Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Thin Line Between Love And Spam

As the email marketing services have become more prevalent in today's marketing efforts, so has the ability for the common email newbie to become the next spammer.  Email clients intercept your well intentioned emails for garbage, folks delete others based solely on the images, and junk folders continue to get filled leaving you unable to successfully deliver your promotion or newsletter on which you have worked so hard.

So how do we battle this?  How do we make sure that our messages get to their intended recipient?   There are a few things that I will lay out here, but keep in mind this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting those messages mailed out and read.  Email marketing has become a science in itself, but it's a heck of a time to get involved if you're not already.
  • Watch your language -- Avoid words that spam killers look for like "free" and "money".  While you mean well, if your email has these words in it it may well end up in a junk folder, or even worse, eliminated at the mail server where no one ever sees it.  Some of the email services like actually have an "anti-spam checker" to give you an idea of whether your email will be seen as legit or spam by most filters.
  • Avoid too many images -- Let's face it, pictures are usually worth more than the words on the page.  That's who we are, we love pictures.  However, the tendency is to have way too many images which then become "marketing noise".  Remember, you want to tease the reader making them want more.  That's where you make those images hyperlinks to your web page or links to your product pages, really reeling them in.  Oh, and before I forget -- NO TEXT AS IMAGES!  Keep in mind; many email clients (Outlook for example) do not download any images until the reader gives it permission.  If you have very little text and all images (including text banners that are images), your email will just look like a bunch of empty boxes with red x's, prompting for download -- at that point, tendency is to just delete it as there's nothing to attract the reader.
  • Always use the KISS method -- Remember, the objective of your email is to lead your reader to your website, drop you an email, or even give a call.  Keeping that in mind, don't put too much on your email that they won't read it.  As readers, we tend to be lazy -- get to the point or end up in the trash in many cases.  You want to drop hints for promotions or articles, using the phrase "click here for more" as much as possible.  In a newsletter for instance, a few well-placed paragraphs with "click for more" at the end of each allows the reader to pick and choose which articles pertain to them.  The click through is the real success factor in email marketing as getting them to visit and spend time on your website is time that they did NOT spend at your competitor.  Back to keeping it simple, just don't put too much on the page.  Like the point about images, too much text, side bar menus, links, etc. can turn off your reader which is the worst case scenario.
This may sound a little overwhelming, jumping into a new area of technology always is.  However, this is not meant to scare you off, just encourage you to move slowly and surely into email marketing.  It's a wide open field and quickly becoming the most popular way of getting your  message out.  It's more cost effective them direct mail, and reporting on who's reading it, who's forwarding it, and who's not getting it is more readily available to you.  With all email services you can get these reports which are almost immediate unlike your direct mail campaigns.  However, just be sure you're careful before you jump or you'll end up in the trash.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

When Do I Move to the Cloud?

Last article, I wrote on what the difference is between the two cloud scenarios:  Full hosted web applications vs. hosting your servers at a “server farm” to get the most out of support, hardware, etc.  Being that most companies still utilize a client-server type application (they’re very hard to get away from) in some type of form, I’d like to focus on the latter type of cloud. 

Server hosting is a beautiful thing no doubt, but we have to be smart (as with anything) that we’re making the right choice at the right time.  In my travels, I’ve been to some really interesting places where the company’s server is housed in a very tight, cramped, dark, dusty area which we all know is not good for a server that’s up and running 24x7.  Dust and heat are the killers for these machines, and honestly who can afford to create a refrigerator style of data center where it is 60 degrees all day long, dust mats at the entry way, etc. all for 1 or maybe 2 servers? 

So, when do we move up to server hosting?  This is a very individual answer of course, but I get people to start perusing hosted environments when they’re just about to buy a new server.  You’ve seen the signs: the server starts to get real loud (sounds like a 747 is taking off from the backroom), shuts down every once in a while and takes forever to come back up, or maybe it’s just not compatible with today’s software as we move towards more 64-bit client-server applications.  Next step when you see these signs is to get a quote from your IT support person, whether onsite or outsourced, where the quotes can range (trust me, I’ve seen it) anywhere from $2000-$8000 for purchase, set up, and configuration.  If feeling brave, you can even go to Dell or HP’s websites and start shopping, but I know I glaze over as soon as I start to customize – I just don’t know all the ins and outs of hardware. 

To me, this is the first step in comparing costs in hosting or buying new machines.  While making those comparisons, some advantages of going the hosted route to keep in mind:
  1. If going hosted, let the experts choose the servers for you.  Chances are they already have the hardware and they’ll move you to a virtual environment that’s already in place, which is monitored constantly.  You may get your own server or share one that is split into multiple virtual servers (don’t worry, it’s secure).
  2. I’m not out to replace your IT guy, but with most hosting companies they provide their own support staff which is part of the bundled pricing.  Again, if you’re in good cahoots with your IT guy, arrangements can be made that they still do the support work, but maybe the contract price will be slightly lesser (there’s some flexibility here) on both sides.
  3. We’re a mobile oriented society now and it’s only increasing.  Smartphones, tablets, and netbooks are allowing us to run our desktops from almost any platform.  A hosted environment puts that desktop of yours in the virtual space, allowing for any of the above to be used to manage that desktop.  We’re no longer tied to the desk, but we’re at the mercy of bandwidth – I say let someone else handle the bandwidth managing up-time, speed, and security.
The above are just a few reasons, to look into hosting, but a cost comparison is necessary.  Go ahead, add it all up:  IT support costs, hardware costs, upgrading workstations, online backups, etc. and see how the numbers compare.  You may find that a per user monthly cost, while it sounds daunting at first, over the span of a few years would match out to what you would spend over time supporting your own internal network and hardware.  You’ll still need some support for your network and machines to access the cloud but it will of course be significantly less.  However, after all that comparing, even if the cloud is higher, the benefits of a hosted environment far outweigh those of keeping it in house, allowing us to sleep better at night knowing our “stuff” is in good hands.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Should I Move to “the Cloud” and What Is It?

