Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Working hard on social networks

The amount of hard work I have to do each time I want to publish a statement on my startup is practically insane. Just see:
1.       First of all, I create the marketing message, with a URL, making sure it has the right length for Twitter
2.       Then, I need to publish it:
a.       Publish content on our WordPress site
                                                               i.      And make sure all SEO related tasks are performed
b.      Company twitter account
                                                               i.      And then retweet by my personal account
1.       Which goes to update my personal Facebook and Linkedin profiles
                                                             ii.      My personal Google+ is not in this game just yet, so I have to update it manually
c.       Post it in:
                                                               i.      Company Facebook page
                                                             ii.      Technical Facebook pages we maintain
                                                            iii.      Linkedin groups we’re connected to
I couldn’t find a tool that automates this in an easy enough way. Turns out I waste about half an hour to an hour each time I want to send a marketing message. Crap – this sucks!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Revisiting ZenDesk

Well, I had a chat with the ZenDesk team about a week ago (and was just too damn busy to blog – sorry about that). And it turns out I was mistaken, partly because a ticket I opened with the ZenDesk team was not clear enough.
It turns out that we can have a better process with ZenDesk than with SalesForce Support – the minute a user registers with ScaleBase, a trigger is activated in SalesForce, which can call ZenDesk API (see more documentation here), create a user for our customer – and send the customer an automatic email.
Since this task is manual in SalesForce – ZenDesk wins by far.
Currently we don’t have the time to switch support environments, but ZenDesk is great, high on our list of tasks – and we’ll probably return to use their environment in a few month.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Do we need to talk?

I keep reading blogs and articles about how social media can destroy enterprises. Well, to be truthful – I don’t work in an enterprise. Did, twice – but I didn’t like it so much (but learned a great deal, and loved the people I worked with).
But at my current title - I really need to know if you’re writing about my startup. But not just about it – about anything that might be relevant. For instance – if you’re writing a blog on MySQL scalability – I probably want to talk to you.
I’ve used this blog to bitch about the tools I’ve used. But this, by far, is the biggest challenge I have. I wasn’t happy with any PR agency auto responder. Doing it myself is better, but timezone differences and out-of-internet access zones (United – will you please have internet on planes already?) make this undependable.
But first thing first. To track what people are writing about my company and the topics we care about I use Google Alerts and Twitter Search (my current tool of choice is MetroTwit – whose main value is that isn’t developed in Adobe AIR, so it doesn’t kill my windows machine).
Google alerts let me configure auto running search terms, and get the new results to my email box. So far, it has proven very effective, and usually I’m the first to comment on blogs that interest me. It offers multiple level of configuration, but I rather get some results twice, and not wait till the end of the day to get interesting links.
I use twitter for the same result. Twitter searches are very useful, and people are sharing allot of data in their twitter feeds. So when anyone writes about my company – I make sure to retweet him, and follow him, from both my personal account and from the company account. When someone writes about a relevant topic – I follow him from both accounts, and answer his tweet. I try not to be pushy, because I feel it’s rude to talk to someone I don’t know – but hey, it’s my company, and my kids future ;-)
So I’ve built a nice system, but it takes huge amounts of time, and it is not scalable. I’m still researching for new tools and service providers that can help me. If you have any idea/experience – please share in the comments section.

Monday, October 31, 2011

ZenDesk vs. SalesForce

Once we were ready to go GA, we needed an online tool for our support. In this post I’ll cover how we decided on our support tool.
We had quite an extensive set of requirements, and started out with ZenDesk as our tool of choice. We were extremely happy with it, and were very unhappy with SalesForce Support options, which were both expensive and limited (a great business model).

So how did I end up using SalesForce support?
Well, it’s a long story, but for short – we decided that features are not as important as ease of integration – and although ZenDesk offers good integration with SalesForce, SalesForce support is even better integrated. It all came down to a small little feature – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Requirements list
As I said – we had a very extensive requirements list from our support tool. I wanted most of our support to happen online, since it’s easier to manage, and easier to keep history of what our customers are doing. These are just the leading items I had in the requirement list:
  1. Communication
    1. Customers can open support tickets by sending emails to a pre-defined address
    2. Customers can open support tickets online
    3. Support team can open tickets on behalf of customers
  2. Notifications
    1. Our management can get notifications whenever support tickets are opened closed, or any sort of communication occurs.
    2. Customers get email notifications when changes to their tickets occur
  3. Publishing
    1. It’s possible to make tickets global, for all to see
  4. Security
    1. Customer will have username and password access to the support portal
  5. Integration
    1. It must be possible to see in a contact or account view in SalesForce the tickets this customer opened


I feel comfortable saying ZenDesk is better at points 1-3. SalesForce made me write rules so that management gets a notification when our support staff answers a ticket. Making tickets global is very limited, and what’s worst is the limited customization options of the SalesForce support portal (yeah – they have a more customizable portal, which cost by named users, an impossible pricing model for us). ZenDesk and SalesForce are at the same level for point 4. Point 5 proved fatal for ZenDesk. I just couldn’t implement it. When a customer creates a ZenDesk user, it is impossible to map that user to the customer in SalesForce. If the account name and company name are not the same in those two tools – and the integration just doesn’t work.

