Tablets and Software

CamCard I believe tablets are ready for use as sales tools. They are small and light, making them easy to use. The struggle is the lack of software … or is it? The software is catching up quickly and there are very few things I can’t handle on a tablet now. Will it replace a laptop? Not for everything a laptop will do, but let’s face it, most sales people use their laptops to look up a piece of information on occasion and to enter orders. This and more is something a tablet is very good at.

What Software?

Much has been written about using mobile devices at work, but from what I see, most only use them for looking at their Facebook page, Tweeting something, or posting a picture to Instagram. Is that all that mobile devices are good for? Not even … and I’ll cover some of my uses next, then later we’ll look at going heavy duty with work.

Software I Use

Here is a list of the apps I use on my phone or tablet for work purposes. This will probably not be complete, but the most used.

As you can see the list is extensive and doesn’t cover CRM programs, payment collectors, Invoice makers, etc. Those we’ll look at later.

Lets look at a few of these in depth.

CamCard

CamCard is the most used app other than my phone. I tested a lot of business card capture apps a few years ago and this was the run-away best. After snapping a picture of the card, it enhances it for easier reading, automatically crops the image to just the card, and runs OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on it and places the information in the fields. Like most OCR programs, it doesn’t handle graphics well, especially with the company name is only represented by a graphic. It is easily editable for any errors it makes, then when you save it, you choose where. I set mine to save in CamCard and my Gmail contacts (People app). This provides a backup of all my contacts.

Another feature I like is the “note” tab. I can document actions with a suspect, prospect, or customer. I date the note and record the action. This also syncs with the notes field in Google Contacts. Again, redundant backups (yes, I’ve lost information and am a bit paranoid).

CamCard also provides a free cloud backup service that allows you to sync the contacts across multiple devices. This is handy for phone and tablet continuity. It does not matter which device I capture the card on, it shows up on both.

CamScanner

CamScanner is made by the same company and works much the same. Snap a photo, it automatically enhances and crops the document and allows for OCR, if you like. The reason I’m impressed is, I can take a picture of a 8-1/2” X 11” document and the quality is such, I can zoom in on the fine print at the bottom and read it clearly. I use it to capture a printed document containing signatures for email and storage.

Any.do

I have and still use a lot of different to-do apps, but I have stuck with this one the longest. It is easy to use (once you figure a few things out) and works as needed.

Evernote

I think enough has been said about Evernote to fill many books, so I’ll just say it is the brain that never forgets.

Many More

There are more applications listed than time prohibits me going into a lot of detail in this one article, but I will later.

This video is the first I’ve ever done shooting a demo from a mobile device. I noticed several issues with the video, and with time would see about re-recording it, but it will do for a first effort. They will get better with time.

 

 

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Tablets in the Workflow

Nexus 7 and Verbatim Keyboard

Tablet and Keyboard

Selling is hard work, not doubt about it. I’m always asking myself, how can we make it easier, better, more efficient. I believe one way is by using technology for the tools they are. Technology itself does not make sales easier, but it can make it more efficient.

Today I am writing this article on my Nexus 7 tablet to see if a salesman could enter information into a tablet quickly and easily. Some will say I’m cheating because I have my Verbatim blue tooth keyboard connected, but again, I say, use the tools. A very inexpensive keyboard turns this tablet into a data entry machine. Still not a full laptop, but remember, most information a salesman enters is short notes about a planned meeting, short notes after the meeting, or adding something to the to-do list.

I know this isn’t the end all, be all, but it shows a proof a concept once the appropriate software is made available. So now the question is about software. What can you use? How can you use it? I’m glad you asked because that will be next.

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Are Tablets Ready for Business?

iPadAir Are tablets ready for business? This is a question asked more each day. Here is how I answer that question. While businesses are asking the question, sales people are carrying their own tablets on sales calls.

I first witnessed this almost four years ago when a salesman I was working with left his big heavy laptop at the office when we left for a day’s work in the field. He did, however, carry his iPad under his arm, which I thought nothing of at the time.

At our first stop, he jumped out of the car, iPad in hand and I watched closely. As we talked with the customer about different products he needed, the salesman recorded each item on the tablet. When asked about a particular item, he brought up a picture from the web, showed the customer, and recorded another sold item on the order for he used.

Did the company issue the iPad? No, it was his own device and was not formally vetted for use in the field by anyone from IT. It was light, fast, easy to carry into an office and it instantly caused a reaction from the people in each office. I was hooked.

Normally between calls, my conversation with the sales person is about the previous call. What went well, what could improve … but not this day. I was asking questions about how he used the tablet in his work day. How did customers and prospects react to it when he was by himself? (It’s always different when two people go in together) Had he witnessed an increase in business by actively engaging the customers with this technology?

