Archive for the “API” Category

My IT has left the building.

This guest post comes to us from Derek Brown, Managing Director, Pronto Marketing. Pronto provides a complete suite of online marketing services to over 450 IT service companies on a pay-as-you go “Marketing execution as a Service” basis. Pronto Marketing is located in Bangkok, Thailand with clients around the world.

In the past year or so, we’ve moved most of Pronto’s IT into the cloud. Primarily, because it makes sense, and partly, because a tidal wave is coming. I want to make sure we’re riding it so we’re better prepared to help our clients as their businesses and our services evolve.

From a group called the The Small Business Web, I’ve found a number of fantastic SaaS apps; Zendesk, Formstack, TribeHR, FreshBooks, Beanstalk SVN, Tungle, Xero, the list goes on – it has become the backbone of Pronto Marketing. Here’s what I have learned from our experience and where I see this headed.

They work great, are easy to use and they play well with each other. For many, the integrations are simple; install the widget, enter the API key and it’s done. I don’t have updates, upgrades, installation and they all scale up and down with my business. I can quit and change anytime. In addition, an ecosystem of companies that provide cross-app integrations, such as www.cazoomi.com and www.snaplogic.com is starting to develop.

They are Sustainable Businesses. This isn’t fun free stuff on the Internet. These are, for the most part, paid SaaS businesses that may have a free entry point, but if you’re serious, you pay and it’s not always cheap; Zendesk runs us almost $600 a month. This is important because these companies have the potential to make money, invest, reap their investment and sustain themselves over the long term as they improve their products. They are getting “Share of Wallet” from my IT budget.

Google, and Apple…
…are part of the platform. Their users want (just look in their user forums) Google Apps integration and the SaaS vendors are delivering on this. Of course, iPhone and now iPad. Microsoft seems, at best, an afterthought. I’m not the biggest Google fan, but if I was thinking about switching from Google Apps to Microsoft in the cloud, I wouldn’t be comparing its features, but their integration with my cloud apps.

My IT has left the building. It’s not that we’ve outsourced our IT, it’s almost as if we don’t even have IT anymore. Sure we have a network and a server, but for the most part, our building could burn to the ground and the twenty of us could work from home or an internet cafe. It’s business in the browser.

What it means to you
I think of this as “ants at your picnic” because it may not come in one big wave. Little by little, SMEs are going to discover these cloud apps, the apps are going to start aggregating themselves and the your client is going to turn around one day with their business primarily in the cloud – without necessarily a cloud strategy or specific intent. It was just the path of least resistance. And along the way, their IT needs, expectations and budgets are quietly going to change.

In this process, your clients are going to get in touch with a new generation of IT services companies that focus on cloud only, doing the integrations and support. This Trineo About Us page is a good sampling of their positioning. Keboko is another good example. I’m seeing these companies more and more.

No marketing is going to fix a business model that isn’t in demand by the market place. If you’re staying focused on all the good reasons why cloud isn’t a panacea, that’s a great way to develop a blind spot.

My advice is twofold; you need to be talking to your clients about this every day. You need a conversation, not a sales pitch. And perhaps most important, you need to be moving parts of YOUR business to the cloud so you can experience this first hand and have an intelligent conversation. Precisely because you’re an expert for on-premises IT, you should start using cloud apps as part of your day to day operations. That’s what your clients are going to do, with or without you.

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Case Study: Blue Mango Learning Systems

This Case Study comes to us from Greg DeVore, CEO Blue Mango Learning Systems. Find him on Twitter @gdevore.

My company is Blue Mango Learning Systems. We create an application called ScreenSteps Live which is part of The Small Business Web. But we aren’t only members of The Small Business Web, we are users of The Small Business Web. Using the various applications that are available through the SBWeb really helps us run our business efficiently.

Our company is small and self-funded meaning we need to get the most out of every dollar we spend. We evaluate every tool based on how much time it will save us. Tools that save us time help us focus more on our primary goals of providing fantastic products and fantastic service to our customers.

As we have grown our needs have grown as well. With SaaS based web applications we are able to plugin new functionality to our business right when we need it.

Our Setup

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We use a variety of apps. In the graphic above I have broken them down into three areas, Customer Support, Marketing and CRM. I have also added lines to show how we interconnect those products.

Customer Support
• ScreenSteps Live (our product)
• Zendesk

Marketing
• Hubspot
• MailChimp
• SurveyGizmo (we just recently started using this)

CRM
• Batchbook

We also have our own internal app that we use to tie a lot of these apps together.

Our-web-apps

We use Zendesk for all of our help ticketing. It is very easy to set up and very easy to use. Prior to using Zendesk we were using a shared Gmail account and that didn’t really go so well. Zendesk keeps us organized and helps us easily track the support conversations we have with our customers.

We use ScreenSteps Live for our product documentation and knowledge base. Our ScreenSteps Live documentation is broken down into small articles that answer very specific questions for our customers.

With the Zendesk/ScreenSteps Live widget we are able to search our ScreenSteps Live documentation right within the Zendesk interface. When we find an article that answers a customer’s question we can add a link to the answer right into the support ticket. Being able to do this righ from within Zendesk helps us respond more quickly to support requests and spend less time answering customer questions.

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Marketing

For our marketing we use Hubspot, MailChimp and have recently begun to experiment with SurveyGizmo. We make extensive use of the APIs for both Hubspot and MailChimp.

On our site we have various webinars, contact forms and free trials. Depending on what action a user takes on our site we may want to do one of several things including starting them in a lead nurturing campaign, reaching out to them by phone or adding them to our newsletter.

To handle all of this we have all form submissions go through our internal app. That internal app processes the submission and uses the API’s of the other web applications to perform whatever actions we have set up for that specific form.

For example, when someone registers for a webinar on our site the following will happen:

1. A new lead record will be created in Hubspot
2. They will be subscribed to a lead nurturing campaign in MailChimp
3. A contact record will be created in our CRM, Batchbook

This took a little more work to set up initially but has given us a lot of flexibility and saves us hours each week. Before we started using the application API’s we were exporting CSV files from one system and importing them into another. It was time consuming and our data was often out of date in different systems. By using the API’s everything is up to date without us having to import and export files. As an added bonus, if we want to experiment with a new web app we can just add the necessary API calls to our internal app.

Surveys

We recently started experimenting with SurveyGizmo. The integration with MailChimp made this super simple. After we created the survey in SurveyGizmo we could easily send it to a subset of our MailChimp email list using MailChimp’s predefined SurveyGizmo template.

Here’s an example of how easy it was to setup. After I created the survey in SurveyGizmo we created a new campaign in MailChimp. For the campaign I was able to select MailChimp’s pre-defined SurveyGizmo template.

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MailChimp then let me select my survey from SurveyGizmo.

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And then my email was created with a link to the survey.

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But it gets even cooler than that. MailChimp automatically sets some query parameters in the SurveyGizmo url which SurveyGizmo will record. This means I can easily see the email associated with each response.

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CRM

One of the most important tools for any business is a CRM. Without some sort of CRM it really becomes hard to keep up on all of your customers, leads and partners. A year or two ago we adopted Batchbook largely because of their very flexible API and their integrations with other services we were already using.

We use Batchbook to track all of our contacts. When a customer purchases one of our products a new record is created in Batchbook linking back to our internal application. When someone signs up for a trial on ScreenSteps Live, a new record is created in Batchbook with a link to their account on ScreenSteps Live. Batchbook has really become the hub of our customer communications.

One of our favorite things about Batchbook is the integration with Zendesk. This is a two way integration that is really useful. When viewing a contact in Batchbook we can see all of their Zendesk tickets.

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From within Zendesk we can easily look up a customer record in Batchbook.

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This two way communication between Batchbook and Zendesk means that we are able to easily track all of the conversations we have had with any given customer.

It’s all about saving time and doing more with less

Tying all of these services together really helps us save time. And time is very precious to us. We don’t have to spend time hunting around for answers to customer questions since our documentation and help ticketing system are tied together. We don’t have to spend time importing contact records into multiple systems because of the API’s of the web apps we use. And we don’t have to search all over for our customer communication history because of the simple integration between our help desk and our CRM.

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Eep! MailChimp Launches $1 Million Integration Fund

Small Business Web member MailChimp has just announced a fund that will be used to help small startups integrate with the MailChimp API. The $1 million dollar fund was created to…well, Ben says it best:

“In fact, we’ve been practicing this approach for a while now without even realizing it. A small startup would approach us with some crazy powerpoint presentation or boilerplate “revenue sharing” proposal where they’d tell us about how they’re going to send us bajillions of customers in exchange for x% of the money or something. We’d say, “Um, you don’t even have any customers right now, do you?” And they’d answer, “Um, no.” Then we’d ask them if they’ve even built a product, and they’d usually answer the same way. So, partly just to avoid more paperwork and more pitches, we’d offer them a few thousand dollars to fund their integration, and tell them that if customers like it, we’d promote it more.

Just recently we figured, “Why not turn this into an official fund, and make it a process?” It sure would beat all the other cheesy, “Integrate with us, and win an iPad!” kinda promotions. Plus, it aligns perfectly with our philosophy.”

That’s a philosophy that everyone at The Small Business Web can get behind! Have an extraordinary MailChimp integration in mind? There’s a form for that.

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5 Lessons on Building a Platform from FreshBooks

Over on the FreshBooks blog they’ve got a great post up celebrating their 50th integration partner. (Congrats!) They dole out some excellent advice on building a platform that other folks will want to integrate with. If you’re wondering about the core philosophies of this site, you should definitely check out this great read.

As one of the most integrated members of the The Small Business Web, FreshBooks is helping to lead the charge in creating (and linking)  software for small businesses.

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Taking the mystery out of API’s

There’s a great post up at GigaOm about using API’s:

“I used to think of APIs as some kind of magical, amazing constructs  that could only be used by people willing to write big chunks of code. But when I started using Yahoo Pipes, I noticed that other people were using APIs to gather useful data using what looked a lot like regular, ordinary URLs. Now, this isn’t to say that every API can be used without any programming skills, but using many of the APIs made available by services on the web really isn’t as hard to use as people seem to think.”

Since The Small Business Web is all about making cool stuff happen between Directory members, we’re always looking for ways to make that easier. Be sure to check out the article!

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