Posts Tagged ‘business’

rendering of a compass with a CMS icon

What Content Management System (CMS) Does Your Organization Need?

Your CMS is what supports your business’s digital front door. Be sure it’s the right one!

Last month, we shared a post on selecting the right customer relationship management (CRM) solution for your business. At the time, we highlighted the fundamental importance of such platforms, in that it’s difficult to make sales without first having access to the clean, organized and insightful customer data that CRMs provide.

All of this remains true; a good CRM can help make or break a business. Yet if there is one solution even more important, it would be your content management system (CMS). While CRMs can help you sell better and optimize your processes, without a great CMS you may not need processes as you likely won’t have customers to sell to. CMSs let users create, manage and modify content on a website even if they don’t possess specialized technical knowledge like coding. And since we live in a digital-first world, without a website it is extraordinarily difficult to find, attract and establish an audience for your products or services.

Here’s how to select the right CMS for your business needs and ensure that you’ll always have an easy way to manage your content.

CMS Platforms 101

What do we mean when we say that CMS platforms allow you to create and modify content without advanced knowledge of computer programming? Well, without a CMS, you would need to write a static HTML file and upload it to your server if you wanted to present your audience with a fresh piece of content. A CMS does all this heavy lifting for you. With an interface roughly comparable to Microsoft Word, these platforms make it a breeze to compose, format and optimize your content with elements like links, videos, polls or photos.

In addition, CMS platforms assist users with designing the look and feel of their site. They also often support functionality like eCommerce, blogging, forums, portfolios, social networks and more. The amount and variety of features vary across platforms and price points, but increasingly, most leading CMS brands, such as JoomlaTM, DrupalTM, WordPress.orgTM, SquarespaceTM and WixTM, can accommodate a wide variety of different use cases.

What Type of CMS Do You Need?

Whenever investing in a new piece of software, you should always start by addressing who your stakeholders are. If your agency has a marketing professional on staff, for instance, they will likely need to be involved in the decision. The same goes for IT and, of course, sales. Gather their input before moving forward with a vendor and be sure that they are a part of the conversation during the implementation process.

It is also crucial to think through your priorities and the priorities of your stakeholders. Consider what CMS features are organizational needs or, in other words, your “must-haves,” and what are your organizational wants or “nice to haves.” Write these down to help guide your conversations with vendors. If you’re finding it difficult to think through the features you do or do not need, never fear. There are plenty of articles online that can help get you up to speed on the features offered by many top platforms.

Next, you must grapple with the logistical question of how your CMS will be hosted, choosing between either cloud or on-premise; each have their pros and cons. Of course, these days when it comes to new software solutions, many people extol the values of a cloud-native approach, and it’s not difficult to understand why. From lowering IT workloads to reducing costs, the cloud clearly holds some major advantages. However, you must carefully consider the merits of each option to decide what will work best for your organization.  

After that, take a good, hard look at your internal capabilities – that is, the technical competency of you and your staff. This is a pertinent question to explore, as the amount of digital acumen required to fully leverage a CMS depends completely on the brand you select.

There is no need to worry too much on this point. Many of the leading CMS brands have reached their current market position due to their incredible usability. But there are still major differences between systems, and the last thing you want is to invest in a new solution that is difficult or impossible for your staff to use.

CMS: A Pathway to Sales and Business Success

CMS platforms have been around for decades now, and it’s quite likely that you have already had some experience operating one. Still, you may never have gone through the process of implementing such an important system. Thinking through the questions outlined here can be a helpful exercise. It can ensure that you and your agency create a dynamic digital experience for your customers, which, of course, is a sure-fire way to start bettering your sales.

The words: sales, CRM, Analysis, support, strategy, service and marketing in magnifiers on white background. All words are black except CRM is in red.

What CRM is Right for You?

Having well-organized data is the lifeblood of modern business. Do you have the right system in place?

Running a successful business hinges on data. Without it, you cannot gain a clear picture of your customer base. You can’t understand your sales productivity or optimize your team’s communication or collaboration processes. But it’s one thing to recognize the need for data; it’s another thing entirely to know how to organize and leverage it. Thankfully, a solution exists that can help you streamline your business, improve customer relations and successfully grow your revenues. That solution is a customer relationship management (CRM) system.

What is a CRM Platform?

A CRM platform is a technology solution that allows you to easily manage all interactions you have with an existing or prospective customer base. On a broader level, however, these platforms assist companies with streamlining processes and improving profitability.

Why Do You Need a CRM?

A good CRM can unify your business. By leveraging the solution properly, each department within your agency can gain real-time insights into your sales, business objectives and overall profitability. This solution also gives every department a clear view into your customers, utilizing data the CRM typically organizes into a customizable and exportable dashboard. You can optimize your marketing efforts with this information, harnessing data to implement better campaigns and make more sales.

CRMs have a role to play in customer service as well. We live in a world of omnichannel communication, which can often make managing customer interaction complex and arduous. CRMs, however, make it easy to engage with customers across multiple channels and ensure that each touchpoint is carried out perfectly.

Where to Begin?

Whenever you are making an IT investment, or any business investment, it’s always wise to begin with your goals. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? With a CRM, companies are often trying to accomplish a few different objectives, such as tracking leads, customers and sales; unifying operations; increasing productivity; and making data-driven decisions. Think about the features that are the most important to your organization so you can prioritize those during your CRM selection process.

Then start conducting your research on potential vendors you’d like to work with. There is a glut of information online that you can use to inform your search, with this article, in particular, giving a good overview of the best solutions for different types of businesses.

Understand the Process

Once you have some idea of what you need, you can begin working with a product vendor. This can be a complex and, at times, lengthy process. Depending on the size of your organization, your vendor may even assign you a project manager to keep the implementation of your solution on track. Be sure to rely heavily on the expertise of your vendor, and when you are trying out a demo of the product, make it a priority to test every function so you can obtain a clear and comprehensive picture of its capabilities and whether they align with your goals.

Gain Buy-in

Implementation with your vendor should not occur in a vacuum. Your team needs to be involved in various capacities from beginning to end. Not only will your team ask pertinent questions that you haven’t thought of, but they are, in fact, the people who will need to use the solution going forward. It is crucial that you gain a sense of your CRM’s overall usability and how steep the learning curve might be upon adoption. Remember, staff training time will reduce their bandwidth to work on other projects.

CRMs Bring Positive ROI

Implementing a new system can be a unique challenge for businesses. Not only does it cost time and money, but benefits can feel intangible and unproven – at least initially. What’s important to note, however, is that a CRM can make a real, long-term difference to your business, both for your customer relations and your bottom line. For anyone operating in a customer-centric business, it can have a transformative impact by increasing customer lifetime value, reducing your operating costs and facilitating remote or hybrid work. It’s an important investment to make if you hope to streamline your current operations and succeed in the future of work.

Open Pantone sample colors catalogue.

Core Principles of Graphic Design

Many independent title professionals who run agencies are already overtaxed. From managing personnel to overseeing marketing, HR and billing, they have little time to take on new responsibilities.

Still, gaining an understanding of the basic principles of graphic design is a valuable use of any business owner’s time. In a world of unlimited content, your messaging, accompanied by vivid graphics, helps you stand out from the crowd. You can always find a talented designer, but understanding the basics and handling even small designing tasks can save you money and time.

More importantly, doing so has a net positive impact on your brand. Here are a few tips to help get you started. 

Color

Color is a cornerstone of graphic design, dramatically impacting how we think and feel about a brand. Think, “Coca-Cola.” Do you immediately see red and white in its logo? Establishing a compelling color palette, and then learning to pair your colors effectively, can go a long way toward creating visual messages that are memorable, emotional and impactful. 

To start building your mix of brand colors, hop online. A cursory search produces tutorials and resources. Canva, for example, has put together a terrific primer on why color matters, how different hues convey different emotions, as well as what different colors mean and how to start putting together a comprehensive palette. A number of blogs take a deep dive into the matter. This particular post is especially helpful and explanatory. 

Font Family

The font family you select for your brand should be as intentional. Like color, your brand’s typeface communicates many things to your audience – although typically this works on a more subliminal level than a color palette. Think about the tone or purpose of your company’s brand when making your selection, ensuring that your font reflects that core identity.  

For instance, perhaps you want to position your agency as a sleek, forward-thinking and, most of all, modern brand. You probably won’t want to pick a big cumbersome font like Impact or an antiquated text like Copperplate Gothic. Instead, you would want to consider something elegant-looking and clean, like Avenir Next LT Pro and Gill Sans Nova. Similarly, if you want to present a knowledgeable and professional image, you won’t want to use an ornate or playful font like Algerian or Modern Love. Instead, you should perhaps select Helvetica or Myriad Pro. 

As with brand colors, there are innumerable online resources that can help you understand the theory behind the font family selection process. Do your reading and give careful consideration before moving forward. 

Contrast 

When making these decisions about your company’s colors or fonts, keep in mind the critical nature of contrast. Your color palette should include complimentary hues but also colors that draw a sharp contrast with one another, allowing for designs to be more vivid and powerful.

The same principle holds for fonts. When designs only feature a single font, a piece of collateral can quickly become stale-looking or stodgy. Incorporating a secondary font that differs wildly from your primary font can overcome this challenge, providing you with greater flexibility when laying out information.                                          

Imagery

Images are everything when it comes to design. Without pictures, you often have little to work with so use them with gusto! Capitalize on images to break up walls of text. This tip is particularly useful for title insurance agency owners. While you may not be creating a lot of graphic design collateral on your own, you almost certainly will have a website you have to update. Data shows that pictures make web pages more inviting, less intimidating and raise the probability that visitors will take desired action. 

When sourcing pictures, be sure you have the right to use the image. There are a variety of royalty-free websites you can use for graphics. Pexels ranks as one of the best. Using a picture you don’t have permission to use can subject you and your agency to financial penalties — even litigation.

Whitespace 

Pictures represent an important design consideration, but ample whitespace is equally as important. Whitespace matters because every element you add to an image increases the risk that your collateral could look cluttered and disorganized. Whenever possible, aspire to keep designs clean and orderly – and whitespace can be an invaluable tool. 

A New Tool in Your Toolbelt 

We know title insurance professionals, particularly those who have a responsibility to an entire firm, hardly have an easy time managing everything on their plate. To learn a new skill or understand a newsubject is a tall order. But increasing your knowledge of graphic design is not just an intellectual exercise. It is a valuable endeavor that can save you real-time and money. 

After you have internalized the above principles, put them into practice. Take advantage of the many online exercisestemplates and frameworks, and start experimenting with some small design projects. You will be glad you did. This knowledge base can only benefit your business, ensuring that your brand stands out from the crowd and possibly even netting you new business as a result.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s 2021 Examination Priorities report cover

How to Manage Cybersecurity Risks in Vendor Relationships

Extend your security bubble further than your business’s front door.

Managing cybersecurity risk is an arduous task for any organization, one that becomes even more challenging when trying to extend your security to vendor relationships. However, it has never been more important. Not only are cyber threats on the rise, but the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) made ensuring operational resiliency and information security one of its 2021 priorities.

Thankfully, last year the agency published a report on the due diligence companies should practice when dealing with vendor relationships. Covering the monitoring of vendors, contracts, customer information policies and other issues, the guidance provides much-needed advice for these complex business partnerships. Let’s explore some of its main tips, takeaways and findings for addressing security concerns with your vendors.

Why Does Information Security and Operational Resiliency Matter?

According to the SEC’s 2021 Examination Priorities report, breaches in information security can in fact “have consequences that extend well beyond [a] firm,” adversely impacting “other market participants.” The report further explains that, due to the radical increase in remote operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity concerns have been elevated further, requiring closer scrutiny of endpoint security, data loss, remote access, use of third-party communication systems and, of course, vendor management.

Understand Your Liability

It is a common misconception that if your vendor experiences a data leak, the onus is on them. Not true. State laws typically lay responsibility at the feet of the entity that collected the customer information in the first place. They usually limit vendor requirements to informing you that a data breach or hack has occurred. To safeguard yourself and your business, ensure that your vendor contracts explicitly detail how your customers’ data needs to be handled, what to do in the event of a breach and the expected timeline for dealing with any disruptions.

Vendor Management Programs

You likely already have some experience working with vendors, as well as an understanding of how time consuming such relationships can be. Unsurprisingly, adding cybersecurity concerns into the mix creates an additional set of concerns that need to be managed. Establishing a program that addresses security concerns and expectations at the beginning of the working relationship can help. This program should cover safeguards, how to evaluate vendors, independent audits and processes for terminating and/or replacing vendors.

