Making the Most of Office Technology

By Laura Leist

Chris has spent the past three months preparing for his company’s new marketing campaign. The plan was sure to increase business from both existing and new customers. Everything was ready to go: the mailers were printed and the new website was up and running. Then Chris ran into a problem. The customer and prospect information was being stored in four different systems and the information in each system was different and sometimes was categorized incorrectly. Due to this, launching the new campaign, which seemed simple, became overwhelming and unattainable until changes were made. Chris’ company needed to combine all the information they were collecting into one Customer Relation Management (CRM) system.

While the information being tracked will vary from company to company, the one constant is that all companies need a CRM system, such as Microsoft Outlook, Act!, QuickBooks Customer Manager, salesforce.com and SalesLogix. CRM systems typically contain an email component, a calendar for scheduling appointments, a place to store contact information, an area to document the sales cycle, a task list and much more.

Getting such a system in place is only the first step in making it easy to store and retrieve information. The next is to determine how the data is to be “used” and what the outputs should be. It will then be easier to define the information that needs to stored and organized in the system. This makes the information useful. By selecting one system to store customer information in, categorizing the data and maintaining it regularly, future marketing campaigns should be a snap.

Here are five tools that will help anyone create and utilize a CRM system for all their contact information.

1. Make Time: The first tool is to “make time” to get your customer information into an organized system. One of the most common reasons that people have their data in such a state of disarray is because they do not make the time to organize it. It can be time-consuming, but the end results will save you more time than it will take you set up the system in the first place. What would it be worth to you if you could compile a mailing list to your customer base in 5 minutes or less to market a new product to them?

2. Personal Digital Assistants: With so many Personal Digital Assistant’s (PDA’s) on the market today, such as pocket pc’s, palm pilots or smart phones, you have the ability to always have information with you and at your fingertips. You can schedule appointments without having to consult with your planner or computer calendar, and you can keep track of what you need to do. These devices are capable of being synchronized with other devices, which will cut down on time wasted by entering data into more than one system.

3. CardScan: Many people collect hundreds of business cards each month, only to have them end up sitting in a drawer somewhere because they never bothered to enter the information into their CRM. An excellent tool for transforming business card clutter into powerful electronic data is the CardScan. These devices accurately scan and read business cards and allow you to synchronize or transfer the information to your chosen CRM program.

There are three versions available:  CardScan Personal, Executive and Team. The Personal version is great for the individual that travels. The Executive is designed for the individual use in the office and can expanded to the Team model that can be used by multiple people in the office. You’ll want to choose the model best suited for your needs.

If you have information on pieces of paper or sticky notes, unfortunately CardScan won’t read these, so you will have to do the data entry. No time for data entry you say? No problem!  Try the next tool.

4. Virtual Secretaries: “Virtual Secretaries” can help you with inputting your information if you do not have an employee that can help you. A Virtual Secretary is someone that may or may not work in your location but can do work for you virtually. To find one, just Google the words “virtual secretary.”  If this is not an option, you may wish to consider contracting with an on-site individual to help you clean up your data and get it into the new system.

5. Keep A Backup System: Don’t forget to back up your data. If your computer or server crashes, you can replace the equipment, but your data is not replaceable (well, at least not without a lot of hours to re-create all of it). So take a few minutes on a regular basis to backup your precious data and it will save you hours in the long run!

If organizing your customer information is on your list of business goals for 2007, be sure to choose a system that works for your business no matter how simple or complex. Also be sure that it is easily maintainable. Don’t forget to provide the appropriate training necessary so that employees know how to use the system and what type of data is to be captured – never assume that your employees will know what your expectations are. Once your data is in an organized system, it will be a snap to maintain and will enable you to breeze through certain tasks, such as sending out marketing pieces, compiling a holiday mailing to clients or sending out relocation notices. Most importantly you want to be able to put your hands on information and retrieve it when needed.

Read other articles and learn more about Laura Leist.

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