, or build better relationships with existing ones.

One important thing to remember:  most CRM systems are priced on a ‘per user’ basis, unless you buy a license outright. It can be tempting to pay for only the bare minimum users on a new system. However, consider the effect this has on team morale for those who haven’t been given access. Anyone customer facing has a justification to use your CRM, provided your goal is to enhance your customer satisfaction.

 

Getting Buy-in for your CRM Project.

For most SMEs, software is a natural place to go when faced with mounting paper work and duplicating effort. The monotony of paperwork, endless spreadsheets and copying and pasting, not to mention the missed and forgotten opportunities are all a great motivator to change.

As a leader in your business, how can you ensure the success of this investment in time and software? Firstly, ask yourself a few questions…

Does your SME have the capacity to adopt a new system while keeping the wheels turning? Have you considered the habits that will need to change to adopt new software into the business? Are your people ready for this change? Are you prepared to lead from the top and demonstrate how the new software will support the business strategy and achievement of its vision?

Start with the goal in mind: What goal will unite your team on the need for change?

Ask your team to identify the activities that slow them down the most. Ask customers what frustrates them the most. Share the pain points that unite you, your team and your customers and you’ve got your shared vision.

This vision provides the catalyst for change, and team buy-in for adopting software to make things better. But remember, adopting CRM or any other system is a both a strategic and cultural decision. And culture drives from the top.

 

Complexity versus simplicity – making the change successfully

Implementing a new system is a challenge for any business. Many CRM systems are offered on an arm’s-length basis with training and support resources provided via the company website. Others provide professional assistance to help you plan, configure and implement their software.

If you have had no experience with implementing changes, consider that you have the resources and buy-in to ensure success. If you’re confident with software, and learning new systems, you’ll be happy to learn and configure off the shelf systems.

In either case, the process will require engagement and buy-in from the rest of your team, and will be a distraction from normal business activities.

Therefore it’s important to have

  • Team alignment on expectations from the system
    • Benefits and outcome for the company
    • Benefits for individuals and how it will make them more efficient
  • Leadership buy-in for the system and why its important
  • Staged approach to configuration and roll-out
  • Plan to run alongside and then phase out existing manual processes or older systems
  • Regular review and reporting of results to reinforce the benefits

 

Take the first, small step.

As we’ve outlined above, any new system change can be daunting, so it’s important to have an ‘early win’ to demonstrate which the change is worth the effort.

CRM systems offer many starting points, whether its tracking enquiries, sales or service requests. One successful technique worth considering can be the management of inbound Enquiries. This is logical as Enquiries typically happen at the start of the sales process and engagement with a new customer.

Most CRM systems will let you capture website enquiries directly. This has two benefits. Most company enquiry forms simply send an email to the sales or marketing manager. This is risky as emails could get overlooked on a busy day. By capturing the Enquiry in your CRM, you’re changing the behaviour to monitor enquiries and track that follow-ups happen promptly.

This simple approaches means that you team start to use the system, and learn how it works whilst actually completing a valuable task. After qualifying the Enquiry the next natural steps is to move to the next stages of the sales process, and again this can happen in the CRM.

It takes the average person 3 weeks of consistent effort to make a new habit. Many people will complain about the extra effort needed whilst still doing the day job. So it’s important to show the value to them, and the company.

However you choose to implement your CRM, make sure you’ve thought about the best way to help your team build this important new habit.

Conclusion

There can be a lot to consider when choosing a new CRM. There are many flavours, offering different features, payment and training options.

The first step is to understand what your business really needs from the system and look for the best fit.

As you’ve seen above the cost of NOT using a CRM can easily justify the investment. It is therefore essential to make sure you are investing in the right product, and have the right plan in place to implement it.

A realistic sales forecast can help you plan resources, and spot problems, while you still have time to do something about them. Making sales forecasting into an exact science is always going to be a challenge. There are so many variables to achieving a forecast that is reliable, reasoned and realistic.

Do you struggle to be objective when forecasting sales opportunities? Strong relationships, warm referrals, gut feeling, competitive advantages can all give you that warm fuzzy feeling about a deal, yet how often does something go wrong?

