Friday, July 31, 2009

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.. or Please Help me Decide!

Ok, by now you kind of know what you are looking for.. you've done your homework.. you've found all of these great SaaS products out there - they are good, they are powerful, some are better at this, some are better at the other thing.. now's the time to take the plunge and pick one! Here's where things come to a grinding halt for many. Analysis paralysis creeps in.. this situation is very common as unless you're a compulsive shopper, you need a framework for making the decision. Let me see if I can help you advance a step or two in this process..

One of the first things you need to decide is whether this is going to be the stakeholders in making this decision and who do you need input from vs. agreement from. It's often very useful to separate the two, so you can ask both groups relevant questions. It's difficult to find a solution that works for everyone if you're seeking consensus. There are couple of ways to address that - one is by being keenly aware of agreement vs. input issue, the other way is by narrowing the scope of the solution to either do less, or work for fewer people. Latter will lead to proliferation of systems, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - at the end of the day the worst possible scenario is one big system that doesn't work for anybody. By allowing multiple systems, you're getting the knowledge necessary to then come back and either integrate the systems or converge them.

Some of the other important points in making the selection:

Does it feel comfortable? One thing that gets a lot of people into trouble is that they go by the specs to make a decision. They tirelessly check off feature-by-feature against the competition. The truth is, if the feature is any good, it'll be copied by competition in no time. Go by the feel. Is this the kind of system you and your staff can see yourself using day in and day out?

Support? Can you relate to the person on the other end of the phone? If this is a system where you're going to have to spend some significant time with tech support to set things up and keep them running, call ahead, get a feel for what kind of people they hire to support you. Will you enjoy this interaction in the future?

Frequency of the upgrades. This can tell you a few things - how hard they are working on the product, how aggressive they are at being the best there is, how fast they will fix an issue you're having

Customizability. Everyone's business is a little bit different. Your edge over the competition is how well you engineer the processes, how much better your follow-up looks, how you utilize the knowledge capital you've accumulated. This implies that customizability is a key factor.. the system is a platform and more often than not you need to make it your own.

Reputation and viability. The good news is that SaaS space has been relatively stable when it comes to companies going out of business or other

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Email with CRM or Relenta's European Cousin Funnela

CRM and Email are like oil and vinegar, like bread and butter, like Yin and Yan.
And as long as we're on the subject of CRM and Email working together, a while ago I covered Relenta and recently I discovered Funnela - it's European cousin. Both are web-mail clients with some basic but fundamental CRM features (like contacts and tasks) that are built into the email itself. Imagine pulling up a client record and seeing all the emails attached to it, or creating a task for your assistant right from the email.

So, with all these CRM options out there, which one do you choose (I'm sure you're asking yourself by now slowly sipping that latte)?
I think the rule of thumb here is this - if you spend most of your time in Email and you don't have products, quotes, funnels, and forecasts to deal with; if all your need to a way to track customer files and tasks associated with your email, I would steer you towards Relenta and Funnela. If, on the other hand you need those features I just mentioned, you're in the market for a real CRM (like Zoho CRM I recently covered)

Enhancing your email can be an empowering experience, let me know how it goes!

Bonus: if you ever struggled rationalizing the meetings and how they affect getting things done, read Paul Graham's essay. It's official - Paul is topping the list of the most insightful people I know.

9/16/09 Update: Funnela just announced addition of the Deals module, putting it ahead of Relenta in the friendly email-centric CRM category.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Would you like email with that CRM?

Watch out Salesforce!.. no, really..

There's no doubt that Zoho is building good products. But it's different when you you find a new nugget of new useful functionality almost weekly - this makes a GREAT product. The feature that compelled me to write this blog entry is being able to configure email within Zoho CRM. This bridge between email and CRM has long been a bottleneck in CRM adoption, as without a nice integration people would gravitate back to email.
Leave it to Zoho to do this right - you set up your email in Zoho Business and link to it from within the CRM. You now have a new tab in the CRM for email, but more importantly, all the conversations are now tied into the client files without needing to do it explicitly!

This feature only costs $3/user/month, which is affordable to any kind of business and does not require the kind of spit-and-gum integration that would be needed with (not to mention that it would be 10x more expensive). This feature, in addition to the amazing AJAX work they've done to make the system lightening-fast, makes Zoho CRM a winner in my book.
Also, I have a feeling that there's more to come with integration of their other office applications into the CRM.. Can't wait..

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Skype gets built-in Screen Sharing. Watch out WebEx!

In a stroke of genius or simply by stumbling into it, Skype is gracefully extending itself to the lucrative and real web conferencing market. Yes, Skype 4.1 now includes native screensharing.. and like everything Skype, it's EASY - just select the area on the screen that you want to share as you're talking to the other participants of your voice conference.

Why is this such a big deal? Think about it - if you've ever done WebEx or any type of other web conferencing that typically inolved going through a presentation, you know that things rarely go smoothly - installing the agent, wrong version of java, separate phone bridge not working, meeting details getting mixed up in multiple versions of emails... etc.. it usually takes anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes to get things going. With Skype - it's a natural extension of their capabilities utilizing the ubiquity of the client, built-in video decoding, perfect voice quality, and easy and flexible conferencing options.

So here you have it - you heard it here first - Skype is the new Web Conferencing sheriff in town - watch out!

Zoho Projects gets big updates

I haven't covered much of Zoho Projects so far as it's been sort of vanilla, par for the course. Not anymore! With the recent overhaul Zoho Projects gets useful micro-blogging, integrates documents, adds wikis (although wikis may have been there prior to the last release) and forums, makes reporting project time easy with time sheets. Overall the experience is very fluid and quick, and makes the app a pleasure to use. Project tracking features are not the most advanced, but above average, with task dependencies and GANT views. So, bottom line - Zoho Projects is quickly advancing to the front of the PM pack and now has a very solid offering here too.