As VP of Customer Success at ServiceTrade, what everybody calls me at work is “that guy who can answer your questions about integrations.” The number of meetings I’ve been called into to discuss integrations with customers has gone up dramatically in 2018. I’ve noticed a theme in a lot of these conversations: customers aren’t really comfortable talking about integrations. They don’t know the terms, they don’t know where to start thinking about it. So today I want to tell you some basics about how to integrate good software with ServiceTrade.

Good software should have an easy-to-find API. If you aren’t sure whether a software application you’re considering has an API, it should be as easy searching Google for “____ API documentation.” No search results is a bad sign!  Good software is often found on Zapier.com, which is an integration platform that moves information between web applications automatically. If a software application is on Zapier, you can be assured that it definitely has an API, it’s modern, and that it should play nicely with other pieces of good software. If you’re buying good software, you can avoid getting trapped by bad software decisions.

To set the stage to talk about good software integrations, it’s important to understand that everything in life – including software – has a special purpose. It has one thing it was designed to do and if you expect much more out of it, then you’re going to have a bad experience.

Let’s use an analogy. If you had to choose between those two vehicles:
If I want you to hop into one, head around town, pick up groceries, drop off the kids. Which one would you choose?

The car. That’s an easy one.

I’ll ask you another easy one.  What if I want you to tool around the bay, do some fishing, and some sunbathing.

Right. The boat.

Let me make it a little bit harder. What if I ask you to do both of those things? What if I ask you to run some errands, pick up the groceries, then head out and do some fishing and some sunbathing, then head on back home?

I think you’d tell me that you’d hop into the car to do the first set of things and head down to the boat to do second of things, then you’d get back into your car to head home.  That seems pretty obvious.

But when it comes to software, a lot of people think, “You just asked me to do car things and boat things . . . I’ve got to have a carboat!  How am I going to do car things and boat things unless I go buy one of these?”

This looks a little ridiculous, it doesn’t make any sense, and I think it’s obvious when you look at this photo why. This is not a very good car. And it’s not a very good boat.

When you’re looking to solve your business problems, that is the perfect time to be thinking about choosing the right software application for each of your specific problems. It’s also the perfect time to make sure you’re not about to make a carboat-buying decision.

So what should you look out for?  If you hear:

  • “Well, it wasn’t designed to do that, but it could.”
    • They mean that 8 months and thousands of dollars later, it still won’t do what you want.
  • “I think there’s a workaround.”
    • They mean it’s going to be harder and more complicated than you want.
  • It doesn’t have all those things you said you needed, but it should get the job done.”
    • They mean it doesn’t have the things you need and it won’t get the job done.

We do not tell people that ServiceTrade is going to solve all their business problems. We often point out all kinds of things that we aren’t the best choice for like payroll, accounting, truck tracking, payment processing, and sales CRM. We like to talk about ServiceTrade as good software that you can integrate with other good software to solve those problems.

So rather than focusing on making a carboat, focus on easing the car-to-boat transition. Or, bringing it back to software, easing the transition from one piece of software to another piece of software. At the end of the day, that is what integrating is all about – easing the data transition from one system to another system.

But if you aren’t careful, you’re going to end up with a very bad car-to-boat transition.

Let’s define 4 stops on the road to success so we don’t drive a boat into a car.

1. Know what you want.
You’re going to have all kinds of questions about how things work, and that’s good. I recommend working a structure around those questions called “if this, then that.”  It’s very simple: If this thing happens, then this other thing should happen. If you use this formula to think about what you want to happen in an integration, you can hand this to any software developer and you’ll be way ahead of the game.
2. Document your ideas.

      1. Determine the source of record – where your information originates and what direction that data should sync.  Here’s an example using Pipedrive (a CRM) and ServiceTrade.
      2. Create a Flowchart.
        Create a visual representation of your integration. Check out this example from the online cloud-based application at app.flowmapp.com. I used this tool to document the service workflow for a ServiceTrade customer to clearly demonstrate where ServiceTrade fits into their existing business process. You get a really nice visual representation of your integration and gives you a good way to make sure you’ve covered all your requirements.
      3. Document a scope that includes:
        • Description
        • Requirements
        • Desired user behavior
        • Deliverables
        • BudgetFor documentation, use online collaborative tools like Google Apps. The sharing feature and version control of shared files gives you a single source of record for your integration documentation.
      4. Test cases
        This is a more detailed version of your “if this, then that” thought process. It’s clearly-defined step-by-step processes that ensure that you can test that the integration is working like you expect.