The timeline slips, your influencer leaves, the budget gets reallocated, the business gets acquired, or just too busy. Alongside this, you’re relying on your sales team to be objective, not optimistic, about the steps taken to qualify the deal.

How does Flowlens support more reliable sales forecasting?

Alongside our user-friendly lead management, task, email and interaction tracking and quotation tools, Flowlens Sales Forecast reporting help you understand the decisions your sales team make about the deals they expect to win.

 

Define and quantify your sales cycle

Flowlens helps you define what your sales process looks like, step by step, and what makes a substantive change from one state to another. If you haven’t analysed the journey of successful sales, and the ones that go wrong, how can you make reliable predictions about future deals?

For example, here’s our sales cycle, comprising of 5 main stages. For us, first step is to qualify the need exists, and the company has a firm timeline, budget and authority to proceed. Next we use online demos and workshops with influencers and decision makers to validate how Flowlens will do the jobs they need done.

After validating the need and requirement, and reviewing the costs associated with the solution we move to proposal stage, however we don’t register a substantial step forward until we know we’ve been short-listed. A verbal or email confirmation marks the next stage, however the deal isn’t 100% until the contract is signed.

At each stage we assign a percentage value, allowing us to quantify the value of the pipeline based on probabilities, not gut feeling.

 

Visualise your sales forecast

Working all these calculations out and displaying them over time is something Flowlens does for you. So you can see how your forecast is shaping up over time, and across the stages of the sales cycle.

 

Driving better sales qualification

Flowlens gives you the tools to capture lead qualification information as the deal progresses.

Create simple forms that capture essential information as you move along the cycle. This tool will keep your sales team’s focus on answering the right questions consistently and ensuring they have clear answers. If there’s no clear answer, there’s no basis for moving an opportunity along the pipeline.

 

Track accuracy of deal stages, values and forecast close dates

Flowlens sales lead activity log tracks the changes you make to the sales stages, values and forecast date. How often has a ‘hot’ deal slipped from month to month? Help your team make more accurate predictions by testing previous decisions and learning against the latest hot prospect.

In summary, Flowlens provides user-friendly tools to support day-to-day sales activity and help your sales team work more efficiently. The tools help you manage more effectively, challenging qualification assumptions, and supporting an accurate forecast model that works for your business.

 

Next steps
Chat to a Flowlens rep or,

 

Flowlens works alongside your existing accounting package. This means you can stick with what you know (and save the money you’ve invested already), whilst adding a powerful suite of management tools to help your business grow.

Flowlens is a modular SME cloud software system that manages sales, stock, purchasing, production and after-sales service. Flowlens integrates with Sage 50 & 200, Quickbooks Online, Kashflow and Xero.

With modules starting at £149 per month for 5 users, Flowlens is highly affordable for SMEs looking to grow.

Flowlens helps you avoid duplicating work, and rekeying data. So, Flowlens integrates with your accounts software to pass through sales order invoices and approved purchase invoice data automatically. This saves time, and avoids rekeying errors.

How Does It Work?

All tasks associated with managing sales orders, purchases and stock movements/taking are handled in Flowlens.
You accounts package remains the master for creating your monthly and annual accounts, and other functions such as payroll. Flowlens Stock and Project reporting tools can also provide you with a current Work In Progress and Stock values to be added into management accounts when required.

Benefits of integrating your accounts package

Keep the system you are familiar with.

Many businesses have invested their time and money in an accounts package. By integrating with Flowlens you will enhance this investment rather than having to start from scratch as with most ‘all in one’ systems.

Minimise License Costs and Control Access to Sensitive Info

Many businesses try to use their accounts software to do jobs they weren’t designed for. This usually means giving more staff access to the system, increasing license costs and/or risking sensitive business data being accessible. By integrating with Flowlens your staff will have access to purpose built tools to do their job, limiting access to relevant information only.

Grow at your own pace

By keeping your existing accounts package, you are maintaining a solid and familiar foundation for your business. Your finance team, and accountancy practice will be familiar with your setup. Flowlens offers a modular ‘flow and grow’ subscription service which lets you gradually adopt features and add more users as required. This lets you focus on top priorities, without paying for, or getting distracted by less important features.

