About Meera Sapra

Senior Marketing Manager at Zoho. I live in New Delhi, India. When I'm not working, I spend my time reading, creating comics or art.

Build relationships, not just pipelines: All-new social features in Zoho CRM

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When we first launched social features in Zoho CRM in November 2013, our goal was to give our customers a place to listen to what people were saying about their business.

The social tab enabled businesses to perform all the actions they could from a social media tool, such as listening and responding to Tweets and Facebook page posts, monitoring search keywords and posting new content to Facebook and Twitter. In addition, they could also add CRM leads and contacts directly from listening streams.

In a nutshell, the social tab helped businesses using Zoho CRM get socially active without having to step outside their CRM.

But we didn’t want to stop there.

We wanted to take things to a whole new level by helping customers do powerful stuff that they couldn’t do with a standalone social media tool, stuff that brought the CRM context to social and the social context to CRM.

So we went back to the CRM drawing board and first wrote out this working definition of social selling:

“Social selling is about building relationships by combining inputs from social media into your interactions and making them richer.”

Read more

Zoho on Zoho: How we use Zoho apps to run the show at Zoholics

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Our goal for each Zoholics user event is to make it perfect for attendees – our customers who travel from all over the world to learn and make the most of Zoho apps for their business.

Making sure that everything is perfect involves coordinating so many major and minor aspects related to each event. What makes this even more challenging is the fact that most of our teams are geographically distributed and work across various time zones (more about working remotely with cross-cultural teams here.)

So, how do we do this for not just one, but four annual Zoholics events?

Here is the story of the people, processes and Zoho apps that work behind-the-scenes for each Zoholics event.

Setting the stage.

Pre-event Planning: To start with, we need to discuss and decide on the agenda for the event. Raju, who is the chief architect for all Zoholics events, initiates these discussions over Zoho Connect, our intranet where everyone watches out for important announcements and discussions.

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Basis these discussions, we use a shared Zoho Sheet (our spreadsheet app, part of the Zoho Docs office suite) to draft an agenda and assign speakers for each of the sessions.

After we have the agenda ready, we move to a dedicated Zoholics Projects’ portal for further discussions such as content, promotion, logistics and travel. Everyone who will be speaking at the event or helping organize any aspect of it is invited to join this Project portal.

Over the next few months leading up to the event, the Zoholics Project portal becomes the “virtual meeting room” where we all check in to participate in discussions about the event and to post or follow updates about the status of event-related tasks.

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What is great about using a Project portal for such discussions is that everyone can stay in the loop and get notifications over email or on the Zoho Projects’ mobile app. There are no communication gaps or operational lapses.

One of our first discussions over the Zoholics Project portal is about travel for the event. We create and share another Zoho Sheet – this one allows employees from other cities who’re traveling for the event to input their travel dates. Since the travel team is also part of the Project, they’re able to book flight tickets and hotel rooms.

Event Promotion: We also start a discussion about promoting the event through these channels – social media, email invites, banners within our products, log-out pages as well as the Zoho Buzz newsletter. Promotion-related tasks for each of these channels are assigned to the owners. Read more

Say goodbye to unproductive workplace practices and build a culture of collaboration with Project Management apps – Part 2

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projects_blog2meeraThis is the second part of a 2-part blog series. Read the first part of the series here.

The myth of multitasking.

When you’re trying to get multiple things done with different sets of people, it might seem easy to multitask by doing everything together. But this can be counterproductive because your attention gets split between activities. You’ll take much longer to complete each activity, and this can negatively impact your overall output and quality of work. Several independent psychological researchers have established that multitasking results in reduced efficiency due to cognitive ‘switching’ costs.

Switching from a task before you complete it also causes the Ziegarnic effect – the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about unfinished tasks. The only way to resolve the cognitive dissonance that comes from a lack of closure on an unfinished task is by completing that task.

A good project management app is one that lets you simplify complex projects so that you spend enough attention and energy on each task.

To simplify complex projects, you can organize them according to a hierarchy of easily manageable units such as milestones, task lists and tasks. Split your tasks into the simplest sub-tasks that can be easily completed before you move on to the next task. You can also set task dependencies to help identify and complete dependent tasks. And of course, the sense of completion that comes from finishing these tasks can help avoid the Ziegarnic effect!

Encourage everyone in your team to restrict their focus to completing one thing at a time – complete one task or participate in one discussion or just catch up with activity streams in one project portal. Finish any one thing before you move on to the next.

Treat different project portals like separate rooms – you cannot be in more than one at the same time.

