Sure, you have sales leads. But to turn them into actual revenue, you need to efficiently manage them and develop relationships. That means separating real prospects from duds, organizing all the data and tracking your key leads on a regular basis.
Sales management apps such as San Francisco-based Salesforce.com, Cupertino, Calif.-based SugarCRM or Bellevue, Wash.-based Smartsheet Sales Pipeline attempt to streamline this, but deploying a big brand-name customer relationship management (CRM) tool can be overwhelming as a first step to developing and using sales leads more efficiently.
Luckily, small firms can find simpler ways to boost their sales efforts. Often, it’s as easy as using existing tools, such as email, in a new way, or adding a few carefully selected sales apps.
Here are six ways you can use technology to maximize your sales pipeline:
1. Equip your inbox for sales duty.
Several tools can upgrade popular email services to help you make smarter decisions about your messages or automate time-wasting tasks.
San Francisco-based Rapportive and Boomerang, by Mountain View, Calif.-based Baydin, build CRM tools directly into Gmail. Rapportive is a free tool that automatically displays information about contacts from online sources such as Facebook and LinkedIn. For $5 per month, Boomerang can schedule unlimited emails to go out at a specified future date, and it can make important emails you need to be reminded about show up at the top of your inbox.
WriteThat.Name by Paris-based Kwaga updates contacts based on email signatures; it’s free for as many as 40 contacts a month. Boston-based SaneBox, which starts at $4.95 per month, is an advanced email filter that categorizes emails by importance.
2. Look for hidden sales functions.
Dig deeper into the features of the apps you already use. For example, with Google Groups, tucked away in Google Apps, you can quickly share contacts and emails with specific groups of employees. Simply create the group within Google -- say, everyone working on a specific sales project -- and then forward emails or share contacts without adding each member to a new thread.
Apple's Address Book has a useful "notes" function for storing relationship statuses, company Web pages and instant message handles. You just need to fill out the various contact fields. After that, you can share contacts via email and sync with your other Apple devices.
3. Capture and track leads and ideas.
Make the most of your team’s leads, schemes and brainstorms by keeping them in one place. For example, you can set up a shared spreadsheet within Google Drive or a file-sharing service such as San Mateo, Calif.-based SugarSync.
But there are countless document collaboration tools, including WindowsLive, which offers Microsoft Office Web apps, and similar services such as ThinkFree by South Korea-based Hancom Inc. and Adobe’s Online Document Sharing -- which offer free versions.
Mindmapping software, which turns information and ideas into visual diagrams, is another way teams can store ideas. Two such programs are Mindjet Connect by San Francisco-based Mindjet, which starts at $9 per user per month for businesses, and TeamBrain by TheBrain Technology in Marina del Rey, Calif. which can be used with the TheBrain software, available for a $219 one-time purchase.
4. Make your smartphone a sales tool.
Smartr Contacts, by San Francisco-based Xobni, is a free tool that can make your address book smarter by shifting the focus to managing relationships instead of email addresses and phone numbers. Similar to Rapportive, Smartr Contacts pulls together updates from social media, recent emails and other contact data in one place, letting users get up to speed on who they are communicating with.
5. Get a better CRM system.
Relying on email and smartphone address books isn’t always adequate to meet the needs of complex sales campaigns. But a number of cloud-based tools can help guide sales efforts. Solve360 by Canada-based Norada Corporation and Capsule CRM by U.K.-based Zestia can potentially track thousands of contacts.
Starting at $39, Solve360 can store 10,000 contacts and 50 projects. It includes such features as shared email history and secure project blogs. The free version of Capsule CRM includes 250 contacts and unlimited deal tracking.
6. Integrate social media.
Social media can be fertile sales ground, but they must be managed properly. You can generate leads by monitoring your company’s social media activity with Web-based tools such as Chicago-based Sprout Social, which starts at $39 per month. You will get a better idea of who is using -- or at least talking about -- your services and keep track of your list of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.