How does integration work?

As part of our Customer Success implementation service, we we work with you to setup the integration with your accounts system. Each accounts package has it’s own integration process. We take care to guide you through this process to help you ensure accurate and consistent transfer of information between the systems.

Learn more about Flowlens’ user friendly business tools, or Request a Demo.

Accountants! Do you provide cloud accountancy advice and services to your clients? Flowlens lets you expand the potential of modern accounting products. We’re eager to partner with practices who want to help their clients grow and streamline their businesses. Please contact us to learn more.

We built Flowlens in response to SME customers who needed an easy to use, ERP-CRM toolkit to help them grow.

Our customers may be small, but they think big. They make, refurbish, supply and service all kinds of tangible assets. From industrial plant & machinery, to ATVs, to street furniture, to intricate aerospace components, and even buildings.

We are proud of the range of industries and applications our product supports. But what’s the one thing they all have in common?

They all want to GROW!

They want to grow their turnover. They want to grow their profitability. They want to enhance their customer service.

Our customers inspire us with their vision and determination to bring their product to market. They energise us with their passion for their businesses, their products, and their customers. We provide the tools that reduce wasteful manual effort and nurture customers for long term gain.

Our customers have integrated business processes, but the old tools were disjointed, manual and inefficient.

Building a sales pipeline and converting orders. Managing production, stock and operations. Delivering timely and effective customer care. These are too often disjointed, duplicated and inefficient processes. Flowlens unites these business critical functions in one system, removing waste to create an platform for business growth.

Our customers don’t accept the inefficiencies of outdated processes and ‘silo’ thinking.

Our customers don’t accept the inefficiencies of outdated processes and ‘silo’ thinking. They demand tools that nurture leads, convert sales, deliver on promises and develop relationships. They demand reliable business performance information. They demand simplicity, because complexity slows them down.

Our customers may be SMEs, but their vision and capability is huge, and Flowlens provides the tools to achieve that vision.

If you share that drive, determination and vision, we’d be delighted to have you on board. Please shoot me a message at rich@flowlens.com or book a demo.

How to eat the software elephant in your business.

Considering a new software solution for your business? Across our team, we’ve worked on countless software implementations across SME and large companies. In every case the more you prepare, the better the outcome. Prepare and plan your procurement and project implementation with these lessons in mind.

 

Keep your team on board

Cultivate your peopleDifferent people and different departments will have a different outlook on changing systems in your business. You might be ready to drive change and achieve efficiencies, but is the business behind you?

Without team buy-in, short term patience and long term adoption will suffer. The change must be something that is worthwhile in the day to day work that each person carries out.

Some people may not understand how software can enhance their own effectiveness and help the company achieve its goals, but they will be aware of how their own work could be made more efficient. Most people will happily engage in a project that will give them more time for value-added activity, and reduce repetitive chores.

With most people working within a defined function, it can be difficult for them to understand the impact their work as on others. They may even begrudge change that doesn’t impact them, but has huge benefits for customers and profitability.

Get feedback and ideas from across the team and you’ll see greater buy-in.

 

Keep it simple

reduced-complexityMost of us drive cars that are sold in various standard configurations. This standardisation makes it easier for the manufacturer to make, so it costs you less. It’s also cheaper to maintain, as your service mechanic will be familiar with the car.

We accept this simplicity in buying cars, so why not our business systems?

When considering software, we’re tempted to ask for special customisation and changes that suit particular processes that have grown up with the business? These changes cost money to define, build and maintain, and they also impact standard parts of the software, potentially preventing access to improvements the developer is making.

Consider examining your processes to reduce complexity and variability. Then figure out how the streamlined versions could be supported by existing software workflows.

This will have two benefits:

1. The software can be delivered faster ‘out of the box’, so you get a return quicker.
2. Enjoy your faster, leaner processes! (And hassle free updates to your software in the future.)

 

Keep it bite-sized

Measure small stepsCan you eat an elephant in one bite? I thought not, then why would you try implement a new software system in one go?

