Tag Archives: Budget

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Using technology to gain a competitive edge

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Large corporations are growing at an astronomical rate. Big business is offering better services, faster response times and lower prices than small and even mid-range business can afford. If SMB is going to survive, there needs to be a competitive edge that allows them to stand out.

Sure there are big benefits to working with SMB. Personalized service, support local business, being there when you want them, flexibility rather than rigid corporate rules, and yes, even pricing can be competitive. All of this means nothing though if your potential customers aren’t reaching out to you or you’re not responding quickly enough.

When someone goes to Amazon to buy a product, it isn’t always because they know they can find the best price there. It isn’t free shipping or even a wealth of products to choose from. It’s certainly not because they get a personalized service. It’s because it’s quick and easy.

Pull up a website, find the product you’re looking for (and instantly compare it to like products), read reviews and make the purchase. It’s there the next (or even same) day. Easy.

So how does a local retailer, for example, compete with that kind of legacy? What must a local retailer do to bring people in their shop and still be able to offer good pricing?

Take another example. A local distributor of industrial equipment offers basically the same catalog as Grainger, the mother of Industrial supply, but goes a step further. By calling one number, the local distributor can shop the best rates, and get the product to you faster than Grainger and even find those odd ball parts that Grainer doesn’t have. This offers a competitive edge, but does that alone get customers coming back to them often enough? Maybe, maybe not. Grainger has every part in their catalog and the whole thing is available online as well as a record of what’s in stock.

If the customer calls in, waits for the right person to take the call, then waits some more while the local distributor needs to look up the SKU, check the warehouse, reserve the part, then call the customer back to let them know it’s ready and take the order and then, after the order is taken, they send an invoice a week later it puts unnecessary strain on the customer. The customer is touched three or four times just for a simple part.

What’s a local business to do?

By implementing some simple technical integrations, local businesses can offer a similar ease of use that cuts through the larger competitors.

Web Presence

One of the biggest things that sets a big corporation aside is their web presence. It’s not just how good their SEO is, or where they drop on a Google search, but more the interactivity on their site. Let’s take something closer to home. Say, Home Depot. From one site, I can find the product I’m looking for, compare vendors, find out if it’s in stock and at which store, make a list of the parts I need to do a job, even find out what aisle and shelf it’s on. When I go down there, I’m in and out.

Every SMB that wants (or needs) to compete with this type of monster should invest a lot in their website. This doesn’t necessarily need to be cost prohibitive however. Little changes mean a lot. A simple relational database integration between supply and a web based inventory system can be cheaper than you think. Online E-Commerce is also pretty affordable. If you ship product, consider a shipping integration that allows the customer to create a UPS or FedEx ticket on order.

If you can’t put every product on your website, consider a “featured product of the week”. Highlight some of the hot sellers and keep changing it up. This will allow you to stand out and show off your product line. You don’t need to be an expert web developer to update this daily.

Integrated Calling

One of the best parts of working with SMB is the experience when calling in for something. When you call a local or smaller company and you usually get a human right away that can answer your questions and take ownership of the issue. Call a major corporation like Amazon or Home Depot and you’re likely to have to dial an 800 number, answer 7 choices from a menu, get transferred three times and eventually get someone who can help you.

In order to offer fast and complete service on the phone, a Voice over IP (VOIP)  system can offer some great features to make sure you don’t miss a call and that your calling is integrated with your normal office applications like CRM, Email, Scheduling and even mobile phones.

You don’t need to buy an inordinate amount of infrastructure and equipment to take advantage of this system either. A Hosted VoIP system is a monthly service that provides everything you need. You pay a simple monthly rate for each extension and plug the phone in like a computer. Everything is configured by a web based interface.

If you have many different departments, a simple Auto Attendant can get the caller to the right department. If you have experts that are away from their desk or on the phone a lot, a good call routing plan can make sure incoming calls are sent to several phone at once, forwarded to mobile phones, even group voicemails and send to a team email.

Sales organizations benefit a lot from this. CRM & scheduling systems linked with outgoing calls can track call volume and conversion rates.

Business Analytics

Most businesses keep track of internal data. For example a property manager is likely to be tracking lease terminations and they’re probably tracking repairs. But what if they could equate lease terminations to repairs? If a lot of leases are not renewed in a building that has a high repair rate, maybe people are moving out because things don’t work right. This would help determine if renovations are in order and cost-justify it.

Most businesses do marketing events of some kind, but how many of them know if those events are paying off? A simple tracking and analysis of event costs to conversion rates can tell you.

Communication is Key

There’s another thing big business has over smaller ones. They become a household name. If I say buy online, you immediately think Amazon.

