Customers do more online than ever. That’s why businesses need to understand how to meet their customers’ needs with digital tools.

These tools can also help you with your day-to-day business activities like sales, marketing and security.

In this lesson, we’ll give you help selecting online and digital tools. We’ll share the benefits of using these tools, and show you what to look out for.

KEY LEARNINGS

  • Be able to articulate the purpose of types of online and digital tools
  • Understand the benefit of these different types of tools
  • Be able to assess which tools best help achieve your goals

Read time:

15 mins

Chapter 1

Getting started

Read time:

1 min

The types of tools

Types of tools and their benefits:

  • Digital – These are any tools that use technology as a way to help your business improve its efficiency. All the tools we cover in this lesson will be digital
  • Collaboration – These aim to improve communication and teamwork
  • Productivity – These help you manage tasks and projects
  • Marketplaces and social selling – These can help you sell online and improve your sales processes
  • Security – These aim to keep your business safe
  • Analytics – These can give you insights into customer behaviour and market trends
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) – These tools can help you manage and better serve your customers

 

In the next few chapters we will help you:

  1. Explore some of the common types of digital tools your business could adopt
  2. Know what to think about when selecting tools, such as security and sustainability

Chapter 2

Collaboration tools

Read time:

2 mins

What is the purpose?

These help people inside and outside your business to work together.

Collaboration tools can improve team communication and productivity. They also allow teams to stay in touch and up to date across different projects.

A business that has team members in different locations might use a video call tool for meetings.

 

For example:

  • Zoom – Helps you hold video calls with several people at the same time
  • Microsoft Teams (MS Teams) – Helps you hold video calls and share files as part of Microsoft 365
  • Slack – Is a messaging app that works on mobile devices and laptops

 

These tools can help you by:

  • Reducing travel costs
  • Recording calls to refer back to details
  • Reduce the need for email exchanges

 

Selecting collaboration tools

There’s not right number of tools. You should consider your business’ unique needs. Taking on too many tools at the same time could be confusing and costly. Not having all the tools you need can equally become an issue.

To get the right amount for you, you need to be clear on what you need to achieve. The best way to do this is by looking at your business goals.

There also a few main features you need to keep in mind.

 

These are:

  • Compatibility
  • Security
  • Pricing

Let’s take a look at each of them now.

 

Compatibility

Things to think about:

  • Are these tools part of a wider tool package?
  • Will the tool work with your other systems?
  • If your tool doesn’t work with your other systems, what other work will you need to do?

Example:
For example, TeamsWordExcel and PowerPoint are all part of the Microsoft 365 suite of apps. This means they are made to work together.

Similarly, Google tools such as DocsSheets and Slides are made to work together.

When it comes to these tools, it’s often better to get apps from the same suite or supplier. This can help solve any compatibility issues up front.

 

Security

Compare the security features of these tools. You need to make sure your data is secure. Especially if you handle sensitive information on your tools.

An example:
One important security feature to look for is ‘end-to-end encryption’. When you share information with others, this scrambles it into a secret code that only the people who you give the right tools can read. It's like a secret lock that only you and your team have the keys to. This means nobody else can access your information.

 

Pricing

Consider both the upfront and ongoing costs of the tools you select. It may be that you get a free trial but you still need to think about the long term cost.

Activity

If you aren’t already using these tools, it’s time to do some research. Think about your business needs and goals and what each supplier can help you achieve.

Another tip is to talk to your team, if you have one. Ask them about their experiences of using these types of tools.

If you don’t have time now, you can come back to this later.

Chapter 3

Productivity Tools

Read time:

2 mins

What is the purpose?

These tools can help you manage tasks and projects more efficiently. They do this by ‘automating’ tasks. This means using technology to carry out tasks that would otherwise be done by a person. This means you can focus on other work and impacts.

These tools also help with collaboration and management.

What are the benefits

 

Click each heading to learn more about the benefits.

  • Productivity tools can automate routine tasks, freeing up time for more important work.

    Project management tools like Trello and Microsoft Project can help assign tasks to team members. Some can do this automatically based on their roles and deadlines. This reduces the need to manually assign tasks.

  • Productivity tools allow live collaboration.

    Document editing tools like Google Docs or Microsoft 365 allow multiple people to edit a document at the same time. This avoids sending emails back and forth. This can reduce version control issues and speed up the editing process.

  • These tools often have features that help with organisation.

    Tools like TrelloMonday.com and Asana allow your team to create and track tasks. This helps make sure that everyone is aligned and can complete tasks on time.

  • These tools can make it easier to communicate within teams too.

    For example, team messaging apps like Slack or MS Teams allow your team to work together. They help you communicate in the moment on tasks.

  • These tools often provide analytics features. This can give you insights into your team's performance.

    Time-tracking tools like HarvestToggle or Asana can generate reports that show how teams are spending their time.

    This can help find areas for improvement and optimise their workflows.

