Category Archives: Marketing

How to Network Like a Pro

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” – Raymond Chandler

Networking effectively is one of the most powerful tools for professionals. Often overlooked and extremely underestimated, networking creates and cultivates relationships with the people necessary for business growth. Most professionals understand the basic points of networking, to bring plenty of business cards, dress for the occasion and portray confidence, to name a few. Here we will delve into some of the finer points that are crucial to creating strong referral partners.

Everything you needed to learn about networking we learned on the first day of kindergarten, Help and Share, the people that are successful networkers understand the concept of assistance and collaboration.

Start Small:
Anything new requires practice and experience. In the case of networking, there are many ways to start small before accelerating up to the big leagues. Being comfortable with yourself, your mission and needs will aid in building a strong presence in the networking community.

Start by networking online; social media platforms such as LinkedIn are great to gauge your current professional connections while expanding past your immediate network into other relevant networks and groups.

Meeting a group of new people can be daunting. Tag along with a co-worker to a networking event. Once you have met a few people and attended a few events, start going on your own. Many times the people you meeting during these events will be a part of or know of other networking groups. This is a great opportunity to be a guest of your new connection to a networking event, all the while diversifying your own network.

Make Time:
Networking is like exercising (for most, that is). At times it can loom as an obligation, something you may even dread having to do. However, once it is over, you feel much better and a little more accomplished at the end of the day. Once you have a few networking events under your belt, it will become something you look forward to and anticipate. Don’t make excuses or put it off, make time for networking, as it will result in a large payoff to your business.

Network Proactively, Not Reactively:
Consistency is the key with networking. One event will not build you a pipeline of connections, it takes time and effort as does anything else. Think of it this way; you are seeking to not only build a network, but find trust in other professionals. Before you can ask for a favor or a referral, trust must be built.

Many underestimate the purpose of networking, often reactively networking opposed to proactively. If you have found yourself in a professional or business related rut, you will have the connections and network to optimize your options. Whereas those who have underestimated the importance of networking consistently, will not have these options or connections to their aid.

Diversify Your Network:
Knowing the right people and attaining the right connections can get you places you may not be able to reach otherwise. Go outside of your usual networking group; there is just as much power in a diverse network as there is in a large network. Don’t pigeonhole your network to only like-minded individuals in your industry.

Diversifying to a broader network will be beneficial in multiple ways. By opening up to individuals outside of your industry, you can become someone who others will want to network with. As your network expands, you will be able to create connections between people, which becomes a major value add for those around you. As you prove your worth, people will begin to refer you business. So, although there may not be instant gratification in expanding your network, the long term payback will prove well worth the effort.

Build Relationships with Competitors:
Most businesses have competitors who offer similar services that are not quite the same. When this is the case, it can be great for business to build trust and a direct connection with those similar companies. This established connection can be fruitful for both parties as oftentimes potential clients land just outside your range of services but could fall into your counterpart’s. When both leaders become comfortable referring each other, everyone’s business increases.

Your Shopping Checklist for a Digital Marketing Agency

When shopping for a digital marketing agency, you better be prepared to ask the right questions in order to find what you are looking for. At ParadigmNext, we would like to simplify the process for you by providing you with a checklist of questions you should ask when interviewing digital marketing agencies.

Listed below are a few of the main questions you should be asking, in any order, so that you can find the best digital marketing agency that will work to meet your needs, improve your marketing strategies, and ultimately optimize your digital presence.

  1. How do I know if you are successful? Goals, objectives and measurements are essential in not only establishing your strategy, but also in evaluating it.
  2. What should be involved in our digital marketing strategy? A digital marketing agency should be able to identify multiple online marketing tactics that would be beneficial for your company.
  3. Are you able to collaborate and cooperate with all levels and divisions of our organization? Outbound marketing includes an internal marketing strategy and process, and it encompasses everyone in the organization, from top level and down.  
  4. What are your strengths? An agency should be able to provide you with a list of services that are their bread and butter, and these services should fit in with your goals.
  5. What are all the positive impacts we can expect? A digital marketing agency should be able to identify all the positive impacts of digital marketing, including content, social community building, or even publicity.  

