10 Essential Tools for Building Your Startup

The road to startup business success is paved with failures. These business failures were companies that either didn’t have a good vision for a product or service, or companies that did have a good vision but didn’t take the time to put a solid foundation in place before they began building the business.

5 Critical Areas Startups Should Address

There are five critical areas startups should address when choosing technology to support their business plan and avoid being a casualty along the way to later success: customer relationship management (CRM), digital marketing, communications, business process management and sales. Finding the right tools to address these areas is a good start on this


Yes, You DO Need CRM

While it’s true that expensive, process-heavy platforms such as SAP might not be suitable for your startup, this doesn’t mean you don’t need CRM. A well-built CRM system will be your greatest asset in the future if you build it in a way that will grow with you. There are a variety of affordable, feature-rich cloud-based CRM solutions that can scale up with your organization. Many feature artificial intelligence, analytics and other valuable tools that can literally guide you to business success.

When Shopping for a Cloud-Based CRM Application, Ensure it has Two Critical Features:

It can give you a 360-degree view. Earlier generations of CRM were very siloed: they were little more than static contact lists. Today’s flexible, cloud-based solutions such as Salesforce.com and smaller, more SMB-friendly solutions such as Apptivo ensure that any changes made in one place to the CRM will update everywhere else. For example, information added by a desktop-based employee will reflect in the mobile app instantly, so all employees always have the most updated picture of contacts, customers, leads, and opportunities.

“The more informed the rep is going in, the more proactive she can be and the less chance of getting blindsided by an issue that throws them off of the game plan,” says Bill Gardner at CRM Dynamics. “The rep absolutely needs a 360-degree view of the customer.”

Where Else is CRM Useful?

It can link your CRM solution to other functions. Much of the information you put into your CRM is useful elsewhere, such as in invoicing and marketing. By choosing a solution that links with other tools on the same platform (such as billing, for example), you can avoid re-entering data across systems and go beyond CRM by converting opportunities into quotes, projects, invoices, and more. A great tool for linking your CRM to other systems is the online service, Zapier. It works with many of the leading CRMs and just about anything else you want to connect with it.

Taking your CRM and integrating it with specialized functions needed for your business is a common tactic for small businesses looking to punch above their weight.

Effective Sales Tools Are Those That Get Used

Are your salespeople still doing too many things manually? If so, they’re probably not working to their full potential. Sales tools can be tricky, however: the best tools in the world won’t be effective if team members aren’t using them. Two areas startups should focus on for the right foundation are social selling and sales productivity software.

Social Selling. Like it or not, Social Media Plays a Huge Role in Sales Today.

“Your social channels are the perfect platforms for interacting with current and future customers,” says Maciej Fita, marketing manager for digital marketing firm, Brandignity. “You can learn a lot about their preferences, needs and the types of content that result in the highest level of engagement.”

Social Channels

Social channels can’t be managed in a vacuum, however, so look for tools within your CRM solution or integrated with it that can incorporate popular social channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They make it easy to monitor social media and use it to reach out, so sales personnel are more likely to use them. One popular tool to consider is Hootsuite, and an up-and-comer worth taking a look at is Sprout Social.

Sales Automation.

Automate sales productivity. Sales automation and productivity solutions such as CRM solution, Salesforce.com, can help you identify and automate your sales pipelines for increased selling. This can include simple enhancements such as reminders and alerts to sales staff, to the more complex, AI-driven solutions that uncover hidden sales potential and help your business get more from leads. If there’s one tool you must have, it is a sales automation and productivity tool.

Business Process Management Saves Time.

As a leader of a startup, think about how much time you spend on repetitive tasks such as vacation requests or purchase orders. With a good BPM tool, you can automate these processes and save time.

Done in a Fraction of the Time.

Turn your best work processes into an automated workflow. Chances are, you already have some processes that work well, but you’re doing them manually. By automating them with BPM solutions such as SMB market-leader KiSSFLOW, you can get them done in a fraction of the time. Often, it's as simple as using the drag-and-drop menu to create the workflow and make it as simple or complex as you need it to be.

“Unlike complex BMP tools, Kissflow adopted a lightweight strategy of regulating different operations and workflows, allowing managers to understand and prevent problems rather than fixing those,” notes CompareCamp.

Get Cracking on These.

Build better workflows to save time and money. Chances are also good you have some processes that aren’t working well. Process management solutions such as ProcessMaker can help you build and automate best practices for tasks you regularly do (but not well), or those you've yet to get cracking on (remember that press release you need to write and release?).

Choose the Right Communications Solutions.

Your business telecommunications system will be the most important tool your company will ever use. If traditional telephony is proving to be expensive and inflexible, you may wish to look for an IP telephony platform that can give you broad functionality without a scary price tag.  

Unified Communications and Collaboration.

Unified communications as a service. UCaaS is a communication and collaboration platform that allows companies to make, take and manage phone calls and integrate other types of communications (chat, messaging and conferencing) in one service package that’s managed by a third party. Unlike traditional telephony, UCaaS platforms such as Mitel’s ShoreTel solution are highly scalable (can grow with your business), customizable and affordable.

Smaller Companies Tend to be Flexible.

Smaller companies tend to have more flexible, less defined employee roles than their larger, enterprise counterparts, according to Infinite Technology Consulting. And that means employees wear many hats and often must interface across multiple platforms to handle all their responsibilities.

Build omnichannel customer support into your communications. Your comm strategy is directly related to the quality of your customer support. Many UCaaS solutions have customer support platforms built in, so you can provide top-notch customer support with interactions centralized on one desktop regardless of contact channel. 8x8’s virtual contact center solution allows you to virtually build a unified contact center with employees located anywhere in the world.

Digital Marketing Helps Your Business Grow

Marketing is often an afterthought for startups concentrating their efforts on their core business. You can’t sell your products and services without marketing, however, and today’s marketing needs to be digital, timely and relevant.

“Understanding trends across the key marketing techniques for small businesses will be crucial to your success [as an SMB], says Robert Allen at marketing agency, Smart Insights.

Two of the Most Important Digital Marketing Tools are Content Management and Marketing Analytics.

Content management begins with your website. You may already be familiar with solutions such as WordPress for the creation of websites.

Plugins can help you do more than build a website. You can create relevant, curated marketing content and push it out to site visitors, prospects and customers.

While there are literally hundreds of plugins that will help you with content on Wordpress, one of the most important areas is SEO; your posts need to be SEO-optimized.

To that end, one of the best plugins is PrePost SEO.

“When it comes to your content, there’s not much that this WordPress plugin can’t do,” says SEO expert, Neil Patel. “Are you worried about duplicate content on your WordPress site? You’re covered. What about keyword density? PrePost SEO does all the work for you.”

Use marketing analytics to measure success. Since you don’t have time to waste on trial and error, use analytics to make smart business decisions. Plugins that combine Google Analytics with WordPress help get you there, and one of the best plugins for integration with Google Analytics is Easy Google Analytics for Wordpress.

While you build your business, what you need is clarity, not complexity. Look for platforms, tools and apps that pare down complexity and allow you to manage, make decisions and launch initiatives in a simpler, more straightforward way.

Good luck.