Posts Tagged ‘CRM’

Tools for Managing Virtual Assistants

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

By Adam Ward

These days, you can outsource just about anything, from highly technical tasks such as programming, to basic tasks that just about anyone can do. Because there are a fair number of menial, repetitive tasks involved in online marketing, you may want to hire virtual assistants (also called virtual admins or VAs) to do those tasks. Online marketers commonly use VAs for link building, scrubbing websites for contact information, sending emails to recruit for affiliate programs, etc.

The purpose of this post is not to tell you how to find VAs. You can learn more about that from such sites as IVAA, Virtual Admins Plus, oDesk, Elance or even reading this post on Shoemoney.com.

However you get one, you need to make sure you have a good way of managing your VA. Otherwise, you may spend just as much time managing a person as you did doing those tasks to begin with. The most common (and least effective) way of managing a VA is through email. Often VAs live halfway around the world, so phone calls are out, and even Skype works only if you’re both up at the same time. So marketers usually ask VAs to BCC them on every email they send out, and to send them a direct email updating them on their daily efforts, as well as alerting them to any special developments.

A better way to manage this is to use a multi-user database, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software, that both you and your VAs can access. Because I’m most familiar with eSilverBullet, I’ll explain how it is used by online marketers to manage their VAs.

First, the system is hosted, so regardless of where your VAs live in the world, they’ll be able to access it with an Internet connection.

Second, users get assigned permissions. So if you have multiple VAs and you don’t want them seeing what each other is doing, no problem. Because you’ll have the manager permission, you’ll see every record they create or modify. That way, you can check up on their activities without them taking an extra step to push that information to you.

I mentioned that most online marketers use VAs for emailing. That will all takes place within the system. The VAs can upload and choose from any number of email templates, then send mass emails to the addresses assigned to them. Rather than copying you on each one, you can run an activity report to see what got sent, by whom, to whom, and when.

The system includes a calendar that can be shared (again, based on permissions) among users. You can also assign specific tasks with due dates for each of your VAs. So instead of sending an email to a VA and hoping it doesn’t get lost in the inbox, you’ll create the task within the system. That alerts the VA of the task and automatically puts it on the to-do list. Once the task is completed, the VA can close the task. That lets your VA know what needs to be done each day, and gives you a quick idea of which tasks were completed and which are still outstanding.

Likewise, your VAs can assign notes, tasks or calendar events to you as well. So if they’ve discovered special offers that you should look at, they can record those in the system and you’ll see them the next time you log in.

The system also records all emails going out, regardless of what email accounts are used. Online marketers often use multiple email accounts to communicate with potential or current affiliates, so their VAs end up managing multiple email accounts. Outsourced program managers (OPMs), for instance, may have an email account for every affiliate program they manage (e.g. affiliatemanager@BrandXCompany.com). Their VAs will choose which email to use for a particular email blast. The system allows you to do a global search for emails in the system based on any keyword. That is much quicker than doing a search within each folder in your typical email application.

And just like with employees, there is no telling how long a VA will stick around. This causes people who manage their VAs with just an email application a lot of headaches because there is no easy way, shy of forwarding all the copied emails, of transferring that institutional knowledge to the new VA. With eSilverBullet, however, transitioning an old VA with a new VA is as simple as giving the new VA a user name and reassigning all records owned or created by the old VA to the new one. It takes less than a minute.

Ultimately, you’ll want to know the ROI on your VAs. Rather than following your gut feelings, or waiting for your VAs to convince you of their effectiveness, the system will show you specific numbers. If you are an affiliate marketer using VAs for recruiting, for instance, you’ll be able to run a report that shows the number of affiliates each VA successfully recruited into your affiliate program. That will show you which VAs are responsible for bringing the most money to you through their efforts.

Why You Should Care About CRM

Monday, May 17th, 2010

By Adam Ward

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is one of those tools that, once you start using it, you can’t imagine how you got along without it for so long.

So often we get wrapped up in the idea of making money for us or our business that we forget to focus on the specific steps we have to follow to bring the money in. Often, our success is impeded by our lack of (or dread of) organization skills. It is common for us to feel like we have too much to do and not enough time or people to do it. We don’t know whether we’re working efficiently because we don’t have time to evaluate our efficiency.

Using a CRM system is one way to offload some of the day-to-day tasks that we have to do (but don’t necessarily enjoy) in order for us to work more efficiently at the parts of our jobs we like best.

Growing sales and new business contacts without CRM is kind of like building a car from scratch. It is going to take longer, have more gotchas, and be harder to replicate than cars built on an assembly line. Whereas a good CRM tool becomes the assembly line.

We have a business advisor at eSilverBullet who has a PhD in engineering. He worked for IBM and started Iomega. He views sales the same as he does product development: as a process of small, replicable steps that, if followed the same way, will produce predictable and favorable results.