That was when I knew the tablet would come into business. It was a natural tool to use in front of customers. It was instantly on, it was easy to hand to the customer to look at a picture or watch a video, and customers were talking and asking questions. This is a customer engaged … a huge plus for any sales person.

I have begun using my Nexus 7 in my daily workflow at the office. I’ll write about the details in another article.

How does your company look at tablets? Has there been any discussion? Are people using their own equipment like they do with their cell phones?

I’d really like to know how this is playing in other industries. Talk to me …

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The Next Big Thing

Nexus 7 Tablet Everyone is looking for the “Next Big Thing” and I have good news … it is closer than you think. It started slowly a few years ago and is picking up speed rapidly. I see more and more evidence the explosion will happen soon and you should be ready.

What is the “Next Big Thing?” Tablets. That’s right, tablets. They have taken off in the consumer market and are beginning to move to the business market. The normal progression is underway and it will follow the same course as the laptop and cell phone, with many companies living the value of these devices.

Cell phones slowly moved from consumer to business and really began the BYOD* movement. As with all things, business is hesitant to implement new technology until it has proven itself in several arenas. Those being;

  • Security
  • Price
  • Software availability
  • Tie-in to existing systems
  • Ease of transition
  • Training
  • Implementation

The first two points are being addressed as fast as the manufacturers can move. Security has to be a number one priority for the devices before any IT group will take them seriously. Pricing is important when calculated against existing expenses for outfitting personnel. The software for most modern software is either available as an app or web-based, with the later making almost any application available on mobile devices. Ease of transition, training, and implementation only involves a rock-solid project management plan and team.

The big hold up is the ability to tie into existing systems. This is the one keeping IT departments up at night as upper management pushes to rush tablets into the hands of outside sales people because of all the Pros for doing so. How do you make it so the new device can talk to legacy hardware in the corporate office? That is the big deal that will soon be as irrelevant as how to move a cell phone into the workflow.

Are you ready? Is your company? I suggest you get ready because the train has left the station and is picking up speed.

*Bring Your Own Device

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Three Things Your WordPress eCommerce Plugin Needs

Military Flags HeadquartersNow that you’ve decided you need an online store, you must make a few decisions. What will it look like, how will it work, and how will you collect money?

This article will focus on WordPress plugins for running your store and discuss a few important items you need to consider.

The eCommerce websites I’ve worked on all need three things. A way to show what you are selling, a place to keep the products they want and a method of payment. These three things are referred to as a catalog, a shopping cart and a merchant gateway. Let’s look at each.

Catalog – What you Sell

Whether online or off-line, prospects need to see what you are selling in order to buy. Online we accomplish this by displaying products in a catalog, which is exactly what you think it is — a page with small pictures and short descriptions to pique the interest of lookers. The “thumbnail” pictures link to the individual product pages where the magic happens.

Individual product pages are the most important selling tool you have online. Pictures, descriptions, technical specs, colors, sizes, etc., all need addressing so your prospect can make a decision to buy. Generally speaking, the more information you can provide, the better it is for the customer.

Pictures and video are becoming more common with eCommerce websites and serve several purposes. They add visually to the product description, and show details that might be difficult to describe in print. One picture is worth a thousand words can surely be true in eCommerce.

Shopping Cart – How you sell

Just like in the grocery store a shopping cart is the location where the desired items are placed until someone is ready to check out. Online it is traditionally the location for shipping and sales tax information. Make sure it is included in your shopping cart setup. If you offer Free Shipping, make sure it is prominently displayed on the Shopping Cart page.

The Shopping Cart page is also the last chance to modify an order. The customer should be able to change the quantity on their items, add special shipping instructions or just click the Proceed to Checkout button, which takes us to the last requirement for a good eCommerce website.

Payment Gateway – How you collect

Last, but certainly not least is the way the customer will pay for the item. The payment gateway can simply be a link out to PayPal or enhanced to allow you to take credit cards at your store.

(This requires an SSL certificate (Secure Socket Layer encryption) to securely handle credit card numbers. This can be a separate charge from you hosting company, so check first.)

WordPress plugins offer a lot of options here, but not all are free. Most offer a connection to PayPal at no charge, but have either subscription or one-time fees for more complicated or popular gateways. Most fees are reasonable and might include other features such as support or forum access.

The payment gateway is where most people get lost, and it can get complicated. The basics are that the free PayPal gateway will work for many solutions. It allows the customer to pay using either their PayPal account or their credit card on the PayPal website.

