When I started my first content marketing business I had a very basic idea of what I needed to do: find a customer, do work for them, get paid. That was it.
Once I was busy and in business, I realized that I had missed a few important steps. I had to come to grips with the customer lifecycle.
The customer lifecycle goes like this: first, you find a customer, then you sell to that customer, you deliver your product, you bill them, provide support, and build loyalty in the process. Word of mouth from happy customers completes the cycle.
Keeping close track of the customer lifecycle is key for entrepreneurs who want to start their own small business —and even those who are already in business.
Today we’re looking at the kinds of apps you’ll need to manage each stage successfully.
1. Finding and Selling to the Customer: Sales & CRM App
Remember that old cliche, “Knowledge is power”? Modern sales teams rely on hard data to know exactly what their target audience likes, wants, and needs.
If you want to sell effectively, you’re gonna need a CRM to centralize all of your customer’s information. A solid CRM allows the sales team to make informed decisions about what the most effective sales approach is for a given customer.
Benchmark studies reveal that CRMs lead to sales cycles that are up to 24% shorter, and can also help increase revenue by up to 40% per sales person.
Let’s say you have a new product ready to roll out. You can identify which segment of your current customer base would most likely be interested in your new product by using the data in your CRM.
Without a CRM, a basic level of segmentation and analysis is unreliable and time-consuming. With a CRM full of information it should only take a few clicks.
For example, if your new product or feature—let’s call it Widget B—solves issues your customers care about, you can quickly create a list of those customers who reported issues that Widget B solves.
With that list in hand, you’re ready to start marketing your new product or feature to a highly targeted group of people.
By giving you data-backed insight into your customers, a CRM app keeps you from taking shots in the dark when it comes to sales and marketing.
2. Delivering Your Product: Project Management App
I used to have this system for whenever I worked on a project that involved post-it notes; a spreadsheet and whiteboard calendar that I always forgot to keep updated at least two, three times a month; and emails that I kept marking as “unread” or “important” just so they would stay at the top of my inbox.
Complicated, yes, and even though it worked at the beginning it quickly became a chore to use. I started missing deadlines. I missed follow-up calls. I missed critical project updates.
One time, I kept plugging away on a writing gig even though the guy who hired me had already shut the project down. I had missed the email that killed the project.
Scenarios like this (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been there…) is why project management apps are such a boon for small businesses.
With a project management app, you’re able to create smooth, streamlined, and efficient processes, stay on target, and stop important things from falling through the cracks.
Since the nature of projects varies, you’ll probably need a tool with multiple project views in order to make every type of project easy to track. Even if your small business is in a very specific niche, not all projects are exactly the same. Being able to customize them according to your needs is key.
A project management app with Gantt chart and a tree view, for example, made it easier for me to have a clear view of project schedules and deadlines.
3. Billing the Customer: Billing and Invoicing App
Speaking of getting paid, you could be the best sales closer ever, but you won’t be in business long without an efficient billing and invoicing process in place.
A few missed billables here and there may not seem like much in the short term, but in the long run these can eat up a massive chunk of your cash flow.
Much like how a project management app keeps tasks and updates from falling through the cracks, a billing and invoicing app keeps your business from losing track of billable items.
You can go with a separate billing app and run the risk of double entry mistakes and missed items, but the best option here is to—at the very least—connect your billing app to your CRM and project management app.
The idea is to capture every single timesheet, milestone, expense, and sale across your entire business in one place—to save time and remove the possibility of double counting. Implementing accurate, fast invoicing was a major relief for me.
With these systems connected, you can automatically pull data from one part of the app and generate an accurate invoice or quote with just a few clicks.
Another consideration is whether or not your billing system supports different types of billing. Small businesses aren’t just locked into a single ‘type’ of billing (think about recurring subscriptions, upgrades, one-off projects, monthly plans, yearly plans…).
A billing and invoicing system that can handle both one-time, subscriptions, and recurring billing plus allows for custom charge rates, taxes, and discounts is ideal.
4. Providing Support and Building Loyalty: Help Desk App
One of the top takeaways in Microsoft‘s Global Customer Service report is that great customer service has become perhaps the most important part of building brand loyalty (which is, as you’ll remember, one of the final steps in the customer lifecycle).
The report found that over 60% of its respondents decided to stop dealing with a business due solely to poor customer service.
Even if you have all of the other boxes ticked, without a reliable help desk app that ties every department together your business has a higher risk of ending up dead in the water.
Just like sales, customer service is very time-sensitive. Customers were okay with waiting for a few days for a response in the past, but their current expectation is for you to acknowledge them immediately. Anything longer than 24 hours is unacceptable.
You have to assign support tickets quickly to the right people, as well as display the history of your customer, so the system you choose needs to be reliable.
Your support team can do their job without interrupting (or relying on) other areas of the business if they have a good understanding of the customer and their context.
The ideal help desk system connects your customer service team to every other relevant department in the company, and delivers transparency on how the support cases are resolved.
We’re living in a world where you can use an app on your phone to change the music playing in your living room—even when you’re miles away. Everything’s connected to everything else, and the same should apply when it comes to the apps that you use to manage your small business.
Finding apps that address different stages of the customer lifecycle is easy. CRM, project management, billing, help desk—you can find a lot of these apps online.
The tricky part is getting all of these different apps to work together; to turn them into a single business management platform where every component plays well with the others.
That’s never an easy undertaking. Sometimes it’s impossible to integrate two tools together because they’re made by different businesses. Other times it’s possible but the development costs make it unfeasible.
You want to be running your business, not spending time maintaining disparate systems. A single app with built-in CRM, projects, billing and help desk saves you money, time and frees up valuable resources so you can focus on growing your business.
And that’s WORKetc in a nutshell: the one app that lets you manage your entire business, from sales and projects all the way through to billing and support. One app for everything. No muss, no fuss.