I’m not saying you need to spam everyone to death here. By you do need to give your customers enough of a reminder that you exist and care about them to keep yourself at the top of their list. Customer Resource Management can help you to know who you’re talking to and about what. This customizable system allows you to track opportunities, events, follow up and even sales pipelines without a lot of work. A CRM that is integrated with Email and Phones can solve the problem of people not putting data into CRM.

Other products like Sidekick or Constant Contact can help you determine the popularity of your emails and ensure that an important email thread isn’t dropped. Sometimes it only takes a day for a prospective customer to buy a service from someone else even though you’ve had an ongoing conversation with them.

None of these need to be exorbitant and costly systems. It’s simply a matter of keeping your technology aligned with the business. This systemic approach will help you get your IT costs under control, streamline your operations and most importantly, help you gain a competitive edge over the larger competition.

 


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Yeah, we can do that…

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For a Consultant, there’s nothing better that to say “Yeah, we can do that” to a customer request. The problem is, what if you really can’t do that?

Consultants, Service Providers & even some resellers want to gain their customers trust and be the go-to person for their needs, however, that’s not always the best practice. You’re only going to have so many skills in house. Being a one-stop-shop for your clients is good in theory but it takes the right business model.

One of the more common practices is where a Consulting firm tries to be an “everything shop” by hiring staff that function in multiple disciplines. I had a vendor visit me once while I was an IT Director saying her company did “everything”. When I inquired more, she showed me a card that listed over 25 distinct business units. Everything from structured cabling to software development.

Having worked for companies like that before, I asked “How many people work for you here?”. She said “12”.

That means each person was working 2 or more business units. While that may work from time to time, it isn’t a sustainable business model.

Why? Because the companies cash flow comes from billable hours. These 12 people have to be busy 30-40 hrs a week for the company to sustain a profit. As a result, the service they provide is only going to be as good as the people available for that specific job.

Take it a step further. What if one person leaves the company? They lose a couple competencies in the process. Replacing that person that has core skills in a couple different (and sometimes unrelated) area is a hiring nightmare.

When a company does business that way, it’s hit or miss on every job depending on the available resources.

Fortunately there’s a better way.

There are firms out there who’s role is that of a Trusted Advisor. Trusted Advisors know the basics of the various business units, but more importantly, they have a large referral network to bring in experts who specialize in a certain area and are available at the time. No temps, but reputable firms who have narrowed down their core competencies.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “why would I hire someone to hire people? I can coordinate that myself”. And if you actually have the time to research companies, interview multiple providers, get quotes, compare service and pricing, sign contracts, deal with disputes and manage the whole project yourself, great! Chances are you don’t. Those tasks take a lot of skill and a lot of time. If you have someone with that kind of time on their hands, you’re probably overstaffed and would be better off outsourcing that when you need it.

Also, the cost isn’t as bad as you think. A Trusted Advisor who’s willing to line-item costs should be able to give you a pretty fair deal to take a lot of work off your hands. They’re not easy to find, but valuable to have. Most consultants who want to do everything in house and are not comfortable referring business out. Advisors love bringing in their partners to a job because they know the job will get done right.

Trusted Advisors are able to provide a very well rounded service and perform at 100% most of the time. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of research and time spent with the partners, but once that network is built and the effort is made to nurture those partner relationships, we’re able to take on almost everything without having to hire a lot of internal staff to do it.

Having the best of the best partners at our disposal, we’re able to truly say “Yeah, we can do that” and be true to our word.


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How to cut telecommunications costs by 20-30%

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“If you haven’t completed a detailed analysis of your telephone bills in the past two years, there’s a 90% chance you are being overcharged—possibly as much as 20%.” — FCC

“Rather than getting better as a result of computerization, utility bills seem to be getting worse. They are indecipherable, lack itemization, contain inflated or phony charges, and cost customers billions of dollars a year.” — Ralph Nader

With the rise in Telecommunications costs, it becomes increasingly important to analyse your costs for errors, overages and omissions. Additionally, as the market gets more competitive, carriers are offering better and better deals. This, combined with changing business needs causes companies to have to re-analyze their current contracts on an ongoing basis.

CBC Solutions offers a 5 step process to help businesses find the best cost savings they can get while meeting the business needs of the organization.

  1. Assess business processes & determine voice and data needs
  2. Audit contracts and latest invoices
  3. Identify alternate vendors for service needs
  4. Provide a formal recommendation & assist with implementation
  5. Track invoicing and manage contract renewals

On average, CBC Solutions can find 20-30% or more savings on a telecommunication budget and drive down operating costs. With CBC Solutions at your side, you can be sure your getting the best possible rates. We cut through the loopholes and get the vendors competing for your business.

Our Commitment:

  • Absolute Neutrality – Our network of over 100 carriers contains no underlying commitments or quotas. We negotiate the best rates with your best interests at heart.
  • No Risk – CBC Solutions employ a risk-free auditing technique. We find the best rates for your organization so you can focus on your core business.
  • Lifetime Support – We want to earn your trust. As a result, we treat your account as if it is our own. Our vendor relationships allow us to get better support than the average person and we will support you as long as your contract lasts.

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How (and why) to Trust your Trusted Advisor

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I was in a networking group once where we had to go around the room and describe what makes us different than our [sometimes larger] competitors. Although all of us were from different industries, virtually everyone’s value proposition could be summed up into one word. Trust!

When I was a kid, I learned that trust had to be earned. I still believe that today. The question is, how do you trust someone to advise you on something you don’t understand?

I have advisors for Marketing, Insurance and Taxes. Not subjects I went to school for, nor do I profess to be an expert in any of them. However, I do consider myself good judge of character and being an advisor myself, I know what it takes to earn trust.

Results Matter
No one can talk about trust without considering results. Obviously that’s number one. A good trusted advisor will help you develop goals on which to measure success. My marketing advisor develops goals to measure hit count on my website, conversion rates, new sales leads, etc. With my Tax guy, it’s how he manages my deductibles and how susceptible am I to an audit. My Insurance agent makes sure I have the coverage I need. She’s not the cheapest in the world (and she tells me that), but she’s upfront and makes a real effort to understand my needs.

The point is, to measure results, the proper goals need to be set and you should be able to gauge how well you do in achieving them. It goes beyond ‘under promise – over deliver’. Anyone can under promise. Goals should be realistic. It’s also not as important to hit them on the first throw as much as how you can change up the game if you miss your target or don’t get the results you want.

Communication
One of the best value principals of a good advisor is communication. The advisors I trust are the ones who give it to me straight. In sales, we’re taught to tell the customer what they want to hear. Advisors are here to tell us what we need to hear. It may not always be good news, but if you need to hear it, it’s valuable.

Time is Money
Once you find an advisor you trust, how much time do you spend validating their work? If your advisor gives you a quote, do you look for a better one? Maybe, if the time it takes to shop doesn’t exceed the amount of money you might save on the their offer. However, I’ve seen people spend 10 hours to save $100. Not my favorite approach.

Disclosure
Ultimately, the best people I trust are the ones that are forthcoming about their commission rates, competitor pricing, markups and wholesale costs. That doesn’t mean they have to volunteer all that information, just that they’re honest about what they’re making on the deal and how much risk they’re assuming. Not everyone can do this, but the ones who can, usually earn my trust pretty quick.

Dedication
When you have an advisor you really trust, nurture that relationship. They will usually be there in a pinch when you need them most.

I’m not personally a strong believer in the 80/20 rule. At least not in the ways it’s used in sales. The most common translation I see is to focus 80% of your time on the top 20% of your customers. Personally, I strive to give 110% to every customer and I expect the people I do business with to do the same. Because Trust is the name of the game. If you’re advisor gives you the impression they’re putting 110% into you, ask yourself, are you in their top 20%, or do they bring that dedication to every table.

 


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Keys to a healthy technology budget

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Practically every business these days spends a sufficient amount of money on technology, however surprisingly few have a healthy technology budget. Either they are spending more on products, services and overhead than the solution saves them, or they don’t spend enough to keep systems and applications running efficiently. Move over, many business are still not taking full advantage of the Cloud.

There are many reasons for this. The most obvious is that Technology Professionals are not typically versed in business (and often don’t care to be). Another is that the environment is changing so rapidly that it’s almost insurmountable for a business decision maker to understand the options that are out there. There are a lot of Consulting agents willing to help, but not all of them take a holistic approach to planning a technology budget.

Identify the Business Requirement

In order to adequately evaluate the solutions in place, it’s necessary to have a clear understanding of the process that the solution is here to solve. Take the focus off the technology, infrastructure and product and move it toward the specific part of the business process that it addresses.

Understand your TCO

Many times we get sticker shock when we look at certain solutions which can force us to scale down and ultimately end up with a solution that costs more to operate and support then it would to just purchase the right product or service. It’s thus important to have a full understanding of the Total Cost of Ownership for the product in question. Cheap or free can sometimes lead to huge support costs and unexpected downtime.

Long Term Planning

To be effective and still keep up with the changing landscape, I’ve found it’s important to look at the long term. When I say “long term” in technology, I’m talking 3-5 years. Depreciation cycles should be set at roughly 3 years. Contracts are best as a 1 or 2 year, though there can be massive savings available with a 3+ year contract.

All of this should be re-evaluated every year to make sure the costs and technologies match the offers available. When signing a long-term contract, always make sure you know what options are available to terminate early. For example, you may want to term the contract in a year because you are moving offices. In this case, you have two options. One is to transfer the service to your new location, the other is to end it completely. If you’re moving out of an area serviced by that vendor, you have no option but to terminate it.