Resist the temptation of switching to another tab or project portal before you’ve completed what you wanted to do. Read more

Say goodbye to unproductive workplace practices and build a culture of collaboration with Project Management apps – Part 1

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My colleague recently blogged about how project management apps can greatly help improve collaboration especially for geographically distributed teams or companies. As a remote employee at Zoho, I’ve experienced this a lot. My marketing role requires interaction with multiple teams, all based in other cities and time zones. And yet we all manage to collaborate seamlessly across multiple projects.

We do this by creating and reinforcing a culture that encourages collaboration.

That’s where project management apps come in to the picture. They work as an antidote to unproductive practices that could prove harmful for a collaborative culture. If you’re a growing start-up or company that’s trying to become more collaborative, these are the work practices that you might want to upgrade from:

Email ping pong.

Email Ping Pong

If you’re using email to make decisions or to discuss specific tasks that require inputs from multiple people, you could end up back and forthing and wasting time:

  •     creating email threads that are too long for people to follow through
  •     discussing the same topic over disparate email threads and have a hard time combining inputs
  •     just trying to get everyone on the same page

Not only is email ping pong unproductive, it is also unhealthy. In a recent research, occupational psychologist Dr Emma Russell listed email ping pong as one of ‘the seven deadly email sins’ that could have negative health repercussions for employees.

Sifting through piles of email to look for important tasks or trying to achieve a “zero inbox” state should never be a work goal for anyone. Read more

What I learned from working remotely with cross-cultural teams

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For about six years now, I’ve been working in a cross-cultural environment. Our teams are split across offices in India and the US, with the majority of our development efforts based out of India.

I work remotely out of New Delhi, whereas most of our India teams work from Chennai. To give you an idea of how far these two places are:

In this unique situation, I’ve had the opportunity to work with teams across different locations and time zones. These differences no longer come in the way of teamwork and collaboration. In fact, they ​help us evolve and adapt our own business apps to make this combination work – no matter where you are and what time zone you’re working in, you’re always connected and in sync with other people.

What could get in the way though, are cultural differences.

It’s usually good practice to mix people from different cultures. Everyone brings in their own cultural perspective to the table, and people get to learn from each other.

But it’s tricky for people from different cultures to work together, especially when they’re not all working at the same time, under the same roof.

Tricky, yes. Impossible, no.

Here are a few things that can make it possible: Read more

Social media for the small business: Start by listening

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When I meet small business owners and tell them about my work with social media, a lot of them ask me how they should be using social media to grow their business. Before I answer that question, I usually ask them about what they’re already doing. The responses are often along the lines of:

“We have a Twitter handle and a Facebook page”
“I setup a Google+ page for my business!”

At this point, I have to ask them: But did you start​ by listening?

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Listening is the most basic and ​the most underrated social media activity for any small ​business. And it’s important to start listening even before you decide which social networks to focus your business presence on.

Step 1: Know where your audience is.

​If you’re ready to build a community online, the first thing you should do is figure out where your audience is.

Spend time listening on a few networks. Listen to discussions around industry trends, look for relevant keywords and conversations around your business and your competitors.

For instance, if I ​were running a local pizzeria, I’d listen to conversations about good food in and around town. I’d figure out where these conversations happen ​most often. I’d also check out a few specific foodie networks (such as Epicurious, Foodily or Open Source Food) to see if they are more popular among foodies in my city.

Once I have some idea ​which networks my business can ​benefit from, I’d focus my efforts there. Read more

Subject line real estate is precious. Make the most of it in your email campaigns.

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Like most people​, I usually decide whether or not to open an email from a company depending on what the subject line says. I’d even go a step further and form an opinion about the company based on how they word their email subject lines and how consistent or unique they are with this as a branding activity.

Lately, I’ve noticed many companies trying to experiment with their subject lines. Here are a few important things I’ve learned from watching these experiments and trying out some of my own:

Short subject lines go a l​ong way

Depending on which email program your recipients use and their personalized display settings, they might not read a long subject. For example, my current display setting on Zoho Mail shows me the first 3-5 words of the subject.

The first few words are very relevant because those are the ones your recipient will almost always see. A recent study by Retention Science found that 6-10 word long subject lines tend to have the highest open rates. Keep your email subject lines short so they don’t get cut off.

Especially at an unintentionally awkward point:

“Summer’s here. Drown yourself in our soothing summer sorbet!”

“Summer’s here. Drown ​yourself…”

Oops! I’d just go with:

“Our soothing summer sorbet is here!” Read more