New Site Address

We’ve decided to integrate The Discerning Business into our main website.

From now on it will reside at www.affinityinformatics.com/blog.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are You Thinking About Starting a New Business?

I have some exciting news to share.

Affinity Informatics is launching a startup business initiative. We are putting together a special package for startup businesses to help provide every advantage for them to create an extremely efficient organization right from the start.

Yes there are free options out there, but we want to provide a stable, high quality, polished business platform that doesn’t force you to cobble different pieces together. A free service can end up costing you a lot if they close their doors and you lose all of the data you have stored in their system.

Ultimately we’d like to see every small business using a powerful business management suite like Affinity and this is a necessary step to ensure that this type of system is completely accessible and affordable to startups and small businesses.

We are offering startups a lifetime rate of $25/user. By comparison, NetSuite costs over $100/user and Salesforce (which is just CRM) costs over $65/user.

If you know anybody who is starting a business, let me know!

startups@affinityinformatics.com

What are we offering?

We want to provide startup businesses with our complete business management suite. It is designed to support every part of your business and includes the following systems:

CRM – Managing your leads and customers is critical and if nothing else, I would strongly recommend implementing a customer relationship management system from day 1. Our CRM system integrates with the rest of Affinity giving you lightning fast access to all of the data you need about leads, customers and sales.

E-Commerce – Get an online store up in minutes and start selling products and accepting credit cards easily using Affinity’s E-Commerce platform. You can run your store on Affinity’s site or have it integrated directly within your own website and layout.

Risk Management – Make sure that your startup doesn’t get crushed by an unexpected turn of events. Our risk management systems help with security and automate backups so you have less to worry about.

Order Management – Our Order Management system lets you rapidly create, update and organize orders. You can attach notes and supporting documents to orders if necessary. Invoices are created automatically, saving you hours of manual work and filing.

Information Management – Using our Information Management section lets you create documents and upload files to share across your organization. This system ensures that you will always have access to your important documents.

Business Intelligence – Get reports and insight into exactly what is happening in your company with our Business Intelligence tools. Our reports give you daily, monthly, yearly and historical data and custom reports can be created based on your needs.

This is a Limited Offer

After our first 250 startup accounts we will evaluate the service and decide whether to continue it. Make sure that you get in the door now to guarantee your company gets in on this special offer. Contact us for more information.

startups@affinityinformatics.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SaaS, CRM, ERP … Acronyms Oh My!

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in this industry it’s that there are a mind blowing number of confusing acronyms to learn and figure out how they apply to your business. Even better, some of the definitions out there are even more confusing.

I think ‘management’ is also used in about 100,000,000 of our terms… Anyway, just for fun, here are some of the terms of this industry demystified.

1. SaaS – Software as a Service

SaaS solutions typically provide a turnkey platform that just works. The vendor manages the hardware and software (the ‘service’) and you pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee that is usually based on the number of user seats you purchase.

SaaS is currently a huge business model and some of the advantages are lightning fast deployment, lowered operating costs and increased reliability. A huge bonus is that you don’t have to hire an IT army to configure and maintain your own servers, network and software package.

Another advantage is that updates tend to come more frequently. Since they’re providing a service it is in the vendor’s best interest to keep up with competitors and security.

2. Cloud Computing

Cloud computing or ‘the cloud’ is a buzzword that’s been thrown around a lot lately. A cloud-based application is really just a web application–one you connect to through your browser that serves remote content. Storing data ‘in the cloud’ just means that it’s stored on a remote server that you can connect to from anywhere.

A common misconception is thinking that cloud computing is itself a product. It’s not, it’s just a delivery method for applications and services. Typically cloud applications offer a lot of advantages, like fast deployment and nearly infinite scalability.

Usually cloud applications are built on servers in dedicated data centers and they can quickly add new hardware as the number of users or their hardware requirements grow. Other models of cloud computing include Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

The rest of the sections really are acronyms, I promise!

3. CRM – Customer Relationship Management

Customer Relationship Management should be the base of any organization’s customer experience initiatives. A good CRM system will help you keep track of your leads and accounts, follow up with customer support issues and keep in touch with your clients.

4. ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning

ERP solutions integrate multiple systems into one central platform and commonly include CRM, E-Commerce, Sales Management, Accounting, Risk Management, Information Management and more.

5. SFA – Salesforce Automation

SFA is designed to streamline your sales and marketing activities. They often automate many tasks and help give you more insight and control over your sales and marketing. Salesforce Automation is frequently included with CRM because using Lead Management systems within CRM helps to identify the quality of a sales prospect.

6. BPM – Business Process Management

According to Wikipedia; “Business Process Management (BPM) is a holistic management approach focused on aligning all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients.”

In other words, BPM is about analyzing and refining your entire business process to improve your customer experience, product quality, response time and so on. Every organization should consider some sort of BPM strategy to ensure that they maintain every possible competitive advantage.

7. SCM – Supply Chain Management

SCM is probably the most complicated of these topics. Taking a look at Wikipedia again will probably leave you with a splitting headache and wanting a strong drink!

The goal of supply chain management is to streamline and manage the entire sequence of vendors and events involved in delivering a product or service to a customer. It can include production, logistics and information management relating to the product and the delivery of the product. By managing the supply chain a company is able to compete more efficiently and provide more agile service to their customers.

8. BI – Business Intelligence

The goal of BI is to eliminate guesswork and improve decision making.

Business Intelligence uses all of the different information created within an organization to provide insight into past, present and future activities as well as to help make better decisions. BI systems will often include reporting, data mining, competition analysis,

About Us

Affinity CRM/ERP is a small business ERP system. It includes most of the tools that we’ve discussed in this article and can provide an extremely easy way for small businesses to manage their information, technology and security so they can focus on closing more deals and spending time with their customers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Business doesn’t wait. Neither should you.

Business is more competitive and cutthroat than ever…

Small businesses need every possible advantage against their competitors. Starting a business drops you into a bloody battlefield where the winners take home wealth and freedom and the sidelines are strewn with the remnants of failed businesses.

Most of us can’t afford to struggle for 5 years before making their business profitable. Having a great idea isn’t enough. You need to execute it quickly and effectively.

You do have a game plan, right? I’ve worked with many clients who didn’t have a concrete strategy for developing their business and it set them back years. When I consult with new clients I ask them a few questions and don’t move forward until they give me answers.

It goes something like this, “So tell me about your business plan. Who are your clients, how will you reach them and how will you effectively manage your entire business?”

Cue a blank look and crickets chirping. Ouch…

How about you? What are your answers?

1. Who are your clients? (‘Everybody’ is usually not an acceptable answer.)

2. How will you reach them?

3. How will you manage your business?

This article will focus primarily on effectively managing your business. Specifically, strategies to create an agile, responsive, highly profitable small business with fiercely loyal customers.

Why should business management be a priority?

1. Most small businesses have limited resources and by streamlining their operations and making their business as efficient as possible they make the most of what they have and give themselves strong competitive advantages.

2. Most customers are willing to pay more for better service. On the other hand, if your customer feels neglected or dissatisfied with the quality of your services your competitors are a click or call away.

3. To avoid floundering, you need the information to create fast, informed business decisions. When you go on a trip you use a map or GPS so why wouldn’t you do that with your business with infinitely more at stake?

4. A well designed business management system includes risk mitigation tools to protect your business and ensure that unforeseen disasters don’t put you out of business.

Business happens fast. Don’t get left behind.

By integrating all of your crucial business systems into one platform that shares information between components, Affinity saves time, provides more relevant data and streamlines repetitive tasks and data entry.

Microsoft Office isn’t enough for running your business. It’s slow, inefficient and makes your business vulnerable to data loss, theft, viruses and other unexpected disasters.

Is your entire business process a smooth, integrated cycle? Or do you have to import/export data between applications?

Winning Customer Loyalty

Customers want to be loyal. After choosing to do business with you they don’t want to waste time looking for someone to replace you. Most satisfied customers won’t jump ship just because a competitor offers a slightly lower price.

The problem is when your customers aren’t happy. Do you follow up with your customers and gather their feedback so you can gauge the quality of service your company is providing? You should.