What are some of the questions you ask when shopping for a digital marketing agency?

By: ParadigmNext


ParadigmNEXT, Inc. is a digital agency headquartered in Chicagoland. We provide branding, identity, integrated marketing, social media strategy, art direction, web-design & development, startup incubation, commercial video production, product development, and commercial storefront development services to a wide array of clients ranging from bootstrapped startups to successful longstanding companies.

The New SEO

After the switch to their new algorithms, Google has made the world of SEO confusing, complex and even baffling. SEO experts claim that keywords and backlinks are all that matters. However, did you know that there are actually 200 signals being used by search engines, especially Google, to index organic content?  The signals range from backlinks to keywords to social interactions.

Here are the most important factors used by Google when indexing websites:

  1. Your Domain: A 6-month-old website versus a 1 year old website does not make a difference. However, a 10-year-old website will have more precedence over a 1-year-old website. More importantly, the keyword appearing in your primary domain will have more value, especially if it’s the first word.
  2. Your On-Page Elements: Title tags rank highest in your on-page elements, so make sure it contains your primary keyword. Another aspect that has been proven by research is the H1 tag. Without appearing spammy or over-done, you want to make sure that the keyword is used most often in the piece of content you are optimizing. Lastly, the speeds at which the pages load are a big factor when Google is indexing your site. As a tip, test your site in Chrome, as Google makes use of this browser to test speed.
  3. Your Site Updates: The rate at which you update your site allows search engines to index the time sensitivity of your information. These should be significant changes, like adding a page or section, which is why a blog is highly recommended. With regularly updated content, you are ensuring that your SEO is up to par. Well written content, without spelling or grammatical errors, will also improve your rankings.
  4. Your Social Signals: If you’re still undervaluing the importance of your constant and consistent presence on social media, your SEO will be negatively affected. This is a good indicator of the brand’s popularity to online users and consumers. Social channels like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter outstrip other search engines in just the sheer volume of searches. This is essentially the new SEO: the content-driven social presence of your business in the digital world.  

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Yana Nirshberg, Managing Partner at, a digital marketing agency.  Highly capable moving people and projects from concept to commercialization in both structured corporate and unstructured start-up environments by applying creativity and discipline to the innovation process and practicality and team orientation to implementation.   True believer in brand building alongside business building. Specialties: New ventures, business plan development, consumer behavior analysis, revenue modeling, marketing strategy, consumer research, brand identity, brand architecture, advertising communication.

Deciding where to invest your marketing dollars

Have you ever asked yourself “Where should I invest my marketing dollars”? With the rapidly increasing channels available to reach consumers, how do you decide where to spend your limited marketing budget? Should it be Facebook, Google AdWords, Craigslist, Groupon, direct mailers, yellow pages, magazine ads, or something radically different? With consumers shifting how they interact with media, how do you stay ahead of the curve, make the right decisions and maybe even out market your competitors?

I can’t tell you how many small business owners have asked me this question. Everyone wants to find the magic bullet that’s going to get people flooding into their business. So, how do you determine which marketing activities are most optimal for you? The answer is simple…track them and compare. I know that sounds obvious, but I’ve found that the majority of businesses either don’t track/measure their marketing activities, or they don’t spend the time to assess the tracking they are doing.

Even if you aren’t tracking your marketing activities today, you can begin to capture the right information relatively quickly and easily. And, as soon as you start this process to gather the data and spend the time to assess the results, you will be on a path to maximize your marketing spend by knowing where to invest your marketing dollars.

Now, there are many ways to assess the performance of marketing activities, varying in level of sophistication. I’ll briefly describe two approaches, and you can choose the method most appropriate for your business given your aptitude for complexity.

Approach 1: Basic Response Measurement


The first approach I want to discuss is designed to be simple and quick such that any business can start measuring marketing effectiveness. Simplicity comes with a tradeoff of accuracy; but if you’re doing nothing to measure effectiveness today, this will definitely be a positive step forward. Here’s how to get started:



    Simply place a promotion code on each of your advertising channels. Keep a database with each of your marketing activities and the code associated with it. Also, include the cost for that particular activity.