3. Manage the project.
Use project management software to organize your thoughts, your plans, and your team around the integration. Take a look at Asana and Trello.

4. Do the work.
Who is going to do the work? Is it you? This is the reaction you should have to that question:


There are lots of places to find qualified developers to write integrations for you. The first stop you should make is ServiceTrade. We’ve gotten pretty good at integrating various web apps with ServiceTrade. But we’re not the only game in town, you can look at hiring a freelancer from Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer. With everything you’ve documented, toss it to a developer and let them bid on it. You’d be surprised by what you can get done on these sites.

If someone else is doing the work for you, what are you responsible for?  Testing, testing, testing, testing, and testing again.

You’ll also be responsible for documentation for the business processes that you want everyone to follow. No matter how obvious steps are to you as the creator, it’s definitely worth documenting it for the rest of your team.

Here’s a list of applications that ServiceTrade customers have integrated with our app to expand the power and functionality of our application. It includes things like CRM, custom notifications to customers, after-service surveys, general data sync for additional file backup or sending notifications to Slack channels, custom forms, accepting credit card payments onsite, the possibilities really are endless.

ServiceTrade sells software, so we spend a reasonable amount of time coming up with ideas and content (like this blog post) to help customers make better and faster decisions about buying software (preferably from ServiceTrade). We are particularly fond of catchy, summary phrases and slogans that are memorable for the same reason that consumer marketers come up with jingles that stick in our head. Humans are impressed by and gravitate to rhythm and rhyme (along with images and stories) as a mechanism for storing and retrieving information. It is easier to learn the lyrics to a song than to memorize a speech. If it has rhythm and rhyme, you are more likely to remember the phrase.

So what is the catchy breakthrough I am seeking with this post? I have been writing a lot about how to evaluate and purchase software applications to increase the value of your business. You can check out some of that content here, and here, and here. My latest breakthrough in measuring software value is what I call the “bank bandit barometer” (note the meter and alliteration of that phrase! nice huh?). Why did Jesse James rob banks? ‘Cause that’s where the money was held. Banks are more dense in money than restaurants, or retail outlets, or hotels, for example. A robber is going to get more bang for his buck (or more bucks for his bang if he has to deploy his weapons) by focusing on banks instead of these other cash-poor outlets.

So what does any of this have to do with software? Well, the “bank bandit barometer” for software purchases would say to look for software that helps bring more bucks into the business. What is the metaphorical bank for a service contractor? Where is all of the money? I would argue that the biggest hoard of cash to go attack with software is the cash that is in the hands of the prospective customers in your market. Cash that is currently being spent with other vendors or not being spent at all due to lack of attention. The potential customer spending in the addressable market that can be reached by your services represents probably 1,000 times your current revenue. Maybe only 100 times your revenue if you are a larger contractor in your market.

Contrast this bank vault of customer spending with the focus of most service contractor software consideration – how do I lower my payroll by being more efficient internally? How do I lower my administrative costs? By definition, your administrative costs are some small fraction of your overall revenue. Maybe 10%, or .1 times your current revenue. If you were a bandit, you would be doing poorly using software to “stick up” your administrative payroll. Wringing dollars from administrative payroll is like a bandit sticking up the local neighborhood kids lemonade stand. There just ain’t much money there, so any robbery that is focused on extorting dollars from the lemonade stand is doomed to marginal success at best.

So, what do you think about the “bank bandit barometer” for software purchases? Are you focusing on innovations that help you take more money from the bank that is the market you service? Innovations that help you sell to the customer accounts that you covet? Innovations that help you charge more? And deliver new capabilities? And attract a better class of customer to your business? Are or you content to hold up the lemonade stand because the poor kids running it are a soft target? Think like a bank bandit next time you go out shopping for software applications.

Get more advice for buying software in the Practical Guide to Buying Software for Service Contractors.

When I joined ServiceTrade to begin its services division in 2012, Billy greeted me with the
welcoming threat “if you screw this up I’ll fire your ass.” I’m still with the company, so here is my advice for how to buy good software and not get fired in a growing company.

  1. Use the right tool for the job.
    I didn’t set out to solve our CRM, marketing, accounting, and payroll challenges. I was looking for the right tool for customer service. Any software that says it can solve all of your problems is going to be terrible at everything. I focused on choosing the right tool for one problem at a time.
  2. Choose good software.
    Two of the most important elements of good software is open APIs that allow for integrations with our other applications and that it is SaaS. The picture below shows what integration looks like with bad software. Nobody at ServiceTrade is spending time managing our own servers. We have better things to do with our resources.

