Making Wireless Stick
CRM's primary users are often on the road. So why are we holding back wireless CRM?
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I love going to conferences. It gives me the opportunity to speak with industry insiders I may not have met otherwise. One such person is Sal Visca, chief technology officer of Infowave Software Inc. Our conversation on the slow adoption of wireless CRM was as enlightening as any session I had attended at CTIA's annual conference. "Many companies are not quite ready for wireless," says Visca, whose organization provides middleware that helps companies wirelessly access their CRM data. He predicts that 2003 will be the year wireless CRM takes off. With the proliferation of new wireless smart phones (often called communicators) and the CTIA pressuring the U.S. government to free more spectrum for advanced wireless applications, Visca may be right. "The people who use CRM most often are those who are away from their desks forty to sixty percent of the time," Visca says. So with all the hype about real-time this and real-time that, it seems natural that companies would want to quickly progress from mobile to wireless. Not really. According to Visca, most firms don't see the need for the immediacy that wireless provides. For most managers and users, synching at the end of the day is good enough. Business users need--and say access to--CRM from the field is important, but with the exception of wireless email, "the pull isn't always strong enough," Visca says. "The way we try to create that demand is to show ROI. We show, for example, how salespeople can be more productive, deal better with competitive pressures, and have information right at their fingertips. If you finally get a meeting with a prospect, the last thing you want to do is to say, 'I'll have to get back to you on this.' Quantifying that value is the hard part." Difficult, yes, but not impossible. Visca tells of a pharmaceutical company now using real-time information capture for its clinical trials. The company gives each person involved in a clinical trial a laptop with wireless connectivity. This allows the users to provide immediate feedback on how they feel using the drugs, and the input can be tested and checked in real time. By increasing the accuracy of its data by a mere 5 percent, the company is able to launch its drugs sooner, generating millions in incremental revenue. Even with that kind of potential, most CRM vendors "haven't done much to be wireless-friendly," Visca says. "It's more than taking a robust CRM application and squeezing it through a pipe to a small screen. It's finding the right business processes," he says. For example, don't try to stuff an entire CRM application onto a field rep's PDA--give him just what he needs to access customer information, check inventory, and place orders. Of course, it might help development if vendors actually asked field reps what their requirements are. But with the economy what it is, most vendors are forced to play keep-up with the functionality of their current CRM products, Visca says. I believe wireless CRM is the next logical step in companies' rush to become real-time enterprises. The reasons? Wireless CRM is about delivering on customer's ever-rising expectations; it's about freeing field reps and traveling executives to work unbound; and it's about tapping into downtime. I bet the hundreds of people looking bored, waiting in line that day to register for the CTIA conference (on wireless technology, of course) would have agreed. Contact Ginger Conlon at gconlon@line56.com
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