    Next, be sure to require that customers present the promotion code in order to redeem it. You cannot stop here though. You need to actually record in your database each redemption. Remember to record the sales total for the transaction when these promotions are redeemed.


    The final step that many businesses never accomplish, even if they’ve completed steps 1 and 2, is to analyze the results. On a regular cadence, at least monthly, review the number of redemptions for each activity as well as the total dollars associated with those transactions.

As you can see, this particular approach should be relatively easy to implement. I need to note here that as you look at sales associated for each marketing activity, the answers are just that…sales associated with the marketing activity. This approach does not actually identify if the marketing activity “generated” those sales. Meaning, is it possible that you may have gotten those sales anyway? Absolutely. But, even if this method only identifies which activities did not have sufficient sales to cover the marketing costs, that’s a huge step forward. See, what you do know by this approach is that any marketing activity that cost more than the sales associated with it did not generate enough sales to make it worthwhile. With this, you can at least begin to determine where not to place your marketing dollars. (I’m going to leave the concept of long term value of a customer out of the discussion here to keep things simple). This knowledge is better than having no awareness at all.

For the activities associated with favorable sales, you could do some basic sales comparisons of periods with and without the activity present. This may help you gauge if the sales numbers for the promotion activity were actually incremental, or at least better than without. Because there are many other factors that could have driven sales
success during the promotional period, it may require more advanced methods to be certain extra sales actually resulted from the promotion. So, you can accept some assumptions and go with this approach, or utilize the next approach and eliminate much of the uncertainty.

Approach 2: Measuring Consumer Behavior

The goal of promotions should be to influence customer behavior in such a way that it improves the long term value of your customer. Therefore, the best way to identify if a promotion is worthwhile is to identify if it accomplishes this objective. Now before describing how to measure this, there are two important distinctions from Approach 1 that must be called out.

First, just because a promotion was associated with sales greater than the cost of the promotion, this does not directly mean the promotion was effective. For example, suppose you ran a promotion for $2 off a commonly purchased item and this promotion was sent out to all of your regular customers. While many of your customers may have redeemed the promotion, there’s a good chance they would have purchased the particular item anyway. Therefore, all you have done is subsidized the purchase they were already going to make.

To resolve this dilemma, it is necessary that you track each of your customer’s purchase behaviors and build an analytic model that helps you estimate the amount of money they are likely to spend for a given period. Then, based on this estimate, you can compare actual spend for a period for each of your customers and compare it against your estimated. Now, based on the promotions redeemed during that period, you can identify if the promotions added incremental dollars compared to what you would have expected in absence of such promotions.

The second distinction to highlight is that promotions do not have to generate more sales than they cost for a given period to be considered effective; despite that requirement in Approach 1. Suppose you offered a promotion that allows your regular customers to take advantage of a new product for free for a given period. Clearly, the promotion is not immediately profitable as there are no sales dollars associated with this promotion (at least for the direct item promoted). However, if that trial results in a customer purchasing that product frequently in the future and increasing their overall spend, then the promotion may have actually been extremely effective. Increasing long term value of your customer is critical to build brand loyalty and maximize your customer retention rate.

In order to accomplish this type of promotion analysis, you must have the processes in place to track your customers’ spending over time, as well as dedicate the time to analyze customer purchase patterns on a regular basis. Additionally, you must design promotional strategies with a clear intent of the type of customer behavior shifts that you are trying to influence. While this approach requires more effort, the rewards are exponential. When you can determine the true effectiveness
of every marketing activity, as well as continually focus on positively influencing customer purchase behavior, your business will reach new levels of success. As a result, you will have little doubt on where to invest your marketing dollars.

In order to measure your marketing effectiveness with this level of precision and accuracy, there are a few steps required to get started:



    Ensure you have systems and processes in place to capture the purchase behavior for each of your customers. If you operate a service business, you may already have this information in place today.


    Setup proper promotion tracking codes on each of your marketing activities just the same as in Approach 1.


    Build an analytical model to estimate individual customer purchase behavior for each period. If you don’t possess the analytical expertise to accomplish this, identify an external consultant to help you construct a model that can be automated to support continuous estimations.