Bottom line, if you are opening a full-fledged eCommerce website, you will need a catalog, a shopping cart, and a payment gateway.

If you are going to sell only a few items without a lot of fuss, you might only need the shopping cart and payment gateway.

In my testing, not all WordPress eCommerce plugins have a catalog built in, but they all include a shopping cart and at least a PayPal link.

Who do you use for payments? Is it working for you?

 

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WordPress into eCommerce?

Is it possible to open an eCommerce website using WordPress as the foundation? Yes it is, but it depends on your needs. The plugins fall into several groups: basic, some are broader in their features, with a few providing for a full-scale eCommerce experience.

WordPress

History of eCommerce Plugins

In 2007, the choice of eCommerce plugins for WordPress was grim. My research revealed two true alternatives. The features were limited, and the options were shallow.

I was building an eCommerce website to sell flags, and because of my previous experience with WordPress, I wanted to use it to build my store.  My specific needs were simple: how to apply and control Sales Tax, shipping considerations, and the price variations for each flag in my inventory.

Did I succeed? I initially launched the website using WordPress, and the WP e-Commerce plugin, but it failed to meet my needs. Within a short time, I moved the store to ZenCart, but I continued to watch WordPress for growth and maturity. Five years later, WordPress has matured, and sports a robust variety of custom plugins.

Five Years Later

With a growing demand for easier eCommerce and shopping cart websites, WordPress plugins have continued to progress, and now the plugin directory is full of options—creating another problem: which one to choose? With different feature sets and different abilities, you need to know the answer to this question before you begin. First you must examine your needs, and be prepared for extensive testing.

While testing the current crop of eStore plugins, three distinct groups emerged. Some still lack in basic requirements, while others do meet and exceed basic needs. The third group not only meet but exceed the requirements of a robust, full-fledged ecommerce website. How should you begin?

Determine Your Needs

The first step is to determine your specific needs for a store front. This is time-consuming, but necessary.

  1. What are your needs?
  2. Are you selling physical or digital products?
  3. How many SKUs will you market?
  4. What are your requirements to collect sales tax?
  5. How will you ship your product?
  6. If digital, do you need secure download pages?
  7. How will you handle multiple downloads?
  8. Do you need product variations?
  9. Do you need variations with different pricing?

This is not a complete list of questions, but gives an idea of what you need to consider before you make a decision about using WordPress and choosing one of the available eCommerce plugins.

Recently I started building a new eCommerce website. After reviewing the above questions, and more, I discovered three non-negotiable requirements for the website to work properly: Sales Tax, Shipping, and Variations. Here is why these were critical to me.

Sales Tax

flagsbay

Flags Bay, our existing eCommerce store, is located in Texas. Flags sold in Texas are subject to sales tax. The state collects 6.25%,  and local entities can add an additional 2% for a total tax rate of 8.25%.

Out-of-state customers buying our flags are not charged Texas sales taxes, so the shopping cart had to have the ability to add taxes for the appropriate customers and leave it off for the others.

Result, only a few plugins handle this easily, thus narrowing my choices.

Shipping

Shipping is another issue you need to consider. A store can offer free shipping, flat rate shipping, actual cost shipping, shipping by weight, shipping by price, et cetera.

You must determine which type shipping you will use to narrow the list further.

  1. Will you determine the carrier or allow customer  options?
  2. Will you allow shipping by USPS, UPS, and/or FedEx?
  3. How will you handle each carrier’s pricing?
  4. Is shipping free above a pre-determined amount?
  5. Will you charge for all shipping?
  6. How will you handle shipping zones?

These are all important decisions that must be made before choosing a eCommerce platform.

For my needs, I decided to offer free shipping on all orders over $25, and since the cheapest product was above this target price, it was easy to say “Free Shipping on all orders.”

Result. this option didn’t narrow the list of candidates for me, but it might for you.

Variations

Variations of products are colors, sizes, and other options. You need to know if these variations come with additional costs, or are included in the regular price.

As a flag seller, every variation in product results in a different price. One type of  U.S flag is available in ten sizes, each with a different price.  Only a few WordPress plugins have this ability in any form, and the list is smaller for ones that allow for different pricing for each variations without some type of work-around.

What is Critical to you?

You can see the importance of making these decisions before launching an online store. And choosing the right software for your needs is crucial.

However, you need to be aware of a few things concerning current eCommerce plugins for WordPress.

All of the plugins I tested are available as free downloads from the directory, but that is where the similarities end.