    This is what integrations look like in a server environment.

  3. Blow it up from time to time. 
    When I started, I chose ZenDesk to run customer service. About five years later, we blew it away because something better came along. We discovered that Intercom offered a few more integration options and we like its online chat. So one morning in about four hours we unplugged ZenDesk and plugged in Intercom. It didn’t require us to change our accounting system. It didn’t bring down our CRM. It was just like when you get a flat tire – you pull over, change the tire, and leave the rest of the car alone.
  4. Enable more integrations.
    In making the change to Intercom, we added more options for creative integrations. We rely heavily on Zapier to connect our apps to each other, so compatibility with Zapier is a must. Search for “Zapier library” to get an idea of how an application you are considering can connect with other apps in your company.
  5. Be decisive.
    The Practical Guide to Buying Software for Service Contractors gives you six things that should be easy to determine when you’re working with a good software company. It’s important to us that our applications keep up with the pace of our growth and new ways to help our customers. If that means adding new software, we’re decisive and act fast by following the tenets in this guide.

Also read:

This blog post is adapted from a 2017 Digital Wrap Conference presentation by ServiceTrade Vice President of Customer Success James Jordan. Presented here without the rooster photo.

I hear customer prospects cry out for “the perfect application for my business that does everything” in nearly every sales call that I make. It does not exist. I have argued again, and again, and again that every business of any size will ultimately buy multiple applications to serve the diverse needs of their business functions. Look at your phone. One application? Or many? Displaying the weather is different from transferring money from your bank account is different from measuring the intensity of your workout is different from keeping up with your social network. Likewise, your accounting function is different from your sales function is different from your customer service function is different from your marketing function. The idea that one application will be sufficiently good for your business to remain competitive in all of these different functions is silly, and any software vendor promising you that outcome is a silly vendor.

But what about the follow-on question. If I am going to buy many applications, how much should I expect to spend? How do I value applications that make my business more competitive in a world where technology innovation increasingly determines market competitiveness? Well, before you even consider how much to pay, you need to perform the first and most basic test in the software buying cycle. Go to your favorite online search engine and enter the following query:

[INSERT NAME OF SOFTWARE APPLICATION HERE] API documentation

The first organic link below all of the advertisements from the software vendors that are trying to sell you a competing application should be a link maintained by the vendor of the application in question. That link should lead you to detailed documentation for how the application you are considering can be integrated with other applications that you use. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are the key to a new world of connected innovations for your business. Without good APIs that are publicly documented, the application you are considering is worthless. You should not pay anything for it.

Go ahead and try the search for a couple of high-quality applications that are on the market today. Insert “ServiceTrade” or “ZenDesk” or “PipeDrive” or “Marketo” or “Hubspot” or “Slack” into the query above. Check out the first organic link below the advertisements. What do you see? This query is the first test to determine if an application is worth at least a penny.

Let’s say that your application passes that first test. What now? How much is it worth? Well, it sort of depends on how much it increases the value of your business. In a prior blog post, I argued that the questions that determine the value of your business are How Many? How Much? and How Long? How many customers do you have and how many can you attract with your value proposition? How much can you charge those customers for the services that you provide to them? How long can you keep those customers when you are charging a significant premium compared to your low price competition? These are the questions that you should use to evaluate how much a new software application is worth to your business. The more the software impacts these measurements, the more you should be willing to pay because it is going to make your business more valuable.

Does the new application help me attract new customers? Does it help me charge them more because it provides my service with some new features that customers value? Does it help my business become sticky so that it is difficult for customers to fire me and replace my service with a low-cost competitor? If the answer to these questions is “yes, absolutely, definitely” then the application is probably very valuable. If the answer is “no, not really” then the application is only worth some fraction of the money it might help you save by eliminating administrative burden. Let’s look at some examples from ServiceTrade’s business to set some benchmarks for how much to pay.

The biggest technology application expense category that ServiceTrade faces is for infrastructure services that power our customer’s experience with our product. Amazon and Google charge us for technology that provides neat features in our application. The ability to send a quote to a customer via an email with a link that presents the quote online with photos and video and audio and a “one click to approve” button that drives revenue for our customers is largely dependent upon capability provided to ServiceTrade by Amazon. The ability to map customer locations for scheduling efficiency, see the locations of the technicians in real time, and prefill the fields for setting up new customer location records is largely dependent upon capability from Google. The applications from Amazon and Google are VERY valuable to ServiceTrade because they help us attract new customers and charge them a premium, and we spend about 6% of our revenue on these types of applications.

