April 7 2017 Digital OfficeAccounting solutions on the cloud can help keep stress low during tax season. As a general rule, accountants have one of the least stressful jobs in finance — most lists rank it last in terms of overall stress, according to eFinancialCareers. However, there’s one exception: tax time. While private citizens worry they won’t be able to claim a big refund or may face the stress of an IRS audit, finance pros are likely just trying to survive with their existing accounting solutions. From handling revenue reports, tracking employee hours, and communicating with multiple team members to ensure no form is missed and no number is inaccurate, it’s easy for professional accountants to feel overwhelmed this time of year. However, it’s not all doom and gloom — automation and simplification have made their way to the accounting space. The following are four ways to lower tax season stress and keep your CPAs sane: 1. Collective Clouds The cloud is quickly becoming a go-to technology solution for accountants, and for good reason. As noted by Accountancy Age, cloud-based offerings are easily integrated, can save your company money, and are ideal to help minimize IT risk. And, the biggest benefit of the cloud for accountants is the ability to quickly and easily share tax documents, which are automatically updated and versioned whenever changes are made. Instead of relying on laborious email chains and locking down files when finished, cloud accounting solutions make it easy for multiple professionals to tackle the same target. 2. Cross-Company Collaboration Taking this a step further are cross-company collaboration tools, some offered as part of cloud packages and some as stand-alone solutions. These are ideal for companies with multiple, global office locations, which need to reconcile tax data across more than one jurisdiction. For example, your company may need to report taxes in the United States and in specific European Union countries, depending on what type of data you store and how it’s used. These collaboration tools allow tax pros to work simultaneously and in real-time on large-scale tax projects, in turn reducing both the total time required and total spend. 3. CRM Number Crunching One of the biggest headaches for accountants during tax time is reconciling billable hours — aka how much time accountants (or other departments) are spending with clients and what the final amounts owed are. With accountants pulled in so many directions during tax time, it’s easy for clients with smaller hour totals to get lost in the shuffle, missed on tax filings, and then circled back to as part of late-year audits. However, new unified communications tools not only provide automatic call tracking with detailed call logs, but also the ability to easily record calls for auditing or reporting purposes. You can go even deeper with Salesforce integration to track call times, notes, and call logs for all accounts across CRM in the cloud, in turn reducing the stress of tracking, sorting, and reporting billable hours. 4. Critical Automation Also on the horizon for accountants? Automation. As noted by TechCrunch, startup Smacc recently secured $3.5 million in Series A funding to digitize and automate the accounting process. There are big promises here: Ideally, customers submit their receipts to Smacc, which converts them into machine-readable formats, encrypts them, and then assigns them to the correct account. In theory, the platform also self-learns over time to track data such as invoices, sales, and costs. While some futurists see the next generation of accounting as dominated by intelligent machines, the complexities and nuances of large-enterprise tax returns suggest a hybrid solution: automation tools for error-prone processes such as data capture and storage, combined with human oversight to ensure data is properly managed, reported, and tracked for potential audits. Tax time is here, and that means big stress for accounting departments. By making room for tech-driven accounting solutions, however, it’s possible to reduce stress, improve productivity, and keep CPAs happy this tax season. To learn more about how cloud accounting solutions can help during tax season, contact a Vonage Business consultant. About Doug Bonderud Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies. Linkedin | Twitter April 5 2017 Digital OfficeWith a cloud-based CRM, you can provide better service to retain long-term customers. The secret to a successful business is pretty simple: have loyal, long-term customers. And if you aren’t using cloud-based CRM technology, it’s likely you are losing potential long-term customers. Harvard Business Review found that landing a new customer can be 5 to 25 times more expensive than keeping an existing one. It’s easy (and enticing) to focus on new customers, because it’s such a great feeling to land a new account. However, it’s essential to maintain strong relationships and provide excellent service to current customers to build their loyalty. Technology makes it much less time-consuming to keep your customers happy. The secret is knowing what they want and then automating the process of giving it to them. Cloud-based CRM technology can be integrated into other communication tools your business uses (like your phone system), allowing you to predict and deliver targeted, holistic marketing strategies for clients and prospects alike. Find Out What Your Customers Want You probably think you know what your