Info, Info, Everywhere
Written by: Ryan Flannagan
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Chapter 16: Info, Info, Everywhere

 

“We’re already setting you up to get a flood of requests, leads, and new business.”

“I should hope so. That’s rather the point,” Chuck said.

“Are you ready for it?”

“I should hope so. That’s rather the point,” Carole said.

“But are you really ready for it?”

“I suspect you’re building to something,” Chuck pointed out.

“You’re right. We’ve found that a lot of our clients find themselves flooded with information and requests for information once we get the profit engineering process fully online.”

“I should hope so…” Chuck began.

“Yes, that’s the point. But there’s rarely a faster business killer than getting the word out and not being ready for it. “

“True,” Chuck said. He nodded like he was remembering something painful.

“So you need to get ready for it.”

“How do we do that?”

“I’m not the world’s leading expert on that, but I’ve had enough experience to point you to where you should look and some of the tools that best help solve the problem.”

Information is the fuel that your business runs on, and setting up systematic profit engineering runs it on high-octane gas. But only if you manage the information well.

If you’re a sole proprietor or solopreneur, it’s possible to keep all that information in your head or in a personal planner…but as a business grows, the information load becomes overwhelming. Even if it’s not too much for an individual to manage, the departure of that individual from the company can become a crippling blow. And if it’s you managing all that information, you never get to go on vacation.

Information management systems are what you use to corral knowledge in a way that eliminates memory lapses, gives access to the people who need it when they need it, and prevents any one individual from becoming vital to the company’s success.

Each company has three areas of information management systems:

  • Knowledge management platform
  • Customer relationship management
  • Project management

Let’s look at these in turn. We’ll talk about what they are, why they matter, and what are some of  the best tools to utilize.

Knowledge Management Platform

Knowledge management Platform (KMP) is the long-term memory of the company. For a graphic designer working out of a home office for 2 to 4 clients at a time, it’s pretty easy to keep all the parts of the business operations in her head or on a pile of notecards.

But go up a level to a small team of designers with a dozen clients, and things start needing to get written down. Other things become factors that weren’t when it was a smaller situation. A (very) incomplete list of the knowledge such a company needs to keep, store, and have access to would include:

  • Processes for common tasks
  • Best practices for core competencies
  • Customer and project sequences
  • 5,000-foot view client folders
  • HR procedures
  • Employee data
  • Employee handbook
  • Emergency procedures
  • Instructions for complex company equipment
  • Training manuals

These documents don’t just help with day-to-day operations. They also eliminate the possibility of a single point of failure. Any company with an “ask Bob” knowledge management platform is in serious trouble if Bob gets hit by a bus.

“Ask Bob”

Almost every company in the world has a Bob. He’s been working there forever, but never quite made it above the rank of team lead. Sometimes he has an attitude about that, because he’s had seniority over his last three bosses. But he’s not going anywhere until he retires.

The thing about Bob is, he knows everything. Those new bosses come to him with questions about everything from how to put in a request for vacation to where the stapler is likely to be. Despite his low rank, higher-ups keep coming to him with basic questions. Almost every new hire orientation includes the trainer saying, “if you’re not sure, ask Bob.”

Asking Bob is efficient in some ways, and popular because it’s the path of least resistance. It has the added benefit of the fact that Bob likes it. It helps him feel more important and less frustrated with his lack of upward mobility in the company. Everybody wins.

Unless Bob is out sick or on vacation when somebody needs to ask him something.

Until Bob retires.

Unless Bob gets fed up and stops answering questions.

And that’s why asking Bob is a problem. It introduces a single point of failure to the basic function of your company. Without Bob, things grind to a halt.

So, with no offense intended to the Bobs of the world, you absolutely must replace him with knowledgement platform.

When I think of 20th-century knowledge management, I think of McDonald’s. If you’ve ever been in the manager’s office of any Micky Dees, you remember the shelf of binders.

That shelf had everything. There was a binder of checklists for hiring. One with checklists for firing. One for closing. One for opening. One for checking food quality. One for everything.

And they were there, neatly branded and labelled, within arm’s reach of managers on duty.

That’s a knowledge management platform.

The same sort of comprehensive system is common (and necessary) today, but the best ones are online. Internal wikis, Zendesk, and Confluence are three that I recommend to my clients as often as they’ll listen to me.