It’s hard enough to make a change in business whilst keeping customers happy, and orders fulfilled.

Where are the most obvious weaknesses or inefficiencies in your business? Can you implement change here first, and reduce the risk, and free up time to tackle further challenges?

Often companies do not have strong purchasing and stock management processes. This function is relatively easy to bring into a new system, iron out the kinks in parts/materials coding, supplier lists, purchasing practices and goods received.

Another area is sales order processing. Getting orders out faster, means faster time to cash, but in many businesses this involves excessive paperwork. Making it easier for your sales team to secure orders, and you’ve got a clear success story to engage the rest of the business.

 

Keep your accounting package

You’ve probably invested heavily in your current accounting software and infrastructure, yet most software vendors have their own version built into their product.

Automate repetitive tasksWhether it’s a better option or not, you’ve no choice but to force upheaval on the Finance team as well as your Sales and Ops.

Modern cloud solutions are ready and able to integrate with existing software, whether it’s for accounting, marketing or any other purpose.

So now you can keep what is working, and tackle the core challenges that are really holding you back.

 

Keep your data clean

Single version of the truthYour data is the lifeblood of the business. Readiness for a new software system relies on having good data to start. Look at your business KPIs and understand what data is essential to you. Most companies are spending time and money recording data that is no longer relevant or useful. Many also maintain multiple versions of the same data in different business silos.

When you think about your processes, how much legacy data collection and duplication can you remove?

Clean, consistent and relevant parts, customer, products and asset data will make your investment in software more powerful.

 

Keep the customer in mind

What will make your customer happy? Probably clear communication, fast delivery, fair pricing and a quality product.

Are your current processes optimised around your customer goals?

sales-quotation-builderFor example, think about capturing customer requirements in the sales process. Waste and cost often creep in because inaccurate requirements have made it all the way through to production. Worst case, you don’t find out until the wrong configuration has been delivered!

Help your Sales and Operations teams to define available products, options and upgrades. Quote only what you can deliver. Process orders based on an agreed bill of materials. Build only what has been signed off by the customer.

 

In Summary

Start small, solve critical problems and bottlenecks: typically sales order processing, stock management and purchasing involve lots of manual effort. Address these inefficiencies and create time to address wider issues.

Focus on the targetDon’t throw everything out and start again. Modern software can and should talk to each other. Make your existing investments work alongside new functionality.

Standard work makes money – how can you take variability out of your business and actually serve your customers better?

Keep your team on board, focus on the vision and how you will get there together.

Download our free eBook “6 Steps to Smarter Business Operations” to get more practical guidance or book a demo of Flowlens.

There are steps that your company and your technology partner should take to avoid the risk of losing your business critical data.

Step 1. Policy

Have a security and information policy. Make sure that everyone knows the risks and make them accountable.

Step 2. Passwords

Ensure that company devices are password or PIN protected. Change passwords regularly.

Step 3. Back up

Back-up your data offsite and have a failsafe.

Step 4. Be succinct

Don’t generate or store more information than necessary.

Step 5. Digital footprint

Ensure your business software can track and trace changes and updates

Step 6. Review and prioritise

Review the situation regularly. Make it a Board level priority and view it as a competitive advantage.

Has thinking about how to keep your business critical data secure made you want to improve how you manage it? Read our articles below to see how you can apply your new insights in 2015.

Want to know how Flowlens can help you improve your business efficiency? Download our ebook on How to improve your processes and reduce waste.

Today’s business technology software vendors have learnt the hard lessons from poor practices and self serving selling methods of traditional vendors.

But how do you, as a potential purchaser, spot a new age supplier from an old age dinosaur?

Consult our good practice software vendor checklist below.

Tip 1 – Satisfy yourself that the vendor cares about their customers

In today’s world, businesses need partners who will be there for the long term. Software vendors will take the time to build relationships, understand the business and the processes.

They will work from your perspective, not from their pre-determined ideas.

Tip 2 – Ensure the vendor will offer truly tailored solutions

Modern software avoids complexity and confusion by mirroring your business process and information requirements. Your team will understand the software and adopt it readily because it talks their language.