customers want as a whole, but the trick is finding out what each and every customer cares about. Before you start going through your customer database and frantically trying to figure out the puzzle, stop. Breathe. You already have your answer in your CRM software — how they shop, what they buy, when they shop, and which discounts or coupons they use. By using a cloud-based CRM tool, you now have real-time information updated automatically from all sources, such as salespeople, your customer portal, customer care associates, and in-store employees. Your team can use CRM technology to log notes directly into the system during the interaction as well. And, your employees can access it from any device and location. By integrating with your phone system, you can also reduce the time it takes to contact your customers by using click-to-dial and automating call logging. Give Your Customers What They Want Getting the information is the easy part, but taking it to the next level is where you turn casual customers into lifelong fans. Because you’ll have each customer’s data easily accessible, you can take what you know and create customized, delightful experiences. For instance, say a customer at your spa always gets a 60-minute massage once a month on Friday and will occasionally treat herself to a pedicure. You also know she always books her appointments using a mobile app and has never once logged onto your website. Instead of giving her a discount on a facial or a service she has never shown interest in, you give her a discount for a combination pedicure and massage for next month through a mobile app notification. Even better, if you notice she misses a month, you can use that information to flag an associate to give her a call to check on her and offer to set up an appointment. And when she calls to cancel last minute? You know it’s her calling, because your phone system recognizes her number, as it’s integrated with your CRM. You know her appointment is today at 2, and you’re happy to let her know that her preferred manicurist is free next week at her regular time. It’s easy to think that technology makes customer relationships less personal, but if you use the tech-generated information to meet and exceed the expectations your customers don’t even realize they have, the result is a personal relationship between the customer and your company. Visit Vonage Business to learn more about the difference you’ll see with cloud technology. About Jennifer Goforth Gregory Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a technology freelance writer specializing in B2B and telecommunications topics. She has written for national brands including IBM, Samsung, ADTRAN, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Verizon, Costco and American Express. One of her superpowers is being able to translate technical speak from the experts that make products work into language everyone else can understand. Jennifer has a master’s degree in technical communication and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids. Linkedin | Twitter March 31 2017 Industry TrendsWith CRM in the cloud, your sales superstars can spend more time on making sales. Imagine you’re a busy sales leader. You’re finally at home and queuing up Netflix. Then, you get CC’d on an urgent email from one of your biggest clients to your top salesperson, who — as Murphy’s Law would have it — is on vacation. The buyer lost the final quote from your sales rep and needs it for her morning meeting with decision-makers, but you don’t know those numbers offhand. They should be in your customer relationship management (CRM) system, but only if the salesperson remembered to update it (and that’s a big “if”). Without CRM in the cloud, you need the software on your business computer to access the information — but you left your laptop at work. Now, you have three options: You could begrudgingly kick off your slippers and trek back to the office; send a new quote, which could make your team look inconsistent and disorganized; or start calling other salespeople to find out whether anyone brought their work computers home and can look up the information for you — they’ll definitely love getting that call at dinnertime. With cloud CRM, you wouldn’t have this problem, since all you’d need to access customer information is a login and an internet-connected device. A robust cloud-based CRM can help boost sales productivity, call center efficiency, and marketing effectiveness. However, like any business tool, it only works if everyone uses it, and most people will only use it if it’s convenient. Businesses both large and small are embracing this technology to take advantage of the following six cloud migration benefits for CRM: 1. Mobility Whether your sales pros are working from home, traveling for business, or communicating with clients after hours, they might often need to answer business calls when they’re not in front of their computers. However, they almost always have their smartphones within reach. By giving them CRM access on mobile devices, you enable them to better serve clients and work from anywhere. 2. Updatability CRM grants businesses the ability to analyze customer interactions and data and enables sales teams to better collaborate. However, when people are taking calls on the fly, they need the ability to update CRM data on the spot. Otherwise, they might forget to do it later on. CRM in the cloud is always right at their fingertips. So, short of “My dog ate my smartphone,” they’re all out of excuses. 