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QuickBooks and Customer Management: How to Bridge the Gap

Is QuickBooks Your Main Source of Customer Information?

Small business owners and managers need to be able to answer questions like:

  • Who are your best customers?
  • What’s your average customer sale:
  • What’s the lifetime value of a customer?

If you’re like many small businesses, you may go to QuickBooks or your accounting system to find these answers. But usually Quickbooks only has SOME of the information, and SOME of the tools you need to manage customer relationships.

Information Outside of QuickBooks

Many companies use QuickBooks to maintain their master customer records, but may just use email, files and folders to manage:

  • Customer Support Requests
  • Sales Proposals
  • Customer & Prospect Communications

If you’re a very small business, this ad-hoc approach may work just fine. But as you grow, you may want to consider combining QuickBooks data with a customer relationship management type of application.

The Risk of Data Silos

As we shared in our post about small business data silos, when accounting records and sales records are maintained separately, you run risks like:

  • Promising out-of-stock product
  • Selling to customers who have accounts past-due
  • Having mis-matched data that’s been updated in one system, but not the other, and losing sight of which information is correct

But those are just the most obvious problems… the real gaps run much deeper.

Gaining Insight from Information

We find that most of our clients are looking for new ways to understand their customers – insights that won’t show up in a QuickBooks report.

 Trends

  • What are the trends in your business?
  • What’s driving those trends?
  • Are you being impacted by your competitors changing their pricing, offerings or business model?
  • How do you need to react to either minimize your risk or capitalize on the opportunities?

Negative Notifications

We’re so accustomed to receiving notifications and alerts that without “negative notifications” critical activities can go unnoticed.

  • Customers who’ve stopped buying from you
  • Sales opportunities that you lost, and you don’t know why
  • Clients who are becoming increasingly disgruntled
  • Activities that are the most profitable / unprofitable

Qualitative Insight

The one thing missing from many customer relationship management software programs is information captured about the customer.

  • Customer’s personality and personal details
  • Technical savvy-ness
  • Roadblocks and obstacles
  • Other decision makers

Bridging the Gap Between Accounting and Customer Management

There is no one “right way” to manage customer information. Before we make any recommendations about what to buy or what to do, we first seek to understand what you want to measure and what you’ll do with the gathered information.

Only then can we help you decide:

  • Which small business software you need
  • Where and how information will be captured
  • How your systems will stay in sync – do you need custom software integration
  • Which system will maintain the “master records”
  • What reports need to be regularly run

Ready to find a better way to integrate your sales and accounting information? Request a FREE consultation and we’ll help you explore your options.

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MS Access Databases: Make the Move?

Once upon a time…

MS Access databases were everywhere!

In fact, Microsoft Access databases are still used in lots of small-to-medium businesses because the applications developed years ago still work.

The obvious question then is…

If your MS Access application still works,
why would you change anything?

Because old technology – even if it’s technically FREE – isn’t really free. The costs are just hidden. We covered this topic in our article about the Care and Feeding of Custom Software and also where we talked about Microsoft end of support for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008.

In a nutshell:

  • You’re missing out on modern efficiency gains.
  • You may be creating risks – especially in the areas of security, upgradability, and supportability

MS Access has many great features.

We’ve built many applications in Microsoft Access over the years. We liked MS Access because:

  • It’s inexpensive (the license is FREE) and requires no special hardware to run.
  • It has a graphical interface, which makes it easy to use.
  • It’s an easy all-in-one simple solution, including extra features like a built-in form creator and report writer.

On the downside… despite Microsoft’s upgrades to the product, MS Access is unsophisticated and unwieldy compared to other options available today.

  • It’s not very scalable. It’s doesn’t work well with more than about 10 concurrent users and can’t handle high-volumes of data or complex algorithms.
  • Data security can be problematic. Role-based security features have been removed from the application.
  • It’s not web-friendly.
  • Most software developers don’t want to work with MS Access databases.
  • It’s difficult to connect to other small business software solutions and SaaS offerings. There’s no API connectivity.

Microsoft Access has been around for more than 25 years now. It’s had a great run. But in our opinion, it just can’t compete with newly developed web-centric solutions.

