Zoho Turns Three

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Three years back on Sep 15th, we launched out first application Zoho Writer. Since then, as you notice, lot has changed in Zoho. We have added 17 other applications, 4 utilities and many add-ons. Most important of all, we now have over 1 Million users using our applications.

What makes Zoho unique is the broad set of applications we offer. The real power of these suite of apps will be in display when the applications are integrated with each other. Integration between apps will continue to be the focus for the next year apart from enhancements to the existing ones.

On this occasion, I’d like to take a moment to thank all our users for supporting us during this marathon.

Explaining the D-Tools CRM System – Lead Management

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Introduction here.

We have a LOT of leads in our system. The current count is 11,192 and I archived any lead that was created before 2006 during the last conversion of CRM systems. Thankfully, Zoho CRM handles leads really well. This is the process we use to separate the forest from the trees and allow our sales team to focus on the most productive leads.

The way I define a lead is a person (contact) who works at a company (account) who has expressed some sort of interest in our products or services and has not purchased anything from us in the past. Leads come into the system from four main marketing activities.

  • Trade shows – Import list
  • D-Tools website – Web to Lead form
  • Google Adwords and SEO – Web to Lead form or incoming call
  • Download Trial – Import list

These are called “Leads Source” in our CRM system. This is a mandatory pick list field. In addition to a Lead Source field we also have a related field called “Sub-Lead Source” that contains the specific information relating to the general Lead Source. For example a Lead Source that = Trade Show and Sub-Lead Source = CEDIA 08 is the name of the specific trade show That way we can easily track where revenue is coming from on a global or granular basis.

In order to better target our marketing message to each lead we categorize every lead into a specific Industry and Category. Industry refers to what industry the lead is in like AV-Automation, Broadcast and so on. Category refers to what type of customer they are. For example Residential or Commercial.

It sounds kind of confusing and a lot of extra work but we do this because the messaging to a company that is involved in AV-Automation for the residential market is different than what a commercial AV integrator would expect. In some cases a company could be involved in both residential and commercial work and in those cases we use a multi-pick field for the category so the user can tag the record as both residential and commercial.

We also have a mandatory “Lead Status” field with the following choices below: All Lead Status start out as “Unqualified” and then we change the status as we move them through the process. This is extremely helpful because we can give all of the “Unqualified” leads to a sales admin and let them fill in the blanks without getting a senior salesperson involved until the lead expresses real interest.

  • Qualified A – Interested in purchasing in 3 months or less
  • Qualified B – Has gone through a needs analysis or a demo
  • Qualified C – We have had a one to one conversation or email
  • Unqualified – Have not had any personal contact
  • Inactive – Interested but “not now”
  • Dead – Not interested

A new feature I just added to the system to help us focus on the most productive leads is the Pre Qualification Score or “Pre-Qual Score” field. Since it is so hard to to actually get someone on the phone these days I came up with a simple system for the sales person or sales admin to score the lead by just subjectively looking at a few key details that are usually part of every lead in the system without actually talking to them on the phone. The three lead Pre-Qual Scores are:

  • 1-Lame – If the email domain address is a free mail service like Hotmail or a home based service like Comcast and no website or a lame website like under construction.
  • 2-OK – If the email is a corp address or there is a professional looking website and a free or home based email service
  • 3-Good – If the email address is the same as the corp email address and there is a professional looking web site

<rant>
Please let me explain before someone accuses me of calling some of our potential customers “Lame”. That is not what I mean. At the recent CEDIA Expo we received “X” number of leads. Most of these came from our booth scanner and were converted to Excel (more on this process later) and some came through business cards. Most of the business cards had a website address but unfortunately the scanner information did not have the lead website information. So I hand picked through every lead that did not have a website and by using the corporate email domain I attempted to find and add a website attached to the lead.

This is what I found out. 18% of the leads used a free (yahoo, hotmail, gmail) or home based (aol, comcast, sbcglobal) email. 21% had a corporate email domain but not a website that matched that email domain. 59% had both a corporate email address and a matching website.

