Mobile Sales Force Automation Apps Are Set to Soar

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In North America, adoption of mobile sales force automation (SFA) is expected to increase substantially in the next three years, according to research by Frost & Sullivan. The prepackaged mobile market, which garnered sales of $1.84 billion in 2013, is expected to see a boost to $4.13 billion by 2018 as sales reps continue to look for easier access to the information that will enable them to sell from their devices of choice.

Recognizing this trend, CRM vendors are jockeying for position in the mobile market. SAP acquired Syclo, a mobile business service provider, in 2012, and it is expected that acquisitions such as this will continue.

While CRM providers used to charge for additional mobile services, this has been changing too. "Just a year or two ago, many of the CRM vendors were charging an extra fee for mobile access," Jeanine Sterling, principal analyst of mobile and wireless communications at Frost and Sullivan, said in an email. "That's largely disappeared."

Additionally, the availability of cloud-based solutions is making it more affordable for smaller companies to make use of mobile SFA.

As the need for mobile applications becomes increasingly widespread, more SFA vendors have also partnered with wireless carriers (such as Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T) to offer their services to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), according to Sterling. "We anticipate that more carriers will decide to add at least one SMB-oriented mobilized SFA solution to their portfolios," she wrote.

Prepackaged solutions—which Frost & Sullivan defines as offerings that are at least 70 percent standardized—will also gain ground, not only among SMBs, but also in the enterprise. This is largely because prepackaged solutions are cheaper and easier to deploy.

Though prepackaged, the solutions are becoming more sophisticated and malleable in their own right, which is putting undue pressure on IT departments at many companies. "No matter how prepackaged, there will always be the ability to customize and tweak, and IT departments are being stretched too thin to think they can continue creating every mobilized software offering from scratch," Sterling stated.

She further points out that as the business sector becomes more competitive, "fast time to market" is becoming crucial. "[Few] companies have the luxury of taking twelve to eighteen months to create a fully customized offering."

But prepackaged solutions are not guaranteed to be the be-all and end-all, as far as some are concerned. Jim Dickie, a partner at CSO Insights, stated in an email that there are issues that should be addressed first. Namely, SFA mobile solutions must be customized to fit a team's particular work style if they are going to make an impact. "For mobile CRM to be really useful, it needs to support more complex tasks than checking email, syncing calendars, etc.," he stated. "The problem is that there are no standards in sales. Companies do tasks, like needs analysis, education, [or] solution development, differently from each other."

Despite the market's potential, Sterling also recognizes that it has not fully matured. Security issues need to be taken care of, too, before the industry can make more of a turn, she stated.

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