Part of being a proactive business owner is identifying business goals and determining how to meet those goals in a cost-effective manner using available tools. Some of the most accessible business-growth and improvement tools today are web-based applications that reside in “the cloud” -- commonly called “cloud computing."
Wikipedia defines “cloud computing” as, “Internet-based computing, whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to computers and other devices on demand, as with the electricity grid.” Or, more succinctly: the use of web-based tools to get stuff done.
Let’s examine some common business goals and take a look at how cloud computing can help.
Goal: Improve customer service
Let’s say your company wants to improve customer service. You might consider using an online help desk solution, like Kayako, which allows your customers to submit trouble tickets or support requests at their convenience, day or night. You don’t have to worry about software integration, upgrades, compatibility, or software requirements because all the computing power is done online and offsite. This allows your customers to do business with your company when it’s convenient for them. Be sure to treat your online customer service communications as seriously as if the customer had called.
You might also test some web-based applications, like LivePerson, as a way to offer real-time customer service via your website. Because someone is available to answer questions as they arise, this may decrease shopping cart and online lead generation abandonment rates.
If you sell products online, does your company’s online ordering system link to your inventory system so customers are unable to purchase products that are not in stock? If not, your first stop on the cloud train needs to be investigating online systems that can handle order processing and inventory tracking. Recently, I tried to purchase an item from a large, nationwide retailer only to be told, after I took the time to input my purchasing information, the item was not available to be shipped or for in-store pickup. Needless to say their competitor, that doesn’t have brick-and-mortar stores, secured my business that day.
Goal: Increase lead generation
When potential customers and clients visit your website, do you do more than just hawk your wares or talk about your company? Focus on generating leads for your business’ future marketing needs. If you have a service-based business, create a lead-generation tool that qualifies the visitor as an ideal prospect; if you sell products, have samples or coupons available in exchange for an e-mail or physical mailing address.
Once this information is secured, you need to store it securely so that the data is able to be mined later. Using a tool like 37signals' contact management application, Highrise, in conjunction with a list management service like Aweber, might be just the combination of tools your operation needs to convert your hard-won leads into actual sales.
Goal: Increase thought leadership
Invest in another vehicle in addition to your website -- like a blog, a dedicated RSS feed, or a podcast -- to help spread the word about your products or services. Your business certainly doesn’t have to be on the bleeding edge of social media; however, relevant and progressive companies reap rewards that more complacent companies do not.
In the rush to embrace new technologies, don’t forget about your regular e-mail newsletter. Sending one may seem a bit low-tech, but consistent, direct communication keeps your offerings in front of your audience, and top-of-mind means more sales. A web application like iContact can take the confusion out of sending a professional e-mail newsletter.
Other strategies that showcase your thought leadership and get your company’s voice heard include offering digital downloads in the form of branded audio or video. Thanks to video storage and broadcasting technologies like Vimeo, increasing your brand’s exposure can happen with just a few mouse clicks.
Goal: Boost competitive intelligence
If you aren’t using Google Alerts to keep track of your brand, you’re missing out on a free and easy-to-leverage tool. It’s just as helpful to monitor potential client activities and other companyiens in your industry as it is to keep an eye on your own business.
It’s also advantageous to pay some attention to social networks. Web services such as SocialMention and ViralHeat can help you stay on top of social conversations happening on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and blogs, that relate to your brand. Those tools can also be used to track key terms and facilitate industry insights.
If you’re serious about growing an agile, responsive company, consider making the line between your business and “the cloud” as thin as possible–and with easy-to-implement, cost-effective technology tools to aid the process, why not?