Using Zoho to Teach Students Project Management

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“Ahem, class, are you paying attention? Your first assignment is to find a project management tool that’s easy to use, friendly, and can work well with a CRM application.”

Believe it or not, that was the first assignment Robert Braathe of Braathe Enterprises gave to his students. Braathe runs a virtual internship program that gives college students real experience. And teaching project management is critical for operating in the real world, said Braathe.

“If you don’t have a project management tool in place, you’ll just throw a lot of spaghetti on the wall,” Braathe said. “With a project management tool you can keep things on track and do more things at once.”

At the Small Business Expo in New York, I spoke with Braathe about why he and his students chose Zoho. He said that Zoho met their comfort level. It was user friendly and most similar to Google Apps. But they also liked Zoho because they were looking for a CRM tool as well. In their search they discovered other CRM applications, but they were either very clunky or really expensive. With Zoho, Braathe and his students liked the interactivity with other applications, the ability of multiple people to sign on, and the ability to just scale it up as they need it.

An update on Zoho Sites

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We have made enhancements in three different areas on Zoho Sites. These minor updates have been made for better functionality before we bring out some really major changes that we’ve been working on.

  • Thumbnails in File Manager
  • One-click protection of all pages
  • Generation of sitemap

File Manager gets a Facelift

The collection of images you uploaded will be listed on the file manager, as thumbnails. This makes it easy to pick the one you want to include on a page. Other files will be grouped based on file type.

Password Protection

Password Protection has had a change of philosophy. You already could protect all pages on your site using one password. Now, you can do it in one click.

SEO gets better with Sitemap

Another area of change is SEO. We’ve added sitemap generation. Sitemaps are to inform search engine bots about the hierarchy of your website and how each page is connected to the others. Bots crawl webpages based on priority and the frequency of updates. By this, bots know which pages on your website should be crawled frequently in order to present the latest information to searchers.

As for the big ones, we are eager to announce a couple of integrations with Zoho Sites and usability enhancements, coming up soon. Stay tuned.

The Critical Need to Integrate All Customer Information

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The more knowledge a salesperson has about a particular customer or group, the better decisions they can make and insight they can gain, said Paul Greenberg, Principal of The 56 Group and Chairman of the CRM Evolution 2012 conference in New York City where I spoke to him about the importance of integration.

Companies are gathering information about their customers from a variety of sources such as the social web, traditional communications, and the commerce transactions captured in their CRM.

“You’re much better off knowing all of that, than just a part of that,” said Greenberg stressing the importance of integration. Yet Greenberg knows that companies aren’t necessarily going to dump their investments in their web, financial, and CRM systems just for the sake of integration. Rather, they’ll look for ways to tie existing systems together.

Technically, integration can happen through the use of middleware or via application programming interfaces (APIs), which are pieces of codes that allow disparate systems with data to talk to each other, said Greenberg.

A Tax Break Ending Soon – Internet Sales

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One of the most compelling tax breaks is coming to an end in the near future. Internet sales are booming and the incredible tax savings that comes from buying supplies or equipment off the internet might soon be over.

Before legislation speeds up this process, it is important to take advantage of this huge loophole and the overall savings that can be realized.

Products purchased from the Internet often cost less.

Buying just about anything from the Internet offers not only a break in paying sales tax, but often a cost savings over local retailers with hefty leases and greater operating costs. So it’s often a double savings from buying local.

Think about purchasing higher quantities to take advantage of large volume discounts and be prepared to be surprised at the savings.

Internet shopping often saves on shipping.

Many Internet retailers can even offer free shipping, while simply absorbing the cost and still bring in a higher profit margin than a retailer that runs out of a brick-and-mortar storefront establishment.

Shipping has also come a long way. Products arrive unscathed right to the door with the same guarantees, even saving a bad back or the headache of getting it from one location to another. Competition in shipping has also lowered the cost and expedited shipping is readily available.

Time saved by comparative Internet shopping saves too.

When business owners or employees are sent out to purchase products, the money spent doing so is often overlooked. Ordering products from the Internet can be accomplished from the office with a few simple strokes of the keyboard and click of a mouse. Most websites take less time to complete a sale than the time that can be spent waiting in a checkout line. Repeat orders take even half the time.

Your savings on sales tax and Internet shopping can quickly add up.

If a business needs a couple of new computers, new software, office furniture or even ink for the printers, the savings on sales tax can easily add up. Some states without sales tax often experience extra sales in cities that border states with high sales tax and the internet has been no different. Internet commerce has been booming as individuals and businesses alike have taken advantage of this massive loophole.

To remain competitive, all small businesses have to take advantage of these immense savings before they are a thing of the past. Add the other reasons to shop online and now is the time to capitalize on a good thing.

Internet sales tax legislation is expected to be demanded and in effect by 2016 at the latest. This will level the playing field, however, the competitive edge that these businesses have will remain in effect. As smaller businesses struggle to cut costs, purchasing from the internet today will set up more savings in the future. Much like “free shipping”, we might even see these same retailers absorbing sales tax in the same manner.

Common CRM Pitfalls and Misconceptions about Customers

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Despite the plethora of advice about pitfalls and best practices, people still make tons of mistakes, said Scott Rogers (@jayhawkscot) of thinkJar.

The clearest evidence is the language companies use when they’re trying to describe success with customers. The vast majority of companies are not using the words that show they are focused on the end results of their strategies. They use company-centric words like retention, loyalty, and lifetime value rather than customer-centric words such as experience, satisfaction, and customer centricity.

Perception gap between customers and companies

What the customer thinks is important is very different than what the company believes the customer thinks is important as IBM discovered in its CRM Study in 2011.

The study asked companies why they think customers follow them on social sites. And then they asked customers why they follow companies on social sites. For customers, the most important reasons for following a company in a social space were discounts and purchases. Clearly not understanding their customers’ desires, companies rated these two variables as customers’ least important reasons.

While more than ¾ of companies have some form of customer feedback mechanism, less than 10 percent think their efforts are stellar, said Rogers.

Similarly, 80 percent of organizations think their customer experiences are good. Eight percent of customers agree, according to a report from Bain and Company.

“Competitiveness is far more about doing what your customers value than doing what you think you’re good at,” said Rogers, quoting Clayton Christensen.

People make emotional decisions about products. This is their thinking. When we make decisions, we have our own values and beliefs and our own hurdles, said Rogers.

Rogers continued his conversation by looking at different aspects of the purchase and relationship cycle (loyalty, relationship, satisfaction, experience, and brand) and placed each one under a customer and company lens, showing how divergent the two groups actually are.

Here’s his analysis:


Customer Lens

Rational Loyalty

Rewards/Perks – Can purchase that kind of loyalty
Irrational Loyalty

Lack of alternatives
Fear of change
Risk aversion
Affinity loyalty

Emotional bond
Company Lens

Repeat purchases driven by
Product preference
Brand preference
Strong emotional bond

Customer lens

Willingness to share or invest precious resources (time, information, attention) in exchange for preferential treatment
Emotional bond with brand company
Company lens

4 types: mutually beneficial, parasitic, predator/prey, and competitive
Series of interactions or transactions over time
Preferential commitment to a brand/company
Strong emotional bond with brand/company
Building step to lifetime value
Willingness to share or invest precious resources (time, information, attention)

Customer lens

Result of outcome of perceived performance versus expectations (of product, service, interaction, etc.), filtered by time, memory, and post experience environmental factors
Static point in time assessment
Company lens

A silver bullet metric – In actuality, none really exists
Key building block for loyalty
Emotional measure of outcome of experience with touch points.
The famous Net Promoter Score (NPS) asks, “How likely are you to recommend this product or brand to a friend?” Rogers did his own analysis of the value of the NPS, but he didn’t ask that question until after a series of questions about how satisfied the customer was with the product. He realized that by asking the satisfaction question first it jogged the person’s memory about the product use experience. When they finally got to the NPS question it actually had a very poor correlation with their satisfaction.


Customer Lens

My perception of the experience is my reality – Tough for companies to ask about the journey.
Perceptions are unique
Perceptions are influenced by other pre- and post-experience factors, some of which have nothing to do with the experience
Perceptions are influenced by expectations
Company Lens

Sum of every touch point
Sensory stimuli and emotions generated while using product/service
Impact of touch points on rational and emotional needs and expectations of customers

Customer Lens

Defined by the customer
Influenced by company, friends, family, peers, reviews, etc.
It’s what the customer thinks it is. It’s not what the brand creates.
Sum of all perceptions, associations, and attitudes held by customers
Company Lens

Market asset created by marketing
Emotional bond with customer
Sum of all perceptions, associations, and attitudes held by customer
Measure of Net Present Value (NPV) of future revenues
Premium pricing potential
Sentiment that doesn’t drive behavior can be an indicator of future behavior. Results can often take a long time to present themselves, said Rogers.

Customers have a value journey. You buy a product to get a job done, but then along the way there’s investigation, awareness, intent, purchase, and then support. At that point customers reflect on the value in use.


To reduce the customer-company perception gap, Rogers recommends:

Understanding the customers’ needs and values are critical to success – It’s their successful outcomes that matter.
“Your product/service is means to an end, and thus they are creating value with the product, not from the product,” said Wim Rampen.
Understanding the customers’ mindsets and perceptions are critical to crafting strategies and processes to improve the experience from their standpoint.
Attitude or sentiment does not always equal behavior. Identify when they do and don’t and develop strategies and tactics accordingly.
There are no single “silver bullet” metrics for satisfaction (e.g., CSAT, PTS), loyalty, or customer effort that will help you grow and improve your business. Why customers do what they do is not that simple.
Measure what is important to the customer (e.g., outcomes) not just what is important to you. Measure what you can take actions on, and those that have true cause and effect relationships.

Short-circuit evaluation enhances Zoho Creator performance

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In plain English, “Short-Circuit” is the intelligence of an algorithm to skip processing the remaining part of a condition, if the desired results have been achieved mid-way and the rest of the condition will not have any effect on the result.

Executing scripts unnecessarily can exhaust resources. Short-circuit ensures that the results are achieved by executing scripts the minimum number of times possible.

Consider the following expression that has two operands, A and B.

If A is True, (AND) B is True, then execute script.

It means, the script has to be executed when both A and B are true. To find that out, both A and B have to be tried. But what if A is tried first, and is found to be false? Regardless of what B turns out to be, the script will not be executed because one of the two (A) has failed. There is no point in trying B. Short-circuit is responsible for skipping B.

Short-circuit can be applied to Boolean operators in which just one of the two operands is enough to determine the result of the expression. Operators like AND and OR, for example.

So, Zoho Creator is now short-circuit-intelligent, and it optimizes the execution of scripts, productively affects time taken to make decisions and improves the overall performance. This is not like a new feature that you can try. It is more like those which can’t be seen, but feel good when experienced. You know.

Tips on Creating Great Customer Experiences

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At the CRM Evolutions 2012 conference in New York City, industry experts and people who use CRM get together to learn about the newest ways they can improve their process through best practices and new technologies. While some of the discussion can be really high level, the basic issue of creating great customer experiences is the ultimate goal.

In an effort to understand how to deliver on this most basic of principles of CRM, I asked attendees at the opening night party of the CRM Evolution conference, “How do you create great customer experiences?” Here are their responses.