Before switching to another custom software application, the first step is to see whether a small business software application already exists that would meet your needs. When one doesn’t exist, we’ve had several clients move off of MS Access to Django.

Their typical reaction is “Why didn’t we switch sooner?!”

MS Access Migration Examples

Client 1: Needed better software integration between QuickBooks & CRM

This client had created a customer relationship management (CRM) system in MS Access. All their financial information was in QuickBooks. The problem was that they couldn’t get a full picture of the client. When the client called in to request additional services, employees couldn’t see that they had a long overdue unpaid bill. We built a custom application for them that gave them real-time access to customer history, without requiring extra QuickBooks licenses or logins.

Client 2: Needed to run on a non-Microsoft platform, specifically Linux & Apple

This client had Linux-based thin clients in their shops, and wanted employees to be able to quickly look up information through iPads. Moving from MS Access to Django made it possible so they could login to their application from any web browser.

Client 3: Needed mobile integration with a cloud-based small business software solution (SaaS API Integration)

In this case, the sales team would touch down in a city and want to be able to find the best clients within a radius of their current location. Their MS Access database was only accessible from the home office. Printing lists and maps was ridiculously inefficient. With the new system, they can create route maps to better plan their sales day. They can also integrate with Microsoft Word and Office 365.

Other clients have moved off of Microsoft Access because they have too much data or too many users.  One of the best reasons for working with Eclipse Consulting is that we don’t prescribe THE answer. We ask the right questions to help you get the best answer for YOUR business.

technology business

Evaluating SaaS Solutions: Top 10 Criteria to Consider

In the not-so-distant past, the standard way to buy small business software was to buy the number of licenses you need, install the software on a server or on all the company’s workstations, and periodically upgrade the software to a new version.

That model is quickly becoming obsolete as more software vendors have moved to the SaaS model of software delivery.

What’s is SaaS?

SaaS stands for Software-as-a-Service. Rather than buying software, you pay a monthly fee to access the software you need through a cloud computing environment.

What are the benefits of SaaS solutions?

While one might argue that the primary reason software companies have moved to offering SaaS solutions is for the recurring revenue model, SaaS customers actually have a lot to gain by switching to a SaaS solution:

  • No big upfront software and hardware costs.
  • Upgrades are automatic and continual.
  • Data is often significantly more secure than when it’s hosted on a company server.
  • Often, licensing can flex as your business needs change, allowing you to easily add or remove functionality and user licenses.

One of the complaints we hear is that with a SaaS solution, you’ll NEVER own the software. The recurring software licensing fee continues as long as you continue to use the software. As an IT Services provider, we see lots of old homegrown databases and small business software solutions that aren’t costing the company much money-wise but are creating risk. Over time, the software becomes unsupported and the data becomes unreliable.

Are you evaluating SaaS solutions?

Today, every business is a technology business. Unless you’re still working in an old-school, paper-based environment, practically any small business software solution you’ll consider will be primarily available as a SaaS offering. In a prior article, we shared how to evaluate cloud vs desktop software.

In this article, we’ve put together the top 10 SaaS considerations to help you select a system that’s stable, secure and will help your business leverage technology for growth.

10 SaaS Evaluation Criteria

1. What are the capabilities of the system?

SaaS vendors love to position themselves as an all-in-one solution. You see this offered in many popular sales and marketing programs such as:

  • Hubspot
  • 17 Hats
  • Infusionsoft

Some SaaS vendors do a better job of delivering on this all-in-one promise than others. Your job is to evaluate what you need, what you’ll use, and what the software does well. Email marketing may mean sending outgoing emails only – or it may mean advanced marketing automation. The details can get hidden in the fine print.

It can be very easy to get caught up in the bells-and-whistles of the software, or to make assumptions about what a feature means, only to find out later that the software you just purchased is missing a key function needed for day-to-day functioning.

SaaS software evaluation criteria

2. What’s included at each pricing tier?

We hate to see clients run into a “that costs extra” situation, where they can’t get the functionality they need unless they spend more money to buy upper-tier licenses. Unfortunately, it’s common for marketing information to be unclear, often because the software is being consistently improved.

