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Messy CRM hurts start-ups

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Manually keeping track of customer details is messy, inaccurate and difficult to share with fellow employees. SANDRA SWANEPOEL, Vice President, Mid-Market Africa & Middle East at Sage, gives some advice on when to invest in CRM.

As a startup, you may have had a ‘little black book’ where you noted the names of your most important customers and their key details, like what sort of products / services they usually buy from you and the last interaction you had with them.

As your business began to grow, you may have started to capture you client’s contact details and other account information on spreadsheets to track them.

Manually keeping track of your customers – who they are, what they buy, and when last a company rep from your company spoke to them – makes it difficult for people in your business to share information across the team.

You also can’t be sure that everyone is keeping customer records up-to-date or that everyone has access to a uniform set of information. Or you might have a situation where your sales and service team keep a lot of customer information in their heads rather than recorded in an electronic database.

This is where customer relationship management (CRM) can help – it is a must-have tool for any business with a growing customer base in a market where your customer experience is what sets you apart from the competition.

What is CRM, actually?

CRM is software that you can use track your customer relationships over their lifecycle. It provides you with a single, central place to store your customer data as well as the tools to analyse your relationships with each customer.

You get CRM software designed for businesses of all sizes and specific industries. Some of the basic features you will find in a good solution include the following:

  • Customer data: the ability to manage basic customer details such contact details.
  • Contact management: the ability to track and plan interactions with customers, such as a site visit by a sales rep or a routine maintenance call from your service team.
  • Marketing: tools to segment your customer base and manage and automate multichannel marketing campaigns across social media, mail, email and the telephone.
  • Sales: lead generation and tracking, quotation management, territory management, and other features to empower the salesforce and track their performance.
  • Service: functionality to manage service interactions such as helpdesk support, service tickets, service level agreements and service planning.
  • Analytics and reports: these help you to analyse customer behaviour and profitability, the sales funnel, salesforce performance, sales opportunities, and so on, so that you can maximise profitability and customer satisfaction.

When to consider investing in CRM

Many Small & Medium Businesses think of CRM software as a complex product that only large companies require. However, as customers become more demanding across all industries, businesses of all sizes can benefit from using CRM to offer slicker, more automated experience to their customers.

Some signs that your business might benefit from CRM include the following:

  • Your marketing, sales and service teams don’t have access to a single, up-to-date repository of customer information.
  • You can’t get a clear view of your sales pipeline without asking each salesperson what they’re working on.
  • You’re not able to track the leads you generate and how your team is following up on them.
  • Your sales team keep important account information in their heads or stored locally on their computers.
  • You are not sure about the day-to-day service issues your important customers have encountered in recent weeks.
  • Your sales and marketing teams are spending too much time capturing information and not enough time selling.
  • Your salespeople can’t access and capture customer information while they’re in the road—they need to phone someone or come into the office.

CRM is a great investment in your business

Customers are the lifeblood of any successful business. Nurturing customers and providing them with an excellent customer experience will improve your retention rate and drive growth. This starts with having the right information at your fingertips to understand what relationship your company has with them as well as how it can respond to their changing needs and desires.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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