The main things to think about before you buy

Cost

You always need to balance cost and benefit when it comes to tools. First, think about the business goals tools help you achieve. Then look at the cost.

Having a simple way to compare cost and impact will help you to decide on which tools are best for you.

 

Time savings

How much time will this tool save you and your team? What impact could you have with the time saved?

Tip: Think about the time saved on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. Use this to calculate the time saved over a year. You could also add in people costs like salaries.

 

Compatibility

Will this tool work well in your business? Think about with your existing systems, tools and processes. Will the tool work with all of them? What work would need to be done to integrate it?

Chapter 4

Marketplaces and social selling tools

Read time:

2 mins

What is the purpose?

There are many online platforms and tools that can help you where you can sell your products or list your services.

 

These include:

  • Amazon – A global site where you can set up a shop with home delivery
  • Etsy – Focused on unique and handmade items
  • Facebook Marketplace – Part of the Facebook social platform
  • eBay – Allows you to sell new and used items worldwide

 

What are the benefits?

Some of the main benefits are:

  • Speed of set up – They are quick to set up as you usually don’t need any existing platforms
  • Visibility and reach – They often have a large audience of potential customers
  • Selling tools – They often include a range of tools to help you sell. This can help you to manage payment and sales processes. It can also improve customer experience by using their tracking and returns features
  • Easier to maintain – Using these platforms can be simpler than managing your own platform
  • Updates to security – As this is part of the platform, it simplifies this for you. You should always check you are happy with the level of security before you use
  • Marketing – Some offer options to advertise and help people see what you’re selling more easily
  • Familiarity – Customers already know these platforms. Their comfort and their reviews on these platforms can help improve experience and your reputation

 

Some features to consider

Fees and commissions

Setting up on these platforms might be cheaper than creating your own. There are still costs. Most platforms will take a fee on any goods you sell. This will vary for each platform, so check the fees before you sign up.

 

Competition

They can be competitive, as huge numbers of businesses sell on them. You might find yourself in a price war that cheapens your product.

Check who is selling on each platform and what their prices are. Some marketplaces are popular with sellers. So think about how to make your business stand out.

 

Your reputation

For your customers, not all selling platforms are equal. Make sure the site you select reflects your brand. Consider your target market and where they want to shop. Think about how you want to sell. Make sure you choose a supplier who reflects the value of your business.

 

The time investment

There’s a time investment needed to manage your selling on these platforms. This can include updating prices and dealing with customer issues.

Chapter 5

Security tools

Read time:

2 mins

What is the purpose?

These tools keep your data safe and protect your business.

There are laws and regulations that require you to keep your customers data safe. Security tools are key if any part of your business is digital.

 

Examples of tools:

  • Antivirus software – These protect your device from viruses that try to steal your data. Examples include NortonMcAfeeBitdefender and Avast
  • Firewalls – These protect your network from unauthorised access. Examples include ThreatLocker and Sophos
  • Two-factor authentication – This requires people to use two methods to log into websites or digital tools. This means if one is compromised, you still have protection. Examples include Authy2FASGoogle Authenticator and Microsoft Authenticator

Please note

There are many security tools available. There are also companies that will offer tools that offer all these protections. It’s important you do your own research. Focus on the needs of your business and the data you need to keep safe.

What are the benefits?

Security issues can affect all businesses, large and small. These tools help your business by protecting against cyber threats and keeping your data safe.

Fewer passwords to remember
If you work online, you may find that you need to save or remember lots of different passwords. This can be confusing. Password-saving tools such as LastPass or KeePass can help you with this.

Protect your data
Using these tools early on is good practice. As your business grows, you may be handling more customer data. Data breaches can cause big issues. From both direct sales loss to legal fees. It’s a good idea to find the right tools now, to protect your business long term.

 

What features to consider

Level of protection

List all your devices that need protection, and the kind of risk involved.

 

Examples where you’ll need more protection:

  • Storing customer data
  • Working with sensitive information
  • Using the device when travelling

 

Cost

Depending on the level, you may need to pay more. Prices might include one-off or regular costs. Paying yearly or upfront could save you money.

 

Compatibility

Check that you’re buying a tool that will work with your devices. Read the system requirements before you buy any software.

 

Ability

You may find you can get tools that offer many different security services in one. Make sure you check your needs against the tool’s features.

 

Ease of use

Some security tools can be more challenging to use. Think about ease of use before you buy. Also consider the cost of training your team to use the tools.

Chapter 6

Analytics tools

Read time:

2 mins

What’s the purpose?

Analytics tools give you data on customer behaviour and market trends.

They visualise the data through dashboards and customisable reports. This can help you see what’s happening on your website or social site. They can even tell you how customers reach your business.

 

Here are a few examples of analytics tools:

  • Google Analytics – Shows you how customers engage with your site and how you can improve it
  • Meta Insights – Used to track the success of your social media posts
  • SEMrush – Offers tools to show you how your website ranks

 

What are the benefits?