So close to 40% of our potential customers from this show do not have a website and/or use a free email address. That is “Lame”. There are couple of things you can do to be taken seriously in this world, especially if you are in any industry that professes to be of a technical nature. Getting a real email address and a real website would be at the top of the list. Speaking to the system integrators in the 40 percentile, would you do any business with a manufacturer who did not have a website or someone with an aol.com email address? Everyone does research on the internet now, why do you think your potential customers are any different? You could be excluded from a project just based on this criteria.
</rant>

Zoho CRM makes it very easy for users to create and sort lists into custom views so our sales team can filter by Lead Status = Unqualified and sort by the Pre-Qual score. This allows the sales team to focus on the most productive leads first, while the marketing team drips on all the leads with email marketing as appropriate.

The last custom field we use to target our message to our prospective clients is the “Job Function” field. The reason for this is that our software can be used by many people in an organization. People involved in the installation side of a company would perhaps be interested in our integration with Brother wire labels while a salesperson would be more interested in making his proposals look more attractive. This is pick list field with the following standardized choices:

  • Design/Engineering
  • Finance/Accounting
  • Installation/Service/Training
  • Operations/Administration/Management
  • Owner/Partner/Executive
  • Sales/Marketing/Consulting

The picture below is what a well qualified lead would look like in our system before we have had any contact with that person. In this specific case all a sales admin would have to do is contact the lead by phone or email, find out how many employees are in the company, what the specific title of the lead is and change to the appropriate Lead Status. Once the lead gets “Qualified” it becomes much easier for a Sr. Salesperson to step in, identify the opportunity and move the Lead to a “Potential” and eventually a “Client”.

The reason we go to all this trouble in geting our leads in order is to make it as easy as possible for the sales team to focus on the customer needs and move them through the pipeline. In addition we can now easily send VERY targeted emails based on the Category, Industry, Lead Source and Job Function. With the proliferation of email messages on a daily basis it is very important to target each message to the needs of the individual.

Zoho Writer now available offline on Safari

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When we rolled out offline support for Zoho Writer, it was available on IE and Firefox. The Google Gears team have now come up with support for Safari. And Safari users can now access their Zoho Writer documents, even when offline.

For Zoho Writer to work offline, you’ll need to have Google Gears plug-in installed in Safari. In Zoho Writer, click on the ‘Go Offline’ link at the top-right to access your documents offline. By default, we download 15 documents each from ‘My Docs’ and ‘Shared Docs’ section. You can change the default setting by clicking on the down arrow beside ‘Go Offline’ link. The documents are downloaded based on the ‘Sort Order’ in your ‘My Docs’ section.

When you are not connected to the internet, you can visit http://writer.zoho.com/offline to access and edit your documents offline. When you are back online, clicking on ‘Go Online’ will let you to synchronize the modified documents with the online versions.

Mac users, do try Zoho Writer offline on Safari. And, any guesses on the Zoho Apps that will next be available offline?

Explaining the D-Tools CRM System

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One of the luxuries of being the boss is that I can choose what projects I want to get to get involved in here at D-Tools.  For the most part all of the core software development, marketing, sales and finance/operations are handled with great care and competence by the D-Tools executive and management team.  This means that the bulk of my time at work can be devoted to improving our internal business processes and looking down the road at what products and services we can add to our mix.

Just as D-Tools SI becomes an integral part of our low voltage system integrators clients’ business process our CRM system is an integral part of our business process.  Anyone who has read any of the previous posts on this topic could come to the conclusion that that I am somewhat of a CRM freak or superfreak.   I have found that a good CRM system can always be made better by constant tweaking of the business process and work flow.

In the past I would send these updates and tweaks by email to the sales team and post specific business process documentation to the D-Tools internal wiki.  That works OK but all of that information stays behind our firewall and does not help anyone else trying to implement Zoho CRM or any other CRM system for that matter.

So moving forward I am going to “open source” our internal business process on how it relates to our CRM system.  I am doing this for two reasons.  One, I tend to get kind of lazy when I am writing for a small audience compromised of company employees.  This will help me explain the processes better.  Two, at the recent CEDIA Expo a colleague mentioned that one of my memorable quotes was “high tide floats all boats” as it relates to sharing information.  I don’t remember saying that but I agree with the statement.  In any case a well functioning CRM system can help all companies of any size be more successful and chances are that some of those companies are in low voltage integration space and will eventually need more seats of our software.

