All posts by Benjamin Brandall


Why You Need Customer Service Processes, and How to Get Started Now

The following is a guest contribution from Mary Shulzhenko. Mary is a digital marketer, content strategist and a copywriter. She is passionate about writing on customer service, customer experience, small business, marketing and a variety of other business topics. She provides the original content for LiveAgent, an award-winning and the most reviewed help desk software for SMBs in 2018. You can find her on LinkedIn.

Would you agree to fly on a plane knowing that the crew was simply ‘told’ what to do but didn’t use clear guidelines and instructions? Probably not.

Sadly, that is how many organizations operate today – without realizing that it may result in a wide range of negative consequences, from employee inefficiency, to lost customers and profits.

Telling employees what to do is not nearly as effective as having a set of written step-by-step instructions they can follow, explaining how exactly routine operations should be performed. That’s where standard operating procedures, or SOPs, come in.

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How to Make Software Rollout Easier for You and Your Team

The following is a guest post from Ryan Gould, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services at Elevation Marketing. An expert search, social and content marketer, Ryan leads Elevation Marketing’s digital strategy department, helping brands achieve their business goals, such as improving sales and market share, by developing integrated marketing strategies distinguished by research, storytelling, engagement and conversion.

software rollout

Without software, you’d be hand-writing purchase orders, using a Rolodex for a CRM, and doing your newsletters via smoke signal.

Alright, maybe that last one is a little far-fetched, but there’s no denying that in the business world, technology is absolutely necessary and enables amazing things.

…But not everyone on your team gets enthusiastic about the prospect of learning a new tool. Even if that tool will help them improve productivity, do a better job, and escape the white-collar equivalent of hard manual labor.

IBM research on the barriers to software adoption (Source)

Your goal when rolling out software is always the same: to help your business improve operations, boost efficiency, and enable sales. These days that means staying up to date on technological trends as well.

Deciding which tool is right for you will always hinge on fundamentals, like whether it can automate your vendor payments, purchase orders, employee onboarding, lead management, etc. However, there are other considerations, such as whether your solution integrates with cloud software and is responsive on mobile devices.

But, even after you’ve selected the solution perfect for your operation and your employees – after all the sales demos, comparison docs, and review reading – you’ll find it’s that the human element that trips you up.

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What I Learned Evolving My Startup’s Team Structure (Featuring Lego)

The following is a guest post from Brett Farmiloe. Brett is the CEO of digital marketing company, Markitors, and advisor to career resource, Organizational Leadership Degrees. He is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and Forbes, and also enjoys tending his backyard vegetable patch.

startup team structure

Workplace structure.

What popped into your mind after reading those words? A large office building with hundreds of employees and multiple layers of management? Something gargantuan and sluggish?

That is certainly how I pictured the classic workplace structure, especially before starting my own company. Now I truly understand that all businesses, no matter how small, have a set structure of who reports to who – and for good reason. While it may sound unnecessarily methodical and plodding, it adds an element of organization to your organization.

Something I learned through years of trial and error was that organizational structures are a fluid beast – they need to evolve and grow as your company does.

Below are some of my tips for ensuring the success and longevity of your business, with lessons from Lego, Zappos, and my own company.

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4 Things SaaS Companies Need to Know About Regulatory Compliance

The following is a guest post submission from Nathan Sykes. Nathan is the founder of Finding an Outlet, a site dedicated to the latest in B2B IT news and trends. Follow him on Twitter @nathansykestech to read his latest articles.

regulatory compliance

As cloud-based solutions, like SaaS and remote technologies, become more prevalent than ever we’re starting to see regulators and auditors get more serious about IT governance standards. As standards become more stringent, companies become more aware of the requirements set upon them and, in turn, ask providers to help with IT audits.

As you might expect, this means the pressure gets offloaded onto SaaS providers, who don’t generally perform audits or mind regulatory requirements outside of their own responsibilities. But the landscape is changing rapidly, not just in regards to audits but additional regulatory and legal constraints too, right along with financial limitations and tax requirements.

What exactly is changing in the SaaS legal landscape, and what do you need to know about it?