Honestly, the easiest way to manage your customers is to implement a customer relationship management system and strategy. It doesn’t matter who the vendor is so long as it’s a moderately capable system that gives you the information that you need.

A Faster, More Efficient Way to do Business

ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning is an umbrella term for an integrated collection of tools that interact and share data with each other. Typically it has been the type of system that only larger companies benefit from with price being incredibly prohibitive for smaller organizations, but that’s been changing in the last few years.

Some vendors are creating streamlined systems that are focused on the needs of small businesses and providing cloud based business management platforms that are affordable and extremely powerful, giving small businesses a convenient way to manage most of their needs in one place.

This type of integrated system offers significant benefits to nearly every part of your business including divisions like management, sales, marketing and intangibles like disaster prevention and security.

ERP systems are no longer out of reach for small businesses.

What are you doing to make your business more efficient?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

One system to rule them all…

Well, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch … but we decided to make Affinity as an affordable and powerful solution for small businesses that included ERP and CRM features. Ultimately we’d like to establish it as the go to platform for startups and small businesses. Looking back on everything we’ve learned, it was quite a project we took on. And there are SO many acronyms in this industry! CRM, ERP, SFA, BI…

Why did we build Affinity?

Because we saw that small businesses needed the same tools available to their larger competitors so they could compete more effectively. They needed a complete system that would benefit their entire operation and share information across their organization, not just part of it.

And because the available systems were too fractured, too limited or far too expensive to be optimal choices for small businesses. After all, most small businesses can’t afford the price tag–hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars–that comes with Oracle or SAP.

We wanted to design a high quality business platform that provided advantages across the board but was easy to use, fast to deploy and affordable for small businesses.

The end result was a business platform that integrated multiple essential systems in one system with six major sections:

When researching the industry, we discovered that to replicate all of the systems Affinity provides from separate vendors, a company would spend hundreds of dollars per employee.

Small businesses need something like Affinity. The trick is reaching them and providing a service within their budget.

So where do we go from here?

Our goal by 2014 is to work with 10,000 small businesses. Ultimately, we want to build a network of 100,000 businesses for whom Affinity is an intrinsic part of their success.

We want to stay closely involved with the small businesses community to hear about their needs as they evolve and grow, to ensure that we’re able to provide them with every possible technology to help with their success.

So we’ll continue to work with small businesses and Affinity will evolve based on their feedback about the features and tools they need to run their businesses even better.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which ERP Solution Should I Use?

Wellll… if you read my previous article on selecting a CRM system then you’ll remember my first recommendation be to determine exactly what your needs are and will be. ERP is nowhere near being a one size fits all application. Each ERP package provides a variety of tools and features, you just need to find one that is a good fit for your business.

If they provide accounting, e-commerce and CRM when you’re looking for document management, risk management and sales automation then they’re not going to be particularly useful for you!

One of the unfortunate things I’ve seen when researching ERP is the tendency to claim that a particular vendor’s solution is best, without much substantiating evidence. If they haven’t taken the time to understand your needs then they have absolutely no way to gauge whether their solution is ideal for your business.

I recently watched a discussion created by a small business owner wanting advice on implementing ERP. Her initial request was vague and didn’t give a lot of information about what she wanted to accomplish. The discussion quickly grew to over 100 comments.

90% were unhelpful and said nothing more than, “Pick ABC, we’re the best!”

What are you trying to accomplish?

If a vendor tells you to use their system without evaluating what your needs are then they’re setting you up for failure. Move onto the next vendor.

The bottom line is that having an outline of your needs is invaluable. You don’t need a checklist with a bunch of technical terms, just an outline of what you’d like to accomplish by implementing ERP. This gives you an index when working with ERP consultants so they can show you exactly how their system helps with your particular needs.

Some Common Small Business ERP Features…

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

E-Commerce

Shipping Integration

Accounting

Order Management

Inventory Management

Project Management

Supply Chain Management

Risk Management

Want to know more about specific ERP features? Click here.

