I’m setting up a new business that is very focused on service delivery. Which cloud-based apps should I use to get started with my business?
Wow, this is a big question, and the answer, of course, is – “it depends”; and no answer I give here is a substitute for fully investigating and understanding your business requirements fully, to more adequately recommend something.
The type of functions you will do are:
- Lead Qualification
- Quoting and acceptance
- Dealing with service providers (contractors or employees)
- Queries from clients
- Purchasing / Accounting
Therefore the types of apps you will need are:
- Website and Social Media
- Email Marketing, Auto Responders and / or Marketing Automation for getting potential clients to sign up
- CRM for tracking the client’s details and contracts
- Scheduling for making appointments and scheduling service providers to fulfill appointments
- Support for dealing with queries from clients
- Billing and Merchant facilities for charging clients, especially recurring billing
- Email and file management, of course.
Of these, the most important app to get right would be the scheduling and service delivery app, because keeping clients happy in providing services to them so that they will send referrals back to you, is key. The second most important app would be the Marketing to ensure the first impressions of your organisation are the ones that will make your clients sign up.
The service delivery app world is vast, and it is difficult to choose the right app for the job, especially for a brand new business. Do you pick an app and make the organisation mold to the way the app works, or do you do a full service design project, and then fully investigate the app that suits your requirements. It probably depends on your budget and time constraints.
Service delivery apps may also be known as Field Service Management, Professional Services Automation, Field Force Automation or even just Scheduling.
From my perspective, there are probably 3 levels of apps that would suit – the “Do it Yourself” solution, the “Middle of the Road” solution, and the “Platform” solution.
Do it Yourself
The Do it Yourself solution involves you choosing low-cost single function apps that do a specific job, and then join them up wherever possible with API’s or built-in integrations (see my previous post on Integrations). Some of the apps that fit this category are:
- Podio – a customisable and very cost effective platform that can do many different functions within the organisation. Think of it like a shared excel spreadsheet in the cloud, with more features. You build “apps” inside Podio to meet your specific needs. It is good, but it is generic, and will require a fair bit of set up by you. It is great for you to get set up basically at first, then tweak and modify as you go. Podio have pre-built “apps” that you can customise to meet your needs. The Service and Maintenance app, is probably the most relevant app.
- Nimble – Podio and Nimble go well together. Nimble is a Social CRM app – which means it is a great, simple CRM app, with excellent integrations into LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Foursquare and Gmail. Nimble is my CRM of choice for my small business.
- If you use Nimble, or Gmail, you should use Rapportive – it is like having a CRM system right inside your Gmail, which s great until you are on your mobile device.
- Jobber and Connect2Field – both are all-in-one apps for field service. Whilst it looks like they have all the features you need to run a service organisation, I’m a bit wary of their limited range of add-ons for Jobber, and the lack of packaged integrations like Zapier for either product. You may come across limitations in the product that mean you have to change the way you do business, but I think they are worth investigating.
- GeoOp has great mobile features for your field workers. It is a bit more expensive than the previously mentioned app, but it has many features that any service based organisation needs. Before trialing apps like this, I always do two things – look at their support documents, and look at their how-to videos. Simplistic cartoon-y marketing videos are useless to tell you how you will use the app. One of the good things that GeoOp has is a list of their feature requests which is a very quick way to tell what the app can’t do for you. GeoOp doesn’t have a full CRM function, as it is very job-focused. It does store basic details about the client and provides a notes functionality.
These apps will be missing core functionality like Email Marketing, Payments and even simple things like integration into Google apps. It may be a bit of a hack to get everything working smoothly. If there was one reasonably priced Field Service app that had integrations wtih Zapier or similar, I would be a little more comfortable recommending the Do it Yourself path. At least if the main app did not do everything you need, you can find an app that does that missing feature, and set up an integration without much fuss.
Middle of the Road
The Middle of the Road solution is to get a more fully rounded application like Infusionsoft. Infusionsoft is great for service based organisations. It has excellent features for tracking people on your website, email marketing, and even marketing automation. Infusionsoft has a marketplace of many add-ins that can extend the core functionality. One of the add-ins is Service Minder which provides scheduling functionality and many other necessary features. Infusionsoft’s pricing is quite good for small businesses of up to 5 people, but there are a number of other Infusionsoft add-ins that you will probably need to look at to extend the base functionality of the product. The fact that there is only one add-in for service based organisations may be a bit limiting, but it is definitely worth checking out.
Salesforce is the top of the range option for cloud solutions that could still be considered applicable for small business. The deal with Salesforce is that you need Enterprise version of Salesforce (do not even think about going to a lesser version – it just does not give you enough features), and you will need a number of apps from the Salesforce app exchange, including a Field Service app, and maybe even a Marketing Automation app and even apps to manage emails. The number of apps, and the pricing of the apps can add a significant cost to the overall platform price. Once you go to Salesforce, then every business function you do within your organisation needs to integrate with the Salesforce platform. Whilst it is expensive, the advantages of having everything linked together may make Salesforce win out. The good thing is that you can start out slowly and just do the customistations, and add the apps as you need them, which is great for an organisation that is just starting out.
So there are a few ideas. There is no single stand-out solution that I would say just get it and start using it, and then take it from there. I would recommend refining your requirements and then looking at a few of these options to rule some out to start with, then doing a trial of at least two or three service delivery apps to see if they will work for you.