3. Scalability Smaller companies might not need all the bells and whistles that large enterprises want from CRM, but as those companies grow, their needs change. Upgrading or switching to a different CRM down the road can be costly and time-consuming. With CRM in the cloud, new capacity, features, and functionality can be automatically pushed out company-wide — no IT overtime necessary. 4. Affordability With cloud CRM, there’s no costly upfront installation or hardware costs, and the pay-as-you-go model enables smaller, sleeker sales organizations to use only what they need. Your IT department doesn’t have to install, maintain, or upgrade the application. All of that is handled remotely, freeing up your IT resources for more strategic (i.e., more interesting) projects. 5. Reliability “Hope for the best and plan for the worst.” It’s a cliche if there ever was one, but it’s also sound business advice. With CRM in the cloud, critical customer data is continually backed up and protected from any scenario that could threaten information stored onsite. 6. Compatibility CRM in the cloud can be easily integrated with other key business applications and technology, enabling different departments to better collaborate, share information, and streamline workflows. Cloud-based CRM can also be integrated into communications systems, such as email or the business phone system. Phone service and CRM integration enable devices to automatically log calls and prompt users to update information about customer interactions. The bottom line? You need accurate and complete information in your CRM. Yet your employees are people, and as a general rule, people don’t love paperwork. Cloud CRM makes that part of the job quick and easy, so your team can focus on doing what they do best: selling. To learn more about CRM integration and business phone service, speak to a Vonage Business consultant. Taylor Mallory Holland Taylor Mallory Holland is a professional writer with more than 11 years of experience writing about business, technology and health care for both media outlets and companies. Taylor understands how enterprise mobility and cloud technology can reshape industries and provide new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve employee collaboration and reimagine the customer experience. She is passionate about helping business leaders understand the impact that emerging technologies can have on communication, operations and sales and marketing. Linkedin | Twitter March 1 2017 Digital OfficeBecoming a virtual company will help your organization operate more efficiently. The very concept of a virtual company is a sign of the impressive digital progress achieved by a few brilliant minds — and mountains of R&D investments. This transition from brick-and-mortar spaces has closely followed the related move from tangible goods to digital. Companies that dealt with digital products naturally saw benefits and cost savings by simply digitizing the traditional office environment. Makes sense, right? While digital products like movie rentals have few, if any, downsides, virtual companies maintain certain legacy components that don’t necessarily thrive in those same digital environments — namely, us pesky humans. Simply put, there are some obvious disconnects that can occur when employees try to work together without physically being together. It’s kind of like trying to maintain a long-distance relationship. There’s a special connection that happens when people collaborate face-to-face that tends to get lost in translation in digital or remote environments. That being said, you don’t have to break up with your virtual strategy just yet. Here are some helpful tips to get your users over the proverbial hump and into a thriving digital workplace. Bridging the Gap Let’s take a quick second to set the record straight on digital communication. Is in-person communication and collaboration a great way to get stuff done? Of course. If it wasn’t, digital communication wouldn’t be trying so hard to emulate it. But that doesn’t mean virtual companies can’t bridge the gap and work just as effectively. With this in mind, it’s often easy to neglect the fact that digital collaboration affords benefits that traditional methods simply can’t compete with. For example, virtual companies employing digital collaboration platforms may enjoy the fact that their hard work — whether meeting minutes, presentations, or discussions — can be automatically made available to every participant, and even archived for future reference. Subtle features like this streamline the act of collaboration and facilitate enhanced productivity. Even something as elusive as company culture can be communicated through digital means. Culture, after all, is built by people simply being themselves. With the use of videoconferencing, social collaboration software, and, yes, even emojis, users can let their unique personalities shine through despite miles of physical separation. The key is to make it easy and seamless to communicate just as you would in person. Is It Really Worth It? When you really stop and think about it, much of the work that is accomplished in a brick-and-mortar organization is done with the use of digital tools. Be it a desktop, smartphone, or tablet, the modern engine of business relies heavily on the virtual realm. By eschewing the physical limitations of traditional office environments, virtual companies are able to better integrate these