Microsoft Office 365 is a great example of the need to understand licensing limitations. You may read online that you can integrate VOIP calling functionality into Office 365, not realizing that capability only exists if you buy a certain license type. A thorough evaluation and advice of an IT professional is helpful when trying to determine licensing needs.

3. How do you know your data won’t be hacked?

Major vendors like Microsoft, Google, Amazon have multiple levels of security in place that is continually and extensively tested to thwart cyber criminal activity. Studies have repeatedly shown that – despite the increase in cyber security breaches – your data is actually much safer in a cloud-based SaaS solution than it is on a physical server in your office.

If you’re working with a smaller SaaS vendor, you need to ask about their data security policies. In addition, your company needs to take steps to create and follow IT policy and procedure best practices. The best lock in the world won’t keep criminals out if you leave the door wide open.SaaS data security

4. What’s their privacy policy? How do you know they won’t sell your data?

As the saying goes, “If the software is free, you are the product.” Many social media sites are monetized through advertising. In asking this question, your job is to understand how they will use the information stored on their servers, either in aggregate or through targeted marketing.

5. How can you ensure the SaaS vendor won’t lose your data?

What are their backup and recovery policies? Do they offer a service level agreement with an up-time guarantee?

Technology start-ups are particularly vulnerable to data loss. They may be cash-crunched and cutting corners to put all their time and energy into feature enhancements to gain new customers. Only when tragedy strikes – a hurricane, fire, flood or burglary – do they realize that their backup process failed – or that it will take weeks to get back up and running on a new server. There are countless stories of software companies that have vanished overnight, leaving their customers without critical accounting, customer or sales data.

With so many readily available, and affordable cloud-hosting backup solutions available, data loss is inexcusable. Don’t let a SaaS vendor’s mistake cost you your business.

6. How easy is it to setup the new system?

 Moving to a new software system usually isn’t as simple as just downloading your existing records and then re-uploading the data into the new system.

  • What needs to be done to clean up existing data before it’s imported into the new system? Migrating to a new software program presents a great opportunity to clean out old and unnecessary information. Do you need to be able to access historical information? If so, how will you accomplish that goal?
  • What new opportunities exist with this software that’s weren’t possible in the past? Where do you need to change your procedures to capitalize on your technology investment?
  • What decisions need to be made up front that will be hard (or impossible) to change later?
  • Who will do the setup? Can you setup the system on your own? Does the SaaS vendor or its partners offer technology consulting services to help get the system properly configured?

7. How easy is it for users to learn the system?

User adoption is critical – yet training for new software is often overlooked. Software companies go to great lengths to make their software easy to use, and especially to look easy in a demo. The software may in fact be easy to use – once you know where to look.

  • Naming conventions may be different. What’s an account vs. a customer? What’s a lead vs. a list?
  • Functions may be hidden in unexpected places. If you’ve been using QuickBooks forever, switching to FreshBooks or Wave may leaving you scratching your head on where to find features that you know must exist, but they’re not on the page where you’d expect to find them.
  • The software is always evolving. As updates are published, how are new features communicated to users? Do they send out emails, create walk-throughs, or expect you to regularly visit their user forum?
  • Is onboarding available? Many SaaS vendors offer a series of videos and walk-throughs to orient new users to the system.

8. Is software customer support included? What types?

Software support can be free or paid; self-service or on-demand. Before you become a customer, ask about customer support options like:

  • Live chat
  • Help “More Info” Icons within the software itself
  • Phone support
  • Support hours (Is it 24/7/365? Is it OK if it’s not?)
  • Blogs and forums
  • Help desk ticketing
  • Facebook community pages
  • Vendor or partner consulting services

9. Can we connect this software program to other software systems? Can we extend or customize the software?

In a prior post, we shared how important it is to select small business software with API Integration. Small business data silos create problems because it’s so easy to lose sight of the “truth” and only see one aspect of the business. Ask if the software works natively with Zapier, PieSync or other integration tools. Look and see if they have software partners that extend the functionality of this solution.

