You wouldn’t expect a mechanic to repair an engine with his bare hands, and salespeople are no less dependent on tools to be effective.
“Just hiring salespeople and expecting them to succeed is not enough,” says Peter J. Fasulo, president of PJF Sales Training Inc. “Having the right sales technology—like a tailored CRM [customer relationship management] system—for your team is essential. Sales reps do more than sell. They create their own proposals, enter orders, build reports and more.” Without a CRM program set up for your business’s needs and reps properly trained to use it, you’ll probably lose sales, he warns.
All small-business owners have that one tool they can’t live without. Here are what top sales professionals and small-business owners from diverse industries list as their must-have tools for sales success. (For tips on best practices for using these tools, see article on page 74.)
“Salesforce.com [$5 to $250 per month per user] helps me keep my customer information at my fingertips,” says Maria Vizzi, president of Indoor Environmental Solutions, a New York City air ventilation cleaning company. Salesforce.com, the best-selling CRM system, earns top ratings from TopTenReviews.com. Having Salesforce’s cloud-based system that uses remote servers hosted on the Internet for data storage and processing instead of a local server is great, Vizzi says. “Each time we are asked to bid on a job, we log it as an opportunity and can track [its path to] a sale.” Jeff Connally, president and CEO of the Austin, Texas-based computer company CMIT Solutions, agrees. “[We] use Salesforce to track leads, manage opportunities and keep customer records organized.”
CMIT Solutions’ 12 home-office employees use the Salesforce Enterprise package, which costs $125 per employee per month. Most small to midsize businesses subscribe to the Enterprise package or the Salesforce Professional package, which costs $65 per month per employee.
But some businesspeople might need fewer bells and whistles—and a less-expensive solution.
Carrie Layne, founder of Dallas-Fort Worth-area tech startup BestBuzz, a mobile-driven advertising platform, favors social media management tool CRM Nimble ($15 per month per user) for CRM. “It allows our team to easily connect with new sales opportunities through social media in real-time,” she says. “It’s brilliant and should be on the list as a must-have tool for businesses with a sales team in any industry.” Nimble differs from Salesforce by enabling you to capture and automatically connect all conversations, emails and social interaction to your contact list, instead of having to manually enter information.
Another alternative is PipelineDeals.com ($24 per month per user). It integrates with your Gmail account, making it simple to record important communications with key contacts without data entry. Your contact records include social media data, such as Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, so you can easily monitor clients’ social activity. PipelineDeals lets you customize your sales process, set up your own categories for contacts so you can sort them in a way that’s logical for your business and for you, and create a lead-capture page for your website.
You also might consider Contactually.com, which permits you to sort your contacts into buckets. You decide what each bucket represents, who goes into those buckets and the frequency with which you communicate with the people in each bucket. Contactually (free personal plan; others $19.99 and up a month) reminds you to call people in your “most important clients” bucket at a schedule you determine. It also reminds you to nurture the contacts in your “dream clients” bucket at whatever frequency you set. And here’s another great Contactually capability: email templates that make it easy to invest in vital relationships. You can create follow-up templates and modify each with a personal message before sending. Contactually also has a calendar with appointment reminders and a task list.
“Cloud technologies level the playing field for small businesses like mine,” says Ted Hessing, owner of CharlotteWebDevelopment.com, a Charlotte, N.C., web developer for small and growing businesses. “For instance, Google Drive is my free, one-stop connection to the cloud where I can store, share and collaborate on documents of all kinds with my business partners—without investing in a cumbersome or expensive document management system. While I don’t store confidential, security-related or private materials on Google Drive, I do keep several of my most commonly used presentations and analysis templates on there for easy retrieval…. The cloud is a great place for an emergency backup.” And Hessing adds that because “it is web-based, partners using different devices with different software still have access to a common word processor and spreadsheets that work perfectly,” without compatibility issues.
Google Drive is free for up to 5 gigabytes (GB) of storage. If you need more, monthly fees start at $2.49 per month.
Other big players in cloud storage are Dropbox and, for Apple users, iCloud. Dropbox has been around since 2007 and is compatible with almost every platform, with the free version giving 2 GB of storage; more storage starts at $9.99 per month. iCloud helps you connect all your Apple devices and apps with 5 GB free; more storage starts at $20 per year.
Constant Contact is an email marketing solution that enables business owners to create email newsletters, event announcements, social media campaigns and more. “It gives me the ability to reach out and communicate with my audience without them needing to come to my website,” says Matthew Coast of the Phoenix area and founder of two businesses: a life-coaching company and the Small Business Processing Association, which informs small companies about credit card processing. “My message shows up in their inbox,” says Coast, who adds that prospects “expect relevant information to come to them” instead of having to search for it online themselves.
Monthly fees ($15 and up) are based on the number of contacts in your email list or database.
Although PowerPoint, part of the Microsoft Office suite of products, is the most widely used presentation-creation software, there are many other options.
Connally of CMIT Solutions prefers Prezi, calling it a “fun and engaging presentation tool that incorporates motion graphics, audio, video and animation.” Prezi, which has a free version and two paid versions offering more features ($59 to $159 per year), is touted as a nonlinear method of creating presentations, which means you can jump around in a presentation as needed—perhaps in response to questions. Prezi is web-based, so you create your presentations in the cloud, not on your computer.
At Gambrill Communications, a leadership coaching, training and personal development firm in the New York City area, owner Dave Gambrill uses Keynote ($19.99), Apple’s version of PowerPoint. “I use it almost exclusively when I’m conducting presentations and training. I find the iPad version much simpler to use [than the regular desktop version of Keynote]; I also have Keynote on my MacBook Air.”
