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Thinking of Marketing Automation Software? Think Again.

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Thinking of Marketing Automation Software? Think Again.

You better read this first before wasting your money.

Marketing automation software is a big business. Lead by great companies like MarketoPardotEloqua and HubSpot, the marketing automation industry is forecasted to be a $5.5 billion business by 2019 – and for good reason.

These (and other) best-of-breed marketing automation applications offer a slew of features that can have a dramatic effect not only the leads your company generates but how your organization nurtures its customers and its community. These technologies work stand-alone. But most companies choose to integrate them with their customer relationship management (CRM) applications like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle and others to fully leverage their customers and prospects and provide back and forth information that can be used by all teams outside of just the marketing department. Read More…

These Are 5 Great CRMs For Your Small Business

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Research firm Gartner predicts that the Customer Relationship Management market will be about $37 billion in 2017. That’s a huge number and consistent with the industry’s past double digit growth every year since 2011.

The reason why CRM applications are so popular is pretty understandable. When used the right way a good CRM system will ensure that everyone that comes in touch with your business are engaged, marketed, sold and serviced. To be sure, these systems are nothing more than databases that hold information (contact, activity, calendar, notes, email, service, campaigns, opportunities, etc.) about anyone (customers, prospects, vendors, partners, influencers, friends) that comes in contact with your company. If your company has the discipline and the culture, your CRM system will become the core of your sales, marketing and service efforts. And, in this big data world, you will find it will also create a significant intangible asset in your business.

So is your business too small for a CRM? Absolutely not. My company sells five CRM applications and our clients come from all industries and range in size from one user to hundreds. Having said that, there are certain considerations you should make if your company has less than 25 users of a CRM system. You don’t need to drive a minivan if you’re just young couple with no kids. Same goes for CRM systems — there are some that are better suited to small business because they’re simpler and priced more affordably, with a focus on the features that most small businesses actually use.

There are dozens — literally dozens — of excellent CRM applications for small (less than 25 users) businesses. The below list includes five that I trust and run into frequently. All of the “most popular for small businesses” versions of the software I list below come with the functions that you would expect: contact, activity, campaign, opportunity, lead and sales management as well as email integration, workflow/automation, alerts, and mobile apps. They also (with the exception of GoldMine) integrate with hundreds of other, third-party applications.

My company, The Marks Group PC, sells and implements CRM systems and currently serves about 600 active clients. These opinions are MY opinions and have been accumulated over the years based on my review and use of these products as well as feedback from other small business owners that use them. Rest assured, the five I selected are all great applications and even the cons — I bet — can be overcome with the help of a product expert or consultant. You be the judge.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

GoldMine
(Disclosure: The Marks Group sells this product)

Price:
$2,995 one-time fee for a five-concurrent-user system (there’s also a 3-user package). Licenses are $695 per license after that, plus maintenance.

Most Popular Version for Small Businesses:
GoldMine Premium is the company’s flagship. There are also cloud and mobile versions.

Pros:
On-premise (not cloud, although there are cloud options) means lower long term cost and control over data. Strong contact management. Built-in email client (and Outlook integration). Fast performance. Easy to use. Strong partner channel.

Cons:
Older architecture. Difficult to integrate with other applications. Few third-party integrations. Limited ability to customize.

Insightly

Price: 
$12-$99 per user per month (free version also available).

Most Popular Version for Small Businesses: 
Professional ($49 per user per month with annual subscription).

Pros:
Excellent Google (Gmail) and Slack integration. Simple interface. Great video tutorials. Fast performance.

Cons:
No partner channel. Reporting capabilities are limited. Some users complain of “too many screens.”

Nimble

Price:
$22 per user per month (one version).

Most Popular Version for Small Businesses:
There’s only one version of Nimble.

Pros:
Nimble founder Jon Ferrara is a CRM icon and a passionate advocate. Very strong social media integration. Tracks customer “value” based on engagement. Searches across all social media platforms.

