11 posts categorized " Business Systems"

02/01/2018

Delighting Customers With a Digital Workplace

Customer-first-© iQoncept-Fotolia_70871759_XS

At NewPath we like to ask this core question: What's the most important thing to a small business owner?

Your business idea, you say? An idea is great. But without customers, it really is just an idea. And the value of an idea is related directly to the ability to bring the idea successfully to customers. The better you execute, the better the idea.

Time, then? Time is an important aspect of running a business, but we all have the same amount of time. Without customers, you just have a lot of time on your hands.

Money? It has to be money! Money is important, no doubt. But happy customers pay you for your services or product. Money on its own won't grow without value being delivered to customers.

So what IS the most important thing for small business success? Your customer! A customer is by far the most important objective for a small business owner. Happy customers will pay money for your idea and tell you when they'd like it delivered. Businesses increase their chance of success when customers are the MOST important thing.

Customer-oriented technology - a case study

So what does the customer have to do with building a digital workplace? Everything! Today, people are changing how they find valuable information, and they’re looking for help to prioritize what steps they take to run a business.

Therefore, your digital workplace should be set up in a way that you’re providing this kind of information (online content), in a way that your prospective customers can find it (and you). The pre-sales and post-sales process has changed so that customers are doing more research long before they may ever interact with you directly.

Yet there’s a natural tension between putting technology in front of your processes and being truly customer focused. That’s why when choosing the right technology solutions for your business, it’s important to discern when your technology will enhance your customer relationships, and when it will get in their way.

For example, we mentioned a customer in our last newsletter who is working on becoming digital workplace in a customer-focused way. They are trying to automate a process that is very cumbersome and complex for their patients.

When a client needs a medical test, they need to fill out forms through a paper clerical process that involves a staff member to select the right form so the patient can fill them out by hand. Different information is needed for different tests, different forms are needed for different insurance companies, and patients also want to identify the best price for the tests they need.

As you can probably tell, this is all very time-consuming and means the clinic can only serve a limited number of patients. The system NewPath designed routes data to the necessary forms depending on which insurance they have, and generates an editable PDF for the clinic that can be digitally processed or uploaded to the clinic website.

The whole thing takes far less time, and is more accurate. Automating this data collection for the customer, and automatically generating the right set of forms depending on the condition is much more customer-friendly.

In this example of digital workplace transformation, our customer was looking at what the customer values. They understood how painful it was for their patients to look for and fill out all the different requisitions, and investigate which clinics took their insurance, etc. This process ensures the right information is sent to the right place, helping their client navigate a very complex healthcare system.

These technology solutions will also help our client scale their business and talk to more patients. We’ll talk more about the specifics of this project in a future article. If you’re curious about the tools we used, click these links to learn more about Formstack and WebMerge.

Delighting customers

In a digital workplace, a business uses cloud-based technology to deliver value to customers, ensure customer success, and manage their resources. They also use technology to help deliver their value proposition consistently, delighting customers and attracting prospects through digital marketing.

Let’s take a deeper look at these last three areas, beginning with consistent value proposition delivery. Right now, clients may have a different experience depending on how they interact with your business, and with whom, and also how you portray your business value, products and services.

When you use technology, you’re taking processes that are malleable and flexible, and creating an interface where clients can consistently get the same high level of service. For example, At NewPath we prefer to talk to our customers in short meetings on a regular basis to work through the issues in our projects, so we’ve created a consistent method to achieve this.

When customers want to book time with our director Alex Sirota, they access his online booking calendar, powered by Appointlet. Instead of having to go back and forth by email to find a mutually convenient time, Alex presents a digital interface that allows customers to choose a time that will work for both.

There are a consistent set of steps that occur every time they schedule a meeting. They choose their time zone, type of meeting, and preferred location (these preferences can be saved for future bookings).

Once they select a time, the underlying technology springs into action. The customer receives a confirmation with a calendar invite and a reminder before the meeting, all of which is totally automated and personalized.

Now let’s talk about the opposite of delighting customers, by using a not-so-delightful example we can all relate to: the automated phone system. You’re having an issue with one of your vendors so you dial customer service, and then various phone cues tell you which number to press for certain outcomes.

In the past we would have connected with a human voice, “How may I help you?” and that person would triage your call manually and connect you with the right person who could solve your problem. Today, customers are forced to do that routing ourselves, but if our problem doesn’t fit neatly into one of the options, it can be extremely frustrating.

So while these automated phone systems certainly make for a consistent experience, it’s definitely not delighting customers. Now with new advances in automation and artificial intelligence, there are some phone systems that you can speak to with natural phrases and it can translate those into its set menu items. In other cases, the system will identify your phone number and recognize you as a current customer to route your call accordingly. These are all steps in the right direction.

Another way companies are using digital to delight customers is by providing support via social media. They know customers are there already, and this may be the first place they go to talk about a problem they’re having with a company, product or service.

Some companies provide comprehensive social media groups on Facebook, online support materials or forums, which can be cost-saving as well. Others offer instant chat, or the option to have someone call you back instead of waiting on hold.

At NewPath one way we try to delight customers is with our customized video training sessions. Why not just send them to the support articles at Wild Apricot or our other vendors? The difference is that we train them on a particular sequence of things they need to know to reach their specific goals.

We also record these training sessions so our customers can review them later. We know that after the session when they try to replicate the steps, they may run into a bump or two. With the recording, they can re-watch the lesson as many times as they need to. Of course we’re always here for questions, but this empowers our customers to do more on their own and they tell us this is much appreciated.

We think there is a huge opportunity for service-based companies to do more video-based collaboration, training and support. It’s a way to delight customers, and can also save costs and time for you both.

