Top Challenges For Mobile CRM Users? Data Management and Bandwidth

Five years ago the biggest concerns for the mobile CRM worker revolved around the travails of data synchronization--finding a connection, staying connected long enough to communicate to base, and hoping all changes were reflected accurately on both ends. Improvements in database technologies and proliferation of high-speed Internet connections have quelled some concerns, but mobile CRM continues to be a juggling act of convenience versus connectivity, particularly as more companies switch to emerging service-based CRM tools. "The on-demand guys, like Salesforce.com, started out and are still primarily browser-based and don't want to support synchronization and databases on the [mobile] computer," says Joe Outlaw, president of Outlaw Research. "Those solutions are OK for companies that don't need a lot of functionality offline, and increasingly you can do that in some metropolitan areas with Wi-Fi hot spots." Outside those hot-spot zones, however, the question of data synchronization still rears its ugly head. "I think we still do worry about sync, or in a broader context, data management," says Steve Bonadio, a vice president at META Group. While portable devices are more powerful and have larger capacities than ever before, the question of how much data should be provided to the field, and how often it should be refreshed, has not disappeared. "If I've got the entire customer database on a laptop, it poses a potential security risk should it come into someone else's hands." The alternative to remote data storage is on-demand CRM through wide-area wireless connectivity, but that too has its challenges. "It's a bandwidth issue for most parties," Outlaw says. "If you're driving along in your car and you need the latest information, you're back to wireless." That connectivity is important for far more than data. Clients assume that the sales reps working with them have ready access to news and information, so it is imperative that mobile sales forces use their time online productively. "If you're not able on the morning of the sales call or the night before to log in and find out, literally, what they did yesterday, you can walk into a selling situation and be completely off guard, losing any credibility you might have built," says Dave Stein, author of How Winners Sell
. Not every company hanging its shingle in the mobile CRM space has necessarily put its best foot forward yet in terms of usability and positioning, and improvements and shakeouts over time will help bring clarity to the range of form factor and functionality choices currently available to mobile workers. "The challenge is in matching devices to appropriate tasks and activities," Bonadio says. "There's still some work to be done there. A couple are best-of-class, but [most] application vendors still need to play catch-up and find the right mobile technology."
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