Sales tax and nexus

In October 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in South Dakota v. Wayfair that internet-based and e-commerce retailers can be required, by law, to pay and collect sales tax in states even where they lack a physical presence. This completely uproots decades of legal precedence, not the least of which relates to the concept of nexus.

How nexus applies

Source

Nexus is essentially your physical influence or presence within a state. If you have “nexus” within a region, then you can be required by law to collect and pay sales taxes lest you incur fines and compounding interest. The idea is used to declare and determine where a business may have a physical presence even outside their home state.

Determining nexus has always been particularly tricky because each state varies regarding qualifications. What gives you nexus in one state may be completely different in another. And this supreme court ruling just made it even more difficult, especially for SaaS providers who operate and serve on a broad level outside of their home location(s).

As a result, South Dakota now has an economic nexus law — among 25 other states and counting — that increases the tax burdens of online businesses, SaaS and cloud service providers included. What this means is that general tax burdens will grow, and companies will need to expansively research tax burdens on a state-by-state basis with more scrutiny than ever before. This has happened before, further muddling the definition of nexus and sales tax when it comes to online services, so it’s not unreasonable to think it will be expanded even more in the future.

A major issue with these tighter laws is that they tend to have low limits: 200 total transactions — as opposed to customers outright — in a state will commonly develop nexus. But since SaaS providers deliver subscription-based pricing models and deal with multiple invoices per client, you can end up with nexus in a state faster.

This further facilitates the need to have an accountant or experienced professional deal with taxing and monetary collection policies. Don’t overlook this, especially if your business is spread across varying locations and your service coverage is far-reaching. You will need to identify and understand where sales tax is necessary, and failure to do so will lead to severe consequences not the least of which is heavy legal fines and court costs.

Provider-focused auditing

Security and data governance audits are less an optional state of checks and balances and more a legal and regulatory requirement these days. Therefore the onus has shifted to providers to help deal with and prepare for some of these experiences.

SaaS regulation barriers to cloud adoption
Source

Increasingly, SaaS clients require records on IT security audits, clear-cut data storage, handling and protection policies, performance standards, end even risk management or disaster recovery plans. In other words, you may be initially audited by clients — in a way — before any legal audits take place.

Common auditing concerns

More than proper planning and documentation, it helps to have these elements established long before your clients even ask, so that when the time comes, you can provide the necessary assurances.

Here are some things to consider for future and present audits:

  • Do you have a corporate security policy?
  • Is there a dedicated security team in place to handle events and failures?
  • Do you have a formal procedure for reporting a security violation or data breach?
  • Do you regularly conduct penetration testing or have a third-party handle the process? When was the last relevant test performed, and what were the results? What are you doing to remedy any flaws or vulnerabilities discovered?
  • Whether through external means or internal discovery, what are you doing to both identify and remediate vulnerabilities in your system and network?
  • How often are applications or software tools updated? What is the process for doing so and how does this affect security? What about customer or client downtime? How long will the update process take?
  • Do you have a process for announcing and sharing scheduled maintenance sessions?
  • Is there API access or external integration support? How does this relate to data security and protections?
  • Are all API units authenticated, data encrypted, and monitored?
  • How do you physically secure access to your data facilities or operations sites?
  • How do you comply with HIPAA/Sarbanes-Oxley/PCI DSS 3.0/ and other similar-level regulations? Do you have documentation to support this?
  • Are all your processes — including data backups — documented in full with details on how you handle operations?
  • How far does your disaster recovery plan extend? What will you do if your customers are affected by a breach? How will you continue to ensure their privacy and security?

Legally mandated data protections

GDPR or the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union is designed to protect businesses from overreaching and provide more assurance for citizens in regards to personal data and privacy. For example, one new requirement from the law forces companies to offer a “forget me” option that allows European citizens to not only download and see any personal associated data collected about them but also delete it in full.

Since SaaS in the enterprise is not inherently a consumer-level business it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking GDPR doesn’t apply. But it does, in some cases even on multiple levels. With some providers, for example, the protections may extend to customers, a customer’s customers and sometimes beyond. This means that even if your company or business doesn’t serve affected customers, but one of your clients or service users does, then you’re obligated to comply where applicable.