OK, three reasons.  Add greed to the list.

Stay tuned for follow-up posts under this title.

Adam Stone is a Zoho CRM customer and CEO/Founder of D-Tools Software.

CloudAve launches focusing on Business Apps on the Cloud

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We are happy to announce our sponsorship of CloudAve, a content oriented community consisting of blogs, wiki & forums, with a mission to advance business applications on the cloud. Initially, this will start as a blog @ www.cloudave.com with Zoli Erdos, the Editor-in-Chief, Ben Kepes as Editor and a team of bloggers with diverse backgrounds. CloudAve will also carry periodic guest posts from other bloggers. Our sponsorship consists of providing the tools for the site, as well as financial support.

So why are we doing this? We have come to appreciate how content is a crucial part of communities. Vibrant communities need strong anchors – bloggers who have a point of view, and express it well. CloudAve will be the stage where bloggers express their point of view and start the discussion on business applications on the cloud. The same collaborative tools that Zoho provides for businesses are used to power the CloudAve site. This has obvious benefits to Zoho customers, and hence ourselves. Over time, the site itself will add new collaborative features, which is where our own focus at Zoho will be.

I want to make it clear that while Zoho sponsors the site, Zoli and his team make all editorial decisions. Zoho will have no influence on the content of CloudAve. The mission is to advance business applications on the cloud, and that is far broader than just Zoho.

One decision that Zoli made early on that we were excited by: all content posted by the anchor bloggers will be available on a liberal Creative Commons license. Guest bloggers will retain their own copyright, and can republish their content wherever they choose to.

More information on is available @ CloudAve.

Zoho Creator : Scheduled Maintenance on Sep 19th, 2008.

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We’ve scheduled a maintenance for Zoho Creator from Friday Sep 19th, 23:00 hrs –to– Saturday Sep 20th, 03:00 hrs PDT. Friday Sep 26th, 23:00 hrs –to– Saturday Sep 27th, 03:00 hrs PDT. During this period access to Zoho Creator will not be available.

We apologize for any inconveniences this may cause. We appreciate your patience in this regard.

UPDATE: The scheduled maintenance has been postponed to Sep 26th 2008 as we found some unforeseen errors at the last minute.  Kindly excuse for the inconvenience caused.

Integrating Zoho with your Central Document Repository

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If you are a medium sized business or an enterprise, your organization would have invested on an intranet solution for document management. All documents are uploaded and accessed from this central repository. For viewing/editing documents, your users would be using desktop-based software like Microsoft Office installed in their PCs / laptops. Currently, your workflow for accessing a document would be like below :

  1. User downloads the document from the document repository to his/her local hard drive
  2. Uses a desktop-based software to read and (if need be) make changes to the document
  3. Uploads it back to the document repository

[Note : If the machine from where the repository is accessed doesn’t have the necessary software, the document cannot be viewed/edited]

How can the above flow be improved using Zoho?

By using Zoho’s Remote API. This is how it works :

  1. Clicking on a document will open it in the Zoho editor. Based on the file type (doc, xls, ppt etc), Zoho Writer, Zoho Sheet or Zoho Show editor will open the document.
  2. Once the document is viewed/edited and saved, the saved copy will be transferred to the enterprise document repository.

As you can see, this model is a more straight-forward and an easier one. No need to download a document copy, view/edit using a desktop-based software, then upload back to the repository. There is no duplicate copy of the document created locally in the user’s machine. And most importantly, no need to install costly desktop software in each of your user’s machines. Using Zoho’s Remote API is secure. And you don’t need to have a Zoho account for each of your users.

For illustration, screenshots taken from box.net

If you are planning to implement the Zoho Remote API, do write to us at api@zoho.com. For more details, refer to the Zoho API Documentation.

Related Article : An enterprise balancing act in the cloud, by Oliver Marks @ ZDNet.

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