Leveraging Customer Relationship Management and Voice Over Protocol tools to bind your print sales and production teams (Originally published in PrintAction June 2016 magazine).
What can Buddy Guy’s blues band teach us about collaboration? Buddy Guy, the Chicago blues guitarist whom Eric Clapton once called “the best guitarist alive”, is still touring with his Damn Right Blues Band at 79 years of age. I’m a fan and play a bit of music each week because it feels so good to get together with friends and jam. A live blues band is an improvisational exercise in collaboration and innovation. Could that be an analogy for the printing business these days?
I drove down to Buffalo with a fellow blues/jazz fan to see Buddy last month. We both love live music. Buddy opened by telling the adoring crowd, “I’m not sure what’s going to happen tonight. It keeps my band on their toes. There will be some surprises.” And that, in a nutshell, is why I love live blues and jazz music. It is spontaneous and, to do it well, all the players must effectively communicate what’s going on in the moment, where the tune is going and who’s going to take the lead and when. The skill with which a great band navigates this tricky live improvisational experience is what I admire most.
The key is clear communications and exchange of information among the players. The drummer gets a cue to end a song from the subtle lifting of the guitar neck, a slight nod signals a soloist to begin, a hand in the air telegraphs the bridge and a tap on the head means take it to the top. Hold up three fingers at the start of a song and you signal the three flats in the key of E.
Enough riffing on the music, this brings me to how we manage internal business communications, which is increasingly becoming an experience of working in the moment. Sharing, collaborating and being prepared for improvising in new business situations has never been easier. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools are the foundation of great customer experiences, because they allow for the easy sharing of information among your team about the customer’s contact information, the stage in the sales pipeline and recent communications with them. Most high-end
Management Information Systems today have integrated dashboards for sales reps to help manage clients, but CRM is well supported by tools such as VOIP phones, chat tools and video conferencing. There are so many channels to engage with a customer and also to exchange information amongst your employees to make great music together. I have worked with several of these CRM and VOIP tools that have proved beneficial in the fast-paced printing business.
Let’s start with the CRM tools. These are basically the recent digital take on the paper Rolodex or address book. When all of your company can share addresses and contact information, you will be a stronger organization for it. Best of all, most are in the cloud, so they are scalable, mobile friendly and available wherever your team works. There will be no more time wasted searching out the right contact name for a customer or wondering who is the main contact, who pays the invoices or who has left the operation. Our CRM also keeps a log of all email back and forth between clients and the company. It simplifies understanding the state of a project and acts as a record of past exchanges.
CRM is often associated with tracking the sales pipeline. This simply means that “opportunities” are logged in this central repository and this makes it possible to see how sales targets are being met, where leads are coming from and who is cultivating them at what stage – all great information to help you understand how your sales efforts are progressing. You can even automate some steps. For instance, when a new client is added or a sale completed, the sales manager can receive an email notification alert (the CRM equivalent of a guitar neck lift to signal the end of a song). The latest twist on this is the link between online forms, social media follows and your CRM. In other words, every point where a customer interacts with your company can be tracked and managed from the best CRM tools. It is now easy to compare different CRM tools functionality and an extra hour of research will find the best tool (at the right cost) for your employees. It’s like the whole band is facing each other, has eye contact and can see where the improvised tune is headed. Companies just perform better when they can collaborate easily.
Even vendor information can be kept on the CRM, so nobody at your firm is scrambling trying to find the name of that special source for cartons, blade sharpening or specialty ink. Once you add a vendor name, the best practice is to add a few searchable keywords to make finding them easy. We add “plumber”, “electrician” and so on to our vendor names. You can even decide to rate your vendors so that others at the firm know if your electrician arrived late, charged too much or was the friendliest one you’d ever met. This just makes it easier to manage vendors of services, ink, paper, whatever else you purchase in the course of business.
But the communication exchange can also benefit from new channels available at low cost. Some we are familiar with, and some we do not associate with business. Nearly all of us send SMS text messages these days. Our mobile devices help us connect with family and friends and increasingly with work. Having an internal chat tool (Google for Work has one built in) can mean time savings when quick answers are required. Messenger, now part of Facebook, is a growing tool for chat and even has a phone/video feature. You may be wondering why you’d use a Facebook tool in your print business, but you only have to ask the 900 million users (up 700 million in two years) about the benefits, or listen to Mark Zuckerberg’s latest 10-year plan to use Messenger in new ways in our business life.
I’m also a fan of VOIP phones as they help make collaboration easier. We once thought it was good enough to have a toll-free number, but nowadays you want to be able to have your calls follow your employees to their mobile devices, and offer easy conferencing and transferring, even if they are working from home or from a mobile device. VOIP seems to offer the widest number of options for making phone communications more effective at work.
But don’t think that just having tools will make the whole thing gel. Your band of employees have to rehearse. By this I mean that they need to be trained and work out the new etiquette for these channels of communication. When should they choose Chat over an email and when should I invite a colleague to join me on a call or share a video of a bindery process with a repairman so they can see what is acting up in the plant? Without having some policies and sharing best practices among your team, however, you’ll have a train wreck (that’s band talk for a song gone off the rails).
These channels are constantly evolving. You cannot wait for it to all settle and then make your move. Start tuning up your internal and customer communications today and you’ll all make pretty music together, and maybe a bit more money too, as the experience improves and your costs to manage collaboration reduce.
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