Staying ahead of the development curve and being profitable at the same time is your challenge.
New technology simplifies and automates repetitive tasks. Do it badly, and you'll lose a lot of customers in a hurry. Doing it well requires good tools and good tools cost a premium.
Cloud-based Tools Are Becoming Inexpensive
Where once you had to spend upwards of 10k to get a decent eCommerce store working on the Magento platform, now you have Shopify or Lemonstand. £49.99 per month and you're up and running in no time at all. The development of Zoey recognises the fact that server based eCommerce is in its last throes by porting Magento to the cloud.
Shopify for the masses, Lemonstand for the posh and Zoey for those who fondly remember sinking tons of cash into their eCommerce website development.
These tools take away the upfront cost of developing software and share it across the user base equally, making it affordable for even the most cash restricted start-ups.
More people can try their hand at online retailing. At the last count, Shopify had passed 280,000 stores and growth shows no sign of slowing. These days students go into eCommerce as a way of supplementing their income and often drop out to make a go of it full time. It beats playing online poker for a living.
Niche markets are becoming less niche. Sourcing and purchasing products from all over the globe, repackaging them and branding them as your own is becoming common place. The world is shrinking ever smaller in front of our very eyes.
Branding your eCommerce store, giving it a custom, unique look is essential to standing out in a crowded marketplace. Building a mailing list and providing excellent customer service are “must haves”. But what's the next stage of development? What other tools can you use to stay ahead of the curve?
Up until now, Customer Relationship Managers (CRM) have been either ridiculously difficult to use or hideously expensive. Goldmine and Act were two of the classic desktop based sales tools that have successfully made the transition to the cloud, but they are hindered by legacy. The lack of REST API means they stand alone in a world of connected Apps.
Salesforce is great software, but the price tag is eye-watering for new start-ups.
What's needed is a CRM for the modern digital marketer. An automated marketing tool that can organise contacts and send emails and newsletters, capture new contact details and integrate with all your third party tools like Shopify, Kashflow, Stripe and other payment processors, accounting systems and scheduling calendars.
There's so much ground to cover here that any CRM start-up has to carefully manage the scope of what they want to include or risk doing it all badly.
That's when I came across Agile CRM. I put it through its paces to see what it can do.
First of all its free for up to ten users and the starter price is pitched at $8.99 (per user) which means you can afford it. The question is can you make use of it?
The only “hidden” restriction on the free plan I found after I started using it was a 1,000 contacts limit and a syncing frequency of once a week. Plenty enough to take it for a test drive.
If you've been using Gmail for any length of time then you'll easily have that amount of contacts and then some so before you start importing contacts from Google make sure your “my contacts” tag has your most important top 1000 before you start. If you haven't cleaned up your contacts list in a while then now would be a good time.
The whole subject of syncing contacts across platforms (Gmail, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) has been taxing me for a while so expect an upcoming blog post on that shortly.
AgileCRM is split into three sections: Sales, Marketing and Service. You can easily choose which section you want to be in at the top of the page.
Sell like a Fortune 500 company is the claim and based on what I've seen so far it's not far fetched. For a small business that wants to seriously get to grips with their contact list and make the most of it AgileCRM has the workflow process to make it happen.
Import contacts quickly and easily with the automated plug-in from Gmail. For your other contacts, you can import from a .CSV file and you have the option to map the fields how you want them. I'd imagine integrating with all modern platforms like LinkedIn is high on the road map.
Once you have a contact list, you can annotate with conversations, call notes and automatically track web activity.
One of the beautiful implementations is the drag and drop code for subscribing to a newsletter and contact forms (I use them on this site). Once you've captured a user through a form, they are subsequently automatically tracked as they navigate your site. Get complete information on the customer buyer journey.
Sync with Google calendar and schedule your meetings. Being able to give people a link to your availability and schedule a call is a great feature.
Create events in your calendar for sales demos and meetings.
Sales automation helps you track deals complete with stages and milestones to keep your sales process on track.
Add Leads, Tasks and Deals in the sales Automation CRM with one click from Chrome Browser.
Design custom pop-ups, sign up forms, coupons and surveys that are personalised for your site visitors.
Turn your contact list into a prospecting goldmine with automated newsletters, personalisation, A/B testing and analytics.
Track email opens and campaign performance with instant notifications.
Integrate social media into marketing campaigns.
I haven't tested out this feature yet because being USA based it integrates with their carriers/providers. Automatically sending personalised SMS messages would be a cool feature to have.
Landing Page Builder
Build customised landing pages for your products and track the conversion rates
Send instant notifications to your customers whenever they are online.
AgileCRM is a complete help desk solution with ticketing, service level agreements and workflows/campaigns. You can also use canned responses, and of course, you should test these thoroughly before using.
Using a help desk ticket system beats using Gmail all the time. Set up your Gmail to automatically route email into your new help desk and never lose another email again!
There is so much going on here that it's hard to take in even after a couple of days playing with it.
The main takeaway is that while it's still a work in progress it's developing at breakneck speed, and if you ever needed a tool that at its most basic would organise your contacts and begin sending out a newsletter then this is it.
Producing a large software product like this makes choosing what to integrate with and what to build from scratch extremely challenging. For example, would it be better to integrate the REST API with Mailchimp or provide a drag and drop form builder? Do you integrate with Zendesk or build your own helpdesk system?
The AgileCRM approach has been to make the basics from scratch and then integrate. This means that eventually, you'll be able to manage and track all your contacts in one place and sync with third party providers that provide better tools for doing a particular task.
The task for AgileCRM is to get as many users on board as fast as possible with a paying subscription to fund future development.
If you're a one man band struggling to keep on top of your eCommerce store and the day to day routine that it entails then you'll probably want to steer clear of this product. The time you'll need to invest in setting it up and making it work properly is going to be considerable. Free software always comes with the caveat that you lose valuable time finding out if it works or not.
If you have an eager protege champing at the bit who is tech savvy, then this product could be just what you need to take your business to the next level.
It's a brilliant product at an incredible price. Something you would have paid tens of thousands to develop in-house just a few years ago. A Chrome browser extension is also available that detects when new contacts need to be added to the database.
For a small business, this is a fantastic cost effective alternative to Salesforce.
Just be careful who you give the Ferrari keys to and create a strategic plan for all your email campaigns.