A few come with no strings attached. They will work with many different themes, offer access to support pages and forums, and have some kind of author support. A few plugins only work with themes they develop and the themes have a price. Some won’t allow access to their FAQ files or support documents without a fee—some one-time, some by a monthly subscription. There are a few plugins that are only tie-ins with hosted eCommerce products, using WordPress as the front-end.

None of this is bad, but it is important for you know before choosing the plugin. The prices are reasonable and allow the author to make money from his work.

Available Plugins

Here is a short list of some of the eCommerce plugins available for WordPress.

TheCartPress eCommerce Shopping Cart

Zingiri Web Shop

eShop

FoxyPress

RSECommerce

WordPress eCommerce – Marketplace

JigoShop

WPStoreCart

WP e-Commerce

WP Marketplace

DigiShop

WooCommerce

 

This is only a partial list, but gives examples of most of the above references. If you go the the plugin directory at the WordPress website and type in shopping cart or eCommerce, you will get hundreds of options.

Which is the Best?

So which plugin is the best? It all depends on what you are selling, and where your market is. Each of these have compelling features, and sadly, shortcomings.

You can either download and test them all, or ask me in the comments sections. I can help direct you to the right plugin depending on your needs and circumstances.

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WordPress is more than a blogging platform

Moveable Type to WordPress

In 2004, I was ready to learn the art of podcasting and hit a snag. I was using Moveable Type for my blog, which at the time didn’t include audio wrappers. Writing a podcast was doable, recording a podcast was doable, uploading a podcast via FTP was doable, but access to the podcast, … not so doable. Without wrappers, the process was much more difficult.

 

Audio Wrappers

Research revealed that WordPress included the wrappers for audio files, so uploading and making a download available was handled within the code. That’s when I switched to WordPress and consolidated three former blogs to the one … Business Unusual.

BusinessUnusual

What Can You Do on WordPress?

WordPress continues to develop and add features, and is much more than just a blogging platform. You can develop in many different directions using free tools or modestly priced ones.

Blogging, CMS, Website, Newspaper, Magazine, eCommerce, Personal website … are just a few of the ways you can configure WordPress for your needs.

WordPress is available for free, many themes are free, most plugins are free … so your only cost becomes time.

What if you want to be different and fully customize your website? There are theme developers and custom coders that can make your site look and do almost anything. Your only limitation is your imagination and your pocketbook.

 

So what is it you want to do with WordPress? I’d like to know.

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My dream of one device is almost a reality

In early 2004, I dreamed of a single device for computing. I carried a cell phone, Palm T5 PDA and a Dell laptop for “on the go” access and had a desktop computer at the office. No matter what I wanted, it was on one of the other devices. I wanted one piece of hardware to be all that was needed.

I thought it happened in early 2005 when a customer came by the office to show off his OQO Model 1 computer. It was larger than my Palm with its 5” screen, but was still a handheld computer running a full version of Microsoft Windows. With the slide-out keyboard and the desktop dock, I thought this was it. Not exactly.

Disappointment

The hardware just couldn’t handle the bulk of Windows XP. It was slow and awkward with little memory and not enough room for all those big PC programs we ran on our desktops. The price was pretty steep at almost $2000. No, this wasn’t the ONE and I would have to wait a few more months for my one single device.

Android is the Bomb

A few months turned into a few years and now seven years later, it seems the promise of my dream is closer. Yesterday on Droid Life, they linked to a video out of the UK where a Galaxy Nexus was being used as a desktop computer. I’ve known this was possible for some time, but it is awful fussy. It’s still fussy, but the process is getting better.

Galaxy Nexus as a desktop engine

Using the right adapter and a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, you can do almost everything on it. With cloud computing and the availability of great apps, one device can be your only piece of hardware.

We now have mobile versions of Mint, Evernote, Documents to Go, along with thousands of others. And if no app is available, just fire up the browser and do your computing from there. With a 20+ inch monitor it will be just fine.

With just a bluetooth keyboard, it makes an awesome mobile computer. Fire up Documents to Go and start drafting a business proposal, or open WordPress and get started on an article with pictures and videos posted straight from your phone.

IMG_0291IMG_0289IMG_0290

Now I’m off to order the usb to mhl adapter for my Nexus.

Is this something your interested in?

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ZOHO’s New Database and Reporting Application

ZOHO introduced a new web-based database program today. If you thought an online application couldn’t do pivot tables and sql web queries, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this addition to the product line.

Here is an eleven minute video showcasing the features of the new offering.

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Video shows Web-based Applications are Powerful!

Steve Sherlock linked to this great video showing the power of web-based applications in collaboration. I mentioned this aspect of online applications in the ongoing series on online applications. The video gives good visual evidence, showing how Google Docs can be used in a real world setting.

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