Under GDPR, the purpose, nature and storage duration of data must all be supplied and honored. That is, if you say you’re going to keep data for two years, then you should immediately purge it after said period. You must also define and adhere to the type of data being processed, while also considering the responsibilities, rights and requirements of customers — who generally serve as the source or inherent “owner” of specific data sets.

This extends to security protections, as well. Customers must be informed of a breach or security issues as soon as it a company is aware of it. Providers must ensure that protections are in place to prevent data breaches and fully secure customer information. Failure to do so will result in hefty fines.

Here’s a GDPR and protections checklist you can review to ensure ultimate compliance:

It’s important to understand, however, that no matter how comprehensive this checklist may seem, there’s much more that goes into ensuring compliance. Therefore, it’s crucial you do your due diligence to research and understand the new regulations and how they apply to your business and operations.

General data practices

Outside of the legal and regulatory space, there’s also the matter of protecting your data and digital assets internally.

Throughout most of your auditing and data protection strategies, you’re focused on external data channels that often stem from your customers and umbrella users. It’s easy to forget that you — as a business — have your own proprietary data and trade secrets that you need to handle properly.

Here are some questions you should be asking:

  • How often do you back up your sensitive data and where is it stored?
  • How often are backups completed? If there is a data breach, failure or complication what could be lost?
  • What security measures do you have in place to retain control of your systems and network?
  • How will service interruptions affect your customers, their data and their users?

Protecting data that belongs to your customers and clients is vital, but you need to protect the content that relates to your business or organization and its primary operations as well. If you offer a cloud-service application, for example, where is the source code housed and is it handled or edited in a way that won’t compromise the entire business?

The landscape is tumultuous; be ready to evolve

As is evident through many of the discussions in this guide, the world of cloud computing and SaaS is changing considerably, along with the rest of the enterprise market. There’s a general focus on network and user security, data protection, customer rights and moral responsibility in some cases in regards to products and service offerings. Sometimes, as is the case with GDPR, regulations extend beyond your direct clientele and stretch further down the chain to include anyone affected by internal data usage and collection.

That’s why compliance internally is crucial to the success and continued operations of your business. The last thing you need to deal with are repercussions handed down by government bodies, your customers or the community at large.

How to Build a Customer Feedback Analysis Process (with AI!)

The following is a guest post submission from Federico Pascual, co-founder and COO of MonkeyLearn.

Customer feedback doesn’t just come in through your site’s contact form – it’s everywhere.

You only have to search the Twitter handle of any product with more than a few hundred users to see that customers love to offer their opinion – positive and negative. It’s useful to be monitoring this and learning from it, but casually collecting feedback on an ad-hoc basis isn’t enough.

Startups thrive on feedback as their ‘North star’, and are constantly evolving based on what their customers request, break, and complain about. Enterprises also can’t overlook the fact that customers are what make any company tick, and must struggle harder than startups to stay relevant and innovate.

So, if you’re just collecting feedback ‘as and when’ it comes in, you’re missing out on data that’s just as important as page views or engagement. It’s like deciding not to bother setting up Google Analytics on your homepage, or not properly configuring your CRM; in the end, you’re deciding to not benefit from data that will have a transformative effect on your product strategy.

With a dataset of feedback – whether that’s from customer reviews, support tickets, or social media – you can dig into the words your customers are using to describe certain parts of your product and get insights into what they like, and what they don’t like. In this post, I’m going to show you how.

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3 Ways to Optimize Your Marketing Workflow (From Personal Experience)

The following is a guest post from Reuben Yonatan. Reuben is the founder of GetVoIP an industry-leading business comparison guide that helps companies understand and choose a VoIP system for their specific needs. Follow him on Twitter, @ReubenYonatan.

marketing workflow

We at GetVoIP have gone through a lot to get to the point we’re at today. For those of you who don’t know us, we highlight the top VoIP providers and offer shoppers an alternate way of learning more about each vendor.

However, it’s not that easy to be taken seriously in this hyper-competitive space.

There are plenty of websites people can visit to get advice on business software; they can even just go to a provider page to get reviews. But, many of those websites are too promotional to trust. We pride ourselves on being transparent with our customers and helping providers reach out to as many people as possible. This leaves many of our competitors wondering how we even make money, but that alone says enough about why we’re coming out ahead.