Connally believes LinkedIn and Facebook are essential to a solid sales strategy. “LinkedIn’s social media platform can help you gain valuable insight into your prospects, and using Facebook’s algorithm helps you target ad campaigns to a precise audience based on age, interests and demographics.”
Steve Cooper, co-founder and editor in chief of Hitched, an online magazine based in Irvine, Calif., relies on Twitter and Google+. “To cut through the noise and start conversations with potential clients, Twitter has become my preferred channel,” Cooper says. “And Google+ is becoming the hub where all Google properties are connected, which makes it a social network that all businesses should be engaged with.”
It’s smart to establish a presence on all major social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Yelp and Pinterest to find the “sweet spot” where your customers are more likely to interact with your company. Then you can focus your attention there.
From expense management to business card scanners, thousands of apps support the sales process. Virginia-based Will Boland, co-founder of used-car marketplace CarLotz, found a time-saving app for thanking clients. ThankYouPro is a five-star-rated app for iPhone and iPad that includes a gift card along with a personalized thank-you note, all sent (via email or snail-mail) within 24 hours of creation for a maximum of $2.99 per physical card; emails are free. “Handwritten notes are terrific from a customer service standpoint,” Boland says, “but they take time and are difficult for our managers to track.” ThankYouPro solves those problems, allows senders to tailor cards to their personalities—and there’s no worry about running out of supplies.
Need to take notes? “Evernote [free] is my go-to,” Gambrill says. “I can also scan documents and save them to Evernote or to Dropbox so I can share them with people from wherever I am.”
The free Skitch app from Evernote lets you capture screenshots from a webpage and make notes on them for meetings. David Handmaker, CEO of the Southern California-based custom printing business NextDayFlyers, and his team use Skitch to take screenshots of their company website and competitors’ sites. “It allows us to easily mark up and highlight information. Sharing is a snap.”
For a social media management tool, Gambrill recommends HootSuite, which lets him post, monitor and measure his social media activity from any location at any time. The basic free Hootsuite version lets you manage up to five social accounts and schedule posts. The pro version ($9.99 a month) enables you to manage an unlimited number of social accounts; it also offers more in-depth monitoring and measurement tools.
Most entrepreneurs and salespeople have a favorite mobile device. Gambrill says he couldn’t live without hisiPhone (iPhone 5 starts at $199 with contract) and iPad (starting at $399), which he uses for presentations during client meetings.
Connally also believes the iPad is the best choice for sales professionals—today. “Unobtrusive and sleek, the iPad allows sales professionals to stay connected while away from the office.” But he believes that by the end of the year, Windows 8 Surface tablets ($499 to $999) will surpass the iPad as a better business tablet.
Handmaker prefers his Windows Phone ($100 and up with contract) because of its built-in SkyDrive functionality that allows him to access all his documents from any computer or mobile device at any time with the SkyDrive app, Microsoft’s version of Google Drive, offering cloud-based storage space.
Many businesspeople rave about MobileDay (MobileDay.com), a free app for Androids and iPhones. Linked to your calendar, MobileDay grabs all of the dial-in numbers and passwords for conference calls and webinars, and when it’s time, reminds you to make your call. Even better, MobileDay allows you to press a single button on your smartphone to connect instantly with your conference or webinar.
Here are more tools our experts swear by for generating leads, communicating with clients, closing the sale and more.
Pardot: This marketing automation tool delivers custom drip campaigns (email and snail-mail marketing programs that send a series of prewritten messages to prospects over time) based on the recipient’s actions; it also tracks response rates. The base price starts at $1,000 a month for up to 30,000 contacts. Marketo, an alternative, starts at $1,195 a month for 10,000 contacts.
Instant Teleseminar: Gambrill uses this service ($47 to $197 a month) to provide webinars and teleseminars to clients and prospects. “It is easy to use—you can upload PDF versions of your slides, exported from Keynote—and it is easy for attendees to access. But the main reason I use this service is it allows for auto-replay of webinars. After an event, the webinar stays up and will play automatically as people visit the page, making it ideal for the presentations I do for prospective clients and list-building.”
VideoScribe: This “awesome, cost-effective tool,” in Gambrill’s words, lets you create videos—whether marketing presentations or instructional talks—with whiteboard capabilities, meaning you can add illustrations, text, logos or photos to the video to illustrate your point. You seem to be writing on a whiteboard as the video plays, which is an attention-getter all by itself. VideoScribe subscriptions are $22 a month or $189 a year.
PicMonkey: Gambrill calls PicMonkey “A simple, powerful web-based photo-editing tool.” If you don’t mind a few ads, PicMonkey is free, and you can scale, crop and add effects to photos. You simply upload your photo to the site, edit it and save the new version.
Skype: Skype, which enables video and audio for online conversations, is “a must-have” for Handmaker. The instant-messaging feature and the ability to screen-share during calls enable easy communications and collaboration when working remotely.” Skyping computer-to-computer is free. To video-chat with a land line or cellphone from your computer, you’ll need to upgrade, with prices starting at $2.99 per month.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Anthony Iannarino is the author of the award-winning blog at TheSalesBlog.com; his most recent article for SUCCESS was “Play Until the Whistle Blows” in the February issue.
For even more sales and marketing tools (that our experts endorsed), read “More Bang for Your Belt” on SUCCESS.com.