    Dedicate time to review the results of your monthly analysis and set clear strategies for influencing customer behavior. Each of your promotions should be designed for a purpose, with clear targets that are measured and evaluated for success.

Following the steps listed above, you can put your business on track to maximize its marketing effectiveness. In a quickly evolving technological world, with hundreds of possible marketing channels to reach consumers, its critical that you find the best way to reach potential customers before your competition. Whether you follow a simple approach to measure marketing effectiveness as described in Approach 1, or are willing to journey down a more advanced approach in
order to surpass the competition, you cannot afford to let your marketing dollars go to waste. The longer you wait to maximize your
marketing efforts, the more likely it is that your potential customers will land with your competition.

Keith Aichele is a business health expert, author and founder of Misaic, a company dedicated to helping businesses utilize customer analytics to achieve sustainable success. For more information on Misaic or business health monitoring visit To learn more on this subject, attend  Stop the Failure: 3 Habits Every Business Owner Must Break to Survive! in Schaumburg this Thursday, June 26 and Saturday, June 28. Click here to learn more.

SoLoMo: What Small Businesses Need to Know about This Digital Marketing Imperative

In this digital age, customers no longer want to wait for information about small businesses. They want the information when they need it. They want it now. To stay up to date with the market trends and surpass competition, it is imperative that small businesses embrace SoLoMo, in other words, Social, Local, and Mobile marketing.

SoLoMo is a comprehensive marketing approach that offers opportunities to retailers, marketers and consumers. Outlined below, it defines a complete and polished digital marketing strategy.

  • So=Social: Social media is used to rapidly reach customers. In a recent study, marketers found that consumers look to third party resources rather than the brands themselves for information. Statistically, 62% of all online shoppers read product-related comments from friends on Facebook and 75% of these shoppers click through to the retailer’s site.
  • Lo=Local: Optimization tools such as geotags are used to help customers get the most localized information wherever they are. Currently, 65 million Americans use mobile or location based services. The proportion of smartphone owners using location-based services has grown almost 35% in less than a year to 74% in February of 2012.
  • Mo=Mobile: Today’s consumer is largely defined by their mobility. People have the ability to check for updated information at any point in the day, through iPhone, iPads, laptops, and even glasses (like Google glasses)! There is no reason why business information cannot be updated when and where there is Internet access. Furthermore, 82% of smartphone owners said they always have their phones with them when they are in-store.

Through SoLoMo, consumers feel more connected and loyal to brands, largely due to the exceptional customer experience they are provided from small businesses. SoLoMo benefits small business owners by not only increasing revenue and sales, but by truly transforming consumer behaviors.

ParadigmNext is a leader in SoLoMo strategies for both small and large local business in Chicagoland. Contact ParadigmNext today to find out how they develop and implement this strategy to improve small businesses.

As a marketing and publishing expert, Yana Nirshberg lives and breathes innovation. Her record of serial entrepreneurship and professionalism have lead her to the cutting edge of marketing strategy and techniques. Yana represents an entirely new school of thought, one that believes in the value of perfectly created and well distributed content. or ParadigmNext

20 Online Lead Generation Hooks and Ideas

Do you need to create more demand online?  Are you looking for ideas to get more leads to your website?  This list may help you do just that.

We’ll focus on actual lead generation ideas or hooks that a brand, business or organization can use to capture an online user’s contact information. The hook is the actual offer that entices the user to want to leave their contact information, on a simple online form before receiving the offer.   This is called gating your content.

Here are some ideas of ways to hook your leads and entice your site visitors to leave their information. 

Downloadable Content
Downloadable content is still a key tool for lead generation and can come in many formats. The most desirable is information that an audience finds relevant to them and helps them solve a problem.  

1. “How To” Guides. Create “how to …” content that your target audience needs to better understand and that positions you as an expert in your field.

2. Research and comparison stats. Provide stats that your target audience needs to conduct their business; and demonstrates your thought leadership with comparisons and your ideas for how to apply them. Charts are an easy way to communicate quickly and are easy for a user to pass along.

3. Slide shows and presentations. Use presentation formats to share your insight and ideas, rather than just another white paper or article. Slide shows are common practice, so add music, animation, and lots of imagery to make yours standout and leave an impression.

