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Trends in Mobile CRM Solutions
A Q&A with Vanessa Fox, senior analyst, customer management strategies, AMR Research on trends in mobile CRM.
Posted Feb 13, 2001
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Q: What is your background in terms of CRM?

A. I used to be a salesperson. I sold large complex systems for digital equipment. I also developed rather large intranet and extranets for salespeople and for business partners within the e-commerce environment. My areas of focus are in sales and configuration.

Q: What is the motivation behind mobile CRM?

A: There are three different pieces of the mobile CRM picture. The first is to help salespeople pull information together into a sales presentation.

The second is getting information about the customer from all the different customer databases, to make every part of that customer's history accessible, even if it just happened half an hour ago.

The third piece is getting information into the CRM system. Specifically, this means updating the system immediately after a customer call. This is best accomplished by letting salespeople do what they do best--talk. To speak into a device and say, "I just had a meeting with Paula Jones, the CTO, and she has a concern with this order. So when she calls in, please make sure that her issues are addressed."

Q: There are so many different devices and platforms out there right now. Will any of these technologies become obsolete?

A: All of them will become obsolete, it just depends on the timeframe. I don't mean to be facetious, but the device itself shouldn't matter. A salesperson might use a cell phone on the road, a laptop at home, and a PC in the office. So it really shouldn't matter which device they're using at the moment. What should matter is that the correct information gets to the salesperson or back to the company. So there's a need to separate the actual application and the information that goes across it.

Q: CRM solutions are fairly complex but they must be shrunk down to be accessible on a portable device. How does the CRM software become downsized?

A: A small part of the application enables the data to move into a mobile device. If it's going to a cell phone, there are maybe three text lines available on the screen so only three lines of information can be downloaded. If the data is going to a PDA, there may be five or more lines.

The solutions are designed to scale the data down to the device. The person managing the device selects what information will go to the salespeople by using style templates that define critical information. It may be an airline reservation template that says flight 603 from Los Angeles to Boston has been cancelled because of snow. Please select from the following alternative flights. The user selects the flight he or she wants. So you drill down to the most minimal things you need on a display.

Q: Give me a picture of the mobile CRM field as you see it.

A: Wireless has become a check-off box on everyone's list, so most vendors are currently incorporating some aspect of wireless into their solutions. They are preparing for more widespread mobile applications that make CRM data available in the field. On the customer side, they are evaluating these new solutions. But wireless is relatively new and not many customers are actually implementing it. Most of them are at the beginning stage of evaluating different companies.

We are just beginning to see vendors bringing CRM together with mobility and speech to some degree. PeopleSoft has partnered with Just Talk and Nuance. Nuance has the speech engine and Just Talk has the domain expertise in sales. They put together an application that will help salespeople get to their calendar, to-do tasks, schedule and contacts. The next step is to integrate with the PeopleSoft system, put in the back end so that it's available to the salespeople. So, if a salesperson is on a construction site and the customer wants to order materials, the sales rep can place the order on a PDA.

Q: What should companies look for in these solutions?

A. Companies should realize that a mobile solution is part of their overall business strategy. It is not separate from other business processes. When planning a mobile solution, companies need to take into account the workflow implications throughout the entire company.

Q: Speaking as a former salesperson yourself, and knowing that most sales people don't like to spend time with data entry, will these CRM-enabled mobile devices get better buy-in from the sales force that other sales automation solutions?

A: Absolutely. I think it's much easier for a salesperson to relate to a phone than to a computer.

Q: Describe a salesperson's ideal tool.

A: A cell phone with a slightly bigger screen that actually always works...everywhere. I've seen statistics saying that only about two-thirds of the calls actually make it through.

Q: The mobile platform enjoys wide adoption among young people. We're seeing a new generation of people who are very comfortable with cell phones and other handheld devices. A lot of people have never had a landline phone.

A: I imagine that that is just starting to be the case in the U.S. I know it's absolutely true in Europe. In Japan, most people use their mobile phones for games and checking horoscopes whereas Europeans use them basically for SM (short message) and IM (Internet mail), and in North America cell phone use is focused on business applications.

Culture is changing to accommodate technology. Fifteen years ago some salespeople wouldn't even touch a computer because they thought of it as an administrative tool. Touching a keyboard meant that they were lower on the ladder. Sales is all about the relationship, which at the time was done solely by talking and meeting with people. Today sales is a combined effort because in addition to the face-to-face meetings you need technology to assimilate all the information you need to be effective.

Customers are expecting this 360-degree view of themselves. They expect vendors to know everything regardless of what channel they use. So, when they make a purchase on the Web site, they expect the call center to know all about the interaction. And when the salesperson comes to call, he or she should know about it as well. Companies are dealing with diverse customer databases to provide the 360-degree view and then to make the complete information available to a salesperson in a mobile environment.

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