Most importantly, modern systems should have a single data store, ensuring you have one source of customer and operational data, without all the duplication headaches, complexity and cost.

Tip 3 – Ask their customers if the vendor will provide value for money

Traditional software usually entails complex licensing costs, options and upgrades, and you’re paying for many features included in the product that your business doesn’t even need.

Today’s new generation tools deliver only what you want and need.

Has thinking about how to choose the right business technology software vendor made you want to improve how you manage it? Read our articles below to get more tips and advice on how to improve your business.

Want to know how Flowlens can help you improve your business efficiency? Download our ebook on How to improve your processes and reduce waste.

Technology reaches into every part of our lives. Most of us carry a small computer every waking moment, yet many of us feel challenged by technology when it comes to business.

If you don’t overcome your fears, you’re in a weak position and giving your competitors an advantage. You can be sure they’re using technology to win your customers and serve them so effectively that you’ll never get them back.

Now that isn’t a price worth paying. Here are three of the most common fears and what you can do about them.


Fear 1: You’re not a ‘techie’ person

When confronted with technology decisions, a lot of people say “I’m not a techie person,”’ and then switch off, defeated. They assume that discussions about software for business are technical and therefore confusing and difficult To understand.

This is the easiest fear to overcome. Think of the technology you use every day. If you had this same irrational fear you’d never answer the phone, microwave a bowl of soup, drive a car or even watch the telly.

The reason those everyday activities are second nature is that we’re motivated to obtain the value derived. The first time we drive it’s a nerve wracking experience but gradually we learn the basics, we build confidence and, before we know it, we’re off.

> Read How to source technology for your business in 3 steps


Fear 2: You can’t trust technology vendors

It’s fair to say that many technology companies have a bad name. They promise a lot, charge more, and seldom deliver on their promises.

Traditional software companies want your business processes to adapt to meet their software. Their typically bloated, expensive and complex software can be difficult for your team to adopt, resulting in cost and productivity implications.

Dinosaur technology companies sell systems that are often designed to work in one department, so you need to buy separate software for each department. This means you have multiple systems, duplicated data, and more costs when you want them to talk to each other.

Why wouldn’t you be concerned about buying a technology solution that could fail?

The good news is that the new generation of companies have learned the lessons of the past. You can choose a technology partner that cares about your business, will talk in plain English and wants to make a difference.

The new generation solution providers have lived, watched and learned from the mistakes of the past. Thankfully the underlying improvement in the technologies available now means that a new approach that delivers results can be achieved.

> Read 3 essential tips for sourcing business technology software vendors


Fear 3: You’ll lose all your data

Placing your faith in technology means that you are at the mercy of the security and robustness of your systems.

According to research 77% of IT professionals cite employees as the weakest link in cloud security. Unsurprisingly, in 2015, employee education will be a primary focus for 89% of organisations.

There are various good practice steps that your company and your business technology software vendor can – and should – take to mitigate the security risk. These included basics such as robust password protection policies and accountable security and information policies that are enforced.

> Read 6 steps to avoid the risk of losing your business critical data


Tackle your fears and allow your business to grow

  • Keep things simple – define what your business strategy demands and allow that knowledge to drive your technology requirements.
  • Be savvy – technology has historically been sold as complex, needing to be implemented and maintained by expensive specialists. This doesn’t need to be the case. If you are in control of your processes, you are in control of what you need to buy.
  • Buy smart – purchasing software shouldn’t be a one-off and it should be worth every penny. Look for a technology partner that can work at your pace, understand your strategy and evolve with you as your business evolves. A good partner will gladly help you plan and execute the policies and procedures that will protect your investment, minimise risks and take the fear out of technology.

Has thinking about how to tackle your tech fears made you want to improve how you manage your business? Read our articles below to get more tips and advice.

Want to know how Flowlens can help you improve your business efficiency? Download our ebook on How to improve your processes and reduce waste.

The process for sourcing technology for your business is exactly the same as sourcing technology for your home and personal life and can be done in 3 steps.


Step 1 – What is your need?