Bottom line

For me – point #5 was a blocking feature, and I had to settle for a much more limited SalesForce support. Now, SalesForce is so limited, I can’t even automatically create a support user for a customer – something that is just painful. Still – I can get a 360 degree customer view – and I was willing to give up any functional requirement for this integration.
But I’m checking ZenDesk periodically. They offer a great solution and I’d love moving the minute this tiny integration point is solved…

Monday, October 10, 2011

My SalesForce Experience

My SalesForce Experience

In my previous post I wrote about the customization efforts of integrating our different marketing and sales tools. In this post I’ll detail some of the customization I’ve implemented in SalesForce.

Sales Dashboard

I don’t like the default opportunity report view of SalesForce. It requires too many clicks to enter into and doesn’t support in place editing.
So, I’ve developed a sales dashboard that makes viewing our most important opportunities a snap – and can be found at the home page of our sales guys. In the process I’ve added about 20 custom fields to each opportunity, trying to cover the following topics:
1.       Dates of all steps in our sales process – like POC date, closing date, production date, etc.
2.       Feature management – which missing features the customer needs (if any). In the future I plan to connect this to our feature management tools.
3.       Fields for all relevant opportunity data (for us – number of databases, type of database, etc)
4.       Pricing. Although SalesForce has a product feature, which allows mapping products from the product map to opportunities, it just requires too many steps to implement. Instead we just made sure the product list associated with the opportunity is empty so the amount field can be updated.
This dashboard is used by our Sales Reps to view their opportunities, and is sorted according to the stage of the opportunity in the process.

Auto Conversion

When visitors register at our site LoopFuse automatically creates a lead in SalesForce. This is not enough in our scenario. Why? Because those who register need to gain access to our support portal, and SalesForce only enables Self Service Support for Contacts, not Leads.
Now, LoopFuse allows for creating Contacts in SalesForce instead of leads, but no opportunity is created.
So we have created a trigger that is activated whenever a lead is created. Not wanting to convert all leads, we use the campaign field to mark which leads come from LoopFuse – and which are generated manually.
We have made some other tweaks to SalesForce, but those were the major ones. I guess we’ll have more soon – I’ll update new developments on this blog.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Marketing Automation

I’ve invested huge amounts of my time in the last few months in automating our sales and marketing processes. Basically, at my startup, we let you download an evaluation version of our product and try it out for 30 days. We use SalesForce for CRM, LoopFuse for marketing automation, Wufoo for our forms, Woopra for online site analytics and Google Analytics for history site analytics (when we launched Google Analytics couldn’t be used to real time analytics. It changed now – but I really like Woopra).

I’ll talk about the processes in future posts, but for now, the most important criteria for us was integration between the product. For example, we love ZenDesk as a support portal, but ended up using SalesForce for support, although it’s a much more limited. ZenDesk SalesForce integration didn’t let us create users when new SalesForce contacts were created – a major limitation in our automated process.

So, the process goes as follows:

Someone visits site and is tracked by LoopFuse, Woopra and Google Analytics. Each is used for a different task.

When the visitor fills out a form, he fills it on our site using a Wufoo integrated form. Integrating Wufoo and WordPress is very easy. Integration with LoopFuse is OK, I encountered a major bug in capturing details from Wufoo to LoopFuse, but that was fixed since.

Since I don’t really trust integration, our entire sales team gets an email from both Wufoo and LoopFuse when a new registration occurs. This way we can make sure that the registration run through the entire process.

Once the form is submitted details are sent to LoopFuse, which automatically sends this data to SalesForce as a lead. I found no problems in this integration.

Custom code in SalesForce converts the lead to an opportunity, and, for quality control, sends an email to the entire sales team, with a special email sent to the sales rep who is responsible for the opportunity.

At this point the user receives a confirmation mail, and an additional email, sent automatically from SalesForce, containing the support portal credentials.

It was an incredibly difficult to implement this integration, and I’ll dive into each tool we use and how we use it in the following posts.

Feel free to ask questions about this topic in the remarks section, or just sent me a LinkedIn invite and I’ll be happy to chat.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New life

Wow, it has been almost 18 month since my last post - and I guess my life just turned upside down. From being THE technical guy in the room, I'm now taking a more BizDev and SE angle. But - I still like to blog (not just on the ScaleBase blog), so I'll get back to my old blogging habits here.
Basically, I'd like to write about the work I'm doing at ScaleBase. We've worked very hard on our product, but also on the eco-system to support it - which was my responsibility. So SalesForce, LoopFuse, ZenDesk, WordPress and, of course, PowerPoint, were heavily used. I'll try to write about these experiences, why we decided on a certain path and how we ended up implementing it.
I hope it will be worth a read.