Cons:
More 3rd party integrations needed. Limits to customizable fields, views and workflows. LinkedIn integration limited due to LI’s relationship with Microsoft.

ProsperWorks

Price:
$19-$119 per user per month.

Most Popular Version for Small Businesses: 
Professional ($49 per user per month).

Pros:
Arguably considered the strongest Google-based CRM application around. Also includes a Chrome extension. Very easy to learn.

Cons: 
Still a young product. No partner channel. Limited number of custom fields. Data migration challenges.

Zoho
(Disclosure: The Marks Group sells this product)

Price: 
Ranges from $12-$50 per month (free version also available).

Most popular version:
Enterprise ($35 per user per month with annual subscription).

Pros:
Large user base. Very customizable. Built in e-mail client (and Outlook integration). Part of a suite of other Zoho products that includes accounting and project management. Strong partner channel.

Cons:
Overseas-provided support can be slow and unsatisfactory. E-Mail sharing among teams is cumbersome.

The takeaway: if implemented the right way, any of the above five applications will work fine for your small (less than 25 user) business. These companies compete and watch what each other is doing. When one company adds a feature you can bet the others will follow shortly. Every business needs a CRM. Your business needs a CRM.

The 5 Most Popular Business Technologies in 2017

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

There are lots of technologies available today to help you run your business. My client base is made up of about 600 small and medium sized companies around the country. From my writing and speaking activities I also meet with thousands of other business leaders each year. Of course, my findings are anecdotal and generalized. Some of my clients in areas like retail or e-commerce use very specific vertical applications. But from my discussions I’m finding that these five business technologies are among the most popular regardless of the size or industry they’re in.

CRM

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is the tool for your sales and marketing people. It’s a database – usually cloud-based – that has in it every person and company that touches your organization. That includes customers, prospects, vendors, partners and other passers-by in your community. When used well, it ensures that nothing falls through the crack and everyone in your organization is on the same page. CRM systems are used for marketing, sales and service management. It is the go-to tool for any growing organization. Read More…

The 5 Top Ways Employees Waste Time During the Day

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

According to a new survey released by staffing firm OfficeTeam, your employees are wasting up to one full day a week doing things that are not related to their jobs. Should this concern you? No, it shouldn’t.

The survey, which polled more than 300 U.S. workers and another 300 senior managers over the age of 18 who work in an office with more than 20 employees found that workers are spending 42 minutes per day – or about 3.5 hours per week – doing personal tasks and another 56 minutes each day – or 5 hours a week – messing around on their mobile devices. So where else are they wasting time? Here the top five activities: Read More…

Congratulations! You Just Agreed to Clean Toilets For a Day

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

You and I have something in common. We’re at an airport, or some other public spot. We want to go online. So we connect to a public WiFi connection. But before we’re given internet access we’re asked to agree to the terms of a privacy statement, which is generally a million words written in two-point font. You don’t read it, right? Neither do I. You and I just blindly agree and happily surf.

Apparently 22,000 people did the same thing recently. All of them signed on to a public WiFi router maintained by a European provider called Purple. However, Purple decided to play a prank on them. By agreeing to their privacy statement, they also agreed to perform more than 1,000 hours of community services over a two-week period which included cleaning toilets, scraping gum off the sidewalk and picking up dog poop. Read More…

This One Guy Sells 85% Of The Cheese Used By The Fast-Food Pizza Industry

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Ever heard of Leprino Foods? I didn’t think so. How about the company’s owner, James Leprino? No? I’m not surprised. And yet if you’re like me, you eat his cheese all the time.

That’s because Leprino’s company, according to various reports cited in in Wikipedia, supplies 85 percent of the cheese used by Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Little Caesars and Papa John’s. You can also find their products in Hot Pockets, Stouffer’s, Smart Ones, Pillsbury Toaster Strudel and even some baby formulas. The company is the largest U.S. exporter of lactose, and they operate in New York, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Singapore, California, Northern Ireland and Wales. Leprino Foods is a giant – the 151st biggest private company in the U.S. based on a 2016 Forbes study – and James Leprino, now 79 years old, is worth nearly $3 billion.

