If you have a mobile workforce, chances are it is a vital part of your business . Now that the vast majority of mobile devices can access the Internet, it’s no surprise that a growing number of companies are looking to mobile CRM to increase the productivity of their mobile workers, streamline business operations and boost customer satisfaction.
Simply put, mobile CRM means workers have access to company CRM, enterprise resource planning , sales force automation or other back-office software such as order management and accounts receivable through their browser-based mobile devices (BlackBerry, Palm, iPhone, etc.).
This marriage of CRM software and the mobile network is possible through the advent of high-speed mobile Internet access and hosted software, or Software as a Service (SaaS). Though only a small percentage of companies are using mobile CRM (and many of those only on a limited basis), the ones that are using it have reported great success, and it appears to be a market segment poised for rapid growth, in part because it’s now within reach of the profitable small to medium-sized business (SMB) market segment.
Recent research from Compass Intelligence suggests that businesses in the U.S. will spend roughly US$9 billion on mobile applications, including mobile CRM, by 2011, up from an estimated $3.8 billion this year.
Mobile CRM brings many advantages to an organization, some of which are yet to be discovered. Suffice it to say that it does much more than enable mobile access to e-mail and text messaging. This is about access to real data and the ability to manipulate it in real time, as well as the ability to conduct transactions remotely.
With mobile CRM, changes and updates made in the field can take effect in real time (or near real time) on the servers at the central office. This “virtualization” of the company network means business information can be seamlessly shared across all channels, mobile or otherwise — a huge leap forward compared to the clunky interfaces of the not-too-distant past.
With mobile CRM, workers can share documents and have full access to their companies’ CRM or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system while they’re in the field or at home. Plus, depending on the software being used, management can get centralized, Web-based “dashboard” views of business activity and do real-time analyses of the information. In most cases, mobile workers don’t have to perform additional operations or follow-up work upon returning to the office: It’s just as if they had their office PCs with them the whole time.
However, mobile CRM isn’t just about improving internal processes, it’s also about improving the customer experience. When a mobile worker is doing business with a customer, it helps tremendously if that worker has all of the customer’s information, past and present, right at his or her fingertips.
The ability to, for example, get the status of an order, see past buying trends, get the model number of the last item purchased, or find out if a particular part is available at the warehouse, while the customer is there watching, leads to a much more satisfying sales experience and, as a result, greater customer loyalty.
Six Experts Weigh In
How do today’s mobile CRM solutions work? What other advantages do they bring to organizations? What are the main considerations to keep in mind when selecting a mobile CRM solution? What features or capabilities should companies look for? Can an older CRM solution be modified to “go mobile?”
To find out, Customer Interaction Solutions interviewed executives at some of the top companies working in the mobile CRM realm: Michael Rich, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft; Mark Krieger, vice president of development for Numara Software; Guy Waterman, senior director of mobile CRM products at Oracle; Kris Brannock, vice president of corporate development, Vertical Solutions; Jay O’Connor, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for NetSuite; and Chuck Dietrich, vice president of Salesforce Mobile. What follows are selected responses to our questions.
Question: If you have a mobile workforce, what are the key benefits of implementing a mobile CRM solution?
Kris Brannock, Vertical Solutions: Mobile CRM apps are invaluable for companies that must take their support to their customers, such as in field service . Time is of the essence, not only in terms of customer satisfaction, but also in terms of efficient use of company resources.
Mobile CRM enables companies to streamline the process of providing on-site technicians with the right tools, information and parts they need to perform a fix. Techs can tap into online schematics, tutorials and manuals to ease their troubleshooting and speed repairs; they can gather warranty and contract information instantaneously; and can provide customer information back to corporate in real time.
Mobile CRM makes customers happier because their provider has the right answers, and it makes providers happier because they can dramatically boost efficiency and effectiveness while capturing valuable customer information. In almost every case, there are positive, tangible ROI (return on investment) statistics once mobile technology is deployed in the field.