10. What happens if I leave?

Can I take my data with me? How can I download it? You don’t want to spend years and years building your business online, only have to have it disappear. Even social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter provide you with options to download your history.

Any SaaS solution you evaluate should make it easy to leave – and allow you to take your data with you.

Are you evaluating SaaS Solutions right now?

Let us help you select and implement the right small business software solution. Contact us for more information.

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How data silos hurt your small business

small business data silos

Small Business IT Strategy

Sometimes it’s not what we DO that hurts our business growth, but rather what we fail to do… like planning out our small business IT strategy. Data silos pop up because we don’t have an IT technology plan. We don’t always ask the right questions to help us decide between cloud and desktop software or know how to evaluate SaaS solutions.

Read more

Small Business Project Management: 5 Tips

small business project management tips

Small businesses don’t have time to waste. Unfocused meetings, and tedious follow up on projects can drain your energy and your bank account. How do you regain control without micro-managing your team? Typically, the problem isn’t the project planning, it’s in the follow up. Having the right small business project management tools is critical.

To keep your team on track, we put together our 5 best small business project management tips and tools to keep your team on task.

Small Business Project Management Tips

1. Use a file sharing site.

Stop sending document back and forth via email. Store your documents in a central location. Project files can be stored on a cloud file storage site like:

2. Use small business project management software.

Today, there are dozens of affordable cloud-based small business software project management tools to choose from. Some of the more popular ones include:

Your project management can often link to the files you have stored on your file sharing site. Using the project management software for communications will reduce the back-and-forth of trying to find the most recent version of “that one document” and sifting through hundreds of email messages to try to remember what was said and who is responsible.

3. Share your calendar.

Both Google G-Suite and Office 365 allow you to share your calendar with others in your office, or even to publish your calendar online. You can create custom calendars for business areas, like the Marketing and Tradeshow calendar or the Conference Room 1 Resource calendar. You can also subscribe to internet calendars, and even bring in the project management calendars mentioned above. 

To streamline your home/work life, you can create a separate calendar for personal obligations. The beauty of having multiple calendars is that you can see all your commitment in one place, and selectively share your availability with your team. You can then access your calendar via your phone, iPad or other device.

4. Create workflow.

Document your process. Once you have everything “set” like you want it to be, use automation tools like Microsoft Flow, IFTTT (if this then that), Zapier and even Outlook Tasks or Boomerang for Outlook to remind you of overdue tasks. People will be amazed how on top of things you are when you use technology instead of your memory to keep projects moving forward. If you keep thinking, “There has to be a better way!” …there probably is!

5. Use chat and online meeting tools.

There’s nothing more frustrating than needing “just one quick answer” to finalize a project…. Except maybe having someone commandeer 30 minutes of your time for “one quick question.”

Get your entire team committed to using an instant messaging tool like Microsoft Teams to get answers quickly.  Instead of meeting face-to-face, schedule online conferences where you can share your screen, and even record the session for people who couldn’t participate.

Popular online meeting software includes:

Your business success largely depends on your ability to manage projects efficiently to completion. As a leader in your company, your job is to get everyone on the same page, enthusiastic about the mission at hand, and provide employees with the project management tools to do their jobs efficiently. We hope these small business project management tips and tools have been helpful.

Anything you would add?

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Microsoft Office 365 Business Apps

Microsoft Office 365 business apps

Think you know Microsoft Office 365? Think again.

The software engineers at Microsoft have been steadily adding new applications and services to Microsoft Office 365. Office 365 is a Microsoft Cloud Software as a Service (Saas) that provides businesses with familiar business productivity tools. There are many good reasons to create a professional email account with Office 365.

Read more

Using Small Business Software: There has to be a better way!

there has to be a better way

As a small business technology advisor, we’ll often be called into an office to provide technical support.  Sometimes the client will casually mention some glaring inefficiency that we know could be easily be remedied with a software program.  Read more

Before you buy, ask about API!

API access for small business software

When companies buy small business software, they may be looking at features and functions, but quite often forget to ask about API access for users.  Read more

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