Lastly, let’s look at attracting prospects through digital marketing. We find that the best way to do that is through content marketing and through building relationships with vendors that recommend our service.

How does being a digital workplace support your ability to distribute content? The first way is that you need to have a website built so that it allows you to categorize, structure, and publish content in a way that is optimized for the search engines. The second way is through email marketing, where you build a prospect list and keep in touch on a regular basis. We’ll talk about each of  these marketing efforts/tasks in detail in future articles.

Customer first, digital second

At NewPath we interact with customers primarily between email and
Zoom, and sometimes by phone. Internally, we use another channel called Slack that allows us to structure conversations around different customers and projects, but we haven’t given our customers access to that channel. We don’t want to superimpose our way of doing things onto our customers. If they hear about Slack and are interested, we will let them into Slack, but until then we’ll keep using the support channels our customers are used to.

Cloud

We think there is a place for digital transformation in every single part of your business: sales, accounting marketing, operations, HR, and client management. The caveat is that the transformation should be customer focused, not just an excuse to use an interesting digital tool. That’s why we suggest testing new solutions first with a subset of your customers, figuring out what really resonates and delivers value they have not experienced with anyone else.

If you have any questions about your own company’s digital transformation, feel free to get in touch, particularly around the implementation phase. We specialize in helping small businesses prioritize their digital transformation projects, and select and implement the right tools for the job.

01/17/2018

The 5 Core Business Capabilities Every Business Must Master

Business owners wear many hats and feel a lot of pressure to be good at everything they’re trying to juggle. Relax! Even though we’re about to tell you about five essential areas you need to cover in your business, you don’t need to be amazing at all of them.

In our experience, though, you must at least have a good handle on the first two. We’ve seen firsthand the struggle of business owners who don’t know their basic business objectives or marketing strategy.

In our interactive guidebook How to Get Ahead in 2018, we take you through 15 simple, concrete steps for becoming a digital workplace, and link you to our favourite cloud-enabled technologies for each tip. We outline exactly what to do, and the tools you need to do it. But if you’re not quite ready to adopt new technologies or processes, we suggest you start with the five business basics we’re covering today.

While we love to talk tech, here at NewPath we see these essential concepts not as technologies but as drivers to the appropriate technology. This knowledge set will sustain your business through 2018.

There will always be overlap between these five areas. For example, content marketing leverages the internet and several systems covered in the implementation area. Market is understanding your market and the basics of marketing, while content marketing is a specific form of marketing. With that in mind, here are the five core business capabilities that we at NewPath believe are fundamental to any successful business:

Core Capabilites High Level

  1. Business

This capability involves clarifying your business model and business objectives, and your professional ethics and legal practices such as contracting and intellectual property. It’s understanding what business you’re in so you can set objectives for where you want to be, such as your goals for revenue generation and profit.

Nailing down the way you get new customers and how you serve them defines where you should invest. Are you a high-value business, a widget seller, a retail store? Every value proposition leads to specific investment priorities.  

Of the five basic capabilities, we think what’s most important is for every business owner to know their business objectives and business model. The rest you can hire or outsource.

The Business Model Canvas approach we recommend to outline your objectives offers a simplified approach. This exercise uses one page to identify your business model today and what it could be in the future. Start now with this interactive online version we’ve created for you, and be sure to regularly review and improve on your objectives and model.  

‘Business’ also implies an ability to focus on particular set of things you’re really good at and maximize those capabilities or value propositions. One of the things I notice about small business owners is they depend on one contract or customer coming in after another without knowing or investigating why they came specifically to them. Therefore they don’t hit an engine of growth by continuing to attract new customers without depending on existing word of mouth only.

At NewPath Consulting one thing that seems to be working for us is building partnerships with the vendors whose products we sell. Once we’ve built intellectual property around using that software service (blog post articles, videos, white papers, etc.), we go to them and ask if we can partner. We use that content as a strategy to make a connection. So setting up referral partnerships is one example of an objective we are using to meet our business goals.

Other objectives might involve legal and contracting practices or ethical considerations, such as a master services agreement template. Putting this in place with the help of a small business lawyer has definitely helped us bring on larger customers.

  1. Market

This capability is about understanding the customer and what motivates them to engage, defining your value proposition, and the 4 Ps of marketing -- product, price, promotion and place

Your product is, quite simply, what you're offering and the inherent value proposition, while price is what you will charge for your product or service. Will you have rock bottom pricing or premium pricing? At NewPath we don’t charge premium pricing. We offer reasonable pricing for our target customers of small and medium sized businesses, with primarily fixed cost contracts rather than variable contracts where we would charge by the hour.

The third P is promotion. Knowing how to promote your business is one of most essential skills. Too many small businesses don’t invest in marketing because they’re unsure of what marketing investment will work for them. Radio, TV and print cost too much; flyers become junk-mail; Google Ads can be easily blocked. But if you never channel your profits back into the right mix of marketing, you may never grow into being a well-known leader in your field.

As we mentioned above, one way NewPath gets great marketing traction is to approach vendors and arrange for them to promote our business through content marketing or simply by recommending us with ‘backlinks.’ (As a bonus, having links to your site from a larger site is one of the best ways to rank higher in search engine results!) We connect with our partners and provide interesting content on a regular basis and found this method to be so successful that we will continue to do this even more in 2018.

For service businesses, word of mouth is extremely important. Make sure you’re monitoring social media about your business to address any negative sentiment and to highlight any positive recommendations, referrals and comments to build the quality of your brand online. However, don’t expect your core customers and vendors to do all your advertising for you.

You must also actively promote yourself through marketing and potentially advertising. It’s important that your promotion is aligned with what it is you’re trying to do (your value proposition). In a digital workplace, promotion should be primarily online. You can use other marketing channels to promote or distribute your value proposition but the best ROI for your marketing buck is definitely online.

The fourth P is place, or the context of your workplace. Where are you interacting with your customers? Is this on social media or by email marketing? Have you set up your business virtually? Do you have a local business where foot traffic makes a big difference?

In a digital workplace, office space doesn’t matter as much - your place becomes however and wherever you put yourself in front of your customers when they need you. This ties again into the idea of partnerships. For example, one of our most valued vendors is Wild Apricot, and NewPath is listed in the Wild Apricot partner network.

The partner network is one place current Wild Apricot customers go to select a vendor to help them implement, and ranking highly in this directory brings us a steady stream of referral customers. Being in the right place at the right time makes a huge difference for us. It may for you as well!

By being in the right place when customers need service from a business like yours you’ll be more likely to be chosen. SEO (search engine optimization) plays a role in that, as does high-quality content and vendors who recommend you as partners.  

The next three capabilities are ones that may not come naturally, but that small businesses should be building all the time either through internal staff or outsourcing.

  1. Design and usability

This capability is about creating the necessary online environment to deliver value to customers, which includes branding, graphic design, security and privacy. This represents how your business interacts with its customers online.

It’s the brand people associate with you and your company, from what kind of kind of graphic design you use to your policies around security and privacy. The design and usability of your services and support is how you build a first and lasting impression on your customers.

When you’re using digital products and representing yourself online, your personality has to be reflected in the design of your online presence since that’s often how customers interact with your business.

Design may not be something you’ve put a lot of thought into until now, but if you want to grow your business, you need a professional presence you can feel proud of. That’s why the most successful companies like Amazon and Apple put so much effort into design and making sure their design is consistent across every touchpoint of their customers’ journeys.  

Amazon’s investment in design values helped them emerge as one of today’s market leaders (even though they lost money for years). Investing in the design and usability of your online operations is just as important for you to be able to prosper in 2018 and beyond.  

Usability and security are equally as important as visual design. You need to do a good job of explaining to people how you will store and use the personal information they’re entering into your site or as they subscribe to your newsletter.

This area is the most expensive to get right, and it’s not easily accomplished. In most cases you have to outsource this responsibility unless you are a professional graphic and web designer or choose a professional website theme or template. Keep in mind that you don’t have to figure this out all at once. It can steadily improved all the time, especially when you incorporate testing and analytics to track and measure how people are responding to your changes.

At NewPath we’ve chosen to work with vendors and organizations who also value design and usability, so we can bring this forward to our customers without having to reinvent the wheel. These capabilities are built right into the services and products we offer.

  1. Implementation

This capability is about developing or acquiring the technical knowledge and fundamental capabilities of digital workplace software tools and services, in order to accomplish your business goals.

Implementation tools includes things like standards and protocols, hosting and server technologies, content management systems, programming and markup languages, databases, change and project managements, and eCommerce.

You can divide these tools into the broader categories of operations, sales, and marketing. At NewPath we specialize in all three, and in helping you implement these tools and services. You can click here to read more about the technology stack we use and recommend.  

  1. Content marketing

Content marketing represents a new way to market, in an industry where there really hasn’t been much innovation for a long time. As Queen’s University’s Ken Wong points out in this 2014 article about ‘the incredible shrinking marketer,’ “Our response to change has been tactical. Instead of trying to find better things to do, we simply try to do the old things a little better.” NewPath presents a better option for your marketing investments.

Content marketing enables you to combine the first four capabilities and present them to your target audience. By understanding your business, knowing your value proposition, applying good design and usability principles, and implementing right technology solutions, you can create content that expresses your value proposition.

Customers and business partners will be able to quickly find you, read more about you, and be confident that you know what you’re doing. You’ll be building a reputation and an online following.

The articles we publish on our blog and newsletter are just the tip of the iceberg of our knowledge of sales, marketing, and the business technologies that we recommend. We've found that when you consistently publish high-quality content, you’re regularly reminding your audience that you exist, that you have value to share, and that you’re the best at what you do. It is one of the best ways we’ve found to grow traffic to our website, and get referrals from visitors on our website. You need to do this for your small business as well.

Content marketing is an art and a science, for sure, whether you’re passing along industry information or writing your own piece to distribute. Necessary skills include writing for an online audience, having a strategic view of writing things your audience is interested in, and measuring and understanding your analytics so you know what’s working and what’s not working.

Most importantly, your content marketing efforts must be aligned to your knowledge of your business objectives and business model. This is why the business core competency is so critical - it drives your content marketing efforts.

Content marketing may sound challenging, but you can start small with posts on one social media network, or a monthly email newsletter. What you cannot do is just have a nice, beautiful website; the time has passed for an ‘online brochure.’ You need to grow an audience to your site and your brand. This is why it’s essential to reach out and ensure an ever-widening market in your target audience is reading your stuff and forwarding it to their network. Try to leverage the larger sites of your partners and vendors for further outreach as well.   

What you may not realize about content marketing is that there’s a much smaller investment than advertising and yet the return can be a lot higher. But you can’t do it as a side hobby or on an irregular basis. You won’t see that return unless you invest your time learning to write well or pay a writer, display and distribute your information effectively on social media and via email, and ensure your partners and network are sharing your work.

There is a learning curve for achieving mastery in any of these areas. The Web Management Institute outlines the different skills you should focus on as you advance from apprentice to master digital business owner. In future articles we’ll drill down on some of these additional capabilities.

