During some spring cleaning at my office recently, I came across a file labeled "Favorite CRM Projects" in which, over the years, I have kept notes on the initiatives that I felt were exceptionally successful. I had these broken down by category--call center, marketing automation, SFA, service automation and so on.
As I took some time to go through these, one batch of notes in particular caught my eye. These were labeled "Mobile Projects."
For years I have been struck by the fact that CRM systems have, in general, had a major shortcoming in my mind. While these applications contain a wealth of knowledge that is invaluable to sales or service professionals, the vast majority of the information these people need requires them to be back at their office to use it.
Having access to all relevant customer data on my desktop or laptop system is great for helping me plan for or follow-up on a customer call. But what about all the information I need when I am actually with the customer, on the call. How can CRM systems help me then?
This is the problem that these "mobile projects" were designed to solve. In going through my notes, I found some great examples of firms that have been successfully dealing with this challenge for more than a decade now.
For example, as far back as 1990, F.D. Titus & Son gave its sales reps access to handheld systems that allowed them to get information on more than 30,000 products during face-to-face meetings with doctors or nurses. The latest evolution of this system helped them generate a 400 percent increase in new product cross-selling effectiveness.
VALIC provided its financial specialists with an application that allowed them to do a complete financial analysis of a client's retirement investment needs remotely. By being able to complete this task during a sales call, the company's reps reported increasing their close rates to as high as 85 percent.
MidMark developed a CAD/CAM-based system that allowed its account managers to complete a room-by-room layout for an entire medical center interactively, all on a single call. This significantly reduced the length of their sell cycles.
KeyCorp Bank, Nestle and Caterpillar also reported similar successes in the commercial loans, consumer packaged goods and capital equipment markets.
But while you can find examples of companies taking knowledge to the point of sales or service, in general, these projects have been the exception rather than the rule. The reason behind this was that the vast majority of mobile CRM initiatives we have reviewed in the past have been highly customized applications. These systems involved a significant commitment of time, resources and dollars, and that scared many companies away from attempting to do similar projects. But recent advances in the CRM marketplace have started to change all that and should make mobile CRM initiatives much more common.
The three key drivers that will make mobile CRM more pervasive are the wide acceptance of mobile computing devices, advances in wireless communications capabilities and the desire of CRM vendors to expand their applications beyond the desktop.
For example, SalesNet, a Boston-based CRM application service provider (ASP) recently announced support for more than 25 handheld wireless devices. SalesNet users can now have direct-to-the-net access to their customer relationship management databases via their Palm Pilot, PocketPC, cell phone or pager. Not only can these reps get access to customer data in real time, they can also update records on the Web server, eliminating the need to synchronize with multiple applications.
YOUcentric, a Charlotte, N.C.-based developer of e-business relationship management systems has also jumped on the mobile bandwagon. They recently enhanced their YOUrelate system to allow remote users to access sales and service records via PDAs and WAP-enabled phones. All the functionality and content available on a rep's desktop or laptop can be accessed through these wireless devices, with YOUrelate formatting the information in the optimal way to be used by the unique handheld system a rep has with her on a call.
For users wanting more than just a couple-inch screen to access and view data, the next generation of pen-based systems will fit the bill. For example, Chubb Insurance, a property and casualty insurance provider is rolling out a Fujitsu 3400-based application to a select group of its brokers. This device is a full-capability Windows PC that does not require a keyboard to use. Think of it as a PDA on steroids.
The 3400's screen size is that of a standard laptop, allowing users to access data sheets, competitive information, customer profiles and more, all with the flick of a pen on the screen. Its color and high-level graphics support also make it great for doing interactive presentations on a call.
Using this system and software from MobilePoint, an El Segundo, Calif.-based developer of mobile CRM applications, Chubb's brokers will now be able to complete a comprehensive risk analysis with their clients on every call. This will allow them to provide a much higher degree of service than their non-mobile CRM-empowered competitors.
Advances like these will mean that all mobile sales and service professionals can now have access to all the information they need to do their jobs, regardless where they are.
But how important is that for your people?
An easy way to determine the power that mobile CRM systems could mean for your sales and service staffs is to ride along on some of their calls. If you start to see a high frequency of reps making lists of items to follow-up on when they get back to the office, or pulling out their cell phones and calling the main office to try to get immediate answers for a customer (only to end up in voicemail hell), then you are a candidate for these types of applications.
Most of the leading-edge CRM vendors have active projects underway to enhance their support for remote workers significantly. To find out how they can help your users, take some time to document the specific information items your reps lack when they are on calls. Then meet with your vendor and brainstorm how you can access and format this information to make it accessible to your people during face-to-face meetings with clients.
As we continue to focus more on turning how we sell to and service customers into a strategic competitive edge, the need for providing mobile CRM support will become a business imperative. Effectively planning for and following up on calls will not be enough; we will also need to execute calls brilliantly if we are going to meet customers' expectations. Fortunately, if you look around a bit, you will find that all the building blocks are coming into place to help you deal with this challenge.