By putting each of those steps into a CRM system, the CRM’s workflow can then walk you through them, or walk a new employee you bring in off the street, so that either way, you’re going to get the same results: more customers, more money, and more time.

Feeling the Pain: Top Ten Frustrations for Advertisers in Affiliate Marketing

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

By Adam Ward

Even for veteran online merchants (the advertisers), marketing products in the affiliate space (also referred to as performance-based marketing) is no walk in the park. Here are the top ten headaches nearly all online advertisers deal with.

Running ad campaigns (or programs) on multiple ad networks (also called affiliate networks)

Online merchants expose their products to more consumers by running ad campaigns on other websites. Ostensibly, the more publisher websites the ads run on, the more traffic they push to the merchant’s site, which increases sales. Since ad networks provide an easy way for merchants to find publishers, it makes sense that a merchant would want to join as many ad networks as possible.

However, running on multiple networks creates new problems. First, there is the extra cost of getting set up and funding an account balance on each network. Second, the merchant needs to have a way of determining which network to attribute the sale to, if traffic came from multiple networks. Third, the chance of fraud increases dramatically, especially if the merchant isn’t actively managing the campaign.

Having to use different tracking software for each network on which they run ads

Every network has its own software for tracking ad campaigns. The networks expect merchants and publishers to use the tracking numbers from its own software to determine who should receive commissions on sales. So even if a merchant has its own tracking software, it still has to log into a tracking system for every network it belongs to and pull campaign statistics from it.

Having to develop proprietary tracking software (or buy third-party software) to manage in-house campaigns

Although a merchant can use the tracking software of whatever network it joins, that only works if the merchant doesn’t run ad campaigns in-house or on multiple networks. For example, if the merchant has the same campaign running on two networks, it is possible for a single publisher to grab that ad from both networks. If the publisher refers a consumer who ends up buying on the merchant’s site, each network will attribute that single publisher with a sale. So if the merchant doesn’t have its own tracking software to police that situation, it will end up paying a double commission for a single referral.

Also, because merchants contract directly with publishers (off network) to run a campaign, those merchants will need to have their own software to track the campaign results.

Dealing with publisher and network disputes over tracking numbers

Because everyone uses the tracking statistics to know what commissions to pay, this inevitably leads to squabbling over “which” statistics to use. Publishers would prefer to use their own tracking numbers. Networks would prefer to use their own tracking numbers. And advertisers would prefer to use their own tracking numbers. Since all these numbers are rarely the same, you get a lot of back-and-forth between advertisers and publishers over how much the advertiser really owes.

Recruiting new publishers and maintaining relationships with current publishers

Having an ad campaign does an advertiser no good if the ad isn’t running anywhere. So advertisers need to constantly prospect for publishers. And just like any other sales environment, taking care of your existing business relationships is far cheaper and more productive than prospecting new relationships. So advertisers need to stay in touch with publishers that are running the ad campaigns. However, knowing that this needs to be done is not as easy as actually doing it. With all the other demands on an advertiser’s time, prospecting and relationship management often take a back seat, especially if the advertiser doesn’t have tools, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software, in place to help focus those efforts.

Dealing with parasiteware and unethical networks and publishers

Parasiteware is too complicated to delve into here (but you can go to this forum to learn all about it). Basically, there are some networks and publishers out there that use various technologies to divert search traffic that would have come directly to an advertiser’s site (so the networks and publishers get commissions they didn’t earn), that would prevent other publishers from receiving their legitimate commissions (which can create tension with the advertiser and those publishers), that would overwrite the tracking code, or would inflate tracking numbers so advertisers end up paying more than they should.

Not knowing how effective a campaign will be before it starts, and then not knowing the optimum time to discontinue a campaign that is no longer effective

Although advertisers can get a good sense of what campaigns work, they don’t have crystal balls. Since the look and content of an ad’s creative play a big role in attracting customers, a poor campaign can really hurt an advertiser. Advertisers can use analytics and persuasion consultants to help them optimize their campaigns, but that adds an extra cost to a campaign.

Having publishers refuse to join a particular ad network, or refuse to run an in-house campaign directly

Ideally, an advertiser should be able to work with any publisher it wants. Unfortunately, some publishers refuse to work with advertisers that don’t run campaigns on a specific network. If an advertiser wants to work with that publisher, but decides the benefits don’t outweigh the extra headaches of joining another network, it will have to not work with that publisher.

Having to continuously, actively manage an ad campaign

Running an ad campaign is not as simple as writing copy for the ad, designing the creative, giving it to a publisher to run, then forgetting about it. A campaign needs to be actively managed. Campaign managers need to monitor statistics to make sure the commissions they pay out are for valid leads. They need to monitor the effectiveness of the ad. They need to make changes to the campaign or creative if they aren’t getting the results they’d like.

Having to manage an ad campaign in-house as well as on affiliate networks

As a continuation of the previous point, an advertiser needs to multiply the effort of managing each campaign by the number of networks on which they run the campaigns.