4. Webinars. Webinars often are a lot of work and expect a significant time commitment from the attendees. So, make the content relevant for the audience. Tie the engagement for the webinar to a Twitter hashtag and take the questions social.  Then, post the presentation on your website for others to download the presentation by leaving their contact information.  Checkout this Pinterest webinar presentation showing what Pinterest is and how businesses can use it to drive their online traffic.

5. Forms and Templates. Templates or forms that are relevant and well done often see a lot of social sharing and buzz.

6. Packages or Kits. Take a few different content formats that you’ve already created around a similar topic, like a slideshow or a webinar, a research article and a form template and package them together. Offer those 3 items as a single downloadable resource package or kit.

The difference between white papers and eBooks.

7. White papers. White papers vary in length, but are often 4 to 12 pages. They are usually more formal, text focused, researched or data centric and are based on a specific outcome. Some companies like to do white papers that focus on a case study related to a brand or business.

8. eBooks. eBooks can be any length, but typically are 10+ pages and they are more casual in tone, have more graphics, more of a focus on engagement and have a stronger perceived value than a white paper. eBooks have become like the trendy sister to the white paper. They are often designed with their content to be in sections with big headlines for a reader to take a “birds eye view” and scan the sections that interest them. This is an example of a recent eBook you may find helpful, The Social Media Metrics Repertoire You Want, What to Measure and How To Do It.

Use video or podcasts to communicate your message and reinforce your brand personality. For example, with video use a more playful animated look to portray a casual approachable personality. For more information on video checkout this article Video Messaging: The Differences and How To Use It.
Below are a variety of video types to consider.

9. Informative or “How to….” Presentation videos. Informational videos can be about your brand, to demo your product or service, an industry-wide issue or trend relevant to your target audience. Help the viewer solve their problem.

10. Interview videos. Interview others or interview the experts from your team to strengthen the viewer’s connection and sense of relationship to your brand.

11. Offer videos. Make a promotional offers or run a contest and use video to share your message and move your audience toward an action.

12. Testimonial videos. Videos featuring testimonials or accolades from customers or partners lend credibility and advocacy for your brand.

13. Podcasts. A podcast is usually an audio file, but there are video and PDF podcast files also, and the user downloads the file from the Internet. Often, those who are in the car or traveling a lot use podcast downloads in place of traditional radio or music. Podcasts can pertain to any type of topic and can vary in length.


Online sign-ups or registrations for an event, a presentation or other types of activities provide opportunities to capture data and for the brand to reinforce their expertise on a topic.

14. Live Chat. Live chats are mainstream. Today’s consumer is groomed for instant gratification. Live chats are actual discussions typed into an online tool found on a website that connects a site user immediately with a representative from a business or organization. The representative is available to answer any questions immediately.

Live Chats are easy to staff for even small businesses because the questions can auto-flow to a key representative’s mobile device for an immediate response, if that person is multi-taking. Most Live Chats post hours of operation.  Those Live Chats that are well run are consistent in service, quick, helpful, resourceful and available. We love Mail Chimp’s Live Chat for all these reasons!

15. Forums. Forums are online discussions where attendees can have conversations around a specific topic by posting messages. Forums are different from chat rooms or live chats because they often include more of a discussion or longer replies and messages from the participants. Forums also archive their replies for a period of time. Chat rooms or live chats are usually only one or two lines asking or answering a question and are typically not archived. Forums are easy to find for most brands and services.  This is an example of a popular gardening forum by Oh My Bloom.

16. Mini eCourse. An eCourse can be self-paced, structured with a single module or a series of modules and classes. eCoures are attractive because they allow an individual to come-and-go based on their schedule. The topics are typically informative and often focus on a “How to…” approach pertaining to a subject of interest to the audience. Consider a mini eCourses that you could offer. Test performance and if it works well then try a multi-series that requires payment and provides classroom style materials, to position your brand as an expert and provides an additional revenue stream. does a good job of offering various “how to…” eCourses.

17. Event registration. Events can require a lot of preparation and planning. Webinars can also be considered events and require attendees to register. Consider creative ways to engage the audience and provide an actual deliverable that can be created during the webinar or event.  List deliverables in the marketing message to differentiate your event from

18. Contest registration. Registering for a contest requires a user to leave their contact information.  It’s an age-old marketing tactic, but when the prize is relevant and desired by the audience, it still works.

Site Optimization

The two very basic lead generation hooks seem so obvious, but they are often buried in sites and overlooked. See what you could do better with the placement and optimization of the SignUp and Contact Us tools.

19. Subscription or signup call-to-actions. Subscriptions are plentiful, but websites often either under-utilize or over-utilize the tool. Clearly communicate the benefits of signing up. The placement of a subscription or signup button is often only on a home page or buried. Ensure these call-to-actions are effectively placed and repeated through the site experience, including at the end of every blog post entry.

20. Contact Us call-to-actions. Although it seems obvious, the Contact Us call-to-action is often buried or not readily available. Repeat this call-to-action throughout the site and test different techniques to see what performs best. For example ask the site visitor to contact your brand for a free consultation, a free trial, a demo, a downloadable offer or enter a reward/recognition program.  Starbucks does a good job by creating a separate landing page full of call to-actions to engage their online visitors with their reward program and brand. 
Although many lead generation tactics may not be anything new to you, many businesses still are not always optimizing them. Review how you are using them, if you are using them, and what you can improve on.

Do you have any unique ways for using these and other lead generation tactics?   What has performed well for your brand?

Amy Nedoss, OurHelix,  Co-Founder & Vice President

OurHelix is a high-touch digital agency that integrates the web, social and mobile with CRM into marketing platform solutions and campaigns that help businesses obtain more leads and convert them into customers.  We get to know our clients’ brands and businesses, their visions and their goals; then formulate a game-plan that architects the right digital environment and tools to get them there. For more information, contact Amy at

Get Noticed with Google AdWords and Maps

Go to Google on either your phone, computer or tablet. Enter only your business category such as divorce attorney, tax accountant, residential contractor, dentist, etc. – not your business name, not your name and click enter. If your business doesn’t come up on page one it’s likely you’re in a competitive field with thousands of other businesses. All of you are trying to be on page one of Google, but Google has space for only 10 of you on page one! AdWords will allow you to publish your ad on page one for any budget you’re comfortable with, and you don’t pay for the ad unless someone shows interest and clicks on it taking them to your website. 

Has anyone seen the Nickelodeon cartoon show “Dora the Explorer?” If you have seen it, with your children of course, then you know the song: 

“If there’s a place you got to go
I’m the one you need to know
I’m the Map
I’m the Map
I’m the Map
If there’s a place you got to get
I can get you there I bet
I’m the Map” (12 times)

When it comes to Google maps and local places for business – there’s tons of confusion out there and unfortunately the Google map won’t sing you a song about how to get on the map! Recently Google local places for business changed its interface and stopped allowing verification of business addresses for the map by phone call PIN because of abuses. So now everyone has to get a U.S. mailed postcard from Google to the street address of your business and it takes 2 to 3 weeks.  Even then if you don’t know what you’re doing you can easily create or fail to correctly remove duplicate listings. Google will not allow the same business to be verified more than once at the same address so you don’t get on the map!

Jim Bilello is the President of US Marketing, Inc. and has 20 years of experience in segment marketing, social media marketing, PPC, SEM and social media engagement strategy. For questions about Google AdWords and Maps, and for a free assessment, contact Jim at (847) 574-6940 or via email at

What Business Courage Looks Like

It takes more courage than ever to be in business today.  How do I know that?  Because I own a small business and I have to be brave every day.  Some days, just getting out of bed is the bravest thing to do.  When I started my business seven years ago, I had panic attacks because I was SO scared of failing.  I wasted so much precious time worrying about stuff I had no control over that I made myself sick.  In an effort to save you from making the same mistakes, here are some trail trips to help you become brave and sane as well:

  • Believing in yourself and the services you offer takes discipline and discipline requires mega courage.   When you start losing faith in yourself, call one of your supporters and ask for a pep talk…..if you don’t have supporters, develop them NOW.
  • Get plenty of physical exercise.  I walk five miles a day.  Walks keep me fit and smart.  Exercise keeps your brain fresh.  There’s nothing worse than a stale brain.  You’ll need to keep your ideas flowing and moving your body around does that for you.   
  • Surround yourself with people who compliment your skills.  I’m not a detail person…hate ‘em.  However, I need someone to take care of things like billing and databases.  That’s where my husband comes in.  He’s very detail focused so between the two of us, we have a well-balanced person business who’s a snappy dresser!
  • Discover and develop your story about why your company and service is unique in the marketplace.  This is your story and you want to tell it every time someone asks about your company.  Make your story interesting, short and fun.
  • Stay in touch with your clients.  Send them pertinent articles about their industry, recommend them to others, become a resource and help make them more successful.

Jan Marino is a social media and reinvention expert. She is also the author of “Take Back Your Career”. She understands the two key concepts that successful organizations have adopted in today’s market: personal branding and listening for client needs. Jan is also a keynote speaker and has appeared regularly on TV and radio. She’s worked with hundreds of clients including McDonald’s, The Northern Trust, Walt Disney Co., and Bank of America. Jan began her career as a receptionist and worked her way up to become a senior executive in the telecommunications and financial services industries. Contact Jan:

10 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Small Business CRM

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and embark on the hype of a customer relationship management system. If you’ve done that, you know enough to understand the ROI of such a feat. Now, you’re swimming through the depths of the web trying to figure out which CRM to purchase and what does what. Here’s a list of 10 things to keep in mind when trying to figure out the best fit for your business. 

1)  Open source or commercial 

Open source software is software that you have access to the core code to modify, customize or distribute under the same license. There are several open source CRMs out there; the biggest being SugarCRM Community Edition. Open source code is freely distributed, but can often be costly to maintain, customize or integrate with your existing systems. On the other hand, open source CRMs can save a lot of money on licenses since you wouldn’t be paying a company on a per-license basis. Some of the world’s best code has been derived Commercial CRMs are a bit more straightforward. There’s most likely a customization fee as well as per-license fees. Most commercial CRM options are hosted and fully supported, so if you don’t have a technology resource or team, this is the way to go. 

There are also options in-between; so open source options that are customized, but hosted and maintained by a commercial provider. This is more of a hybrid approach. 

2)  Ongoing fees and maintenance 

CRM fees can be nightmarish. Average CRM fees can run a business $30-40 a month, and many organizations simply cannot afford that type of investment. OurHelix is an option that doesn’t charge on a licensing basis, so there are never any surprises, and they’ll do all of the customization (including a site redesign so the CRM is actually part of the solution). 

3)  Integration 

Integration can be extremely costly. Businesses want their systems to play nice together, and since every workflow is different, seamlessly integrating the CRM into the rest of the technology stack must be a priority. In an ideal world, the site’s content management system and the CRM is the same thing, so there’s only one platform to support versus supporting multiple products and services.
For the nonprofit world, CiviCRM is a great option to look at that’s integrated with the site itself. The site and the CRM are literally bundled up together, making it highly customized and easier to maintain. 

4)  User Experience and CRM 

Put yourself in the chair of an unknown potential customer. How do they hear about you? What’s the first thing they see when going to their site? How do they tell you they exist, and how do you follow-up with them and convert them into a paying customer? If any point along this experience is less-than-stellar, then you’re risking lowering your conversion rate. A solid conversion rate is 3%, but that can obviously depend based about your industry. 

5)  What’s the hook? 

Small business CRMs should be loaded with potential “hooks.” A hook can be anything that gets the user to leave his or her information in exchange for something. That something should be something of immediate or soon-to-be value to the user. A few examples:

-A user wants to sign up for a free webinar. She leaves her first name, last name and email in exchange for being able to attend the webinar. 

-A user from Facebook sees that a business is offering a free coupon. They go to the business’ site (immersed in the brand instead of Facebook… yay!) and then in order to receive the coupon, they leave their information and immediately receive something of value. -A business decides to repurpose their existing blog content into an e-book. In order to receive the e-book, they leave their information. 

-A simple contact us form. 

-A financial advisory company uses a CRM to have a calculator to show potential customers how much they’re worth in assets. In order to get the score, they must leave their email address. 