Now, ServiceTrade makes about 80% gross margin on the applications we sell, so we can afford to spend heavily on making these applications great. If your service to your customer drives a lower margin, say 35%, then 6% of revenue makes no sense for any technology. The apples-to-apples comparison, in this case, is probably close to 7% of gross margin (roughly), which would equal 2.6% of revenue for an application that really helps you deliver differentiated value to your customer. So for a $10 million dollar service contracting business generating 35% gross margin, the equivalent amount would be $260,000 per year.

The next biggest category of technology expense at ServiceTrade is for sales and marketing applications. We have Salesforce, Marketo, Salesloft, and a handful of other applications that help us present our value proposition to customers in a way that drives new sales. These applications help us increase the How Many customers metric. We spend about 1.5% of revenue on these types of applications. Again, to adjust for gross margin, that would be about .6% of revenue for a 35% gross margin business. So for a $10 million dollar service contracting business with 35% gross margin, the equivalent annual expense would be $60,000.

The next biggest category of technology expense at ServiceTrade is for customer service oriented applications. These are the applications that help our engineers and our support staff keep track of how things are going for our customers and to monitor the application for errors or potential signs of trouble. We spend about .4% of revenue on these types of applications. They are tangentially oriented toward helping with the How Long can we keep our customers question. Clearly, these are far less valuable than Google and Amazon, and also less valuable than the sales and marketing applications, both of which help us drive up the How Many? and How Much? elements of our business value. Adjusting for gross margin again, and you get .16 as the percentage of the revenue in a 35% gross margin business. A $10 million service contracting business should consider spending $16,000 per year on customer service infrastructure.

Finally, there are the administrative applications like accounting, email, file sharing, calendar, reporting, office productivity, etc. These are the applications that every business needs, but their value is simply in keeping the administrative burden of running a “tight ship” as low as possible. ServiceTrade spends about .3% of revenue on these type of applications, and it is unlikely that the expense of these will scale linearly as we grow. When we double in size, I would expect that percentage of revenue to be about .2%. So for a $10 million dollar service contracting company generating 35% gross margin, the administrative applications in the business should be on the order of .08% of revenue, or about $8,000 per year on accounting, email, reporting, calendar, office productivity, etc.

If we total all of these up for a $10 million service contracting business, the percentage of revenue spent on technology applications is about 3.44% of revenue or about $344,000 per year. Now my ears are almost bleeding from the screams and bellows of “That’s Crazy!” that I can hear coming from service contracting customers reacting to this number. But is it so crazy? Are applications that help your business become competitive in attracting new customers, driving new revenue, and charging a premium price really worth that type of spending? Consider these two examples. How much do you pay for an application like Square that helps you collect money from a customer in the field? It consummates the sale by getting the cash now. You happily pay about 2.5% of revenue for this type of application. How about the central station monitoring application that enables you to sell a high margin monitoring service? You happily pay between 30% and 50% of revenue for this valuable addition to your service arsenal. So no, 3.44% of revenue is absolutely not crazy for a full set of applications that help you drive value in your business.

The problem is that you are probably significantly overpaying for administrative applications like accounting and underinvesting in applications that drive new customer acquisition, service differentiation, and revenue. And I also bet your accounting application provider is telling you “we have a plugin for sales, and customer service, and technician management, and every other thing you might need” in order to justify the crazy price you are paying for that application. Am I right? Probably.

So how can you alter your portfolio of applications through time to push down the expense associated with administrative applications so that you can reinvest those dollars in applications that actually drive up the value of your business to its shareholders? Applications that enhance your ability to add customers, charge them more for your services, and hold onto them longer? Well, the first step is to only consider modern software as a service (SaaS) applications that have publicly documented APIs. These will generally be cheaper than the older, legacy server-based applications, and they will deliver more innovations to your business going forward. Software investors are NOT investing any of their precious capital in old server applications, so these legacy applications are going to stagnate and die. No point in throwing your money away on a dead horse.

The second step is to ask the basic questions around How Many? How Much? and How Long? for new applications you are considering. If the applications you are considering do not contribute to these value metrics, then simply look for the low price alternatives that meet the SaaS and API criteria and determine how much administrative expense they might save you. You can spend up to 100% of the savings on the administrative applications to eliminate manpower spending.

