Never before has it been so easy for small and medium sized businesses to make use of the same tools and technologies previously only afforded to corporate America. For a fraction of the costs that large companies have incurred to better advertise their products, manage their sales leads and balance their books, manufacturers of all sizes can now access key enabling tools and infrastructure via a computer and a web browser. Below, we’ve listed a few tools that we use and can recommend.
Let’s first examine Google, the widely popular search tool. In addition to indexing web sites, Google enables businesses to list advertisements triggered by key search terms. Do the advertisements work? USA Today recently cited the success story of Corrugated Metals, a Chicago-based metals business. Previously, the twenty-six person operation spent $40,000 per year advertising with Thomas Register, typically netting about five new accounts every twelve months thanks to the publication. But once the company started advertising with Google for $200 a month, new account sales soared. Within days, its initial Google advertisement had generated “millions and millions of dollars in sales.” And the results have continued, generating between sixteen and twenty new accounts per month for the metals firm.
To manage all of these new leads, you can look to an inexpensive hosted customer relationship management (CRM) application to manage your pipeline, customer contacts, and marketing campaign efforts. Previously, powerful CRM tools were only available to companies who could afford to invest millions in software implementations. But the playing field has recently been leveled: Salesforce.com, one of the leaders in the market, offers a free seat to businesses of all sizes. For even the smallest businesses, there’s now no excuse not to monitor and track your customer relationships and sales leads. And you’re not getting an inferior, application—a number of larger enterprises have turned to Salesforce.com and other similar hosted CRM solutions after scrapping million dollar implementations from enterprise vendors that were loo difficult to use and configure.
If tools like Salesforce.com and Google can help enhance your sales, lead generation, and marketing efforts, it’s applications like the online version of Quick Books that make managing the back-office more efficient―and less expensive―than ever before. For $20 a month, Quick Books provides a hosted version of its widely used accounting package that requires no software installation and can be used by any computer, provided it has an internet connection and a browser. The Internet version of Quick Books even gives a free sea to your accountant, who can monitor your businesses’ progress and identify opportunities or red flags in real time. Is it easy to use? We recently set up an account for a new business in less than fifteen minutes, and taught ourselves the new application without the use of a manual.
While the near-term financial impact these tools can have on any business is both quantifiable and real, there are a number of more subtle benefits they bring as well. Besides lowering the cost of entry to launch a new venture, we believe that tools like these will enable companies to get closer to the market, enabling more controlled risk taking. For example, if a particular advertising or direct marketing campaign fails to generate the right leads, it’s now possible to find out in hours, not months, and react accordingly, tweaking the efforts or redeploying efforts.
But there’s no time to sit on the sidelines and watch others experiment―smart enterprises will move quickly and take advantage of these low-cost tools before they become the standard. Launch Internet Explorer or Netscape and get started today.