Blog

February 2013 - Volano Solutions

The Limitations of CRM

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CRM

As a software consultancy, Volano is an expert on CRM systems. Any organization that needs to manage contacts and contact data, run targeted marketing campaigns and store contact specific information can appreciate the utility of a good CRM system. I would wager to say that in this data-driven age, CRM has become as popular a term in business as “e-mail” was in the nineties.

Under Utilization

Unfortunately, many CRM systems were designed to cast a wide net on markets in need of contact management. As a result, so many features were created that the software’s complexity compromised the few key components for which it was designed to perform. The weight of these CRM systems are reflected in the cost which is often confusing and tiered out. The overly complex systems are often shunned by the very sales people for which they were intended to help. Managers then continue to lack visibility into the status of sales funnels. Sales people conversely manage much of their relationship management in their heads. This isn’t necessarily bad but makes for poor ROI on your systems, especially if your sales people leave.

What Do I Do with this Information?

Volano is a proponent of strong workflow management. Steelwool was designed to help good companies with a defined work process better manage the tasks critical to delivering on their brand promise. CRM systems lay out the opportunities and workflow management comes in when those opportunities turn into work. When a lead becomes a customer, that customer has work that requires tracking. Your people need to complete tasks, attach documents and they usually do it in a specific order, in queues. CRM systems rarely track work, nor do they prompt people to complete their assigned tasks. Do your people have the tools needed to efficiency manage work? Do you have visibility into the status of all of your projects?

Acronyms, Catch-Phrases and Buzzwords

It’s difficult sometimes to remember that the software tools you’ve invested in were purchased or made to help your people take care of your customers. You know when they’re working when you don’t think about them. Your customers are happy and you don’t take so much stress as a business owner home with you. Between the wasteland of contemporary business terminology – CRM, hashtags, ERPs, ETAs, ROI, etc…recall that often the most powerful differentiator you can have in your business is exceptional service. The question is, do your systems facilitate this process or get in the way?

Thoughts on Workflow

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Do You Know Your Process?

One of the benefits of working with small businesses who decide to try Steelwool is that we get to see owners think critically about their current process as they whiteboard out the chronology of their work queues and tasks. Rarely do they think their current process is the ideal one. Inevitably Volano plays devil’s advocate as an objective third party, questioning the current order of tasks and associated documentation. It allows us to partner up with clients in a more meaningful way, helping bring visibility and consistency to their process as well as a moment to re-think whether or not that current way of doing things is scalable for their growth. As a business owner, you want to consider when and how you adjust your process to accommodate for added staff and sales volume.

Where We’ve Been

Volano is proud of the progress we’ve made developing Steelwool. New functionalities and enhancements such as the data upload feature and the increased reporting capabilities have helped make it a more relevant tool when tracking work and managing multiple client engagements at once across different departments and people. Ultimately the tool is about how we communicate. The clients who are using Steelwool have continued to provide us with valuable feedback on their experience as users which have helped us continue to improve Steelwool with updates made as recently as last night.

Your Compass

Understanding where you and your team are at in the status of your projects is empowering. That knowledge and real-time awareness enhance the kind of communication that takes place in your organization. If I know exactly where my people are in the status of their projects, I can drill in and get involved in work that requires help or guidance. This is a more efficient way for owners and managers to spend time and will help lead to a better customer service experience for your people. How many times has anxiety due to uncertainty about all of your projects caused you to lose sleep at night?

How We’re Growing Work Management

As Steelwool becomes more well-known in the market, we’ve learned what types of organizations stand to benefit the most from its use and where strategic partnerships can help elevate the brand. Recently we’ve had the pleasure of working with Dominic DiGiacomo with Best Card. These guys handle merchant bank and credit card transaction services for a lot of industries and Dominic has done a fantastic job of learning about the Omaha and Lincoln markets through his networking efforts. Best Card builds relationships with clients like we do at Volano, where it makes sense for their customers and where value can be realized. Sometimes the best way to do business is by recommending your prospective customer head in another direction that makes more sense for their model and goals. Best Card is consultative and does the rare thing; listen. Steelwool likes to be associated with integrity. Our relationship with Grow Nebraska has been much the same and having such valuable partners is empowering. We’ve learned that treating partners like your clients has a fantastic, karmic effect.

Our Culture: For Wonks, By Wonks

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Recently our culture was described as “for coders – by coders”.

I’ve never thought of it like that before, but it is spot on.  Makes sense too, considering my “corporate up bringing”.

Work hard, reward employees and have fun

My first “real job” happened when I was promoted to Junior Programmer at National Research Corporation in Lincoln, NE. They had the typical company calendar at NRC that was printed and distributed every month.  But the most iportant task I remember being on the calendar was which department was responsible to go on the beer run for Beer:30 on Fridays.

At the time, this was a 15 year old company with 100+ associates yet they had never missed a Beer:30 in the history of the company.

I accredit much of my thought on how a business should be ran (flat structure, no HR department, reward new ideas and hard work) to National Research Corporation and Mike Hays.

Open door and camaraderie

My second job was when I couldn’t take the commute to Lincoln any more and found another market research company in Omaha, Customer Service Profiles.  When I started, of the 20 employees, the only other guy was the co-owner and salesman, Sandy Friedman.  Because of this, Sandy and I bonded and I really appreciated the approachability of a company owner.  CSP was very good at putting on company events, whether that was a picnic outside, potlucks, etc. it helped bring the employees together.

Client-Partners

Then I went into consulting – staff augmentation actually.  Staff aug can be pleasant or horrible or somewhere in between.  You can be set up at a folding table with rough edges to rest your for arms on while you sit on a metal folding chair and work on archaic technology.  Luckily, I was placed at IntegriGuard for 3 years and they treated me like an employee.  I even received “employee of the month” while I was there.  Working with the folks at IntegriGuard, made me understand the difference between being treated like a vendor and working together as a partner.

Presentation, polish and good coffee

Lastly, before starting Volano, I had a quick stint at MSI.  MSI made me understand the importance of polish.  At MSI, people dressed nice.  It was a sales-driven organization.  It had good coffee always available.  They knew the importance of presentation.

With each of these companies, there were also things I learned not to do, but I’ll save those for another post.

That’s how the Volano culture came to be – at least a large part of how.  

Our culture

We work hard and we very much like to have our fun.  There’s no HR department at Volano.  We play darts and drink on Friday afternoons.  We play our jukebox.  We reward people for thinking of better ways of doing things.  We eat lunch, go to movies and go to the bar together.  Our clients are our partners – that’s not just something we say.  We work to the best of our ability for each and every client-partner we have.  We can effectively communicate with the client and present ourselves in a professional manner from the C-level executives to the entry level staff.

That is Volano.

A Volano Valentine

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This week greeting card makers, florists, jewelers, restaurants and chocolatiers will reap the windfall of our otherwise perennial apathy toward demonstrating affection toward our loved ones. Like green beer on St. Pat’s Day and deficit spending before Christmas, we’ll all try and pack fantastic amounts of attention into a day that might otherwise be doled out in smaller, more consistent increments throughout the year. But Volano is a little different. Hang in there with me on the metaphor…

All good relationships are about commitment. Volano’s business comes primarily from clients with whom we’ve worked in the past and businesses who heard good things about us from said clients. This has helped us grow as we approach our 6th year of business. Like love, you get what you give. Some of our customers have been in toxic relationships with other software providers who have not listened to their needs and failed to deliver consistently. That this is a technology industry does not forgive the importance of commitment and follow-up.

Communication is key in all healthy relationships. When we work with a client, the developer assigned to the project will be the one interfacing with the client and will lead regular status (iteration) meetings to ensure we’re all on the same page. No time is wasted customizing software that does not serve our clients’ business purpose.

So this week, as in all weeks, Volano will continue to show our clients love. We’ll deliver on what they need, not what we’d like to sell them. We’ll be honest and transparent. We’ll listen. We won’t take you for granted. And as always, we’ll try harder not to beat you over the head with heavy-handed analogies.

Letting Others Win

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One of the prominent virtues of greatness is humility.

Humility is the ability for one to remain modest regardless of his aptitude and potential. Here is an example illustrating what this means:

If you’re an amazing dart player (like myself), you tend to win the majority of the time. However, simply because you possess the ability to win does not necessarily make you “great”. In my opinion a “great” dart player does not always out perform his competition, but instead occasionally lets those with less ability than himself come out on top.

This is the same concept behind letting children win at board games. While winning may not be important to an adult, children find it very encouraging. Letting others win can be a great way to boost their self confidence.

So my advice to all those who possess greatness is this; show a little “Grace” and let others shine from time to time.

Volano Employee to Coach Younger Employees on Dart Throwing Technique

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Volano employee Kelly Grace will be hosting daily dart throwing lessons for any of the younger staff who still struggle with consistency in their throwing technique. Today Kelly threw a brilliant round, dazzling all 4 of the other participants with his steely delivery and lethal accuracy.

“I reckon this trophy will sit on my desk for some time” said Grace with a wry grin. The other competitors appeared visibly shaken, presumably battling the conflicting emotions of crushing defeat and sheer, majestic awe. Brandon Moser was so baffled by the Errol Flynn dartsmanship displayed on the 8th floor of the Exchange Building that he was incapable of taking a picture of the winner.

Losing Mental Weight

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“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld.

One of the perks of pitching Steelwool to local businesses and non-profits is that the discussion about workflow naturally stimulates a reflection on the current way of doing work versus the ideal way. Business owners are almost universally challenged to find the time to even think philosophically about how they can improve upon their process for work flow. I always enjoy these philosophical discussions. Technology talk inevitably provokes conversation on employee morale, customer satisfaction and a term we like to use called “mental weight.” It is not hard to quantify the time and cost savings that a good work management system can create. Saving owners and employees steps, eliminating redundancy and capturing sales opportunities in a linear, consistent qualification process will not only lead to greater prospect conversion, client satisfaction and employee relief (they know what is expected of them) but they can be measured. It is harder to quantify the mental weight or stress that owners and employees deal with when there is subjectivity and uncertainty involving work status. This is your mental weight and the unknown unknowns Rumsfeld is talking about.

Our Steelwool clients like the fact that at any point in time, they can easily see where their work resides. They can see what step in their process work is sitting in and who on their team needs to complete a task or tasks to move it forward. Having associated pictures and documents in each work item provides additional relief. It is hard to quantify the value of checking on your projects from your tablet or phone so that you always know where you’re at, who needs help on your team and what you need to do on Monday when you’re back in the office. Good or bad, this transparency provides comfort. Having your stated process personified in an intuitive, customizable workflow also provides a consistent framework from which your people work. If anyone gets hit by the proverbial bus, the work status is not lost and team members and business owners can pick up where they left off on each project they touched. Pretty cool. Focus on landing more business. Spend more time interfacing with your clients.