Welcome to The New CRM – Debtor Relationship Management

By Elliot Howard, Director of software solutions specialist Sopra Group


CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) was the software everyone deployed during the 1990s. Sales, marketing and customer service departments found tailoring their activities was the way forward, replacing unfocused mailshots and ineffective cold-calling with targeted campaigns which were much more profitable. CRM applied front office powerful back office technology – repaying the purchase price by helping businesses save time, resource and amplify every opportunity.

How? At the heart of CRM is an approach that allows the business to answer questions that lead to more productive marketing, sales and service activities. For instance, which sales people are most effective? Which promotions worked, and why? Will this demographic be interested in this proposed product? What are customers really asking for – and what are their biggest reasons for not doing a transaction with us today?

Now it’s time to apply that level of science to other parts of the business. If we could apply CRM-style analytics to the issue of customer debt, we could become more strategic in the way we collect, connect and share information about your organisation’s debtors. Continue reading

What Every Small Business Should Know About Accepting Card Payments

The way in which people pay for goods and services is evolving rapidly. With the traditional cheque looking increasingly outmoded and people carrying smaller amounts of cash in their wallets, there is a growing demographic of consumers for whom plastic is becoming the exclusive payment method of choice.

That even the smallest startup accepts card is now an expectation rather than a convenient extra. For such entrepreneurs, whose chief concern may be trading and building their business, embracing card payment technology can aid in boosting their bottom line. These are some common questions that often arise when retailers are considering offering their customers the option of paying with card.

Do my customers care about what payment method they use?

In short, the answer is ‘yes’. A recent YouGov survey carried out on behalf of CardSave revealed that, 62% of people carry £20 or less in cash on them, yet almost everyone (93%) carries a credit or debit card. On top of that, nearly a third (30%) of the UK public said they had been inconvenienced by a retailer not accepting cards with 16% admitting to having walked out of a shop for this same reason.

Our data shows that people spent an average of £64.27 at small, independent merchants in February – more than three times the amount of cash they carry. When this figure is considered alongside the statistics above, the message becomes clear: businesses not offering card payment as an option are falling short of the expectations of a growing demographic of modern consumers who hardly carry any cash. These merchants risk losing out on important business.

How do I start accepting card payments?

The first step to take is to make an agreement with a card services provider, who will process your business’s card transactions on your behalf.

Startups should be mindful that card service providers vary in the services they offer, the charges they levy and the amount of help and support they will give retailers. The UK Card Association can provide further advice on this topic, but if you are a new business, consider first a service provider that operates with the small business merchant in mind. Choosing one which meets your specific needs will make process simpler and more cost effective.

How can I expect taking card payments to change my business?

Choosing to accept card payments brings benefits above and beyond offering customers another method of payment. Some merchants may feel that, while card payments benefit their customers, they come at a cost to their business. However, while it is true that there are costs involved, such as transaction fees and terminal rental charges, it should be pointed out that banks often charge businesses even more for banking cash and cheques. As charges made by card service provides are relatively small, they will more than likely be offset by the increase in revenue from card-paying customers.

Accepting cards has been shown to change customer spending behaviour. For example, electronic payments allow customers to spend more than the amount of cash they carry in their wallet. This encourages customers to make higher value transactions and impulse purchases: as already pointed out, the average card spend in small retailers is double what consumers carry in cash. Moreover, the convenience and speed of being able to pay by card positively affects customers’ retail experiences, encouraging them to return for further purchases.

Are there any legal or legislative considerations that I must take into account when taking cards?

In accepting card payments, business owners must recognise that they are handling customers’ sensitive personal information and take appropriate steps to ensure that it doesn’t get into the hands of data thieves. The potential fallout from experiencing a data breach can be grave and include fines, loss of credibility and ultimately lost business.

The best way of keeping customer data safe is to become compliant with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards), a set of practical measures such as using not writing down a customers’ account details, that must be adhered to in order to achieve ‘compliance’. Cardholder data security is important and businesses can be fined by their card acquirer if found to be non-compliant.