It’s a question I hear often in my travels, where almost everyone has heard of “the cloud” and many have since become interested.  However, as with all new technology trends, it’s not an easy jump and people want the reassurance that they’re not jumping the gun in doing so.

However, for this article, I just want to focus on defining “the cloud” which I think is where most the confusion starts.  I could make a pun about things being “cloudy” but I won’t sink that low and insult your intelligence.  So, in short, I split “the cloud” into two different categories.  There can be an overlap of these as well, so it can’t get a little gray (see, another possible cloud pun) as companies utilize a mixture of both which is becoming more and more common.
  1. Web-based applications:  There are the completely web-based applications where most would like to go to but is quite honestly unrealistic for most at this time.  This is only because the applications needed by most companies are not truly web based yet.  There are CRM packages like Zoho, Sugar,, hosted MS CRM, etc., even office applications like Google Apps, and QuickBooks Online or Xero for accounting.  However, to utilize everything as a web based application where all of your data is hosted somewhere “up there” is pretty cutting edge, even for those that live on the cutting edge.  The hardware savings are immense here as no servers are needed, only good workstations with a solid internet connection.  There’s of course a cost for the applications, but it all evens out when you consider hardware costs for server and the support team.
  2. Hosted Server Applications:  So, there is the other “cloud” – the one where we outsource our server hosting, our internal IT support, and your backup strategies, many times renting space in a “server farm” in that you have your server based applications hosted elsewhere and you use Citrix or Remote Desktop Services to connect to your virtual desktop.  It’s a nice system actually and when done right can really be smooth to your users.  This is an ideal situation for those that use client/server applications but want to stop having to worry about their own servers or supporting those servers.  Many times the costs of a hosted system are far lower than monthly IT support, server upkeep, and workstations (a hosted environment does not necessarily need a powerful desktop to remote into the environment).  On top of that, what’s the value of just knowing that your server is in a secure location, being backed up by the experts, watched by a solid IT team, and being able to relax and do your job – not the job of an IT professional.

In the near future I’ll focus a bit more on how you’ll know if you’re ready and what some deciding factors are.  However, for now I just want to add a bit more clarity so we’re all a little bit closer to finding the “silver lining” – couldn’t resist, sorry.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Can’t I Just Use Outlook as my CRM?

Not to say that Outlook isn’t a great program, it has hands down become the industry standard for email and the measuring stick that we use when looking at other email software.  However, it’s just not a contact management system which is commonly misunderstood.

When I’m at client sites, I’m quite often asked “why do I need a CRM – we have Outlook which has a calendar and an address book?”  While the argument could be made that Outlook Business Contact Manager became a further attempt at making Outlook a CRM, it was close, but I think of that product as more of a tease to get folks interested in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

So, back to question at hand, what does a CRM give you that Outlook does not?  My take on it is two major items: 
  • The semblance of “who” and 
  • The idea of whether something was completed or not.

The idea of “who” your appointment, call, or activity was with is not always as hard to accomplish in Outlook, but we’re relying on the user to manually input that contact’s information.  What’s lost though is the stream of activities in a historical view where we can grab all that was done with a particular client.  This of course is the main idea behind any function of a CRM system.  Consider trying to find out all that has been accomplished with a prospect, lead, or customer within Outlook?  It just can’t be done without jumping through a number of hoops or giving a call to Jane down the hall as to what she’s done recently with ABC client.  Messages are stored in various email folders, and unless you were copied those emails, the private nature of any email client will keep that information a little too close to the vest.

That being said, we can share calendars in Outlook (if in an Exchange environment) which is one of its most endearing qualities.  This item alone is a driving force behind most companies making the giant leap from Outlook to Outlook Exchange.  However, the idea of whether you have completed all those items on your calendar is not available and thereby missing when it comes to management’s needs for productivity reporting, or more importantly seeing all the activities associated with the contact in question.  It’s real easy for me to see what I have to do next Tuesday on my Outlook calendar, and I can even share that out.  However, on Wednesday only I know which of those items were completed.  This leaves the rest of my team unable to know what I’ve been doing with Lead XYZ or ABC Company.  As I get older, I can tell you I’m not sure I’ll be able to remember which of those items on last month’s calendar were finished, leaving the whole company unaware of what’s been done.

It’s all about the information with any Contact Manager/CRM system.  The who, the what, and the when.  Outlook is great to help us communicate internally and externally in an email driven market, but to get the true picture of all client or prospect activities, a few quick entries in a true CRM is all that’s needed to provide that needed communication within the team.