A few questions to ask to get started…

This is by no means a complete list. Every company has drastically different needs that I can’t even start to predict. Just remember that the most important questions are ones specific to your situation. You don’t need an overly technical yes/no checklist.

How can you help me manage my leads and customers?

How can you help me close more sales?

How can you help organize all of my business information?

How can you help protect my company from natural disasters, theft, etc?

What is your service level agreement, so I know how reliable your system is?

Do you have any other customers in my industry? How satisfied are they?

How can you help me with my accounting?

How can you help me manage my resources and teams?

How can you help me with my online presence?

How do you handle security, updates and new application versions?

You get the idea. Figure out exactly what your company needs and whether the vendor in question can help with those needs.

Be sure to ask about a vendor’s service level agreement. You want to make sure they guarantee a certain level of reliability.

Ask about security. Because an ERP system influences so much of your business it is critical that your system and data are well protected.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Customer Service Nightmares Part 2

Looking for the previous chapter in this series? Customer Service Nightmares Part 1.

I avoid naming specific businesses in these articles because my intention isn’t to focus on them specifically but where they went wrong and how they could improve their services.

I loathe deceptive business practices…

Maybe it’s because I work in the customer relationship management industry. Maybe it’s just because too many companies are ruthless and dishonest in their business practices … odds are though if I hear a story like this one, I will avoid your company at all costs.

Managing your company’s reputation is critical. A handful of negative experiences can go a long way toward hurting your company in a serious way. Whether these behaviors are intentional, your customers have the ability to strike back and you have a lot to lose.

See, social media and networking is increasingly prevalent. It’s easier to share stories and look up reviews for businesses and when a particularly scathing one pops up, most people will look for a better option.

There are also several huge sites popping up that share these experiences and have very high authority and page rank, meaning they will rank highly in search results, potentially showing up before your website does. Ouch.

Today’s customer service nightmare…

I sat down with a friend of mine this afternoon for a cup of coffee and got to hear about his experience with a company that provided virtual office services. The reason he had chosen to do business with them is that they had been recommended by somebody else. Unfortunately, they completely dropped the ball and are now getting negative references.

Think about that. The reason they got the account in the first place was because of a positive word of mouth recommendation. Things went downhill from there, fast.

See, he was up front with them about exactly what he needed to do. However, once they got his agreement to do business with them they decided to change the agreement, requiring additional services (and fees) to accommodate his needs. They failed to inform him initially of these additional requirements.

In other words, they changed the agreement in a way that made it useless to him without paying them more. Doesn’t that sound a bit like blackmail?

He responded to them at 4:30 PM by email, partly out of curiosity how they’d handle it. Turns out that rather than make it a priority to salvage the customer relationship they ignored the problem it until the close of their business day.

I’m a little bit confused at this point… Instead of attempting to solve an issue they decided to ignore it and potentially lose dozens of customers when the negative experience goes viral? It gets better … the person involved was their Director of Sales.

For most business owners that shouldn’t even be an option.

What could have been done differently?

1. Make the effort to manage your customers to ensure that you’re identifying and responding to their needs instead of just trying to close sales as quickly as possible. If you can’t provide a customer with adequate service then recommend them to someone who can.

(Read as, “please for the love of anything, invest in a CRM system that lets you organize notes about your accounts to properly manage your customers so that you stop making stupid, unnecessary mistakes.”)

2. Be up front about any costs and requirements to meet their needs. If you will require additional services to meet their needs then be up front about it before locking them into an agreement. Sure, you might lose the deal but most likely you won’t and the customer will appreciate your integrity.

Give the customer a chance to walk away. If you can’t satisfactorily provide them with the service they need, why waste their time and yours in what will be a strained relationship from the start? Don’t try to lock your customer in. That’s lazy and bad business. If you provide a quality product and acceptable service they won’t want to leave.

3. When a problem occurs then make it a priority. If you have 30 minutes left before closing shop for the day then at least respond to the customer, letting them know that you got their message, that you are working on a resolution and will contact them first thing in the morning.

Good customer service really isn’t that difficult, so why the dearth of it?

What about you?

What are your horror stories, or what is your business doing to ensure that you provide your customers with a positive experience?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment