While attending an event we put on with a local charity, I was impressed with the difference that seemingly minor things can make in someone’s life. I was proud of the contribution and effort that our employees put into the event and the dedication the nonprofit showed for its mission.
The event made me think about the business community and all of the wonderful things companies do for those in need. Take the recent destruction from Hurricane Sandy as an example. Businesses have pledged more than $90 million in assistance, two-thirds of which was monetary donations to organizations like the American Red Cross.
While companies give back in as many ways as possible, even during these difficult economic times, I was wondering if there wasn’t more that could be done in our local communities. Not every effort has to always include a financial component.
Here are some nonfinancial ways to give back in addition to what you already do for the community:
- Give more time. Some organizations have a greater need for man-hours in addition to financial backing. Your business may already give generously on the financial side, but maybe your favorite charity could use a labor boost as well. Nationally, about 35 percent of companies have some sort of formal volunteer program. Consider donating employee time to help out with a big project or basic cleaning and organizing.
- Offer advice. You probably already serve on one or more boards for a nonprofit, but there is always another charity out there that could use your help. You don’t have to become a full-fledged board member, but you can offer advice as needed to help the existing members navigate through a problem that plays to your strengths. If the nonprofit is looking for a board member and you don’t have the time, help it find the right person by making a recommendation or referral.
- Hire nontraditional employees. One way of giving back to the community is helping others help themselves. There are many skilled employees with either physical or mental disabilities that could be a great addition to your company if given the chance. When you have a job opening, make sure you are considering all candidates, including those from nontraditional backgrounds.
- Do pro bono work. If you can provide a service that a nonprofit needs, consider donating it. Marketing, printing, IT services — basically anything an office needs is probably something a charity could use. Find out what the nonprofit could use, then figure out a way to help out. Even if your company can’t help, maybe you know someone else who can.
In this season of giving, it’s not hard to find a worthy cause. There’s also no question that you and your company have most likely already given a lot, assuming you are in a position to do so. But there’s an old question that asks, “How much charity is enough?” The answer is easy: Just a little more.
Take the time to evaluate whether you can do just a little more than what you are already doing to make an even bigger difference.
If you are in search of a worthy cause, consider donating to The Pillar Fund, a donor-advised fund administered through the Cleveland Foundation. For more information, contact Dustin Klein at email@example.com.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Salary negotiations can be one of the most challenging facets of the hiring process.
“Salary negotiations don’t exist in a bubble, whether you are interviewing for a new job or looking for a salary increase at your current job,” says Shauna Muldrow, payroll coordinator at Ashton Staffing. “Salary negotiation windows exist from the time you offer a job to a candidate until the candidate accepts the job.”
Smart Business spoke with Muldrow about the ins and outs of a successful salary negotiation for both sides — employer and employee.
What are some key factors to understand about salary negotiations and employee compensation?
Some key factors are the level of the position within your company, the skills and experience needed for the job, the fair market value for the job and the salary range for the job within your geographic area. Employers’ budgets are also a contributing factor in salary negotiations. You should align pay with organizational goals; make sure that the performance you are rewarding supports the organization’s mission and goals. Ensure the compensation system is procedurally fair.
Lastly, implement an excellent and measurable pay schedule. No compensation system can succeed without a clear, concise and comprehensive pay schedule.
What are some best practices for salary negotiations with new hires?
There are a variety of factors that determine which employee benefits a company offers. A company should view benefit packages as part of the total compensation of an employee. There are mandatory benefits such as unemployment and some optional benefits such as health insurance and paid vacations. A few practices for new hire salary negotiations are:
• Friendly approach — Your goal is for everyone to be on the same team. Approach the process that way from the beginning.
• Prepare — You risk offering too little or too much if you go in unprepared.
• Other options — If you simply cannot increase the amount of the salary, consider adding a few perks. Sometimes, something as simple as a gym membership may be enough to bring a desired candidate onboard.
• Honesty — If the candidate is an absolute superstar and you do not want to risk losing that person to the competition, make your best offer up front.
How should employers handle negotiations with existing top performers? Is this any different from new hire negotiations?
Yes, it is different from new hire negotiations. Negotiating a salary increase requires research, industry analysis, knowledge of economic trends and professionalism. You should review your company policies concerning compensation and benefits. Schedule employee meetings during a time when you can devote your full attention to an employee seeking a salary increase. Let the employee fully state his or her case for an increase. Present the company’s position on pay practices, using your research and expertise to support the company’s compensation structure. At some point, a factor in salary negotiation should be a sense of fair play. Both sides — you and your employee — should feel as if they have won.
What common mistakes do many employers make and how can they mitigate them?
A couple common mistakes made by employers are:
• Lack of documentation, and failure to document promptly and accurately. Pay attention to preparing every document regarding warnings, complaints and disciplinary action. The document should include the date it was created, the name and signatures.
• Policy issues. Employers should always follow company policies and standards.
• The failure to conduct adequate background checks on potential employees. Make sure you have a complete background.
• Ethical problems, such as the failure to appropriately evaluate employee performance. Make sure your assessment of your employees is accurate.
A great way to avoid these mistakes is to follow policies and standards. Keep a hard copy or electronic file on all employees and uphold ethical standards of behavior in all situations.
In today’s economy, what role are nonmonetary compensation packages playing and how can you make them work best for your company?
Nonmonetary incentives are proving themselves as much more effective tools in the workplace. A small startup, for example, might offer you a smaller salary but could instead offer you a nonmonetary option. Nonmonetary incentives have been used to reward employees for their good work by providing opportunities for training, flexible work schedules and improved work environments.
You can make nonmonetary incentives work best by using one of the most effective incentives: Praise is a powerful motivator.
What should you tell employees who are unhappy with their final salary?
Compensation is one of the major ways companies attract and keep employees. When a company no longer can provide a salary that satisfies an employee, it is best that the managers deal with the employee’s unhappiness directly. Once the employee comes to understand the company’s position, he or she may be less likely to vent the grievance to other employees.
Explain in detail how the company came to its salary decision and what the employee can do, if anything, to earn a bonus or salary increase. Provide positive feedback for the employee when it is appropriate. Being unhappy with pay sometimes is symptomatic of feeling underappreciated. Recognizing the employee’s talents and efforts will help them feel like the positive work atmosphere compensates for the salary. You should also encourage your employees more, restore trust in your employees and take an interest in your employees’ development, as well as keep employees in the loop as to what is going on.
SHAUNA MULDROW is the payroll coordinator at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (678) 359-3786 or email@example.com.
Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton
Leaders rely on people at all levels to provide essential contributions to company decisions. Yet real people have flaws. Information and decisions can get filtered, even in good faith ways, on their way through the company power structure to leaders. Understanding this human phenomenon can help leaders avoid its pitfalls.
Fear and survival
Scientists refer to survival as the organizing principle of the brain. When our brain perceives a threat to survival, it triggers a fear reaction. This reaction gave primitive humans a better chance of staying alive. Humans who lived on passed these traits to future generations.
Although the fear reaction is essential to our survival, in modern humans it can also be disruptive. That’s because our brain triggers a mostly unconscious reaction to its perception of threats. Under this condition, the brain loses its ability to correctly interpret subtle clues from the environment, reverts to familiar behaviors, loses some of its ability to perceive relationships and patterns, and tends to overreact in a phobic way.
The following are some examples.
? Fairness: Fairness matters to humans, so the brain perceives unfairness as a threat. It can be so powerful that some people are willing to fight or die for causes involving justice, fairness and equality. When this occurs in the workplace, employees may unknowingly reject new facts or select and use data in a self-serving way in order to “restore fairness.”
? Ambiguity: When our brain perceives uncertainty or confusion, the fear reaction is aroused. It’s like having your computer freeze. Until it’s resolved, it’s difficult to focus on other things. Uncertainty registers as something that must be corrected and people may see patterns in random data where none exist or underestimate their own shortcomings as the brain attempts to “feel comfortable again.”
? Control: The degree of perceived control determines if a fear reaction will be triggered. For example, not being able to exercise routine decisions without perceived overinvolvement of a supervisor can easily generate fear. Then we may unknowingly defend decisions made solely on snap judgments or subconsciously conform our thinking to that of the group. It can develop into a problem that impacts creativity and innovation.
? Trust: The quality of decisions depends on healthy relationships. In the brain, each time we interact, we unconsciously make a quick friend-or-foe distinction depending on the context. When the person is perceived as competition, survival circuits may be triggered. Spinning and/or withholding information from the next level of management are a few of the possible results.
? Social status: We are biologically predisposed to threats to our social status in the workplace as part of our survival programming. As a result, supervisors may have the nonconscious tendency to marginalize people who disagree with them. Similarly, people may avoid disrupting group beliefs if it serves to improve their social status.
As you can see, each day at work is filled with moments of perceived survival. When reactions occur, people are just not in touch with their thinking. It can unknowingly affect fact gathering, analysis, insights, judgments, decisions and performance. Personal strategies may be obscure and not apparent even to those who are using them.
Using this insight to improve results requires two things: No. 1, it requires employees to understand how human tendencies can impact their decisions, and No. 2, it requires management to set the tone by encouraging objective self-assessment of these nonconscious filters and candid communications throughout the organization.
Most important decisions rely on at least some subjective input by humans. To improve performance, leaders must take responsibility for creating an organization that is in touch with its thinking. Only then can we step out of the thousands of years of collective human conditioning and improve the quality of our decisions. <<
Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is a consultant, the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” and the owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. For more information, visit www.curecorporatestupidity.
For most of its first decade of its existence, Cbeyond Inc. was a growth machine, achieving double-digit revenue advancements year after year. But four years ago, the IT telecommunications firm’s growth engine was stalled by a double dose of bad news: the onset of the recession and an incursion by cable companies at the low end of Cbeyond’s market. This malignant combination began to smother Cbeyond’s year-over-year growth rate, which gradually fell into low single digits.
“Our customers are small businesses, and the recession was tough on them,” CEO Jim Geiger says. “Many of them went out of business. The incidence of financial default and bankruptcy was significant over the past several years.
“Also, a lot of these folks are Subchapter S corporations. Their income flows to them personally, so they’re very concerned about all the uncertainty and the issues surrounding their tax liabilities. All of these things that have become political fodder of late are very real around the kitchen tables of our customers.”
The emergence of cable companies as players in the market has exacerbated Cbeyond’s recession-fed slowdown.
“That’s the other aspect that has been difficult for us: the emergence of cable as a competitor,” Geiger says. “I hesitate to say ‘competitor’ because cable only competes with us at the lowest end of our market. But at that end of our market, they have been very effective and have caused us to react.”
Gradually, the twin challenge of the recession and the cable companies’ encroachment started sending trouble signals to Geiger and his leadership team.
“Our incidence of business failure in our base started increasing, and the cancellations due to financial duress in that time frame literally doubled,” Geiger says. “Our bad debt expense has increased. And while we still have a very small churn rate — in the neighborhood of 1.5 percent of our customers per month — it used to be only 1 percent. And just about all of that increase in churn has been because of increased business failures and business contractions.”
Alarmed by the slowdown in growth, Geiger and his leadership team started looking for ways to turn the trend around. And throughout the last two years, as a new technological opportunity began to materialize, they shifted their company’s business strategy to capitalize on it.
Adjust and adapt
Geiger and his team realized that Cbeyond would need to change and adapt in order to get the company’s growth rate back on track. Some of the changes they made were small and incremental: running Cbeyond in a more lean, cautious fashion; competing more on price; and introducing greater flexibility in the company’s product and service offerings.
“Those are some adjustments we made to our core business, adjusting as any business would, and we continue to focus on them,” Geiger says. “We’re conservatively capitalized, and we don’t have any debt, so this slowdown never threatened our future. It just threatened the fairly gaudy growth rates that we had experienced for most of our history.”
One other change Cbeyond made was more substantial, however: It started offering cloud-based telecommunications and computing services.
“In that same time frame, about 2010, technology took a leap forward and virtualization became economical,” Geiger says. “Along with greater bandwidth and access rates, this allowed us to start focusing on a different piece of the marketplace. This was exciting to us. Of course you’ve heard the overused phrases ‘cloud computing’ and ‘cloud services.’ Everybody wants to be offering cloud services today. But, indeed, we are.”
Geiger explains Cbeyond’s move into the realm of cloud-based technology in terms of “boxes.”
“It’s as simple as this,” he says. “There are boxes that companies — small businesses as well as large ones — used to have on their premises. When I say boxes, it may have been a firewall, it may have been a PBX [private branch exchange] or a key phone system, it may have been a server that ran some piece of their company’s automation.
“But now these boxes can be housed in a data center out on the Internet, if you will — out in the cloud. And we recognized this as a very natural strategic extension for us.”
One benefit of extending its business into the cloud is that Cbeyond is now attracting a different breed of customer: businesses that are slightly more, as Geiger terms them, “upmarket.”
“With companies that have a real technology dependence, if they don’t have access to their systems, they’re basically out of business,” Geiger says. “Professional service firms, doctors and dentists — who happen to be two of our biggest verticals — as well as attorneys, accountants, small manufacturing — these are companies that really depend on technology. They have knowledge workers. In many cases, they have multiple locations or at least remote workers. And they are willing to outsource. So we’re able to come in now with our new products and channels and offer a much broader package of capabilities to our customers.”
Cbeyond’s new set of offerings is also attracting larger companies with greater revenue and more employees as prospective customers.
“We’re now able to access a larger wallet of spending capacity of these slightly larger customers,” Geiger says. “Whereas our average customer used to have 12 employees, our new customer has somewhere in the 20s. And these newer customers have been growing, so I would say probably that average will end up being about 30 employees.”
The result of these changes is a redefined, repositioned Cbeyond. The company, which was launched in 1999 as a small group of entrepreneurs to solve technology problems for other entrepreneurs by providing them with basic IT and communications packages, is now a cloud-based, broadband Internet, Web-hosting telecommunications firm with 2,000 employees and projected 2012 revenue of $485 million.
Additionally, Cbeyond now has offices in 14 markets across the United States and four data centers in Atlanta, Louisville, Dallas and Las Vegas.
“The positioning of the company is really a lot different now than it had been,” Geiger says. “In the past, we had really good, broad solutions for a rather simple bundle of communication services. Now we’re a much more rich service provider in technology services.
“Our positioning now is to be a technology ally for small businesses. We’ll do the hard stuff, the heavy lifting: make sure that your data is always available to you, that it’s accessible over an adequate piece of bandwidth, that it’s up and running 24/7, that it’s protected, that there aren’t any viruses, that the operating systems of the servers and devices are all up-to-date and patched. We’re really acting almost as an outsourced CIO to our small-business customers.”
To get itself moving toward that goal, Cbeyond did a great deal of research to determine what types of cloud-based products and services it should offer its customers.
“While we knew that this was the direction we were going in, we weren’t so certain about which specific product offerings our small businesses would be interested in buying,” Geiger says. “So we did a ton of primary research. We talked to about 7,500 small businesses, both existing and prospective customers. We gathered a bunch of data, and then we went to work developing products to satisfy what we understood the market to be.”
Two of the primary results of all that research are Cbeyond’s new TotalCloud Phone System and TotalCloud Data Center. Both products are aimed at giving small-business customers greater flexibility in concentrating on their core business operations and not having to directly concern themselves with the operation of their communications and IT systems.
“The TotalCloud Phone System gives our customers the ability to have remote workers anywhere, with many different types of phones, and it gives them all of the same types of phone capabilities they would have if they were on a phone system in the same building — four-digit dialing to co-workers, transfer, etc., etc.,” Geiger says. “And it takes the job of taking care of the system’s uptime and performance and makes it our problem instead of our customer’s technical person’s problem. You can wash your hands of it once it’s in our care.
“Our TotalCloud Data Center is a similar offering for servers — for computing power. It enables our customers to outsource their servers. We’ll take their servers and house them in the cloud, and we’ll connect them securely and be responsible for their operation systems. Also, many of our customers have certain compliance regulations for their data today, which aren’t easy for them to figure out, and we can do that for them.”
Cbeyond’s leaders project that these new services will represent a quarter of the company’s revenue by the end of 2013, and that Cbeyond will be back to double-digit revenue growth by that time.
“These are very popular services, and they’re growing fast in popularity,” Geiger says. “They represent a material amount of our growth opportunity.”
Take quick action
Once Geiger had a clear picture that an economic downturn was deeply impacting the company, along with a new group of competitors nipping away at his company’s market share — it was crucial to be decisive and act quickly.
“If your gut tells you to make a change, do it sooner rather than later,” he says. “Follow your instincts and make the changes you need to make right away. Don’t waste a lot of time trying to improve the status quo. When you start to feel things shifting in a major way, don’t wait. React and respond.”
Trusting one’s intuition is a theme that Geiger keeps circling back to.
“It’s a mistake to fall into the trap of always listening to the experts,” he says. “One of the things you have to constantly remind yourself of is that no one knows more about your business than you do. If that isn’t true, then you need to find a new line of work. But assuming it is true, you absolutely have to trust yourself and your own instincts — and don’t listen to the experts.”
Lastly, Geiger says, a leader faced with the type of challenge that Cbeyond faced has to keep an eye out for opportunities and always be poised to act, to move forward quickly and forcefully.
“You have to have a high level of aggressiveness,” he says. “I think the level of aggression with which we embarked upon the change wasn’t enough at first. We were a little more hesitant than we could have been. And we’d necessarily be further along today had we had acted sooner.
“Of course, a lot of people could say that about many different aspects of their business. But if you see changes starting to happen and you feel it and you believe it, it’s probably true. As the often-said quote goes, the only constant is change. So you have to embrace it and act decisively and rapidly.” <<
How to reach: Cbeyond Inc., (866) 424-2600 or www.cbeyond.net
THE GEIGER FILE
Chairman, president and CEO
Born: Syracuse, N.Y.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting and pre-law, Clarkson University, 1981
What was your first job, and what business leadership lessons did you learn from it?
In my midteens, I had a mentor who lived down the street from me. He ran a successful produce business. His name was Frank Mento. I worked at a farmer’s market unloading produce from rail cars and tractor-trailers. Frank started out with a single truck and would get up at some ungodly hour like 2 o’clock in the morning and go down to the farmer’s market, pick the best produce and deliver it to his customers personally. He was an advocate for his customers. The quality was all that mattered. He didn’t think in terms of short-term profit; he thought in terms of long-term relationships.
Do you have a central business philosophy that you use to guide you?
We’re very metric-driven at our company, and I’m personally very focused on creating systems that give us the best chance to meet those metrics: management systems, talent identification and development systems, incentive systems. I find that when all of those things are consistently defined, communicated, understood and implemented, that’s the fastest route toward the success of the business. Also, I have a coach: I’ve used the same consultant for the past 16 years, and he has helped me design those systems and be true to them.
What trait do you think is the most important one for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?
Trust, which flows from integrity. We have a lot of long-tenured employees, and I’m very proud of their continued support and commitment to the company. We’ve gotten to where we are because there’s a tremendous amount of shared values and cross-commitment and trust.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Listen to your customers, listen to your employees and do what they tell you. Frank Mento taught me that.
Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.
Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs.
In the workplace, empathy can show a deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership belt of a well-liked and respected executive.
We could all take a lesson from nurses about being empathetic. Time and again, nurses rate as the most trusted profession. Why? Because they use proper empathy to make patients feel cared for and safe.
Over the years I have discovered that most people who score high on assessments for empathy have no idea why. They do not completely understand what it is they actually do that makes others see them as empathetic. They can only express that they:
- Like people.
- Enjoy working with and helping others.
- Value people as individuals.
In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the importance of empathy in the workplace, I will pose four questions regarding the nature, role and benefits of empathy.
1. Why does it matter for us to understand the needs of others?
By understanding others we develop closer relationships.
The radar of every good executive just went off when they read the word “relationships.” This is not a bad thing since most people understand the problems that happen when improper relationships are developed in the workplace.
This being said, the baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water. In order for a team of workers and their leaders to work powerfully together, proper relationships must be built and deepened.
When this happens through empathy, trust is built in the team. When trust is built, good things begin to happen.
2. What traits/behaviors distinguish someone as empathetic?
Empathy requires three things: listening, openness and understanding.
Empathetic people listen attentively to what you’re telling them, putting their complete focus on the person in front of them and not getting easily distracted. They spend more time listening than talking because they want to understand the difficulties others face, all of which helps to give those around them the feeling of being heard and recognized.
Empathetic executives and managers realize that the bottom line of any business is only reached through and with people. Therefore, they have an attitude of openness towards and understanding of the feelings and emotions of their team members.
3. What role does empathy play in the workplace? Why does it matter?
When we understand our team, we have a better idea of the challenges ahead of us.
To drive home the above point, further consider these:
- Empathy allows us to feel safe with our failures because we won’t simply be blamed for them.
- It encourages leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance.
- Being empathetic allows leaders to help struggling employees improve and excel.
Empathy plays a major role in the workplace for every organization that will deal with failures, poor performance and employees who truly want to succeed. As leaders, our role is simple—deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organization.
4. So why aren’t we being more empathetic at work?
Empathy takes work.
- Demonstrating empathy takes time and effort to show awareness and understanding.
- It’s not always easy to understand why an employee thinks or feels the way they do about a situation.
- It means putting others ahead of yourself, which can be a challenge in today’s competitive workplace.
- Many organizations are focused on achieving goals no matter what the cost to employees.
Each of these reasons can be seen as true.
Let me ask a question though: What distinguishes average to mediocre leaders from those who excel?
In my opinion, the distinction comes through the ability of the leader who actively works against all the so-called “reasons” and incorporates an attitude of empathy throughout his or her organization. That type of leader will excel.
By spending more time learning about the needs of their employees, leaders can set the tone and approach taken by their employees to achieve their organization’s goals.
When writing about empathy I am reminded of the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This is a truth that has long stood the test of time. It is true for our relationships in and out of the workplace.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Roadblocks abound in business. Most business owners have been told, “No, we won’t fund your great invention.” Most executives have been told, “We’re not ready yet” to enter that wide-open, new market. But how they respond to those obstacles, the “no”s that are inevitable, is often a good indicator of who will ultimately succeed.
The first step is to step back and assess the causes of the opposition. That likely requires asking probing questions to get insight about the reasons and reasoning behind the rejection. The banker who rejected your idea may have valuable insight into your industry sector, information that could affect how you choose to proceed.
While data gathering, also probe for guidance on how to make your proposal stronger, when to re-pitch your proposal and who else may have decision-making or decision-influencing authority. The goal should be to identify possible avenues for future appeals.
Armed with the new information, it’s useful to then take a look back at where you are in relation to your goals for the project. Review and celebrate your successes. It will give you the energy to continue onward. But measuring your results, as well as who helped you accomplish the past results, also may shed light on who may be able to guide or assist you in your next steps.
Now, modify your strategy. Every rejection should be viewed as an opportunity to improve. Your planned adjustments should be listed and scheduled. Then, as you progress in making changes, you will be able to see your accomplishments and have a record of how you responded to different scenarios for future reference. It also will give you a clear return on investment in time and energy spent and keep you centered on progress.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.
There are many pressures on organizations to make the most out of every customer interaction and maximize the return on investment on marketing and sales spend. However, businesses often don’t have the work force necessary to handle these functions as timely and effectively as they would like or the tools and processes in place to measure and track success. Companies that are able to track interaction, engagement, investments and customer patterns and behaviors often enlist the help of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
“A CRM tool helps businesses manage sales, marketing and customer service operations without significantly expanding their work force,” says Gina Rosen, a consultant at Columbus. “CRM, in the past, may have been nice to have — a luxury technology, but in today’s marketplace, it’s a must have to stay competitive.”
Smart Business spoke with Rosen about CRM, its applications and how it has helped businesses improve processes to better engage customers, target sales and gauge marketing effectiveness.
What are the typical features offered by a CRM system?
The features offered by CRM are very diverse. It’s primary applications are contact management; marketing automation; sales force automation; sales and lead management; reporting and analytics; call center and case management, particularly with respect to customer inquiries or complaints; workflow automation, or automating manual processes; and social media integrations. Businesses have the option for on-premise solutions where the software is hosted at the business on its servers, or they can utilize a Web-based or cloud option, which involves less initial financial investment. The software can also be customized to meet the particular needs of a business.
Is CRM cost prohibitive for businesses?
No it is not, however, had this question been asked six or seven years ago the answer would have been yes. Previously, enterprise-ready CRM software required significant funds to get the software and hardware in place. But with the advent of cloud-based solutions, even businesses run by a sole proprietor can afford CRM and leverage its applications to optimize processes. The cloud-based model allows business owners to pay through subscriptions that charge per user. The pay per user cloud-based model offers a low-cost opportunity to implement CRM, experience the value and see the return on investment (ROI).
What are the most compelling reasons an organization would implement CRM technology?
A recent survey of 200 top-performing small and medium-sized businesses showed that the number one reason businesses implement CRM software is to establish data-based metrics for sales and marketing. It also provides the ability to show ROI and quantitative key marketing metrics that mean a lot to businesses.
The second reason CRM is implemented is to proactively communicate with customers. Customers expect a lot these days, and one of those expectations is that businesses, whether small or large, interact with them. To stay in front of your customers and offer personal interaction is critical.
Within that same vein, the third reason companies take advantage of this software is for custom-targeted sales and marketing. With CRM you can customize that end user experience, which makes your sales force more effective. Customers can interact directly with your CRM custom solution through your existing website and experience a tailored visit based on previous interactions, or your sales force can utilize the standard feature when interacting with customers and have all of a customer’s history available in one spot.
What are the most important value drivers for CRM?
The top value for a business is the software’s ability to help manage marketing and sales campaigns. CRM can help businesses test marketing and distribution strategies and gauge customer reactions. This information can be applied to future marketing efforts.
Another important value driver is that the software serves as a customer data repository, allowing you to consolidate customer knowledge within the organization in CRM. This includes far more than just contact details, but also customer behaviors and attitudes and price sensitivity. This, combined with personal data, can allow businesses to build more effective and predictive sales models and marketing campaigns that result in higher sales.
Further, CRM systems can help demonstrate ROI. With CRM you can quantitatively show increases in sales, customer referrals and participation in promotions.
What is the most common challenge a business faces when implementing CRM?
Typically the challenge is user adoption — getting your sales force and front line users to embrace CRM. They often see populating the fields as double entry, an extra step, or another way for management to check in on them. But once the sales force sees that using the software results in more sales, they can easily overcome that hurdle.
What are the most common performance metrics?
The top one, hands down, is revenue growth. The faster you can show ROI the better.
Second is growth in a business’s customer base, which means adding new customers or converting leads into paying customers.
The third most common performance metric is aggregating customer data. Many companies have customer data spread out over disparate systems. CRM gives businesses a one-stop shop for their records.
Can you give us some examples of companies that have benefited from implementing CRM?
The Toledo Mud Hens baseball team, which works within the media and entertainment industry, had ticket sales go up 88 percent in one year and their internal operations couldn’t keep up with demand. Adopting CRM allowed them to automate and streamline inefficient processes, which translated into more ticket sales. A customer testimonial is available with more information.
Another example is the human resources consulting firm Findley Davies. Implementing CRM in their call center has given them the ability to manage daily responsibilities and track productivity. It has dramatically changed and improved day-to-day operations within their Benefits Administration department.
Gina Rosen is a consultant at Columbus. Contact her at (248) 850-2195 or email@example.com.
With more than 20 years in the market and 6,000 successful business implementations, Columbus is a preferred Microsoft Dynamics business partner for ambitious companies. Columbus’ key deliverables include flexible and future-safe ERP, CRM, BI and related business applications that deliver competitive advantage and immediate impact.
No matter how long a company has been around, there is almost always room for improvement in customer service. When competition heats up, customer retention and loyalty become critical to ?nancial success. Vericom Corp., which provides digital signage and on-hold messaging for hospitals and other health care providers, regards customer service as a broad term that covers all contact points of a brand to its consumers.
Although Vericom’s customer engagement team is ultimately the key point of contact between the organization and the client, the entire company is oriented toward the customer. Vericom constantly evaluates how what it does and says a?ects its customers, because it considers customer service its key competitive advantage.
Guided by Chairman and CEO Robert J. Loeb, Vericom has been serving hospitals, health systems, managed care and physician practices for 23 years. Since the company’s inception in 1989, its goal of being the premier audio and visual health care communications provider for hospitals is supported by unparalleled service for clients.
In order to ensure lifelong, indispensable relationships, Vericom works daily to exceed the expectations of more than 350 clients. Vericom’s leaders believe that if the company seeks to be only as good as its competition, it is doing a disservice to its customers and setting itself up to lose some of them.
Serving 1,100 locations, Vericom works diligently to ensure that every site it serves receives high-quality customer service consistently. With a less than 3 percent lost-account rate, the proof is in the numbers.
“We feel this honor fits Vericom perfectly,” says Brandi Beard, internal communications coordinator for Marshall Medical Center in Guntersville, Ala. “We currently utilize Vericom’s services both for on-hold messaging as well as their digital signage product. They have consistently proven that customer service is more than making sure the client is happy — it’s making sure the client stays happy.”
How to reach: Vericom Corp., (770) 552-1215 or www.vericom.net
U.S. Security Associates, the fourth-largest security guard provider in the United States with 140 branches in 46 states, operates in a business with very thin margins, so the company continuously seeks new ways to make customer service its chief competitive advantage.
Under the leadership of CEO Charles Schneider, U.S. Security says its mission is to maintain and constantly improve its partner relationship with both its clients and its employees via communication tools, state-of-the-art technology and accessible senior management.
The company values, which are reinforced throughout the organization, are to adhere to the principles of trust, ethics, lawfulness and honesty in every action and decision the employees undertake.
U.S. Security’s company vision is to become the best provider of uniformed security services in the United States using a unique formula of service and technology to achieve its mission of delivering excellence. The contributions of the company’s employees have enabled it to consistently exceed its annual goals for customer satisfaction and customer retention. The latest figures for those two metrics are 97 percent and 94 percent, respectively.
U.S. Security takes proactive measures to implement learning and performance improvement initiatives. The company provides training not only for the daily tasks required of its employees but also for human-relation skills needed to effectively interact with associates, subordinates, supervisors and managers.
U.S. Security recently launched an employee leadership and management development program. Courses appropriate for each level are assigned every quarter, and corporate new hires are required to be given an orientation on their responsibilities and on-the-job training. All new hires are assigned to the training program after their first 30 days of employment. This program enables the company’s management to ensure the delivery of outstanding customer service and to lead the employees under their responsibility by example.
How to reach: U.S. Security Associates Inc., (770) 625-1500 or www.ussecurityassociates.com
Since its inception in 1972, Travis Pruitt & Associates has always primarily focused on providing exceptional customer service. The philosophy began with the civil engineering firm’s founder, Travis Pruitt Sr., and has been carried forward by his son, Travis Pruitt Jr., the company’s current president.
TPA prides itself on paying close attention to its clients’ needs and working hand-in-hand with them to create a finished product that fulfills their vision and meets their time and cost constraints. The firm has learned that interactively engaging clients early and throughout each project greatly reduces the need for costly change orders and delays during permitting and construction times, which translates into value that far exceeds the perceived savings of using a lower-priced engineering firm.
Travis Pruitt & Associates also understands that it must maintain a high level of service daily to make sure clients continually recognize the difference in customer service that TPA provides versus other engineering firms. TPA achieves this by having staff members who are accessible, knowledgeable and responsive, and who take the initiative to immediately coordinate and redirect resources to respond effectively to unexpected customer requests.
TPA recognizes that it is more meaningful and cost-effective to retain existing customers than to find new ones. Therefore the firm strives to treat every client as a VIP. Continuous clients receive an even higher level of service due to their long-term relationships with TPA’s staff. Those clients typically have a member of the firm’s leadership team as their primary contact person to ensure that their expectations are being fulfilled.
“My contact with all of the staff at TPA has been positive,” says Eugene Cole, an architect with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “From the field survey personnel to the president of the company, their service is the same: knowledgeable, timely, forward-looking and honest.”
How to reach: Travis Pruitt & Associates Inc., (770) 416-7511 or www.travispruitt.com