There once was a time when we conceived of technology primarily as a way of simplifying our lives. You can think of this as the Jetsons version of the future or the sort of future folks envisioned when they would visit the World’s Fair. We were going to get to work in flying cars, robot maids would perform our chores, and we’d be using holograms to figure out the clothes we’d buy. Each of these things would make life easier: no traffic, no cleaning, no going to the store.

The flying cars and robot maids (no, Roomba – you don’t count) haven’t quite panned out yet, but the technology available to businesses has been truly transformational, though often not in the Jetsonian sense. While some technology has simplified business operations, other technology has allowed businesses to improve their visibility to consumers, precisely target potential clients, and to analyze customer behavior in an unprecedented way. This technology is not simple.Its power lies in its complexity.

Whether you’re starting a business or have been operating for decades, you must master these new tech and web tools. While the learning curve can be steep, these tools have the potential to make your business more profitable, reduce expenses, and simplify your operations. Further, your competitors are taking advantage of these technologies and you risk placing your business at a competitive disadvantage by ignoring them.

Here are six technological tools and strategies that businesses cannot afford to ignore:

  1. Search engine optimization.If you can’t be found on Google, you might as well not exist. The general principle behind search engine optimization (SEO) is simple: Design your website so that it be easily indexed and searched for keywords that are relevant to your customers. Much more difficult is to improve your ranking so that search engines list you on the first or second page of search results. That project can take months and months. Nevertheless, given the fact that Google processes over 3.5 billion searches a day on average, the importance of a good search engine ranking cannot be overstated. There is an overabundance of information on the web about SEO, so cutting through the noise to find quality up-to-date information can be a real challenge. Good resources to check out to learn more about what SEO is can be found on sites like Moz and Search Engine Watch.
  2. Payper-click (PPC) advertising. Targeted digital advertising has basically rendered traditional advertising obsolete. (See Death, Print Media.) Pay-per-click (PPC) is a form of online advertising in which the advertiser pays each time their ad is clicked on. The most popular PPC system is Google Adwords. PPC is all about targeting. Using print, radio, or television advertising, you can only guess who your ads are reaching. PPC advertising allows you to target particular demographics in an almost infinite number of ways. You can target potential clients by their age, gender, hobbies, profession, or the searches they have run online. PPC advertising also gives you a much higher degree of visibility into how your ads are working and the opportunity to refine those ads to improve their effectiveness. You need to invest a lot of time to learn how to target your ads and how to measure results. But, for many businesses, PPC offers a far more cost-effective way to generate sales and, therefore, cannot be ignored.
  3. Social Media. Social media is no longer solely for personal use or niche industries. It is a critically important platform for lead generation, social selling and finding and connecting with your customers. In fact, 85% of B2B buyers believe companies should present information via social networks. It is important however, to do your research before charging forward blindly. Fortunately, much has been written about the benefits of social media for business. First, you’ll need to assess your goals and determine which platforms are right for your company. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are the three giants, but there are many others, including YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and many more. Once you’ve chosen your platform(s), it’s important to become well versed in social media etiquette and best practices. Twitter has a rich history of “Twitter fails” that range from the offensive to the hilarious. For a good education on the pitfalls of ignoring Twitter etiquette, see the recent, ill advised #AskBobby social media campaign. There’s no need to shy away from social though, with proper education, preparation and a well-planned strategy, social media can provide an invaluable platform for attracting and engaging your customers and building your business.
  4. Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about a website’s traffic and traffic sources and measures conversions and sales. Google Analytics’ basic service is free and is the most widely used traffic statistic service. Google Analytics can track visitors from all referrers, including search engines and social networks, direct visits and referring sites. It also tracks display advertising, pay-per-click networks, email marketing and digital collateral. The sheer amount of data that you can get from Google Analytics can be overwhelming. However, the information and insight it provides into your digital marketing efforts, sales and ROI are well worth it.
  5. Data Monitoring – Cyfe. Now that you have integrated all the aforementioned tools and strategies, how do you organize all this new information? One answer is Cyfe. Cyfe is a business-intelligence tracking platform that lets users create custom dashboards detailing all their digital marketing efforts including social media, marketing, sales, analytics, support, infrastructure and more. It pulls data from your business records and from popular services such as Google and Salesforce to provide you with relevant data in easy-to-read and easy-to-download formats. This service is incredibly helpful in organizing and tracking your campaigns. Cyfe is not the only all-in-one dashboard for tracking data but it is one of the best and more affordable. Shameless plug: An experienced and knowledgeable virtual assistant can help you track, manage and provide regular reports on the data on your Cyfe dashboard. Just sayin’.
  6. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software. CRM software is a contact management system that is extremely valuable for generating leads, tracking your success in converting them, managing operational data and more. Without CRM, you might have a file of business cards and a folder of emails that represent leads, a calendar where you remind yourself to check in with your leads, a spreadsheet in which you save contact information, and no data regarding how successful your sales efforts are. CRM software helps by centralizing your data, providing functionality that aids you in tracking where you are in the sales, and allowing you to analyze the results of your sales efforts. There are a variety of CRM software providers. Insightly can be a great tool for start-ups and small businesses. Two of the most popular brands for mid to large sized business are Salesforce and Zoho.

There you have it, six critical elements of your business development and inbound marketing efforts. If you have not already implemented them, get them downloaded, installed, and get started already!