Jason: This was integrated from the 1st part of ch. 16. They are the same thing.

What Does Knowledge Management Software Do?

Simply put, knowledge Management software is your virtual Bob. It’s software where things people in your company need to know get put, which includes easy and intuitive ways to get the information back out when needed.

IBM developed a basic model for knowledgement systems that divided the tasks of knowledgement software into four buckets:

  • Harvesting and codifying information about the company, its procedures, and its resources.
  • Harnessing the power of people with a directory of contact information, positions, and expertise.
  • Hunting for information through easy access, indexing, and search capacities.
  • Accommodating the possibility of growth with cultural support, chat rooms, groupware, and other ways to facilitate teamwork and collaboration.

Whether it’s Bob, or a bunch of folders, or a wiki, your business has some kind of knowledgement system in place for all of those tasks. Knowledgement software puts it somewhere everybody can use it, so the people in your company can focus on their core tasks while still having the support of your institutional memory.

Best Practices

There’s no perfect knowledge management platform. It effectiveness is going to greatly depend on your company’s culture, way of doing things, etc. I’ve seen a lot of success and failure when it comes to putting one together. The successful knowledge management platform have all shared a handful of traits.

Successful knowledge management platforms:

Empower people to become active by demonstrably making everybody’s job easier. If this is clear and true, 20%-40% of your team will get crazy excited about it and want to contribute. That contribution will snowball into a general adoption of the system.

Give it an engaging name. This is weird but completely true and reliable. If you name your knowledge management system the “company wiki” you won’t have buy-in. But if you name it “HAL” or “The Almighty Know-It-All,” then people will use it and refer to it by name. They’ll even start anthropomorphizing it and giving it nicknames. When your team starts cursing at your KMP instead of about it, that’s a sign you’ve done this part correctly.

Integrate it into your corporate culture. Too often, somebody sets up a great KMP but nobody adopts, uses, or updates it. That’s wasted time. Put a link to it where employees live online, to make access easy and intuitive. When starting out, hold contests to make engagement fun. Some clients even put Easter eggs in the KMP to encourage general engagement and exploration.

Document how people are supposed to interact with the system, and encourage compliance. If your knowledge management platform is hard to use, or unpopular, nobody is going to use it. Instead, make learning the system so easy that everybody takes the time and nobody tells the new guy to ignore it and “just ask Bob.”

Customer Relationship Management

Customer relationship management (CRM) is not a new concept. Since long before software was a thing, smart sales teams had pen-and-paper organization and systems that tracked the progress of various leads and the performance of various initiatives and team members. CRM softwaretakes that concept and leverages the power of the digital age to make it a far more powerful beast.

Let’s look at the who, what, when, why and how of CRM software.

What Is CRM?

In some crowds, “CRM” is as much a meaningless buzzword as “SEO” — and has about the same number of unscrupulous businesspeople offering useless “solutions” surrounding those three letters.

At its best, customer management software is a suite of digital trackers tied to tasks for automated systems and human sales team members. The good ones accomplish a set of specific tasks that are core to successful sales and customer satisfaction while simultaneously enabling companies to track their sales pipeline in real time.

Who Uses CRM?

This question requires two different answers, depending on what you mean by “who.”

If “who” refers to people, both your sales and management teams will use CRM. For the sales team, the info from your CRM software is the lifeblood from which all of their leads, customer details and data flow. Management uses it to better direct the sales team, and to better manage the company’s financials.

If “who” refers to companies, simple CRM software is available even for micropreneurial and home-based ventures. Complex, top-shelf, 6-figure-a-year packages are available for multinational corporations, and something appropriate exists for every size of business in between.

When Does CRM Apply?

It comes into play during the second half of the buyer’s journey, after interested consumers become qualified leads. It picks up the baton from marketing automation, and provides tools that let your sales team give each lead laser-focused attention.

It’s also a constant presence in the sales department’s “back room.” There, it compiles metrics to both help you fine-tune your sales approach and make more accurate sales and revenue predictions for coming quarters.

Finally, CRM also applies to long-term customer relationships. It’s how you keep track of your growing list of clients so you can keep them, check in with them, identify up-sell opportunities, and generally leverage that list as systematically and well as you do your list of potential buyers.

Why Use CRM?

