Is 2005 the Year for Wireless CRM?

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Mobile phones and wireless-enabled laptops are now both plentiful and affordable, but are companies finally ready to make wireless deployment a core part of their CRM initiatives? "Whether in fact this turns out to be the year, I would be hesitant to say," says Aaron Burnett, senior director of marketing at NetMotion Wireless, an application infrastructure developer. "But we are seeing more wireless CRM deployments, because the wide area networks are ready in a way they haven't been in the past, and wireless data sales reps are aggressively pursuing enterprise deployments." The last big wireless CRM push began five years ago, and Liz Herbert, Forrester Research analyst, says the time is right for a rebirth. "A lot of companies are reinvesting because the devices that were on the market in 1999 and 2000 are no longer relevant, so they're having to update to new devices." Smartphones now come with dozens of megabytes of memory and a surprising amount of processing power--enough to run miniature databases for offline CRM clients. Wireless network providers are consolidating at a brisk pace. Cingular bought AT&T Wireless and Sprint agreed to buy Nextel last year, and already regional giant Alltel has announced it will purchase smaller rival Western Wireless. According to Forrester, the shrinking competitive choices will not immediately drive up prices. Wireless data services are still considered to be in an early-adopter phase with room to become more economical as supply and demand grow. "[Merger activity] is unlikely to drive up prices in the near term [from 0 to 24 months], because providers will be scrambling for share," says Lisa Pierce, Forrester vice president. "Longer term, I think it is very unlikely we'll see price increases on existing [lower speed] data services." Still, a great deal of room remains to grow in adoption of wireless CRM, even if the appetite and the means are both in place. "We have found that cellular wireless is a gotta-have feature, but less than 20 percent [of sales reps] use the cellular connectivity," says Dan Starr, CMO of Salesnet.
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