In the meantime, there are many online resources that can help, and here are a few to start: Coursera, Lynda.com, American Marketing Association, Wharton School of Business, and Santa Clara University (Starting a Business and Business Expansion).

We at NewPath Consulting are here to offer support, plans and advice to any SMB embarking on this digital journey. Please contact us for no-cost advice.

12/07/2017

How to Get Ahead in 2018 - An Interactive Guide for SMBs

How to Get Ahead 2018 - title slideThis month we have something very special for small business owners and their employees. The crack marketing and sales team at NewPath Consulting are thrilled to present our special small business guide, How to Get Ahead in 2018. We have pulled together industry experts, knowledge from our many years of experience in the field, and culled a collection of our best posts from 2017 into a 20+ page electronic book, available for download for our website visitors.

How to Get Ahead in 2018 is an interactive guide you can access online or download to your computer to learn our best insights, suggestions, quizzes, tips, and links. It includes a model of what we think small business owners need to do to be successful in 2018 - namely, 5 core business capabilities that are subdivided into several subtopics. We believe SMB owners must either acquire these skills or outsource to web professionals like NewPath Consulting.

Using online services and technologies is not enough. For your business to truly become a digital workplace, you must continue to upgrade these skills and be continually more proficient in attracting and serving your customers online. And we’re here to help.

We wrote this book for businesses that have been on the forefront of technology at times but are finding it hard to keep up, and for those that have shied away completely. Practices that worked even one year ago have been surpassed by new and different approaches. In this guide we give you the basics of what you need to know and do in order to keep ahead of the competition.

We started with actual business basics - not technology. What does every business, regardless of size need to do? We think it's:

  • Understand your business and your business model
  • Attract and connect with prospects online to build an effective sales funnel
  • Nurture customer relationships and build brand loyalty
  • Implement services to collect and analyse business performance

So with these goals in mind, we’ve outlined 15 simple, concrete steps for becoming a digital workplace, and link you to our favourite cloud-enabled technologies for each tip. You’ll know exactly what to do, and the tools you need to do it.

We’ll take you through a process that starts with a solid foundation - your business model - and builds a solid online presence that makes you available to customers and prospective customers 24/7. We also teach you the many ways you can automate your sales and marketing so you can focus more on your customers.

10/30/2017

Data Pipelines to the Rescue: Building modern analytics platforms

This article was originally published on the ChiefMartec blog. Alex Sirota from NewPath Consulting wrote the article as an entry into The Hackies essay contest for the Spring 2017 MarTech conference in San Francisco. It has been slightly updated with new information available as of October 2017 including new research on new data pipeline vendors.

 

In Out of the Crisis, page 121, Dr. Edward Deming states:

The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable, but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.

Deming realized that many important things, that must be managed, cannot be measured. You can’t measure everything important to management, and yet you must still manage those important things. But figuring out what is important to measure, and effectively doing so is as painful today as ever. Effective digital transformation depends on measuring the things important to your customers, not to just your executive management and staff.

Fundamentally changing a business strategy requires some difficult and controversial choices. How can we make effective decisions in a world of constant noise and disruption? We need to observe and measure what customers and organization staff actually do, not what their biases dictate.

Data Access is Sacrosanct

Today, most key business performance data is stored in structured and unstructured formats on internally-managed infrastructure. The most important decisions are made using information stored in spreadsheets, presentations and in various proprietary data formats designed to keep data secure and inaccessible by most staff.

Data access is sacrosanct and business users have to go through a set of data priests guarding information fiefdoms to get it. If you want to see an integrated view of all business metrics, you have to build a “Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Dashboard.”

Been There, Done That: Excel Dashboard Hell

The creation of the KPI dashboard involves blessing from IT and buy-in from the business owners of the data. All are involved in a massive project to export, transform and load data (ETL) into a data warehouse.

These projects are expensive, and only the companies with large resources can undertake this strategic but critical work. Production enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, marketing and sales systems (e.g. CRM), financial and accounting systems, and customer service systems feed a data warehouse that theoretically will provide a complete picture of overall business health.

The dashboard, usually fed from other underlying intermediate data sources, informs the CEO accountable to a “bottom line” and controlled by the CFO who reports financial results. Downstream individual lines of business use more granular dashboards to understand various revenue and cost drivers to respond to pressures and take advantage of opportunities.

When successful, these projects can predict when a business model is working and provide insight to strategic decisions.

Most of the time though, these projects are departmental, designed by sales, marketing or operational teams. To collect the data across an enterprise, spreadsheets become the lingua franca, usually out of date, maintained by business owners and their Excel-minions. The data in a spreadsheet is usually laced with bias from the people who supply the data. Or worse, they are laden with inaccuracies or incompleteness due to the various transformations and inadequacies of the underlying data warehouse.

Cloud-enabled Microservices Transform Business Intelligence

As business applications move into the cloud, so too does the data that needs to be analyzed. But with the disaggregation of IT services around business capabilities into hundreds or even thousands of cloud “microservices” what does the data challenge begin to look like?

It looks absolutely terrifying and chaotic.

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

The “Era of the Cloud” (diagram from Matt Miller of Sequoia Capital) has a critical feature that makes sense of the potential chaos: each service has an underlying data model that is abstracted by an easily accessible API.

Because APIs are a critical component of integration between cloud services, they are also a ready made data tap for a modern cloud-enabled data warehouse. In fact the quality and stability of the API, and the ability to get direct access to transactional, non-summarized data is a differentiation point when selecting cloud services.