Understanding and Monitoring Vendor Relationships

One positive finding from the SEC is that many advisers and their personnel already demonstrate a clear understanding of privacy and cybersecurity contract terms. Furthermore, these advisers display an awareness of the risks inherent to outsourcing work to vendors and best practices for limiting such risks. One way that companies accomplish this is through continuous monitoring of vendor relationships, making sure to stay apprised of any changes in the vendor’s services or personnel.

Ongoing Work

Despite this good news, firms cannot simply assume that their data protection policies are fully up to snuff or even rest on their laurels. Instead, they must treat vendor security as an ongoing, habitual process.

As the SEC noted, designing a vendor management program is a great place to start. Then, be sure to implement it. Build security requirements into your initial vendor contracts and make them as specific as possible. Run regular security audits, using questionnaires if necessary to rigorously evaluate your vendor’s security practices. You can also demand system and organization controls (SOC) for any vendor you choose to work with, requiring them to conduct a SOC for cybersecurity audit on an annual basis. Lastly, you and your company should be performing access and security reviews daily, always staying vigilant for unusual activity.

The hard truth is that, in our digital-first world, we all must work a bit harder to stay safe online and protect the integrity of our customers’ data. But by doing so, you will have a more resilient organization and satisfied client base. 

Cork board with 6 post-it notes. The 1st is orange and says “Set smart Goals”. The remaining are blank and colored red, pink, neon green, neon yellow and blue.

Building SMART Marketing Goals

Any marketing campaign must begin with setting goals. Here’s how to make them SMART.

Any successful marketing effort begins by setting goals. You should never put the cart before the horse, and neither should you begin a campaign without knowing what you want to accomplish. But simply discussing your goals ahead of time is not sufficient. You need to also make them SMART. What does that mean exactly? Let’s find out.

The SMART Goal Model

The SMART acronym is a model for creating effective goals. The different letters stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. In the next sections, we will break these down in greater detail.

Specific (S)

The “S” in SMART stands for Specific, perhaps the most important tenant of any marketing campaign. To communicate well, you need to avoid creating goals that are too broad or vague.

One way to avoid doing this is to understand that there are generally three types of goals for marketing campaigns: awareness, acceptance, and action; then determine the appropriate category for your goal. After that, though, you should still add additional detail.

For example, let’s say you decide that you want to raise awareness for your agency. This is a decent starting point, but a more effective approach would be to say that you want to raise awareness amongst real estate agents between the ages of 35 and 60 and who live in Texas or Oklahoma. Not only does this provide more direction for creating strategies and tactics, but it can also help create other parts of the SMART model.

Measurable (M)

All goals must have a measurement metric attached to them. There is no other way to determine if your campaign has been successful. And you will have little data to review or use in improving future campaigns.

For instance, if you have a goal to drive traffic to your website, you need to know first what your current traffic is and then by how much you want to increase it. Otherwise, when you look at your analytics at the end of your campaign, the numbers you see will be meaningless. They will remain decontextualized, and you will not have insight as to whether the traffic funnels you created to drive people to your website (including emails, social media, digital ads, etc.) were successful in helping you meet or exceed your goal.

Achievable (A)

There is no point in setting goals that you will never meet, which is why the “A” within SMART is so important, as it stands for “achievable.” Creating achievable goals requires you to take an honest assessment of your company’s strengths and weaknesses, resources, and roadblocks.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are trying to build your agency’s presence on social media. Unless you have a seasoned social media expert on staff or a massive advertising budget, you should not create a goal of building a follower base of 10,000 Facebook users. Instead, a much more realistic goal would be to grow your followers by something like 10 percent – a far more modest and achievable endeavor.

Relevant (R)

It might seem like common sense, but any goal needs to be relevant to the purview of your organization. To put it another way: Your marketing goals should always be connected to specific business goals. And be sure you can see the connections. Otherwise, reconsider your approach and adjust as needed.

Time-Sensitive (T)

Finally, your goals need to be placed on a clearly defined timetable. A pre-established timeline is enormously beneficial in structuring a campaign and allocating resources and staff time. Of course, it’s important to set a timetable that is achievable. Establishing reasonable timelines can limit frustration down the road.  

SMART Equals Success

Building out a marketing plan can be challenging but establishing SMART goals can help you avoid frustration by orienting your plan to create tangible results you can see and measure. SMART goals can take some getting used to, but by creating great goals, you will be positioned to build out a fantastic marketing plan and knock its execution out of the park.

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