If the applications do in fact help you attract more customers, charge them more for valuable new features, and hold onto them forever, open up the wallet and let fly for up to 2 – 3% of the revenue you expect to drive by being the most innovative service contractor in your market. I assure you that the best service contractors will collect a 15 – 25% revenue premium in their market, which easily justifies the spending on the applications that drive that differentiation. I will also assure you that competing on technology innovation is much more fun than competing on price.

For more than 85 years, Ressac has established itself as a high quality, low-cost commercial contractor for heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. Specialties include low-rise office parks, mall retail, and big box retail sites.

 

THE CHALLENGE

Ressac recently implemented ServiceTrade to improve their service management and customer service. While this solved their challenges on the service side of their business, they were still using an outdated version of Dynamics NAV, a server-based accounting platform, to maintain financial records. “We were so focused on making improvements to the service side including customer service and earning more revenue that accounting was an afterthought,” explains Nick Rohan, CEO at Ressac. “We lacked real-time visibility into our financial information,” he says, “and we had to double key everything.”

With no transparency into financials such as working capital and cash flow, decision-making was more like guesswork. In a very competitive industry, and with a profit margin as low as 5-7%, it was critical to know the current situation when making business decisions. And since data wasn’t being shared between the accounting system and ServiceTrade, the finance team carried a large time burden related to too many AP and AR manual processes.

“Connecting to the old accounting system was cumbersome,” Mr. Rohan explains, “and we had a lot of issues getting into the system.” And with no AP approval process in place, service managers had to approve purchases, which took them away from more strategic job-related activities and created time-consuming invoicing of their clients. Additionally, data siloed within spreadsheets led to inefficient and time-consuming reporting processes throughout the organization.

Ressac desired a cloud solution that could streamline its AP workflow and approvals and provide real-time visibility into its multiple locations’ financial results. Sage Intacct’s financial management software was selected and was seamlessly integrated with ServiceTrade to eliminate many hours of manual data entry and reduce costly errors inherent in their old system.

 

THE SOLUTION

Nick recalls, “We relied heavily on ServiceTrade’s recommendation of Sage Intacct. When we looked at various systems,” he says, “what sold us on Sage Intacct was the reporting.” And selecting Wipfli as the service partner was easy. Wipfli provided full-service implementation, integration assistance, and ongoing support through a collaborative team approach as Ressac navigated through the process. “We liked the feeling from Wipfli, and had confidence in the team we were talking to,” explains Nick.

Everyone worked together to ensure a smooth integration. “The ServiceTrade integration is behind the scenes, so you don’t really notice it,” reports Nick. “With the Sage Intacct and ServiceTrade integration, we’re operating differently now,” he says. “The time we’ve saved on double data entry allows us to code our transactions, which allows for better financial reporting.”

With real-time visibility and transparency into their financial results across their multiple CA locations, Ressac now has the “right information at the right time” to make critical business decisions. “We’re getting more information out of our systems and doing a lot more meaningful work,” he says. The improved financial reporting means Nick Rohan and his team can easily see where their financials stand on a day-to-day basis.

What’s more, according to Nick, “the thing we really enjoy with Sage Intacct is our ability to access it anywhere from a browser, whether we’re at home or out of town. We can get in and see our daily runs and see how cash is doing,” adding, “it’s been fantastic!”

Overall, with Sage Intacct in place, Ressac taps into deeper financial and operational insights and is able to tackle more strategic issues, keeping the whole organization focused on their customers. Now the pressure of competition is less of a burden as Ressac has the insights its team needs to “grow strategically in existing markets and into other regions.”

 

LEARN FROM RESSAC’S EXPERIENCE

Key Requirements

  • Implement cloud-based financial solution to automate and streamline workflows and provide financial visibility
  • Integrate their new system with ServiceTrade to allow for one single set of data to run the business reliably and remove the guesswork

Key Challenges

  • Remove data from spreadsheet silos and make it available for decision-support across organization
  • Save time and reduce costly errors associated with manual data entry
  • Enable managers to focus on strategic initiatives

Key Outcomes

  • Gained real-time visibility into their financial results across locations
  • Saved time, money, and effort through automating processes, enabling greater focus on customers
  • Positioned to make long-term strategic plans for company

 

EXPLORE INTEGRATIONS

ServiceTrade can help whether you’re looking to integrate your current accounting system with our application or explore a new accounting solution. Call your representative to talk about the best way to start weighing your options and understanding the scope of integrating ServiceTrade with your accounting or other operational applications.