How did one guy build his business from a failed Denver grocery store started by his father in 1950 into a giant organization that effectively controls the pizza industry’s cheese market? Two words: innovation…and luck. And if you want your startup to succeed, you better have plenty of both.

For sure, Leprino was no dummy. He was smart enough to realize, back in 1958, how popular pizzerias were becoming and that there was a business opportunity to sell them cheese, says this report from Celebrity Net Worth. After landing a few contracts to sell cheese to Pizza Hut and Little Caesars (I’ll get back to that soon), he was smart enough to hire an expert cheese-maker and together they came up with a way for selling frozen, pre-sliced blocks of cheese.

This was a big innovation. The product allowed its largest customer, Pizza Hut, to better portion its ingredients that went into each pizza and therefore reduce its costs. A few years later, Leprino once again came up with an innovative preservative mist that solved a growing problem: it stopped the frozen cheese from crumbling when Pizza Hut franchisers failed to thaw it properly. Then Leprino figured out that the same mist could be infused with flavors, and sales continued to take off.

Pretty smart, right? You have to be innovative if you want your startup to be a success. You have to offer something a little different and a little better than the competition to win customers. You have to continuously evolve your offerings based on what the market is telling you. Sadly, that’s the easy part.

There’s something that’s as important for a startup to succeed yet much harder to achieve. It’s luck. For all of Leprino’s brains, his company would not have turned into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise without a good dose of fortune. What kind of fortune? Timing and location.

Remember how Leprino magically landed contracts to sell cheese to Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s? Actually, there was a little magic involved. This was 1958, for goodness sakes. There was no “big data.” Leprino performed no market research. He just decided to sell cheese to make up for his failed grocery store and because he saw that local pizzerias needed it. Little did he realize that within just five years of launching his new business, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars and Domino’s would also take off and had a huge need for his product.

Now that’s timing! But operating at the beginning of the U.S. pizza boom wasn’t the only piece of fortune that helped. Leprino’s company just happened to be situated at the regional epicenter of the pizza world. His Colorado facility – chosen only because back in 1914 his dad was used to living at high altitudes – was located right between both Wisconsin’s and California’s growing dairy industries. The shorter shipping distances enabled him to negotiate amenable prices below national rates. Another big break came when an executive from Pizza Hut – which accounted for 90 percent of Leprino’s business at the time – left to go to work for Domino’s…and brought Leprino’s products along.

There’s no argument that Leprino is a shrewd businessman. Even today, his company manufactures cheeses for the pizza makers from different silos to maintain each company’s proprietary tastes and ingredients and works with them individually to improve their products. He’s managed to keep the lion’s share of a giant market and passes down the cost savings he gains from his size to his customers. According to the Celebrity Net Worth article, he’s a “modest guy” who is “more likely to fix things around his houses himself rather than call a repairman. He is also a very devout Catholic who donates money to charities anonymously.” That’s important. People like to do business with good people.

But the fact is this: innovation and hard work are not the only factors for success. I’ve met plenty of smart, innovative and hardworking people over the past twenty years who started up businesses that never seemed to get off the ground. You can always point to many different reasons. But to me, there’s always one. Call it luck, fortune or timing, your business isn’t going to truly succeed without it.

If You’re A Plus-Size Woman, I’ve Got Some Good Fashion News For You

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

When it comes to buying clothes, plus-size women – who are generally defined as women who wear clothes sized 14 or larger – have many challenges. Choices are limited. The quality of products is oftentimes inferior. But the biggest problem is fit.

The fact is that clothes for larger women just don’t seem to fit very well, and according to a recent Fast Company article, this was confirmed by research that showed that 77 percent of plus-size women can’t find clothing that fits well and 73 percent say sizing is inconsistent across brands. Why? Some believe that manufacturers are using models that are not scaled proportionally. But there’s another, even bigger problem: the changing bodies of customers. Read More…