Guy Waterman, Oracle: Key benefits of our mobile CRM solutions include access to up-to-date enterprise sales and service, customer and product information, anytime, anywhere; deployment options for wireless , handheld, tablet or laptop PCs allow the user to choose the device and application that are best suited to his needs; lower costs, higher customer satisfaction and increased revenue from improved sales and service representative productivity; industry-leading mobile applications tailored to meet the requirements of a broad range of industries; improved IT operations with the ability to configure business rules once and deploy everywhere across multiple mobile platforms using Siebel Tools; and patented, scalable synchronization technology to ensure fast, easy and robust data sharing across the enterprise for mobile workers.
Q: When’s the right time in the CRM selection process to start looking for mobile tools?
Jay O’Connor, NetSuite: As soon as you have a distributed sales force, a field service staff or any employees who travel out of the office and need a wireless means of accessing their customer or transactional data. It should be a key part of your buying decision. First, you should consider whether the tool meets your most fundamental needs: Does it provide anytime, anywhere access? Is it an integrated system? Is it easy to use? Can you grow and scale with the tool? Can you afford it? How much will your business benefit from this tool in terms of increased sales/increased productivity and efficiency/reduced cost/better decision-making ability?
Michael Rich, Microsoft: Definitely look at mobile tools and capabilities before selecting a CRM product, even if you don’t think you’ll use it at the current time. It’s important to plan ahead and find out how much it could cost before you realize it’s needed.
Q: What are the two or three most important ways CRM must be modified for mobile usage?
Mark Krieger, Numara Software: For those customers who want a real Web interface, there are two methodologies: Either you buy an interface through a third party or you do it yourself. There are a lot of products out there that will take my existing Web pages and run them through a filter, and they’ll let the customer know that, if you’re coming to the Web site, and you’re coming from a BlackBerry or a Palm or an iPhone, don’t go to this site, go to this slightly different site, and the third party will actually filter my pages. The key advantage to this method is that there’s no programming effort on the customer’s part, or on the OEM’s (original equipment manufacturer) part.
The other way to do it is to modify your CRM program yourself, so that it knows when the user is coming from a small browser. There’s a browser variable that gets passed, so it knows, on my Footprints server, that a BlackBerry user is asking to connect, so it can render a different [sized] page than it would for a PC screen. That approach typically means you have to have a programmer work on it for months, or perhaps even years — but when I’m done, I own it completely and I have control over it. And my customer gets the benefit of not having to go through some third party — and me paying fees or my customers paying fees based on that contract.
Brannock: Typically, there are three primary ways companies view mobile usage in the field. The CRM system must work in an “online” mode, an “offline” mode and a blended “online/offline” mode. The technical differences when creating a mobile application are significant. Dependencies, such as mobile coverage and critical data access, play a large role in the decision-making process.
The benefit of online-only access is that it’s the easiest to create and deploy if your engineers typically have mobile coverage. Offline mobile options work well in environments where online access is intermittent. The advantages of a blended mode offer the best of both worlds. Therefore, finding a vendor that meets your specific requirements is key from the very beginning of a search.
Chuck Dietrich, Salesforce Mobile: The key to a successful deployment of any mobile application is giving the mobile users access to the data they need in the field and not flooding them with nonessential data. A good business process review is a great step in identifying the correct data set.
Our Salesforce Mobile product gives customers two options for selecting the correct data to mobilize. One, via a simple point-and-click Web-based administrative interface, a Salesforce admin can configure data filters for each type of mobile user. Second, the mobile user can easily run a search from the device for any Salesforce record. These records become marked and over time the user has constructed his or her own mobile data set.
Q: What are the main considerations you think companies should be aware of when selecting mobile CRM?
O’Connor: We don’t think that CRM applications should require modification to support the mobile workforce. However, we do think that planning for your mobile device integration does take some thought. Here are what we think are some top points to remember in creating a mobile workforce:
Good mobile integration is a business tool, not just a communication mechanism. It is a way for your teams in the field to always have access to up-to-date customer data and to be able to address customer requirements at the point of interaction.
Business data security cannot be compromised. Like any other computer access, you want to ensure that security is provided for users of mobile devices.
