Monday, June 29, 2009

For full-service SEs, this product is for you.

I have not written specifically about my SE job before here at XSPRADA because I try to keep this blog fairly technical, or at least directly related to database and BI issues, but I want to make an exception this time. Reason being I recently discovered a very interesting SaaS offering called TeamSupport that makes my job easier. And I figure, if it does that for me, chances are it can also do it for others in the profession. So I felt compelled to share the wealth.

First, to put things in context, I discovered TeamSupport completely by chance interacting with their COO/VP Sales Eric Harrington on a LinkedIn group. Eric offered to give a quick and dirty online demo and five minutes later, he produced. That in itself was impressive to me.

TeamSupport is a cross between an issue/bug management tracking system (not unlike JIRA, FogBugz, Team System or Bugzilla, all of which I have used in the past) and a CRM system (not unlike or, although they don’t bill themselves as being CRM per say. The TeamSupport pitch is about “bridging the gap” between customer service/support, product development, engineering and QA. Given the nature of my work as full-service SE , this seemed like a pretty compelling tool to me.

Now, typical sales engineers in larger shops ride in tandem with Sales people (AEs) on most accounts and are mandated with “greasing the rails” of sales, as I like to put it. But I typically don’t go out with AEs (nothing personal, we just don’t have any) and always pretty much face clients and prospects (both technical and executive) on my own. By necessity, I have a very close and tight relationship with our engineering group, and can typically remember specific tracking issues by JIRA number. Similarly, as I also handle a lot of the sales/support side of things, I’m often up on managing and supporting accounts, and mining opportunities and what have you.

As great as JIRA is and as useful as Salesforce can be, they don’t play nicely together out of the box for this purpose. TeamSupport integrates functionality from both sides of the house. As it is on-demand software, I was able to create an account and log on in no time. I just love the simple clean UX of this product. On the left pane menu are all the entities I can create, edit and manage such as issues, features, tasks, bugs, users, customers and products. In the middle is the workspace corresponding to the selected menu item. But make no mistake this software is rich, rich, rich.

So, for example, I use Features to enter feature requests from user and prospects’ wish lists. If I click on Features, I immediately see my list by ticket number. I can therefore track those with Engineering but also product management (as in, when can we accomplish this and should we?) and give customers feedback on progress (or at least estimates). You can associate Features with one or more customers. This is useful when more than one customer makes a similar request (guess what, that’s common).

I use Tasks to keep track of what I need to handle or resolve on a daily basis. Those too can be associated with multiple customers. That’s cool. You can subscribe to tasks and get email notifications when they are modified by other users (TeamSupport is free for up to three users, by the way).

In the Bugs section, I can enter pertinent items from our internal JIRA tracking system. I can assign or link those to various corporate groups like Engineering, QA or Sales Engineering.

In the Knowledge section, I like to enter resolutions to past issues or problems. These are likely to come up for other customers or prospects so it’s a great way to keep track of those for future reference.

In Customers, I entered all my current customers or prospects. I don’t differentiate on that. Paying customer or evaluating customer, whether you’ve paid your money or just kicking the tires, you get the same high level of service from me. Priority to existing customers, clearly, but same level of service

In Products, I can enter all versions of existing product lines and link those with customers and prospects (as in who bought what or who is currently trying what version and which maintenance release). You can of course track issues and features by product. We do maintenance releases fairly often so this is a great way for me to track critical feature enhancements/bug fixes on a per-version level.

If I click on Dashboard, I get an immediate 30,000 foot picture of where I’m at this point in time. I can then drill into my tickets or customers at will. I now have all I need on hand to help me cover everything from the most minute technical details to the most important pain point gleaned from my last interaction with a prospect.

TeamSupport can also ingest our JIRA database. All you have to do is export your database and they help you get it loaded. This is great on the ticketing side. They are also working on a future API to do this automatically. On the CRM side, they are integrating with Salesforce as well, and I will be beta-testing that effort shortly to bring in accounts from that side into TeamSupport.

Last but not least, TeamSupport lets you setup support portals for each customer. This is important (and unique) for several reasons. First, it makes us look a lot more polished than just handling everything via email (or Twitter). Second, it creates a history of interaction that can be mined and referenced at will (this in itself is very valuable business intelligence!). Third it facilitates a push model of interaction with the customer because each side gets change notifications. This means I can respond in real time to questions and issues. I like real time.

As most great software, it’s sort of hard to do it justice in a quick write-up. You kind of just “get it” as soon as you start using it. It’s elegant, simple, fast, and easy to use. It just flows and it’s intuitive. I actually enjoy using the darn thing! Go figure. I forget what the exact subscription costs are but it’s dirt cheap (ahem, I mean cost-effective) considering the value provided out of the box. I should conclude by saying that I am in no way connected to this company. I had never heard of them before last month, and have zero affiliations with anyone there. I can tell you they built a really valuable product if you’re in technical sales. Did I mention their support is stellar? Enough said: if you want to try this product out, shoot my friend Eric a quick email or twit him up at TeamSupport. Tell him I sent you J

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