There are card service providers that are specifically geared towards the needs of smaller or independent retailers and startups, and who will explain the steps required to become compliant, in simple, uncomplicated terms. They can provide support with administration and set up the certification appointment to make the process as easy as possible. So don’t be put off if much of the information you read on PCI seems like jargon!

Choosing to accept card payments allows new businesses to tap into a lucrative market and reach a broader range of customers. While there are things to consider before taking this step, they shouldn’t put you off. It is vital that small and independent businesses keep up with consumer trends, and choosing a card services provider that understands the needs and requirements of your business is your first step.

By Clive Kahn, CEO of Cardsave, specialist in card payment solutions for small businesses

Cutting Costs In IT Security Is A Bad Policy

Business IT security is a perennially favourite topic of discussion. From the small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) to multi-national corporations (and even in government circles), the security of IT systems is much discussed and yet there is a feeling that maybe it is not always given the consideration it deserves.

At a recent conference, CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux suggested that it would be sensible to allocate 10% of a company’s IT budget to providing security, and yet the evidence suggests that in reality this is often not the case. For example, a Gartner survey recently found that the industry average spend on IT security is only about five percent. Perhaps even more startling is a report by the Ponemon Institute, Cenzic and Barracuda Networks which found that 88% of companies surveyed indicate they spend more on coffee than they do on securing Web applications!

In my experience this isn’t unusual. If we took a poll across a cross section of small businesses I suspect many would say they either don’t have a specific budgetary allocation for IT security or that it is a minimal amount. So why is there a shortfall between the professionally suggested levels and the reality of IT security within the business world?

Having spoken to and worked with countless IT managers and business owners the anecdotal evidence is that providing IT security is, to many, a task with somewhat intangible benefits. Like buying insurance, investing in IT security doesn’t give an immediate, visible, business benefit in the same way that purchasing a smartphone or company car does. In fact, very much like insurance, it’s a purchase that will only really remind you of its worth when disaster strikes — and then it will also make it very evident whether you have bought the right or wrong product for your needs.

Whilst failing to find the right level of protection could potentially leave your business open to serious problems, paying over the odds for products you don’t need makes equally bad business sense. So like most business decisions, finding the right balance is vital. The suggested 10% of budget may be a good guide, but naturally all organisations are different and the appropriate amount will vary depending on a wide range of factors, including the type of business and the potential threats to it.

When considering IT security for a business it is vital to understand the types of threats that could be a problem and the weak points in the organisation that leave it vulnerable. For companies that run an online ordering or sales system this could mean a specific threat to customer’s account or financial details by IT-savvy criminals. Most businesses hold personal details on their systems and there is a potential risk that these can be hacked remotely without proper protection being in place. At the most basic level, all businesses are open to threats via email viruses or lax security at the organisation’s premises, both on a physical level and also with regards to IT safeguards.

The physical security of premises is a vital, if sometimes overlooked consideration with regards to information security. Allowing unauthorised people to enter the premises opens up the likelihood that a malicious visitor could infiltrate systems and pilfer valuable information or even remove hardware. Despite the ability to remotely hack business systems, physical intruders are still a very real danger.

Businesses often forget the protection they already have through existing IT investments, which may not be fully utilised. Business systems often incorporate a certain degree of security built in, such as password protection which is vital to IT security. A robust policy that ensures employees and the management use unobvious and hard-to-break codes will significantly tighten security, as long as users don’t just keep the details on their desk!

Despite all the planning, in my experience many organisations lapse in their IT security from time to time, often when security software needs upgrading or renewing. Being an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ technology, cash-starved businesses may let this important stage slip and undoubtedly this can be one of the most vulnerable periods for IT security within an organisation.

Much like insurance, IT security is something that will cost a business dearly if it doesn’t consider the potential ramifications of not having the right cover in place. Whilst additional financial outlay is never welcome, IT security should be seen as a necessity much like other critical business expenses such as telephones or an office. After all, you wouldn’t do without fire alarms and fire extinguishers just because you haven’t had a fire!

By Robert May, Managing Director, ramsac