360-degree customer data is essential. The mobile sales team needs to be able to reliability see the most recent data on the customer — including the products or services purchased, the status of deliveries or returns to that customer, any problems or issues raised by the customer, and the status of his accounts.
Availability-to-promise is a mobile requirement. Remote sales people need to be able to look into stock and tell if the item the customer wants is available. Likewise, field service personnel need to know if a part is in stock, on order, or at another depot location.
Enable transactions. The empowered mobile workforce needs more than just data access: it needs the ability to conduct business from any location. The ability to place an order, close a deal, update a support record, post time against a project – done remotely through a wireless device – can shorten the lead-to-cash cycle, improve customer satisfaction and result in increased accuracy.”
Rich: Plan ahead and prepare for growth. Choose a product and vendor that will not only allow you to tailor the CRM product to your needs, but will be flexible and can alter specifications as your business changes. In addition, companies need to ask more questions about start-up and add-on fees for CRM services . We’ve heard of other companies charging an additional 50 percent or more on top of fees quote per user.”
Q: What would the mobile CRM tool that comes to dominate the mobile space do that the others didn’t do?
Waterman: It should support multiple device platforms (laptop, personal digital assistant, smart phone) from a single development environment without having to manage multiple instances for each platform; allow for alignment of the data models and business processes; deliver error handling for incompatible transactions; upgrade support between the various platforms; and offer the ability to connect to multiple enterprise data sources yet render in a single mobile platform without the user really knowing that the data reside in different systems on the server.
Dietrich: “Ultimately, the CRM tool that will come to dominate the mobile space will be differentiated by its ease in use. Companies are always going to focus on the top handful of activities that sales and service reps need to do their jobs effectively: account and contact lookups, deal or case information and follow-up activities.
Although most mobile device CRM applications can do much more than just serve as an on-demand database, keeping it simple ensures that users can quickly and easily access core functionality without getting bogged down by extraneous bells and whistles. In the same sense, the mobile tool of the future should also extend beyond CRM so that companies can extract additional value out of their mobile CRM deployment by extending access into these other areas, such as inventory, order and time management and expense tracking.
Q: What features do mobile users ask for the most?
Waterman: Configurability, a rich Internet application experience; the ability to integrate to other services available on the Internet (i.e., mapping software, searches, look ups); and compatibility and capability of the desktop solution on the PDA or smart phone.
Brannock: It’s easy to get hung up on demanding features such as Bluetooth capability or continuous real-time connectivity and lose sight of the long-term focus of continuous process improvement.
Rather than demand specific features, users must focus on benefits: what application will enable them to get the information they need to perform at peak efficiency while boosting customer satisfaction? What tools will enable them two-way access to corporate databases, both to receive and enter customer information? What functionality can be deployed quickly and what will drag implementation out for months or years? How much ROI will be wasted while companies wait, and can they better achieve benefits by building a chain of modular, achievable successes?”
Q: What are the two or three most common mistakes companies make when selecting mobile CRM solutions?
Krieger: The good thing about our FootPrints product is that all administration is delivered through Web screens, which means no programming. So one mistake that a customer might make in general would be to purchase a CRM tool where you have to bring in the programming troops and go through months of consulting before you can have it up and running. And that goes for the base product and a handheld interface. And that’s one of the reasons I think Salesforce has been so successful. They have a sales tool that a human being can use, without years of programming and training.
Dietrich: Too often, companies selecting a CRM solution are often thrown off track by vendors leading the selection process. This leaves most companies with a CRM solution that has unnecessary and complex features that they may never use, making management more difficult and costly.
To avoid this, define your rationale for installing a system up front before you begin discussion with vendors. Make sure that the user community is at the center of defining your requirements. If you are looking to improve how everyday employees collaborate and share information, your primary concern should be usability and achieving high adoption. If you need greater control over complex, regulatory-driven processes, you may want to focus on a long checklist of features.
The solution you choose in the former case should look very different from the one you pick in the latter. It’s easy for vendors to feel that they know what is right for users but the reality is that the users are better at defining what they want and what they don’t want. Additionally, many other mobile solutions require significant custom development work that results in hidden start up costs and time delays.