digital strategies into the very fiber of their organizations. Oh, and you may have heard of the cost savings, too. For some organizations — typically those that produce digital goods — much of their office infrastructure is already in the cloud. For these folks, there’s some obvious cost savings by simply eliminating that rent check every month. Others may, however, have a less clear-cut path to the virtual office. Organizations more entrenched in physical infrastructure will need to weigh the potential cost savings of cloud services against their current systems. Cost savings can be a misleading barometer, too. Moving to agile, cloud-based phone systems, for example, can let users integrate their digital tools of choice with other platforms like a CRM to stay connected to the heartbeat of the company regardless of location. Cheaper? Potentially. More efficient? Almost certainly. Ultimately, life as a virtual company can be every bit as successful and productive as a company with a brick-and-mortar office. All you need is a bit of cloud ingenuity and a team willing to commit to the mobile lifestyle. Cat memes aside, working in a virtual environment may even be the most efficient way to actually get work done. And hey, if you still can’t shake the need for physical collaboration, just send a “telepresence” drone like the one featured in SiliconBeat. Find out how Vonage Business can work with your organization to boost virtual collaboration. About Joe Hewitson With a degree in applied computing technology and over a decade of experience in the IT and software development industries, Joe Hewitson has his finger on the pulse of cloud technology. From developing communication applications for the cloud to deploying VoIP solutions in enterprise environments, he’s seen it all. The one thing Joe loves more than staying on the cutting edge of cloud and VoIP technology? Writing about it. Linkedin | Twitter February 9 2017 CollaborationCloud technology can help you make the most of vendor management. Imagine a world where your business had no access to outside vendors. Your phones (and–gasp! your internet) wouldn’t work. Your office wouldn’t be cleaned. Your salespeople wouldn’t be able to track their leads through customer relationship management (CRM) software. Not to mention that specialized support like graphic design, creative ideation, and industry-specific software could be majorly impacted. Your team wouldn’t be able to do their jobs, and your bottom line would quickly be affected. Vendors likely play a huge role in your business’ productivity and expertise. However, vendors are only as good as your ability to manage them. Without proper vendor management, your business can lose not only money but the crucial services needed to keep your doors open and customers happy. Simply by using cloud technology for vendor management, your small business can see the following benefits: 1. Vendors Can Reach You When They Need You, Regardless of Your Location It’s Saturday morning. Your IT service provider noticed your servers are down and needs you to make a decision on the best course to fix it. However, you’re enjoying a rare moment of peace with your kids at the beach. Instead of having to make sure every vendor has the phone numbers of key employees, small businesses using a cloud-based business phone system have a single contact number that reaches them across all devices. The best part is that the vendor doesn’t know whether you’re at your desk or sitting with your feet firmly dug into the sand, since your private information is not shown. 2. Remote Vendor Management Is a Breeze When using non-cloud-based vendors, small businesses commonly run into the problem of needing specific information, but can’t access it as they’re at a client site or working from home on the weekend. You cannot move forward on accounting or follow up with a vendor if you don’t have access to the information you need. Solving an issue usually takes phone calls, time, and plenty of hair-pulling frustration. However, if your company uses cloud technology to manage vendors, you could log right in and see the needed information in real-time without any delays or outdated information. This works across devices, too — whether you’re logging in on your tablet or smartphone, cloud technology helps you do your job. 3. You Can Collaborate with Vendors Many times, your vendor isn’t just providing a service, but is working together with your team on a project. Sending emails back and forth can be cumbersome, and document versioning issues can cause your team to lose valuable time and work. By using many of the cloud-based collaboration tools and working together in a virtual war room that is stored on your private cloud, your team can be unstoppable. Whether it’s mocking up building plans with a contractor for remodeling your space or rolling out a new IT project with your managed services provider, your team can work together in real-time using online chats, video conferencing, and document libraries. More importantly, this collaborative approach helps your vendor understand your company’s needs, which ultimately results in better service. Does your vendor management make the grade? Connect with Vonage Business to find out. About Jennifer Goforth Gregory Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a technology freelance writer specializing in B2B and telecommunications topics. She has written for national brands including