Vendors should have provisions in their contracts for early termination. There may be an early termination fee. This cost should be factored in as a risk when the contract is signed. They may also offer a way to move service to your new location for free. To determine the value of this, make sure you know what the cost of that move would be if that offer wasn’t on the table.

Utilize the Cloud

Cloud Computing has commoditized technology, but it’s costs need to be controlled. See Time for IT to Rein In Cloud Computing Control. Cloud services can really help get costs under control. I’m not talking the generic “OpEx vs. CapEx” discussion that most Cloud Consultants use. That discussion is for another day. I’m talking about the costs of building an infrastructure and the costs of maintaining that infrastructure vs. paying for what you use when you use it.

Consider this. Before the cloud, we used to have to spend a lot of time defining the architecture, spec’ing out the right services, building up the servers, network, and access control, and planning for disaster recovery, backups & antivirus before we even install the first application. The graph below is an example of what those costs look like. It starts with a large expense in the form of hardware, software and often services. This expense offers virtually no value to the organization. Next, IT spends time installing and configuring applications and services to bring the solution to life and then starts rolling it out to end users. In the graph below, the orange lines equate to large purchases, while the blue line is the utilization of the service.

Capital costs

I know that the math geeks out there are going to cry foul on these charts. That they’re generic and don’t represent re-world scenarios. I agree. Real costs can fluctuate greatly, but it does provide a model to compare how costs relate to utilization so bear with me.

Once end users start using the solution, the value of it starts to grow. The green shaded areas indicate where the solution is adding it’s most value, while the red regions show where the costs exceed the value. The more the utilization, the higher the value, however, once the utilization reaches a certain point, the infrastructure can’t keep up with the demand and performance suffers. Until another large expense is allocated. Then the costs out-weigh the utilization and the process starts all over. Meanwhile the costs keep going up. Sound familiar?

Software As A Service
Under the Software As A Service (SAAS) model, your costs are directly proportional to the utilization and the net value of the services is more directly propositional to the costs. Again, please excuse the generic graph.
cloud costs

This is the real value of the Cloud. This is a Rent vs. Buy discussion. Think about a house. It’s a big expense. Much bigger than a rental, but you build up equity the more you put into it. Plus, unless you’re in a depressed area, the value of your house appreciates over time.

Now compare that to a car. The car depreciates in value the minute you drive it off the lot and continues to depreciate every year. Even if you don’t drive it. Leasing might be the better option from a purely financial aspect. No dollar you put into your car is coming back to you in 10 years.

Comparatively, the same happens with infrastructure. Your technology infrastructure will continue to depreciate until it becomes an expense to just keep it around. And it will depreciate at a faster rate than your car. Retiring old infrastructure can be quite costly as well.

Factor in Administrative Costs
Ever take a real look at how much time and money is put into supporting your technology infrastructure. The orange region of the chart below relate to overhead costs to support power and cooling, hardware maintenance, patching, virus protection, backups, fail over, remediation testing and upgrades. These are the area’s most IT departments spend a majority of their time. It’s important to note, that none of the tasks I just mentioned add any value to the business at all. The value add starts above the red line. To run an effective IT shop, you have to manage where that line is. The upper layers include software configuration, application customization and service provisioning which is where IT becomes a strategic asset to the company.

admin costs'

 

When you buy applications as a service, the orange region goes away and IT is working strictly as a strategic asset. The overhead costs are greatly diminished. Plus, when a better solutions comes around, you simply stop service on the old solution. There’s nothing to retire.

Long Term Planning
To be effective and still keep up with the changing landscape, it’s important to look at the long term. Contracts & solutions should be re-evaluated every year to make sure the costs and technologies match the offers available. When signing a long-term contract, always make sure you know what options are available for you to terminate early. For example, you may want to term the contract in a year because you are moving offices. In this case, you have two options. One is to transfer the service to your new location, the other is to end it completely. If you’re moving out of an area serviced by that vendor, you have no option but to terminate it.

Vendors should have provisions in their contracts for early termination. There may be an early termination fee. This cost should be factored in as a risk when the contract is signed. They may also offer a way to move service to your new location for free. To determine the value of this, make sure you know what the cost of that move would be if that offer wasn’t on the table.

Summary

The main point of this post is that your technology budget is a large part of your operating costs. With the right consideration and long-term planning, it can be managed in such a was as to keep the companies finances in order and add value to the organization A good technology consultant who is focused on the business should be able to help you see the long-term hard and soft costs and assist with negotiating the best contracts on your behave.

 

 


Free yourself from the worry of technology and get back to running your business today!