Understand your customers

Using analytics you can get to know your customers and how they connect with you online. This can help you can make more informed decisions across your business.

 

Focus your marketing efforts

You can see what people search for to get to your site. This can help you target your marketing more effectively. This could also save you money, as you’ll be able to focus your efforts on the areas that have impact.

 

Get alerts

Analytics tools can alert you to issues. For example, Google’s free Search Console will tell you if your site has gone down or has been hacked.

 

Understand trends

Looking to understand trends better? Analytics tools can help you with this too. Free tools like ‘Buzzsumo’ or ‘Answer the Public’ tell you the most talked about topics in your sector right now. This can help you create content.

 

What to keep in mind

Customisation

Most analytics tools will offer some form of customisation. This could be the level of data you get or the features. Think about what you need from your analytics. How can data help you measure and meet your business goals?

 

Cost

There are free tools available, others may have basic and premium options. Paid analytics tools can be costly, but can offer more.

If you want to use a paid tool, make sure your team will get plenty of use out of it. Make use of free trials to test them out.

 

Ease of use

As with any new tool, you’ll need to train your team on how to use it. These kinds of tools can be quite complex. Learning how to read the data is as important as knowing how to use the tool. Look at each tool to see what kinds of skills are needed.

Please note

You may need to balance some of these features. Some of the more advanced tools are harder to learn. The more custom tools might be more expensive.

It’s about your business’ needs. It’s also about what you can afford and make happen. Consider cost, impact and feasibility when you do your research.

Chapter 7

CRM tools

Read time:

2 mins

What’s the purpose?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools help you manage your customer relationships.

CRMs help you stay organised and provide good customer service. They do this by bringing data on your customer together in one place. This provides insights on how to personalise interactions. If used well, CRMs can improve in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

 

Some examples of CRMs include:

  • HubSpot – This CRM has both free and paid options. It connects with your website to show sales pipelines and contact details
  • Salesforce – This paid CRM helps you track customer conversations, marketing results and sales
  • Zoho – This CRM has both free and paid options. It links with your email, social media and other platforms

 

What are the benefits?

 

Simplify sales and marketing processes

CRMs can create receipts for customers, help them track their items, and show you the steps they took to purchase. This helps to create a smoother shopping process.

 

Manage relationships

Using a CRM means that you can keep customer data in a safe, central place. You can also track all the interactions you’ve had with each customer. This helps you tailor their experience without them having to ask or repeat information.

 

Keep your customers

CRMS can help retention. These systems flag customers who haven’t shopped with you in a while. This means you can reach out to them.

 

What to consider

 

Changing needs

When you start your business, you may choose a free CRM. As you grow, you might find you need a CRM for more complex tasks. Moving to a CRM that can handle your needs can take time and cause issues. Consider a CRM that can grow with your business.

 

Compatibility

Make sure the CRM you choose works with your current systems. Think about your emails, your website and other systems. Not all CRMs work with all websites, so test this out before you select.

 

Cost

Prices vary based on what you want the CRM to do. It also depends on how many people are using it. Prices are usually on a monthly or yearly subscription basis.

 

Ease of use

Using a CRM for the first time will mean transferring and integrating large amounts of data. You’ll need to think about minimising downtime and making sure you keep the quality and reliability of the data.

As with all tools, team training and skills will be needed. It’s best to plan for this before you select a CRM.

Chapter 8

Selecting your tools

Read time:

2 mins

Summary

No matter which tools you decide to use, there are a few general things to consider. You’ve seen all of these before, but the below offers a useful summary of the considerations that apply to all tools.

 

Think about:

  • Your industry – If others in your industry use a tool, it may mean it will work for your business too. It suggests the tool is well-suited to the nature of your business. This might not work every time, but it’s one way to start your research
  • Ease of use – You need to find the right balance between ease of use and the what the tool needs to achieve for you. Think about the time and cost of training
  • Compatibility – Will the tool work with your existing systems and processes
  • Cost – Balancing cost and impact will be one of the main things you need to think about. Think about your goals and the short and long term costs
  • Security – You need platforms that are strong on cyber and data safety
  • Compliance – The tools you use and the processes around them need to be compliant. Think about laws, regulations and data protection
  • Sustainability – Think about your ability to keep the tool running long term. You should also think about the environmental impact
  • Business goals – The most important thing to think about is what the tools can achieve for your goals and customer

Have a plan

Make a plan for the online and digital tools you want to adopt. From your initial research through to launch and go live.

Other types of tools and platforms to consider:

 

Lloyds Bank Academy is committed to providing information in a way that is accessible and useful for our users. This information, however, is not in any way intended to amount to authority or advice on which reliance should be placed. You should seek professional advice as appropriate and required. Any sites, products or services named in this module are just examples of what's available. Lloyds Bank does not endorse the services they provide. The information in this module was last updated on 21st April 2023.