Instead of worrying about ‘techie’ issues like which computer and software you need first think about what your business needs, and then prioritise. For example:

  • Do you need to monitor sales, stay on top of production, ensure high levels of customer satisfaction?
  • Do you need to understand costs and profitability?
  • Do you need to generate more sales leads?

Once you’ve defined your priorities, the next step doesn’t involve technology either.


Step 2 – What are you managing?

In this step you need to figure out the processes, people and information that you want to manage.

On a whiteboard, or with pen, paper and plenty of different coloured sticky notes, lay out the steps of the process. Jot down what information should be captured at each stage, and who is responsible.


Step 3 – What are your KPI’s?

Finally, in step 3 you need to highlight the key information that helps you make decisions.

For example, costs, margins, volumes, lead times etc. Remember, they are KEY performance indicators so keep it small.

Now that you have a picture of your business process, you are in command of the situation. You now have the power to examine alternatives, without fear of confusion.


Keep it simple

Your business operation might require simple paper forms, a spreadsheet, some basic software, or something more tailored.

In many cases it is highly recommended to implement a simple paper or spreadsheet system to test your process, and ensure you are capturing the correct information.

Whichever ‘technology’ you choose you are in control.

Has thinking about how to source technology for your business made you want to improve how you manage it? Read our articles below to get more tips and advice on how to improve your business.

Want to know how Flowlens can help you improve your business efficiency? Download our ebook on How to improve your processes and reduce waste.

Businesses that innovate survive. Technology enables efficient processes and provides what every management team craves – a single, reliable version of the truth.

The world is changing and our customer’s demands and needs are changing too. Sustainability is now a core value that has taken hold in sectors across the economy.

Traditional ways of working do not support these changes and, as with all change, it is companies who stay ahead of curve that will prosper.

Accessing reliable information and having one version of the truth is critical to understand and manage the demands on your business.


Customers and competitors demand more

Impatient customers, eager for a personalised service, won’t wait around whilst your team figures out which spreadsheet their information is saved in.

They won’t wait around while you get your sales system to talk to your production system. And they won’t wait around while you dig out the folder that holds their spare parts list.

But customers will stick around for quality. They will stick around if they get a prompt service and if they’re kept informed and educated.

And they’ll stick around if they don’t have to think about the minutiae, because you’ve got it covered.

Meanwhile competition is fierce. They’re making better products, that last for longer and give more value. Planned obsolescence is now prolonged resilience. Customers demand it.

It feels like somebody out there is ready to eat your lunch, if you give them the chance. One little chink of light, and they’re in.

How fit is your company for the coming year? As the New Year approaches now is a good time to look at your vision, strategy and team operations to see what you might improve.


5 questions to help you shape your vision

A few moment of honest reflection on these questions can help you understand where your business is, and where it could be.

  1. Who are you, where are you going, why do you exist?
  2. What does utopia look like for your business?
  3. What do your customers want? How are their needs changing?
  4. How should you design your business to serve these needs?
  5. How far can you go?

Deciding on where you’re going is a simple enough idea, and its something your team can develop together, and then get behind.


Can your team deliver your strategy?

Strategy comes from vision. What skills do you need to achieve this vision? Which do you lack? Different people will own parts of your strategy. An honest review of the abilities and gaps in your team will reveal a primary objective.

Get the right skills on board to achieve the vision. Train up, or recruit in. Mentorship, Non-executive directors, there are various ways to develop. But focus on the key skills you need now to get your strategy started.


How does your team operate?

A team focused on a common goal, needs a common language. Here are some essential facts everyone in your company should know:

  1. What your business is, how you make money, what your biggest costs are
  2. What you sell
  3. Who your customers are segments, roles, functions.

Share this language across the business.

In addition, consider the following questions about how you operate:

  1. How do you actually do things?
  2. Where are the problems?
  3. What frustrates customers?
  4. What slows the business down?
  5. Where do you waste time and resources?
  6. How do you measure performance?

Has thinking about your business made you want to improve how you manage it? Read our articles below to see how you can apply your new insights in 2015.

Want to know how Flowlens can help you improve your business efficiency? Download our ebook on How to improve your processes and reduce waste.