Can Small Businesses Benefit from Custom Software Apps?

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Every business can benefit from custom software applications, regardless of the service or product it offers. However, if you are a small business, spending on the right applications is particularly crucial due to a tighter IT budget and being more vulnerable in the dynamic corporate world. This could lead to conflict about whether you should spend on generic desktop software or custom web software.


To resolve this conflict, we look at the key performance indicators of any business: the data about its customer-practices and business process management. What the organization has learned about its customers and how effectively it uses this data to provide better and relevant solutions to its users is what keeps them on the charts. In such data-centric times, an organization’s data is distributed across various inevitable software solutions it uses: CRM, accounting applications, project management, inventory management and resource allocation, support ticket management, enterprise resource planning, revenue, expense and commission trackers and much more. That means multiple copies of data are stored at multiple locations, leading to ineffective usage of resources. What if all the data pertaining to your customers could be stored at a central location, and all the custom software applications you use could access the data relevant to them? What if all these software solutions could communicate with one another, effortlessly?


Well, this is possible if the applications are from the same vendor and hosted online. But it is more about picking from the lot, those applications that best suit your business. Why insist on appropriate ones, and not generic ones? Because not all businesses are run alike. Each has unique use-cases, and thus needs unique applications for each requirement. Generic software applications are almost always full of compromises. You end up paying for more than what you actually use. This is one good reason why you should consider building your tools, yourself. Building custom applications using web application building platforms is more beneficial than settling for ready-made software. Customization not only costs a lot less, but it also speaks your language. Not all of us are programmers, after all. What stops you now? Get started with custom apps today!


The New and Improved Zoho CRM App for iPhone is here

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Two months ago we released the Zoho CRM App for iPhone. It was the first iPhone app for Zoho CRM and most of you had been waiting for it for *ahem* a while.

We didn’t want to make you wait any longer for our follow-up release. The new version addresses the most common suggestions customers like you had about the app. We appreciate all your feedback and we ask you to please keep it coming.

Here are some of the things the new version has to offer:

  • The app now also includes access to the Cases module. Now you can view/create/edit/search cases records from your iPhone.
  • You are now able to import contacts into Zoho CRM from your iPhone address book. And the other way around as well – you can now export contacts from Zoho CRM into your iPhone Address book.
  • A very common asked-for feature: access to related notes and related potentials for the record details page.
  • An improved home screen.
  • We now support additional custom views in the Potentials, Accounts, Leads and Events modules.
  • In addition, we’ve made some tweaks to the way you can search for information in your device as well as bug fixes.

The new version is available in the Apple App Store today.

Rodrigo

If you have a smart enemy and a dumb friend …

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… dump the friend and embrace the enemy. 

Several years ago, we had many rounds of meetings with Yahoo on ways to cooperate. It was very clear that Yahoo had lousy leadership. On the other hand, I was quite impressed by the Google leadership I met. 

What did we end up doing at Zoho? We never pursued a Yahoo partnership, and we made our peace with Google. Yahoo just demonstrated, yet again, that we made a wise choice. Dumb friends are more dangerous than smart enemies.

Finally making the switch from Outlook Express to full blown CRM

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Hong Kong importer-exporter makes one of the largest relationship management leaps we’ve ever seen. From one of the most rudimentary contact management software applications to a full blown CRM system.

Business:

Raja Selarka is the owner of Comet (HK) Ltd, a 15-year-old import-export business. Comet purchases consumer and household goods from China and exports them worldwide.

The Challenge:

For 14 years Selarka managed his business through Outlook Express, the free email/contact manager application that comes pre-installed with every copy of the Windows operating system. He wasn’t using any CRM software. He hadn’t ever been exposed to it.

Outside of his own memory and a few scribbled notes, Selarka had nothing to remind him to call and email clients, vendors, and suppliers. When he travelled, he had no resource to look back at his history of communications. All that information was back at his office on his computer.

How discovered Zoho CRM:

Selarka never looked for another solution beyond Outlook Express because he simply never came across any type of CRM solution. It appears he didn’t even know about the category of CRM. That was until he saw Zoho at a friend’s office and realized, this is exactly what I want.

Competitive analysis of CRM:

Zoho CRM wasn’t the first CRM solution Selarka saw. He saw others. Was impressed. But the costs were so ludicrously high that he didn’t even bother. It’s understandable that Selarka balked when he first started looking at CRM solutions. For 14 years he had been using a free application to manage business relations.

Zoho CRM’s price didn’t send a shock to Selarka’s bank account. It was at a price he wanted, and he started using it just one year ago.

Unique use case of Zoho CRM:

Selarka is a very traditional CRM user. He takes advantage of Zoho CRM’s reminder features, which was his greatest need after leaving Outlook Express.

Given that an import-export business involves endless transactions with numerous suppliers, Selarka loved having contact information and invoicing all in one window, not scattered across multiple applications. In addition, all of Comet’s pricing information is within Zoho. So if he’s out and about and a customer asks about the price of a product, he can just look it up online. He doesn’t need to go back to the office.

Advice for others:

Selarka has become a complete convert to Zoho.

“If you have Zoho, you don’t need anything else,” he said.

We appreciate the compliment, but with all the other great tools out there (many of which Zoho integrates with) we can’t take full credit for answering all business problems. But if we’d previously been running our business on Outlook Express we’d agree as well about Zoho. Thanks Raja.

Using a CRM solution that most closely mirrors real life

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With a 15-month ramp up time, Louise Vincent needed Zoho CRM to manage all her relationships from designing her products, producing them, to ultimately determining who would be her buyers.

Business: Natural Hero Ltd – High performance natural recovery products for sports and fitness.

The challenge: Managing parallel developments working with plant scientists, physiotherapists, and cosmetic specialists. Plus have to think about who will the business serve.

“It’s that juggle between moving that business forward and developing as a business whilst also keeping fairly on top of the key issues of the people you’re working with,” Vincent said.

They were looking for a solution that could handle their relations with trade, with suppliers, and with the outside world. Prior to Zoho CRM Vincent wasted a lot of time with emails, documents, and spreadsheets.

How discovered Zoho: Talked to a lot of colleagues and got peer recommendations.

Unique use case of Zoho CRM: Didn’t try to setup everything at once. Using Zoho CRM has been very iterative and at each stage Vincent reflects back on what she has been learned allowing her to change if necessary. No configurations are set in stone, nor are they costly to change. When they decide they want to handle things differently nothing is lost as they shift processes.

Advice for others: Don’t get sucked into administrative nonsense, look at what actions (e.g., reports) will have impact to your bottom line. For example, the sales pipeline report shows potential customers and what level they’re at with regard to their potential income. This allows you to see who and what you need to focus on next.

“There’s something rather seductive about [administrative stuff] where you can enjoy just ticking things off without seeing what the end result is,” said Vincent. “Make sure you’re looking at the reports that are measuring impact rather than process.”

“Whatever relationship management system you use, and I recommend Zoho, make sure it links up with real life,” said Vincent. “Don’t get so caught up on the processes that you forget what you’re using it for.”

Listen to the complete interview with Louise Vincent here.

Zoho Reports: Cascading User Filters

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As you get to use a piece of software or application more and more, you tend to discover more and more about its capabilities. A little icon here, a shortcut key there – finding those hidden jewels results in Eureka moments that make you go, “Aha, so it’s done that way!” Sometimes, you may even find Easter eggs, cleverly placed by fun-loving programmers.

Before I digress further, let’s take the case of ‘User Filters’ in Zoho Reports. While continuing to use the drag-and-drop report designer, one day you might have noticed the third tab and asked yourselves, “How different is this ‘User Filters’ tab from the other ‘Filters’ tab?” and clicked on it. Then, as you first created your user filter, it may have dawned on you about how it works and how useful it is for the viewers of a report.

Till recently, though, there was one little niggle with user filters. Let me explain with an example. Say you are a Manager of a retail store that sells many ‘Products’. And these products fall under a few broad ‘Product Categories’. Now, let’s say you’d set up a user filter for ‘Product Category’ (for the report’s viewers to know how sales have fared in each category), and then you’d put in a second user filter for ‘Product’ (for viewers to further drill down sales based on products).

When a viewer chooses a ‘Product Category’ to view, what will her expectation be with the ‘Product’ user filter? To display products of that particular product category alone, right? Sadly, this wasn’t the case, and Zoho Reports simply continued to list products of all categories. This has been corrected now with the ‘List only relevant values’ option.

When a value is chosen in the first user filter, it cascades over the subsequent filters, giving the report’s viewers a better user experience.

Hope you liked learning about how the working of user filters has been improved now in Zoho Reports. If you notice a need for any such improvements when using other features, do let us know in the comments below or write to us at support@zohoreports.com. We’ll do our best to bring them in for you :)

Prototyping with Zoho Creator: A Unique Use-case!

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Zoho was a platinum sponsor at this year’s CRM Evolution Conference, held in New York on August 10. The event brought together many CRM users and vendors, and although CRM was the focus of most discussions, we were looking forward to hearing about Zoho apps too.

And so, we were happy to hear from Charlie Isaacs, a Zoho Creator enthusiast. In addition to working with Alcatel-Lucent, Charlie also works as a social media strategist for Genesys Lab.

When asked about how Zoho Creator simplified his requirement, Charlie had something unique to tell us: he prototypes using Zoho Creator.

Listen to Charlie explain how he does it:

Whenever Charlie gets a new idea for a project, he prefers to use a prototype to propose his plan. He says, and we agree, that a prototype is almost always more compelling than a 20-page document. Charlie takes advantage of Zoho Creator as he builds form-based solutions. The advantage Zoho Creator has over MySQL, he says, is that MySQL doesn’t allow the association of a form on the front-end.

There is always Oracle and MySQL, but to get something up and running, Zoho Creator is there for me.

In addition to prototyping, Charlie also spoke about an interesting mobile application that he uses to read QR codes, which are looked up in a Zoho Creator database. Based on the information returned, like UPC codes, Charlie then dynamically constructs the menu on the handheld application.

Thank you, Charlie, for sharing with us two very new use-cases of Zoho Creator. We’re glad to hear that it only takes an hour with Zoho Creator to complete the prototypes, versus 8 to 10 hours without it.