Customer relationship management has always been about tracking the progress of clients through the buyer’s journey and giving your sales team quick access to vital details, ranging from a lead’s potential budget to the birthday of that long-term client’s favorite daughter.

Digital-age CRM software takes that basic functionality and turns it up to eleven. A few of the most important benefits include:

  • Automated reminders and alerts when leads are ready for contact.
  • An integrated data dashboard that collates different aspects of leads and campaign
  • Easy performance metrics, analyzed from multiple angles and available in real time
  • Customer data available instantly, from anywhere, even offline
  • Using sales data to combine the tasks of creating a sales pipeline with accurate sales forecasting
  • Establishing institutional memory in your sales force, so lost team members don’t mean lost leads
  • Improved customer service via seamless tracking of details

How To Best Leverage CRM.

Like so many of even the best tools, CRM is only as good as the skill of the person using it and how well the system was setup. You’re not an expert on CRM (otherwise, you wouldn’t need to be reading this), but you can act like one by following just a few of these best practices:

Track engagement carefully. Your CRM software will keep track of what messages get opened, who does the opening, and what actions readers take. It will tell you which of your value-added content gets downloaded most often, by whom and at what times. Track all of these numbers, looking for the patterns that will help you discover your most effective marketing possibilities.

Personalize all engagement. Don’t take the lazy road and spray out marketing messages without first names or other personal details. Leave space in everything you send out to include names and/or titles, geographic information, or references to previous material you know readers have interacted with. This is the age of connected and engaged marketing. Live in it.

Make lead scoring part of your culture. Lead scoring tells you within a fair degree of accuracy how ready somebody is to make a buy. Include these scores in all your communications, decision-making, and prioritization of new leads. Train your sales team on what numbers have to exist for an efficient and effective close to happen. Make watching lead scores as valued as watching sales statistics.

Go deep, not wide. The epic super power of CRM is that it gives you lots of specific information about individual leads. You can use this to craft the ultimate version of target-specific marketing. Don’t broadcast a tangential message to 100,000. Don’t even broadcast a reasonably specific message to 50,000. Instead, you’ll drop a bomb on 1,000 leads at the exact time they’re perfectly ready to receive it.

Include existing clients. This rookie mistake is as old as business, I think: focusing all your energy on new clients while largely ignoring those you already have. Good CRM usage keeps track of everybody you do business with so you can manage and service those relationships.

Applied correctly, CRM is the answer to the old question of how to stop wasting half your sales and marketing money. But you can’t apply it correctly in a vacuum. Next, we’ll talk about some of the ways to incorporate it into your general sales system.

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation is a subset of your CRM tools. Though it’s not a system in its own right, it’s important enough to call out specifically.

  • At its core, marketing automation is any set of software systems that qualify and nurture leads without human interference.
  • At its best, marketing automation lets you provide prospects with highly personalized content of direct interest that converts prospects into customers and customers into excited brand advocates
  • At present, “marketing automation” is a buzzword that people chase looking for a hands-free, effortless engine to make them money. Used that way, even the best marketing automation system falls short.

Done right, marketing automation turns your website into the most valuable member of your sales team. It works all day, every day, never asks for holidays or weekends off, doesn’t charge overtime, and never tells an off-color joke in front of the HR manager.

Beyond that, strong marketing automation provides bankable benefits for your company by both reducing the cost per sale and increasing the income from each of those cheaper sales. That’s a high-octane, double-whammy, perfect storm of profit.

But Don’t Get Cocky

Those benefits only come to companies that do it right, and there are a lot of ways to do it wrong. Research shows that people who buy marketing automation suites rarely use them fully. They become overwhelmed with the system’s complexity and only scratch the surface of what a robust, properly leveraged, marketing automation system can do. That means the investment of capital and time pays off slowly, if at all.