Read more:

I bet the grocers that had a bad day when Walmart got into groceries about fifteen years ago are having a really bad week now that Amazon has announced their intention to buy Whole Foods. The innovations Amazon is going to bring to grocery buying go well beyond low price and internal operational tweaks. Amazon is going to use technology to transform the grocery buying experience, and the old competitors focused on their tired, old, internal metrics will be toast.

 

Marc Andreesen, a famous internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist, once said: “Software is eating the world.”  You can read his editorial in the Wall Street Journal here.  It’s true.  Customer service innovations driven by software are transforming every industry.  Netflix to Blockbuster.  Uber to taxis.  Amazon to booksellers, hosting companies, and now grocers.  When will it be your turn?  Which side of the statement will your company be?  The eater? or the eaten?

Do you suppose the first innovation Amazon is going focus upon is how Whole Foods does accounting?  Is that where they are going to put their innovation muscle?  I ask the question because it seems that accounting remains the first priority of service contractors when they think about how to apply technology to their business.  But it sounds really silly in the context of the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods, doesn’t it?  As I have said before, your perfect accounting process is perfectly irrelevant to your customer.  You should have a good one, but it will not save you from an innovative, customer-focused competitor.

I am not going out on a limb when I say that Amazon understands that accounting is irrelevant, and their focus with Whole Foods will be transforming how customers buy groceries.  They will eliminate aggravation and uncertainty for the customer through technology.  I bet there will be an awesome mobile app for pricing your groceries in the aisle and eliminating the checkout line.  I bet you will use that app to find the groceries you seek without wandering up and down the aisles.  I bet you will get interesting recipe ideas based on the ingredients you buy often.  I bet your buying preferences will lead to deliveries to your house via drone for the items you buy on a regular basis.  I bet the best customers with the most money to spend on groceries will gravitate to Amazon and their innovations. I bet I cannot even imagine the things they will do to make grocery shopping more convenient, and none of it will relate to how they do accounting.

So when will it be your turn?  Will you be the eater, or the eaten?  Are you considering how to upgrade your customer’s buying experience with your services?  Or are you piddling around with how to extend your accounting to wring a small bit of extra margin from your internal processes?  Are you building an innovative and growing brand that attracts customers to you?  With an experience that they cannot easily trade for the low price guy? Think about it.  Who do you want to be in your market?  Amazon, Uber, Netflix?  Or the other guy?

WannaCry? You will after this so-named ransomware takes over your Windows computer, encrypts all your important files, and charges you $300 to decrypt them, if you’re lucky. This virus is sweeping the globe and making headlines because of its widespread impact. Before you read any further, make sure you have run the latest Windows update if you are using a version older than Windows 10.

Losing your family photos and personal files on a PC to ransomware is unfortunate. Losing the critical infrastructure that runs your business because you’re still using local servers is catastrophic. That’s right, these viruses are indiscriminate and business servers are not exempt from these attacks. Local servers are especially risky because they represent a single point of failure if they aren’t backed up. And how confident are you in your backup systems? Do me a quick favor and go unplug your servers. Are you 100% sure they are going to start up where they left off? If you’re at all hesitant, then ransomware is only one of a host of concerns that you should have:

Disgruntled employees – Is there any way for you to prevent an unhappy employee from stealing your data or wreaking havoc on your company’s servers?

Natural disaster – Fire, flood or tornado. Enough said.

Disk failure – Computers degrade over time and will eventually break down.

Failed updates – If you didn’t update your servers with the latest Windows patch, you are susceptible to WannaCry. On the other hand, every update has the potential to introduce compatibility issues.

Other viruses – WannaCry is just the latest example in a growing trend of PC and local server hacks. And, while it’s possible to recover your files from a ransomware attack, other viruses are less forgiving and will destroy files outright or render your machines completely useless.

How do you avoid these risks? Dump the servers and adopt cloud-based applications like ServiceTrade. Why are they less risky? Without going into detail about the advanced technology they use for security and backup, the easiest way to understand how they work is to compare them to banks. Is your money safer under your bed, or in the bank? If your home is robbed or burns down, you lose your money. If the bank is robbed or burns down, your savings are insured (backed up) and your checks and debit cards still work. It’s that simple.