IBM, Samsung, ADTRAN, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Verizon, Costco and American Express. One of her superpowers is being able to translate technical speak from the experts that make products work into language everyone else can understand. Jennifer has a master’s degree in technical communication and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids. Linkedin | Twitter There are lots of reasons to select VoIP service for your office, but did you know that hosted phone systems for business are designed to not only compete with traditional, analog solution but actually give you more productivity enhancing features? Because VoIP service allows you to connect seamlessly to your computer, you’re able to utilize CRM plugins, take notes directly in your mail client with incoming phone calls, click phone numbers on your screen to dial out and much more. Business Phone System Core Features Click to Dial: Let’s say that you’re a casual phone user and you use your handset mostly for dialing out. Perhaps you’re in a sales department or you’re tasked with responding to callback requests in a service department. Instead of manually dialing each one of your several dozen calls every hour, Vonage Business Click to Dial solution allows you to actually just click a number from your computer screen to connect a call. Just download the free installation file and restart your computer. You can begin clicking to dial that same day! Multiple Devices on One Extension: Offices of all types select VoIP phone systems because business requires being able to answer calls from anywhere – the conference room, the warehouse, your home phone – wherever you may be at the moment. With Vonage, you’re able to set up multiple devices to use the same number and same voicemail. We consider it a productivity feature because so many of our customers say that it helps them stay on task and never miss a call. Call Screening: We’ve all been in the middle of an important project when a call comes in. We don’t know if it’s the big sale we needed to close or if it’s a vendor calling to check in on your satisfaction with a piece of new software. The vendor can wait – the sales call cannot. So you take the call – it turns out to be the vendor – and then you’re stuck on the phone and lose your train of thought. With Call Screening, you can have your phone announce the name of your caller to you, and then you decide whether to take the call or not. It’ll help you to stay on track and take calls on your own time. Advanced Features in Phone Systems for Business One of the things that sets VoIP phone systems for business apart from VoIP focused on residences is that it offers a full suite of features tailored to your office. With training, compliance and tracking tools, you’ll be able to do more than get a dial tone – and still at a much more affordable rate than analog service. Call Recording: One of Vonage’s sales executives listens to recorded employee calls to monitor for quality. He also has a long commute, so he exports his recordings and plays them back through his phone on his evening drive home. It helps him maximize his time and he doesn’t even need to be at his desk. With Vonage’s Company Call Recording, you can configure your system to record some or all inbound and outbound calls. Then, export the calls, listen to them from your desktop or forward them to sales manager or HR to help train employees and improve customer satisfaction. Conference Bridge: Tired of constantly rescheduling meetings because your employees are out of the office, or a vendor can’t make it in for an in-person meeting? Vonage’sConference Bridge service allows you to connect up to 30 people on a single call. You can get your collaborative work and meetings finished quickly and easily, no matter where participants happen to be. VoIP phone systems for business have come a long way in just the past few years. Vonage is constantly adding new included and add-on services to its business-class set of services. Visit our full list of VoIP features to look at all of the utilities avaliable to you with our no-contract service, or fill out the form on the left for a no-hassle consultation. Our VoIP rep will get in touch with you and can tell you all about more productivity tools that can help boost your business. Most customers choose Vonage’s business phone service for a combination of low prices, business-class features and anywhere access with 24/7 customer support. But many customers don’t know about all of the different tools that are available to them – for free – with every account. Below are some of the great features and functions of Vonage’s Related Information Click-to-DialSeamlessly integrate Vonage VoIP service with your web browser and initiate calls with Click-to-Dial. Call LogsProvides detailed business VoIP call records by extension or account. Calling all Salesforce.com Users!We are pleased to announce our Salesforce Plugin is available in Beta Testing. If you use Salesforce.com as your CRM and are interested in helping us test then keep reading … The Salesforce.com Plugin works with our Desktop 2.0 to identify your callers and immediately present the matching company’s contacts, leads and accounts in a […] How to Track ROI with Your Business Phone SystemSwitching to the Vonage Cloud is more than just great service. Find out how the reporting and analytics tools you get with VoIP can actually help you measure call volumes, report on call times and even gauge the efficiency of marketing programs.