To get the most out of your marketing automation system, avoid these rookie mistakes:

  • Fire and forget. Although it will complete tasks automatically, you will still need to test, monitor, assess and update your system. The perfect lead nurturing formula is a moving target, so you must adjust your aim from time to time.
  • Narrow scope. A surprising number of businesses that adopt marketing automation use it only for email. The best systems also incorporate social media, landing pages, time tracking and program management.
  • Getting spammy with it. This is the most common problem in marketing automation, and why almost 80% of people ignore marketing emails they’ve subscribed to. High value is key, even if it means sending emails with lower frequency.
  • Skimping on setup. Major studies in the academic and market research sectors show that most businesses that buy marketing automation never set up its most powerful resources. Learn how to use everything you need, even if that means bringing in a consultant.
  • Far too many companies lean too heavily on automated marketing and take resources away from lead generation and face-to-face sales. Marketing automation is a force multiplier, but a million times zero is still zero.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

Once your marketing automation is set up and working well, you can trust it to do two specific jobs better than anything else in your company: qualifying leads and nurturing leads.

Qualifying leads. If you’re using inbound digital marketing the way we’ve been telling you, your sales team should be extremely busy. They need to focus on the most qualified and ready-to-buy prospects.  You can set up your marketing automation software to do this via a variety of metrics.

Nurturing leads. What happens with the leads who don’t yet qualify for your sales team’s attention? If you ignore them, some other sales team will be happy to give them a call. Instead, your marketing automation system will use the same metrics it uses to ping your sales team. It will set up a series of communication alerts pegged to metrics and behaviors, sending content to leads to keep you  front-of-mind as a knowledgeable advisor.

The key here is to understand what marketing automation is good for, and to use it without fail in those areas without trying to shoehorn it into other roles.

Project Management

Last comes project management, where the work of the company actually gets done.

You are familiar with project management, or you wouldn’t be in the position you’re in. You probably took a class in it at college, or in your first job as a manager. You might be certified in one of the branded project management systems like PMP and Six Sigma.

There are many kinds of project management, from Agile to waterfall; regardless of what methodology you subscribe to ,project management plays an essential role in getting things done while on the job, in your home, or on vacation. If done correctly project management can help you project costs, ensure a quality product, and build a stronger company.

The 21st century hasn’t changed project management that much. It’s still the same set of basic tasks:

  • Breaking down timelines into deadlines
  • Attaching milestones to timelines
  • Assigning tasks to milestones
  • Assigning people and teams to tasks
  • Tracking time
  • Providing accountability

The difference is that it can now be automated to help your company run more smoothly and reduce quality control issues.

New project management features:

  • Client task assignment and review
  • Automatic milestone shifting
  • Task and/or project templates
  • Time reporting
  • Project financial breakdowns

A few of the tools I see and recommend most with clients are Wrike, Scrum/Kanban, Zoho Projects, TargetProcess and Mavenlink.

How To Choose the Right Information Management System?

At Nuanced Media, we value strong knowledge management so much that we make it part of our core services. I’ve looked at hundreds of knowledgement suites for dozens of industry niches, and only have one thing I can say is universally true of every single one of them:

There is no system that does everything you need it to do.

Some are great at managing lead information, but bad at handling policies and procedures. Others track financials and benchmarks well but lack a directory.

The truth is you’ll need to install two or three software suites, and then develop a customized system for integrating them all. Often that system can simply be an intranet site, but you will still need to put something in place.

Buyer Beware:

I have met 100s of people that have signed a year to two year contract and have been promised the world by some slick software sales man or woman. The reality of the situation is they will have to pay another 50,000 to 100,000 dollars to get the system setup the way they want it and then buy a tons of add-ons that weren’t included in the original contact. Be sure to layout exactly what you want before purchasing any part of your information management system.

I never promised you good news all the time. I only promised you the truth.

What Features Should I Look For When Making A Decision?

The top feature you will need for your information management systems is an API which enables you to integrate with other systems. I cannot stress enough how important it is that your CRM, Project Management and Knowledge Management Platform have the ability to speak to each other. That is because no one suite will handle everything you need, and you will need to integrate a couple of systems to create something comprehensive.

Other features to look for in any information systems include:

Knowledge Management PlatformCustomer Relationship ManagementProject Management

Information management Contact management Project planning and scheduling
Team Collaborative Reporting and dashboards Team collaboration
Accessible & Searchable Lead management Time tracking
Reporting Deals and Tasks Reporting
Easily usable Campaign management Project budgeting
Revision history Email tracking Billing & quotes
API Social media management API
API

You will also want to focus on a few key features for the kinds of information management systems you need most. If your CRM is strong but your project management is weak, you’ll need different features than a company with good project management and poor knowledge resources.

 

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