Don’t keep your business data under the bed. Dump the servers and move to the cloud.


In case you’re curious how WannaCry works, here’s a video of it in action:

One of our most quoted blog posts is this one – where Billy says that in all-in-one software, the ALL will be SMALL. You should reread it, but the summary is that all-in-one providers can’t offer the same innovation as a suite of connected applications from providers who focus on one part of your business.

When was the last time you saw a TV-DVD-VCR combo? It’s a throwback to when innovation moved at a snail’s pace. The VCR was introduced in 1964. The DVD player – the next widely-adopted element – came along THIRTY-FIVE years later in 1999. That’s hardly a blazing trail of innovation in home entertainment. The all-in-one unit was a good idea when you didn’t expect anything to change. Ever.

Now think about the ways that your home entertainment system has changed since 1999. There are dozens of components and streaming services you can incorporate into entertainment, gaming, and audio systems. Things started developing on Internet time.

The same is true in business operations applications. The idea of all-in-one software is from the pre-Internet era when innovation was slower to occur and slower to be adopted. Technologies evolve at different rates – an all-in-one eventually hobbles the entire system with the limitations of its weakest parts. You can’t just throw out the VCR, you have to let it sit there and draw power from the rest of the system.

All-in-one platforms keep you from adopting new applications that would help your service business do new things in better ways. Connecting a mobile solution for field service management to an all-in-one would be like trying to connect Netflix to your TV-DVD-VCR unit. You might be able to pull it off, but it will be a hassle to setup and to work with.

Billy said that “the ALL will be SMALL.” I’m saying that “pieces of the ALL will become OBSOLETE and keep you from ADVANCING.” Maybe mine doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Also read:

What’s holding your service business back? Is it double data entry and other accounting inefficiencies in the back office? If you solve those problems, are you going to create more value for your customers, make your techs more productive, and differentiate yourself from the competition? Nope. Accounting doesn’t drive better customer outcomes. So, why do accounting issues get all of the attention? Well, it’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing those back-office problems because they are in your face every day. They are like a thorn in your foot; very obvious. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Under the water is something much more deadly.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I decided to show you what I’m talking about:

Field Service Management Hazard

 

Hiding under the surface is what’s really holding you back. Scattered customer service data slows everyone down. The symptoms are pervasive, and the costs are enormous. Why do you think the front office is always behind, techs waste time on callbacks, and sales is struggling to win new customers or make upsells? Well, when service history, customer quotes, contact information, recurring service schedule, and asset details are all stored in different places, it’s no wonder there’s so much confusion and so many slowdowns. Instead of a central system that helps your team collaborate, you’re stuck with ad hoc calls, emails, conversations, txts, and paper.

On top of that, when your service information is disorganized, it’s impossible to give your customers any visibility to the value you provide. When you don’t even know exactly where your techs are, what they are doing, or what work they’ve completed, how are you supposed to share that information with your customers? Remember what it used to be like to schedule a taxi? It was miserable. Calling the taxi dispatch took forever, you’d have no visibility to where the taxi was, no idea what they were going to charge you, and they may not even show up. It’s no wonder Uber is dominating that entire industry. All it took was a change to the process that removed risk and aggravation for customers.

Icebergs perfectly demonstrate what’s going on with most commercial service contracting businesses. It’s easy to get stuck thinking about back-office problems. They are the tip of the iceberg. But, hiding below the sea is a mess of customer service data that is slowing down the entire organization and limiting your ability to provide a better experience to your customers. When you organize that data and move it to the cloud, you can cut your costs and Uber your competition.

 

Last year, I made a huge mistake. I purchased a marketing automation platform (I won’t name names, but it rhymes with harpstring) for our company and wasted a lot of time, money, and effort in implementing something that, ultimately, failed. I know I’m not the first person who’s ever made a bad software decision, but I hope that anyone who reads this blog post can learn from my mistake.

 

Made just for you.

My first mistake was not assessing the market that the product was built for. In this case, the software was designed for a completely different set of users, but I was enticed by the cool feature set. Without getting into further detail about why this product was a bad fit for ServiceTrade, I learned that you MUST consider the following when buying business software with large feature sets:

Is this software developed for a market or industry that is specific enough to support my company, but broad enough to support innovation and growth?