These are just a few examples, but you’ll notice that all of the above examples are also strengthening the business as “the expert.” They are the experts to lead the webinar, write the e-book, and come up with the proper calculations. 

The CRM is meant to facilitate, automate and add intelligence to this process, so you can spend more time doing human-things and not tasks that technology can take care of for you. Salesforce is

6)  Usability 

#4 talks about CRM user experience from the end user’s perspective, but what about the users of the CRM itself. A small business CRM must be lean and easy to use. No fat. Nothing. Many small biz CRMs are extremely bloated and have tons of technology that businesses are paying dearly for. This is extremely expensive to maintain. Imagine paying rent on property you don’t use; well, many CRMs are built this way. The more “fat” a CRM has, the more confusing it is for the users to take advantage of it. That’s training time that could be spent on revenue-generating opportunities. Simple and clean; the way small business CRM should be. 

7)  Training, enhancements and other hidden fees. 

When selecting a CRM, always ask about the fee structure. Many CRMs have a per-user cost, but then have pricey hourly rates to do any subsequent training, maintenance. 

8)  Is it growing? 

Looking at the existing stack of features and functionality is important, but also get an idea of the roadmap for new features as well. Is the CRM going to grow with your business or remain stagnant? If you ask the company what their past release schedule for the last 6 months is, this should give you a good idea. 

9)  High-touch or packaged? 

This is the most important (in our very humble opinion) thing to consider. When you’re selecting an account or a doctor, you’re selecting someone that knows you. They have a record of your history, they know your goals, and they know with a level of intimacy about what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. It’s vital that a small business CRM provider also knows your business as well as someone that’s worked there for years. Otherwise, how will they know you will enough to make suggestions for improvement? Most CRMs on the market are packaged; meaning every customer gets the same thing. OurHelix offers a lot of customization that’s built around the business, and not the other way around. They’ll spend hours learning about the business before writing a line of code. 

10)  Social and reporting 

You can’t improve what you can’t measure, so it’s important to have both comprehensive reporting in the CRM as well as how social and web analytics play into that. Sprout Social is a great reporting tool that is extremely clean and easy to read (and their customer service is always super friendly as well). 

This is just a quick checklist of 10 things to consider. The details are far beyond, but hopefully this primer will help weed out the bad and put some focus on the right questions to ask a potential vendor.    

If you found this information helpful, you may also be interested in, CRM Agency Provides Complimentary Services to Small Businesses

Kevin LaManna, OurHelix,  Co-Founder & President

OurHelix is a high-touch digital agency that integrates the web, social and mobile with CRM into marketing platform solutions and campaigns that help businesses obtain more leads and convert them into customers.  We get to know our clients’ brands and businesses, their visions and their goals; then formulate a game-plan that architects the right digital environment and tools to get them there. 

Six Online Branding Tips for Small Businesses

  1. Create an easy-to-understand marketing message that tells your clients what’s “in it for them”.  Clearly explain the benefits of doing business with you.
  2. Consistently spread your message through at least three online channels:  LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging, Facebook are some of your choices.  Post something at least once a week.  Providing your customers with tips on how to increase productivity or save money works well because you’re providing value and it’s not a hard sell.  Talk about trends you see in your industry and become a resource for clients.

  3. Choose someone in your organization who knows your business and writes well to be your social media guru.  Look for someone on your team who is close to your customers and understands relationship building. 

  4. Your best advertisement is a happy customer. Ask for testimonials and share them with your prospects.

  5. Use loads of photos in your online campaign….pictures of your products, team, customers, etc.  You can also use stock photos depicting your industry. 

  6. Make your online branding interesting and fun to read.  People like to be entertained as well as educated.  Show the human side of you and your business.

Jan Marino is a social media and reinvention expert. She is also the author of “Take Back Your Career”. She understands the two key concepts that successful organizations have adopted in today’s market: personal branding and listening for client needs. Jan is also a keynote speaker and has appeared regularly on TV and radio. She’s worked with hundreds of clients including McDonald’s, The Northern Trust, Walt Disney Co., and Bank of America. Jan began her career as a receptionist and worked her way up to become a senior executive in the telecommunications and financial services industries. Contact Jan: