For most of us, myself included, when we think of CRM we envision software tools--opportunity managers, proposal generators, marketing portals, etc. But when I recently upgraded my personal computer, I got a firsthand lesson in why this is not always the case.
Each year I get a new PC, not because there is anything wrong with my current unit, but because I want the latest and greatest box. Most upgrades just give me more of what I already have--more RAM, more disk, faster DVD--but not this time. Based on a colleague's suggestion, I purchased a pen-based LifeBook Tablet PC from Fujitsu.
For those of you who are not aware of these units, Microsoft has been spearheading an initiative with about a dozen hardware manufacturers to bring to market PCs that use a pen as not only a data entry tool, but also as a navigation device. Think of it as a PDA on steroids.
Having seen a previous generation of these units bomb in the early 90s, I was initially skeptical of what possible value Tablet PCs could provide over a standard PC. But after a few weeks of using the system, I am convinced that I will not only never buy another PC without this capability, I also believe that Tablet PCs should be the box of choice for any mobile sales rep.
Why such a bold claim? Well, let's look at how useful traditional PCs are to mobile salespeople today. What percent of the time do you think reps use their PCs on sales calls? We did a study for a company last year and found it was 2 percent of the time--when they were giving a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. The rest of the time the unit stayed in the case or in the car.
So what do reps use virtually all the time during customer meetings? A spiral notebook to take notes on what happened on the call. And when they fill up that notebook, they put it on the shelf at the office, and start filling up another one. The Tablet PC changes all of that, with a killer app called Microsoft Office OneNote.
Using this software program, I write all my notes on the PC screen as I am talking to a client. When I am finished I can categorize the notes for easy retrieval based on information about the person I met with, his company, the opportunity, and so on. I can also email my notes to the rest of the members of my team, so they know what happened. I can even translate my handwriting into text, and insert that into a Word document to email back to the client to verify what we talked about.
That capacity alone will increase my efficiency enough to make me use this application on every call, but there is more. A medical products company showed me how it published its catalog of 1,000-plus products on the Tablet PC, and, using the pen reps can now get to any product group by simply writing a "D" anywhere on the screen to find all the drugs they market, or an "S" for surgical supplies, and so on. The company's reps find this invaluable when they are standing in the hallway talking to a doctor and need to show her details on a product offering, something the rep could never have done with a traditional PC.
This is the tip of the iceberg regarding the applicability these units have for supporting remote sales reps. If you are considering replacing current PCs or buying new ones, CRM project teams should give these units a test drive. Like me, I think you will be pleasantly impressed.
Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org