A new type of data is commonly also available — “meta data” that measures every transaction whether it be an anonymous click on a website or even the usage and telemetry data from an application user interface. Cloud services collect an extraordinary amount of data, much of it collected as “exhaust” data and recorded by computers rather than forgotten by people. This new type of data, stored for of pennies per terabyte, can point to performance indicators that have never been available before.

Answering Two Holy Grail Business Questions

  • How do you identify your most profitable customers and segments?
  • How do you attract more customers like them?

These two questions sum up the “bottom line” of most business models. Yet many businesses, large or small, are not positioned to answer them. They rarely have the necessary analytics in place to inform a decision maker whether or not their current business strategy is working or where improvements are in order.

Until recently, answering these type of questions could be prohibitively expensive and maybe even impossible. But keep these two questions in mind as we build an enterprise running entirely on API-enabled cloud services using a “data pipeline” and pose a set of underlying intermediate questions than can inform the answers to our two core questions.

  1. How much revenue do we generate by customer segment? How much cost do we have by each customer segment? How quickly can we analyze different segments of our customers? (Source: financial + CRM)
  2. What is our advertising ROI by channel? (Source: web and ad analytics, including external vendor)
  3. Are our customer success efforts affecting our churn rate? Can we optimize our customer support efforts? (Source: customer support + web application analytics)
  4. Are our sales people talking to the right target customer? Are there other prospects we are missing? (Source: CRM + marketing)
  5. How effective are our staff at innovation? How quickly can staff ramp up to be effective after hiring? How are they learning on the job? (Source: is there a system for this at all in organizations?)

We will need to centralize these data sources so that our business intelligence tool can draw from one aggregate pool of data that’s consistently updated. We will also need to automatically maintain a data dictionary and identify common identifiers shared between systems (e.g., an email address to identify a customer between pre- and post-sales systems).

Cloud Enabled Business Intelligence State of the Art

At NewPath Consulting we have researched the creation of cloud-based business dashboards since 2014. Cloud-based systems each have their own data silos, as illustrated below:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

Each cloud-based system has its own way of doing data analysis, usually very limited. In many ways, the cloud-based data problem is a lot more complex, because the proliferation of data silos is even more intense in the cloud than it was when data resided in several, on-premise proprietary systems and documents repositories.

The saving grace to the cloud data problem is two-fold:

  1. All cloud applications are designed with a REST API, that allows the programmatic, real-time extraction of data.
  2. A new breed of data pipeline and visualization companies have developed highly effective tools democratizing data access and analysis.

Creating the Cloud-Enabled Data Warehouse

The following graphic from a Looker and RJ Metrics presentation illustrates several technical challenges of data integration common to all cloud data warehousing projects:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

Web traffic, distribution and online goal data can be managed in Google Analytics for example, but what about transactional data? How do you manage the data about the journey from an anonymous prospect to a long-term, profitable customer? And how could a business determine if a customer is profitable if measures of profitability have to come from multiple systems?

This is the core business problem in any business intelligence system — creating the necessary underlying relationships between various data sets.

At NewPath Consulting, customer profitability is dictated by:

  1. Cost of customer acquisition
  2. Number of customer service requests
  3. Number and length of longer term implementation or maintenance projects
  4. Underlying software and human resources needed to service those requests

The data to support these indicators post-sales can be tied together between systems easily: the email address(es) that the customer uses across multiple operational cloud services. In a pre-sales scenario we must count in aggregate, but customers decloak from anonymity with a direct interaction by phone or email or some other traceable identifier such as a web cookie or customer ID.

Data Pipelines to the Rescue

New tools such as StitchAloomaXplenty, ETLeap and Fivetran and even open-source solutions allow real-time “copy and paste” and “synchronize” of multiple cloud data sources into a cloud data warehouse, so it can be manipulated and visualized in many ways. Tools like Alooma and Xplenty enable data transformation services as well. Since writing this article, Stitch has launched an open-source project called Singer that enables the creation of "data taps" for many SaaS platforms. This well-written and researched August 2017 article from Mode Analytics details differences and evaluation criteria for data pipeline tools.

Visualization tools like Looker coupled with data pipelines make the building of a data warehouse a snap. Even G Suite add-ons such as Supermetrics can populate a Google Sheet to create a DIY cloud business intelligence system for SMBs.

NewPath Consulting has started to put together a content marketing dashboard using Google Analytics data to analyze daily, monthly and yearly trends in our content marketing efforts. We have also integrated our billing system into a steady stream of expense and customer payment data.

It is a satisfying experience to spin up a fully configured data warehouse in the cloud with a few clicks and in minutes start pumping raw data from multiple cloud sources manipulated through tried and true object/relational techniques.

Here’s an illustration of how these new data pipeline tools enable a totally new degree of analysis composed of a myriad of cloud-based data sources:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

In addition to providing fantastic visualization and reporting functionality, modern business intelligence tools often have a modeling layer as well that allows users to perform joins/transformations as needed.

Unlike in traditional ETL (extract, transform and load) systems, transformation is performed after the loading step (i.e., ELT — extract, load, then transform). The benefit is that the end-users — the ones who primarily work with the data — have a lot more power and access to raw data, and don’t have to depend on IT to accomplish the analysis they need.

Four Business Intelligence Futures

So where do we go from here? We believe there are four innovations on the horizon for businesses and the people that operate them:

Data citizens, unite. The democratization of cloud-based raw data, delivered through the immense compute and storage capability of cloud data warehouses like AWS Redshift will open up access to users beyond data scientists. Business users will become data citizens and end the reign of data priests and information fiefdoms.

Unlimited access to raw, unfiltered customer-oriented data. The transformation from an ETL to an ELT model will enable direct access not only to summarized data (e.g., Google Analytics dimensions and metrics) but also to customer behavioral and transactional data as well as exhaust “meta data.”

Business model canvas-on-steroids. The metrics to measure each part of a business model can be evidence based (rather than assumptive or intuitive), supported with key performance indicators, summarized in real-time from hundreds of disparate cloud based data sources.

The cloud-enabled business advisor. Imagine the ultimate solution to the CEO’s job of making better business decisions: a cloud-enabled, AI-powered advisor. When will an intelligent, virtual business advisor begin to whisper into the CEO’s ear with recommendations around potential acquisitions, resource reallocations, pricing adjustments, and structural reorganizations?

If you want to be kept up to date on this project, please let us know, and we’ll put you on a notification list.

10/19/2017

Formstack new feature: Date-based calculations and conditional logic

image from support.formstack.com

The Formstack Date/Time field can now be used with conditional logic. Formstack has also introduced the capability to use Date/Time field in calculations to evaluate the number of days, months or years between two dates on a form. This could be very useful to determine time spans to calculate for example number of days you wish to book for a hotel.

Formstack has updated a few support documents to help with the new features:

  • Date/Time Field Overview - In the Date/Time field you can now disable selecting a date past a certain date in the future.
  • Date/Time Field Calculations - You can now create calculations using Date/Time fields. This is useful if you need to calculate the number of days between two dates entered into your form or someone's age given their birthdate.
  • Validating Age With Date/Time field - Do you want only people over a certain age to fill out your form? This is possible with date field calculations. Here's a step by step walk-through on how to validate age on your form.
  • Date Field Logic - You can now create conditional logic rules using a Date/Time field on your form. This gives you the option to show/hide specific fields based on a date, date range, or period of time.

07/04/2017

Today’s Customers Need a Digital Workplace

NewPath MountainGapCustomers2 Revised
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery.com

 

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on digital workplace transformation. Part 2 and Part 3 are also available on this website.

Attention small business owners: There is a new digital divide between those companies embracing technology to run their business and those that aren’t. Don’t get caught on the wrong side!

Does your website help your business grow?

Did you know that 60% of small businesses today don’t have a website? And for those that do, many are just a glorified online brochure, rather than an extension of the business. Visitors are not able or encouraged to take the next step to engage with the organization, e.g., complete a survey, book an appointment, purchase a product or service, or request more information.

That’s simply not going to cut it in today’s customer service landscape, where the customer makes purchasing decisions online. Today’s customers are demanding more - many of them want online support and online ordering; in essence, they want to be able to do everything they can online without having to call you.

Customer experience is overtaking price and product as the key differentiator. The way you keep customers is by offering a better customer experience, and that comes from interacting with them on their terms. Beyond phone, web conference or even face-to-face options, customers want the option to interact with your business online. You must build a digital workplace to service customers in the 21st century.

Three key elements of a digital workplace

In order to equip your business to cross the digital divide, we encourage small business owners to think about three major priorities:

  1. Website - What does your website look like on desktop and mobile? How well does it function as a marketing communications platform? How does it communicate your value proposition to customers and prospects? Can they buy right from your website? Do you publish information that’s useful to customers and also boosts the popularity of your site? Have you built an email list or a social media presence so that you can keep your company top of mind with your prospects and customers?
  1. Analytics - Do you have means of collecting insight analytics of some sort, such as Google Analytics? To what extent do you know how your website is resonating with your audience, and how your business model is performing? Can you quantify your business’s success in terms of profitability, cash flow, etc.?
  1. Automation - Do you have a way to collect data from prospects and customers without letting anyone fall through the cracks? Do you have the ability to take someone to the next level from prospect to customer by collecting some information and then responding in either a partially or completely automated fashion?

For example, a landscaper’s website may have a form to request a quote, where a salesperson will follow up, and another form to sign up for a newsletter and be immediately added to a database to receive ongoing communications. Automation can take on many different forms.

The trap of business ownership

Traditionally, small business owners don’t have core expertise in any or all of these three areas. They know how to deliver a particular service, or they may be very sales and marketing-oriented, but they’re still missing one or all of these skill sets.

At NewPath, we see businesses who either aren’t doing anything at all and behind left behind, or they start trying to solve their technology problems alone. But a pretty new website, jazzed up content, or a web-based invoice and billing system, on their own, don’t address the bigger issue because they don’t connect the dots to the company’s business model.

Website, analytics and automation each require constant focus. And here’s the key question for business owners: Now that you’ve invested in technology, how do you juggle your priorities to rise above the competition?

Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth books, aims to help business owners out of the trap of constantly working in your business, to stepping into the big picture of creating systems and structures to work on your business.

At NewPath we believe there are eight systems that every business needs. None of them are about about implementing your actual service, rather they are systems that help make your business a better business, and give your customers the stellar experience that will set you apart.

What’s your score?

As you read through this list, ask yourself how many of these do you feel confident about, and which ones are keeping you up at night? Those answers are the key to your growth as a digital business.

  1. Provide great customer service - Are you accessible in a way that your prospects appreciate? How quickly do you respond to email and do you provide satisfactory answers? Are you available by phone?
  2. Be more responsive - Can you get back to someone with a proposal or service fairly quickly, but in a way that saves you from reinventing the wheel every time?
  3. Automate processes - This one element underpins all the others, and applies to many different areas of your business from prospecting, sales and marketing, to fundraising and event ticket sales. Ultimately you want to eliminate any need to retype or re-enter data, or manage details on multiple spreadsheets.
  4. Review analytics and forecast - Are you regularly looking at how your business is performing? Can you review your cash flow and other metrics every month or quarter, without making yourself crazy trying to compile the data? Can you see how your content marketing is performing, and what makes sense and what doesn’t?
  5. Connect with and attract prospects - Are you doing a good job of marketing your company and getting visibility, with leads coming in not just by word of mouth but by referrals from your partners? Have you achieved thought leadership and visibility in your industry and/or your local community? Does your reputation speak for itself?
  6. Acquire emails and convert leads - Are you systematically building an email list that allows you to generate a following and fanbase?
  7. Nurture relationships and build loyalty - Do you use those emails to continuously communicate with your audience and be sure you’re top of mind? If someone hears of a need or has a need for your service, are you going to be one they think of and refer to?
  8. Secure your data and financials - Do you have a security policy, and a way to make sure your data is backed up, readily available, and secure?

How did you do?

NewPath Juggler w motion lines
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery

If you feel confident about 6-8 of the systems on this list, congratulations on making such a strong effort to work on your business and not just in your business. If you find yourself getting tired of juggling all these balls on your own, or you’re curious how much more efficient you could be, talk to us about reviewing your systems and showing you what else is possible.

If you’re managing 3-5 of these areas, but you’ve lost sight of the rest, you’re likely feeling the weight of this lopsided reality. Let’s discuss how to build on your strengths and fill in the gaps.

If you’ve been diving in and out of only a couple of areas on this list, but mainly focused on delivering your service and putting out day-to-day fires, you’re probably at your wit’s end. What’s worse, the business you’re working so hard to keep afloat is in danger of dissolving before your very eyes. Get in touch. Now.

NewPath’s SMB experts are here to help you choose, implement and use new technology in order to benefit your business and find you more time. Business Success Plans start at $239.00/month for all-inclusive technology, service and support with no contracts or start-up fees. Contact us today to learn more and get started!

NewPathConsultingteam
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery.com

 

04/05/2017

Software Overload? Integration Brings Relief

There are almost 4,000 cloud-based marketing services on the market today (UPDATE: As of May 2017, there are now over 5,000 martech services), many of which are free or cost only a few dollars a month. With such a low barrier to entry, many small and medium-sized business owners are tempted to keep adding more and more tools and services until they’re too overwhelmed to use any of them effectively.

NewPath's guiding principle is to choose the software services just right for your business size and maturity, rather than buying into a monolithic "do all" software platform. Our two primary evaluation criteria are quite simple: Can the core value of the tool be demonstrated in 30 minutes and does the underlying service vendor have outstanding support?

The trick is to get your software products to work together, integrating them to effectively talk to each other. You will get the best benefit when your tools work together to accomplish business requirements that each cannot accomplish on its own.  

For example, any online form has the ability to notify you that someone has filled it out, which generally happens via email. But imagine the possibilities within an integrated set of tools, e.g., as soon as a form is submitted, a business process is activated depending on the fields filled out, an automated response is sent to the website visitor, and a new account is created in your customer database. A specific employee is assigned to the account and receives follow-up reminders to stay in touch. This is all possible when cloud services are properly set up with your business’s model and requirements in mind.

Some SaaS (software as a service) products integrate better than others, with built-in functionality that business users can apply with a bit of time and effort, with no coding required or the need to reinvent the wheel.

NewPath Consulting has evaluated a wide range of SaaS products over the past four years for their effectiveness, ease of use and interoperability. In the infographic below, we’ve highlighted our favourites, and demonstrated how they correspond with five core capabilities of all businesses, outlined in the centre of the diagram:

NewPath Consulting SMB Martech Stack

  1. Business - business modeling and operational planning
  2. Market - understanding the customer and what motivates them to engage
  3. Design and usability - creating the necessary environment to deliver value to customers
  4. Implementation - understanding the fundamental capabilities of cloud-based tools and services
  5. Content marketing - combining capabilities 1 through 4 to find and retain customers and business partners in the digital realm

Each business must acquire these capabilities over time as they mature and grow. These capabilities are required to understand and validate your business objectives, your sales and marketing techniques, and which tools to use and when.

At NewPath we believe that as a business becomes more capable and experienced at these five core knowledge areas, they also become ready to transform into a digital workplace. 

For example, most businesses need an online presence (ie a website or mobile app) but not every business requires a formal customer relationship management (CRM) tool since many don’t employ large groups of outbound sales people. If you’re just starting out and don’t have many prospects or customers, then a shared cloud-based spreadsheet with some basic analytics can be as effective and has a lower cost and complexity than a CRM.

The productivity tools in the infographic above are indicated by their company logos, and are arranged in concentric circles according to the business objective(s) of each tool. These circles radiate from the core capabilities and also correlate to the size and maturity level of an organization. We believe that businesses of every size can benefit from assessing their core capabilities and having a well-curated technology “stack,” a combination of software services used by staff and customers to achieve various business objectives.

Tool set #1: Content and experience

The first objective every business is to develop a modern and interactive website on a capable content management platform. NewPath supports the easy-to-use yet fully extensible WordPress platform. WordPress is best in class for template-based sites, with extensibility via plugins and themes to handle any requirement you may need. Couple this with the easy yet powerful form builder Formstack to enable your prospects and customers to interact with you 24/7. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Serving the customer.”

Tool set #2: Advertising and promotion

The tools NewPath recommends are AppSheet, Wild Apricot and Mad Mimi. AppSheet allows you to build mobile apps from spreadsheets, using your own data to deliver a branded experience to your customers. It's easy, free, and there is no coding involved. Wild Apricot is a cloud-based service that includes website management, membership renewals, email marketing and donations for membership-based organizations (nonprofits, clubs and associations). Mad Mimi is NewPath’s choice for email marketing. Read more about why Mad Mimi is still our choice after all these years. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Attracting the customer.”

Currently, at NewPath we don’t recommend any online advertising ad platforms. We recognize this is a controversial position, yet content marketing simply provides a better return on investment for most SMBs over online ads. Here’s some proof based on our own experience with content marketing and spending on ads. Online ads can work, though, for certain product sectors, to boost an already well-known brand, or for local advertising of local services.

Tool set #3: Commerce and sales

For commerce and sales, NewPath recommends PayPal, WooCommerce and Stripe. Everyone’s heard of PayPal and the service remains easy to use for secure online payment processing. WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to set up an online store to sell directly from your website - why pay for an ecommerce platform when you can have more power for less cost? Stripe makes it even easier to do business online by offering recurring and one-time credit card payment processing. Stripe checks out the transaction, makes sure it is legitimate, and if all looks good, they send the money automatically over to your business bank account, without the need for a merchant account. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Making it easy sell and buy services and products.”

Tool set #4: Social and relationships

Social media and the cultivation of relationships is an important step in the sales cycle. Some aspects can be automated and other parts must be handled directly, but in each scenario, business acumen and technology can help. At NewPath Consulting we use the following social and relationship management tools: 

  • Slack.com is our internal communications and collaboration tool, which we use as an alternative to inter-office emails so everyone remains on the same page and informed of internal projects and delivery of customer service.
  • Highrise is our customer and partner database that keeps us abreast of all interactions between our sales and marketing team and our prospects and customers, and allows us to schedule touchpoints and keep notes and to-dos in order. Highrise integrates seamlessly with your email inbox, important since after phone calls, email is the primary communication channel between staff and customers.
  • Zoom is our recommended service for video meetings, which can be recorded and scheduled ahead of time for up to 50 participants via phone and video.
  • Appointlet helps us automate the process of scheduling meetings between team members, prospective customers, and customers, eliminating the back and forth of trying to find a mutually available time in people’s busy schedules. 
  • Hootsuite lets us monitor social media and schedule new and popular content when the intended audience is most likely to be online.

The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Staying organized while keeping in touch with prospects and customers.”

Tool set #5: Data & Management

As an organization matures to the point where it needs to effectively manage a lot of data and personnel, NewPath uses and recommends these products to use analytical insights to drive business decisions:

  • The Business Model Canvas helps a business owner clarify and iterate a business model that may not be complete or functional.
  • Stitch Data, WebHooks, Zapier and SuperMetrics help integrate and automate data integration between various services.
  • FreshBooks is a cloud-based accounting tool that keeps track of invoices, expenses and taxes, and offers recurring billing. And your business will get paid faster when you can deliver invoices electronically and get paid electronically!
  • Google Analytics allows you to track website traffic, events and the return on investment of marketing efforts.
  • LastPass provides secure password management for all staff.
  • GoDaddy offers secure, reliable domain name management and managed WordPress hosting.
  • Safari Books online and Lynda.com provide ongoing business education for your staff and customers.
  • G Suite from Google allows for cloud storage and instant, collaborative editing of documents, illustrations and spreadsheets.

Do you have a mismatched collection of productivity tools that aren’t working together to help your business grow? Step back and look at the big picture of how your business is evolving, which core capabilities you have and which you need to build, and which set of services will help you reach your business goals.

10/04/2016

Math With Formstack - Calculating Number of Cabins

Heidi from Camp Anderson, one of our long time customers, posed a very interesting question recently:

"We rent cabins in our camp. A cabin can fit 10 people. We'd like a field that calculates a total price based on the number of cabins required. Each cabin costs $75 to rent."

This calculation is also known as a step-function in mathematics. From 1-10 people, we want Formstack to calculate 1 cabin, for 11-20 we need 2 cabins and so on.

Normally you could do this by just by dividing the number of people by 10 and then  use a rounding function to round down the number of cabins we need, but since Formstack does not have rounding functions we need to try something different. We only have basic math for Formstack calculation functions as you may remember. 

Here's what we came up with:

Instead of dividing simply by 10 we take advantage of Formstack's rounding capabilities. Calculation fields round down or up to the nearest number of decimal places setting for a number field. If the number of decimal places is set to 0, your form will round to the nearest integer. But what we need to do is essentially force Formstack to round up in all cases. Adding 0.49 to the division formula makes the result bump up to the nearest integer effectively getting the right number of cabins in all cases.

 

Formstack rounding solution

 

 

 

12/03/2014

Excellent Webinar on Modern Forms with a Focus on Higher Education

mStoner recently held a webinar on their experience with Formstack as a form builder in higher education. The webinar featured Chris Lucas, VP of Business Development at Formstack. Many terrific insights and examples were shared. One important observation: forms must be considered as first class content on the web along side text, graphics, video and audio. To date PDFs have been the best way to distribute forms, but that is changing now with tools like Formstack. The webinar featured a case study with some great return on investment.

Take a look a the webinar and slide deck below. We think they are spot on!

Webinar Video:

 

Slide Deck:

 

09/14/2014

NewPath Consulting is now FreshBooks Certified

Recently we visited the Toronto-based FreshBooks Cloud Accounting offices. We were truly astounded by how much FreshBooks has grown over the past 5 years. The vibe is electric, and you can tell that the team is running on all cylinders. NewPath Consulting is now part of the FreshBooks Accounting Network (FAN) and is proud to display our badge and  FAN Certificate on our website. Let us know if you'd like to know more and we can share our demo account with you!

FAN Badge - Consultant