In order to be taken seriously by the providers we cover, we have to show them how committed we are to their products by constantly brainstorming and optimizing every level of our business model.

If we don’t have a solid process, our leads will go to someone else that does.

Here, we’re going to break down three internal changes we have made to our marketing workflow which helped us help providers spread their products and services to even bigger audiences.

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Evernote vs OneNote: The Best App for Note-Taking, Researching and Organizing?

Evernote vs OneNote

After I accidentally threw my Macbook out of a moving car and couldn’t afford another one, I’d suffered with a Windows machine for 2 years before getting a Mac again.

I made a solemn oath never to use Windows software again, but last week, I did something that really shocked me.

I enjoyed using a Microsoft product. I enjoyed using it even when there was a viable non-Microsoft alternative.

Then why, I ask myself, am I submitting myself to a Microsoft product when I don’t have to ever see Microsoft again?

Two reasons:

  1. I have made a terrible mess of my Evernote.
  2. OneNote is actually quite good.

In this post, I’m going to share my experiences with Evernote and OneNote, compare them, and give you an idea of how I get value out of them as a writer and note-hoarder spending all my waking hours on a laptop.

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How to Prioritize Tasks and Do Only The Work That Matters

How to Prioritize Tasks

You’ve got a ton of work to do right now.

Your to-do list is an unstructured mess of action items, and you’ve only got a faint idea how to prioritize tasks.

Luckily, there are a few (almost automatic) ways to quickly get your to-do list prioritized without much effort. In fact, you can apply one of these methods within 5 minutes and know exactly what to do next. There have been a number of methods over the years, and all have their own quirks and considerations.

Which is right for you?

In previous chapters of my task management guide, I’ve taken you all the way through from writing, organizing and planning your to-do list. Go and check out those if you haven’t already.

Now, let’s look at at 4 different ways to prioritize your tasks.

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Inbox vs Gmail: Why I Made the Permanent Switchover

Inbox vs Gmail

While writing a recent article for TechCrunch about empty states in app design, I came across Inbox by Gmail — the app which rewards you with a sunny sky when you hit inbox zero.

Bonus: Get 25 Gmail Tips

Before we start, I wanted to offer you a bonus upgrade of 25 Gmail tips you can use to get super-fast at reducing your inbox to zero.

Just click the button below to access your Gmail tips.

Get Your Bonus

Done that? Now, let’s get into the Inbox vs Gmail comparison.

Inbox vs Gmail: The Full Comparison

I’m probably a little late to the party, and as much as I love Gmail I feel that Inbox is a smarter and more intuitive way to process a bulging inbox.

Vinay covered why task snoozing is so powerful over on his Abstract Living blog, which made me want to try an app with the same mechanics.

If you’re anything like me and have these traits, you’re probably going to get a lot out of Inbox:

  1. Around 5% of your emails warrant a reply
  2. Less than 10% of your emails get opened
  3. You forget to create tasks in your to-do list from emails
  4. You spend too long hitting inbox zero (the very definition of ‘busy work’)
  5. You find it hard to separate useful emails from trash with your current app
  6. You need reminding often before you start working on a task
  7. You want to see a blue, sunny sky pop up when you clear your inbox.
  8. You like good things

Inbox vs Gmail Inbox Zero

Delightful, right?! It looks even better on the iPhone because it animates slightly. After 20 minutes of looking for a way to record my iPhone’s screen and buying some junk app which doesn’t actually do it, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

If you want more content on Google products, see the posts Google Drive Tips and Dropbox vs Google Drive.

But first, getting back on track: here’s Inbox vs Gmail (The Showdown).

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How to Use Google Keep to Create The Ultimate Task List

How to Use Google Keep

While it’s getting more popular lately, Keep is one Google’s of less popular products. It’s been around since 2013, and is a 100% free way to manage your tasks and store information.

What’s more, it links seamlessly with Inbox by Gmail (a material design version of Gmail with intuitive features).

Because of this, you can now use Keep and Inbox together to create a lightweight task management system that lives inside your inbox. If you’re the sort of person who likes to start each day on to-do list / inbox zero and you’re striving to be more productive, you’ll love this.

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