What's the determining factor when selecting a new business system? An interesting spread of features was highlighted by speakers on a customer panel in London yesterday. One unifying theme that stood out was the need for agility and speed — modern businesses have to move fast and therefore they need flexible systems that help their people save time. Hosted by cloud business software vendor Zoho, whose customers are mostly small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), the panel had perspectives from four different job roles.
Sourced provides finance for real estate from its peer-to-peer network of property investors, operating through a network of 36 franchise offices across the UK. For founder and managing director Stephen Moss, improved communications and more timely information across the business have made the biggest impact:
One of the key things that we were finding was, the previous system, we had isolated CRM systems per office. It wasn't connected in terms of reports, it could take us up to a week to find out what the sales were.
People now feel more interconnected through an online messaging and discussion system, says Moss:
It's really changed the business so that, rather than feeling like you're in an isolated office, you're able to speak to each other, be involved in the discussions.
As for reporting, Moss now gets a weekly sales report in his inbox every Sunday so that he can start the week knowing exactly where he needs to focus attention. A sales performance app from Zoho called Motivator has made a big difference by giving sales teams real-time feedback on their own performance and how they're doing compared to others across the business, he adds:
Quite simply we saw an increase in sales once we'd implemented Motivator, on the basis that people were encouraged to compete and obviously they were rewarded through what they achieved.
So technology from a management point of view, particularly the Zoho system, has really changed what we do.
The head of IT
Staying adaptable and agile are the key benefits for Simply Asset Finance, which provides lease finance for small businesses in capital intensive industries, such as agriculture, construction, manufacturing and transport. After starting out as a Zoho CRM user, the company has now adopted the full Zoho One suite. Having a single look-and-feel means that staff can quickly pick up new applications as they're introduced, says Technology Leader Daniel Palhao. That's important with a sales team spread all around the UK, he explains:
Sales guys in our industry are generally less tech-savvy and they prefer to spend their time talking to people. If the software already has the same look-and-feel and it's integrated, it's not different from what they know.
From his perspective, it's not just that he has less integration and change management to worry about. With a single technology platform, he also has a lot more flexibility in deciding when to roll out each module of functionality:
One of the things we like to pride ourselves on is that we are adaptable and agile, which means we always want to be able to react, and react fast. The fact that we have Zoho One means that, depending on what comes along, we can change our priorities for what module we plug in next.
The public official
Cornwall Development Company is a public agency engaged in economic regeneration in one of the UK's poorest regions. Anna Staevska manages its Business Investment for Growth 2 (BIG2) program, which aims to create jobs by helping to fund growth projects at SMBs with national and international opportunities. Just buying technology is a big challenge in the public sector, she says:
If we want to implement any technological change, even the smallest one, it may sometimes take months, or a few years ... We can't just go and say, oh, we like Salesforce, or we like Zoho. We have to procure this properly. We have to test the market, we have to do a procurement system that takes again a few months, then we have to evaluate and then we select the best value for money.
The organization, which is split into around ten separate departments that each manage their own program, is now in the process of moving from a complex spreadsheet-based system to Zoho CRM. One of the most important requirements is to be able to meet the individual data collection needs of each separate department while at the same time providing an overview of what is happening across the organization, says Staevska.
For us it was very, very important to have something that could have a look at the company as a whole but also serve the needs for each individual department.
The head of sales
LawBite aims to shake up the legal industry by using its digital platform to connect SMBs with expert, cost-effective legal services and advice. Like any digital-native startup, customer acquisition is front of mind, says Paul Coleman, Head of Business Development.
My biggest interest as head of business development is, how do I improve the sales process? How do I actually engage potential customers at an early outset?
The biggest shift that's taking place in any industry, from what I've experienced, is that by the time most customers engage with any business they are already 50-80% mentally through the purchase cycle. So by the time they come to you, they think they know what they need — and if they're wrong, it takes a bit of a battle — but the reality is that they're pre-sold.
One approach that has worked particulary well for Lawbite was a survey exercise prior to the introduction of the new GDPR data privacy law earlier this year, which provided a significant business opportunity for the company. As Coleman explains:
We used [Zoho] Survey, hugely, hugely successfully for that. It is seen as a support service by Zoho, I actually see it as a key sales tool. Over two or three various marketing activities, we drove about 7,000 clients through to a particular survey that we did. We had about 1,000 of those clients actually complete it and go all the way through.
That was our lead tool effectively. Most clients by the end of it were effectively pre-sold. Because salespeople are expensive. So it's a case of how do you actually automate as much of that as possible?