For example, there are quite a few field service management applications out there, but some of them, like ServiceTrade, are built specifically for service contractors as opposed to internal field service divisions of large companies like Comcast. Furthermore, some are built for commercial contractors, (again) like ServiceTrade, while others are built for residential contractors, like ServiceTitan or Jobber. Because these platforms are designed for targeted markets, new feature development will benefit their customers that fit their market definition. These target markets are also large enough to support ongoing innovation and growth.

On the other hand, there are software companies that target markets that are too niche. For example, we’ve seen broad business applications that attempt to target smaller industries like fire protection or kitchen exhaust cleaning companies. Yes, some of the features they offer are very unique and fitting for the industries they serve, but these platforms will not innovate as much as a competitors targeting a larger market. These applications also represent a risk because there is a chance that they will not make it in such a small niche.

 

All in one? The all will be small.

We’ve preached this point over and over again, yet I still got caught by this trap. The product I purchased offered CRM functionality in addition to the marketing automation I was looking for. As always it always does, the all in one was too good to be true. Because the feature set was so broad, none of the features performed at the levels of competitive products.

The idea behind an all-in-one software is interesting, but the features always fall short in practice. Take a look at your smartphone. How many apps do you have? Just one? Of course not. Why would you expect the same from your business applications?

We speak with commercial service contractors on a daily basis that are searching for the mythical unicorn that is the perfect all in one. It doesn’t exist. Any product that claims to be one will disappoint you. This includes bolt-on modules to your accounting system.

Modern applications are designed to coexist in an integrated ecosystem that allows them to communicate the necessary information with each other while excelling at their core competencies. In other words, best-in-breed applications that can integrate will outperform all-in-one software.

 

What’s the big idea?

When considering a software application that my company would be using for years to come, I failed to consider the long-term vision of the product. As it turns out, the vision for the product was completely misaligned with my expectations which led to disappointment when I realized new features didn’t benefit me.

Service contractors often reach out to us after having had a similar experience. They purchased an application because of the features it had and didn’t consider how the product may change, if at all, to help them tackle evolving challenges. Here are a few red flags to look out for:

  • Software products that are at the end of their development life. These products receive little to no ongoing R&D and the owners are simply trying to sell as much as they can before the market catches on. Even though these products may have many of the features you are looking for, they will fall short of the competition quickly. Server-based software ALWAYS falls into this category.
  • Customer service software that doesn’t actually improve your customer’s experience. If a company tells you that their grand vision for their customer service platform is only to help you operate more efficiently, you need to reconsider. Efficiency is important, but software that fails to meet the evolving expectations of your customers will leave you at a competitive disadvantage.

 

What happens WHEN it breaks?

Ultimately, the straw that broke the camel’s back with the marketing automation software I purchased was the complete lack of support I received for some technical issues I encountered. For weeks, I was stuck without a system because they refused to answer my calls and emails. During the sales process, I had no reason to think that the support was going to be so bad, but then again, I never asked.

Like many business software buyers, I assumed that I wouldn’t need support. I figured that good software doesn’t need support, right? I’ve never called Uber or Google for help, why should this be any different? I was wrong.

Good business software will have lots of features that require in-depth understanding to fully utilize. You and your team shouldn’t expect to know every little detail. Support through online documentation, courses, and training are important, but responsive phone support is a must. Case in point, ServiceTrade. Despite being ranked as one of the most user-friendly field service management applications on Capterra and having an average “Ease of Use” rating of 4.5 stars across 136 reviews (as of the time of writing) on Capterra, our customers that receive training and take advantage of support far outperform those that don’t.

Expect good support. You’ll need it. If you’re considering a product, give the support line a call before you buy to see how responsive and helpful the support team is. If it’s not available, or you have any concerns about the quality, buyer beware!

 

Yes, a reference please?

Before I purchased this infamous marketing automation platform, I was smart enough to ask for references. However, I should have put my guard up when, after nagging them, it took several weeks for them to provide me with a couple contacts. After all that time, the references I spoke with weren’t able to answer some of my most important questions. I should have dug deeper and requested more references.

Learn from my experience. Good references and reviews are important. We love providing prospects with reference customers because we work hard to

  1. ensure that customers will be a good fit for ServiceTrade before they ever buy and
  2. make sure all of our customers are happy, as is reflected in our numerous positive reviews.

 

If you happen to make a bad software purchase, don’t become a victim of the sunk cost fallacy like me. Instead of realizing that I made a bad decision, I dug my heels in deeper and wasted months of time trying to make it work. Eventually, I “saw the light,” but after wasting more time than I’d like to admit.

Learn from my mistake! Buy great software.