By Danny Wong
Entrepreneurs have so many technological tools to choose from that it can be overwhelming to decide between what is essential and what is supplemental. Growing a startup from an idea into a viable company is much easier when you have the right software backing you up, so it’s crucial to understand early in the company’s lifespan which solutions you can afford to wait on, and which must be implemented as soon as possible.; Applications such as a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, marketing automation, and customer service software bear rewards in multiple ways, including increased sales opportunities, more effective customer engagement, and a better overall customer experience. But these just scratch the surface when it comes to innovative tech platforms that can help you achieve the ultimate vision of your startup.
All of these tools and solutions add value to a startup in their own unique ways, but it makes sense to begin with the most fundamental technological need that any infant business has: CRM software. Your success is going to hinge on your salespeople’s ability to smartly and reliably communicate your value proposition to your clients. Without a doubt, CRM will be the most important aid in this endeavor.
A CRM solution acts as a centralized hub of information for everything relating to your clients and your representatives’ interactions with them. It is integrated into your email, scheduling, and phone modules to quickly capture relevant information, and is accessible at any time. If a salesperson notes a customer’s preference, and this information is crucial for the next representative who interacts with the buyer, they can find it in the CRM database. If an order has to be modified at the last minute, any employee can easily look up the details in the CRM platform. It handles so much of what sales representatives and others throughout the company need that it can’t be overlooked.
Furthermore, a CRM platform gives you advanced reporting and analysis tools that can illuminate trends and shape your future strategies. They provide important context to what can otherwise seem like random sets of data and showcase patterns that can open new avenues for connecting with your customers on a deeper level. Your CRM platform, especially when integrated with your basic communication tools, will also be the go-to mobile application for your reps to fulfill clients’ needs while they are away from the office and out in the field.
Startups can benefit greatly by implementing a solution that can easily be integrated with existing tech tools to enable your nascent sales team. Find a CRM platform that’s flexible enough to scale with your company as your needs evolve, but powerful enough out of the box that your representatives will see fast results.
This software is most often the technological solution entrepreneurs think they don’t need as a small company, yet it can actually transform the way they do business. The disconnect seems incongruous—almost every business leader frets about acquiring higher quality and quantity leads. In fact, over two-thirds of B2B marketers routinely list generating better leads as their number one priority. The first place these marketers should look is in the direction of marketing automation solutions, which can help companies engage more directly with the prospects who are expressly suited for their product.
The holy grail for marketers is a platform that enables faster and more accurate completion of routine marketing activities, while at the same time maintaining the ability to deliver a personalized experience to each buyer that speaks to their distinct needs. Modern marketing automation technology has made this possible for any company that wants it. Startups can depend on marketing automation software to create and manage email marketing campaigns that are targeted to the most suitable buyers, and automatically track engagement with leads so they can be delivered to sales reps at the optimal moment.
Most startups quickly learn that they can’t rest on their laurels once they’ve learned how to consistently close deals. Making sure those customers have a seamless experience that continues through the sale and into the onboarding period and beyond is a key determinant in the ultimate success of the company. You have to have a customer support team that understands their role of providing ongoing value to users for the entirety of their relationship with your brand. In order to achieve this, they need a powerful platform that can help them prioritize and manage support cases, make quick decisions that will improve the overall customer experience, and enable clients to find the information they need from the first point of contact.
There are some tools that essentially combine sales and support functions into a single platform. Others focus squarely on the post-purchase support portion of the customer’s journey. Regardless, startups should look for customer service management software that is fast and easy to update, and offers a holistic view of the buyer’s support profile when accessed.
Social selling is a valuable part of outbound prospecting these days. Your startup needs to be prepared to make the most of your interactions with buyers in various online communities. The days of not being able to find serious prospects through social media platforms are over, and sales professionals must be ready with the information buyers need from the first point of social engagement. Shared knowledge can be incredibly powerful over social media sites, largely because buyers are primed to receive helpful information whenever they open their feeds.
A wide variety of social prospecting tools, many of which specialize in a particular function or social platform, now exist. Narrow, for instance, uses marketing techniques that are specifically suited to Twitter to help you build a relevant following. Other options monitor social conversations surrounding your brand. A platform like Chatter, meanwhile, makes file access and organization simple so your representatives can always quickly locate the information they need to positively engage in the moment.
As a budding entrepreneur, if you haven’t yet discovered that data integrity is paramount to your success, you will soon. The great benefit of starting a company in this era is you have access to more lead, prospect, and customer data than you would have at any other point in history, almost from the moment you begin gathering it. The challenge of succeeding in this environment is you can’t let big data run wild and expect to achieve significant results; you have to have tools in place to ensure the quality, security, and organization of your data streams.
Innovative data management solutions make it easy for companies of any size and configuration to segment, integrate, and ultimately analyze their data for use in value-added strategies. Integration is one of the most important features of these solutions because multiple (and often contradictory) sets of information being housed and modified across different platforms is one of the key drivers of data quality degradation. TrepScore is a data management and analytics solution that is expressly designed for startups, and it provides a cohesive data library accessible on a single platform, as well as analysis tools. Data.com is another powerful platform that offers enhanced integration and data enrichment. The engineers behind Data.com understand more data is not a replacement for better data, and therefore the system prioritizes access to high-quality company profiles and advanced account data.
Most entrepreneurs start out with a vision of how they want their brand to be represented digitally. In these situations, mockups or wireframing tools can be invaluable: They allow you to see what your vision will actually look like on a live site, without having to go through a full web design and development process.
When searching for these design tools, it’s important to think about what your specific capabilities are for the process. For instance, if you are design-oriented, you would probably prefer a tool, such as Moqups, that gives you a lot of options to unleash your inner creativity. If you find yourself overwhelmed by endless design combinations, a tool like Balsamiq that provides more basic options for structure and design might better fit your needs.
Beyond building a website, what does a contemporary startup company need in terms of coding and deployment? Mobile engagement, mobile engagement, mobile engagement: It’s so important it needs to be said three times!
These days, of course, apps are the kings of mobile engagement, which means companies must have a malleable solution for app development as their needs evolve. Apps are most effective when they are connected to powerful data and platforms like Force.com allow you to quickly build scalable apps that are integrated with your CRM data. Information accessible through these apps reflects real-time changes in your databases, and they’ll be optimized for mobile platforms as soon as they go live.
As a new company, communication with your customers will be central to your longevity. If your customers internalize early on that you listen to them and take what they say seriously, they will be more likely to view you as a long-term partner.
One of the best ways to demonstrate you are serious about listening is to engage early and often with surveys. There are numerous survey building tools available to startups, so it’s important to analyze your own need for advanced features and customization tools. Ultimately, you want to choose a solution that enables you to create a frustration-free experience for your customers and delivers precise results, such as Google Consumer Surveys or Surveypal.
Even if your company starts small, ideally it won’t be long before you have multiple teams coming together for a project that uses numerous resource pools. In these situations collaboration is imperative, which is why it’s important to invest in a project management platform that will be ready to deploy when needed.
Effective project management solutions—Basecamp, for example—integrate multiple functions, such as file sharing, scheduling, messaging, and to-do lists, into an interface. They also make it simple to track edits and modifications made by team members, so that confusion surrounding tasks is minimized.