Maximizing Mobility for the SMB

In a recent video on Google's YouTube, two guys are seen trying to close their respective sales deals while chatting on their cell phones on the streets of New York. One of the salesmen, when he ends the call, does some quick work on his BlackBerry, managing the new contact, entering details of the deal, and sharing and sending information with just a few taps on the handheld device. The other businessman, however, isn’t so lucky. Because he doesn’t have a smartphone with a CRM application, he runs frantically around the city with his laptop, corralling unsuspecting passersby to help in his search for a wireless signal that will allow him to connect to his Web-based CRM software. Lacking the ability to access his application effectively, he ultimately loses out on the deal.

By the time the two-minute short has run its course, it's fairly clear that the humorous video, titled “Laptops are Old School,” isn't one of the amateurish home movies typically uploaded to YouTube -- in fact, it's a professional advertisement, produced by Maximizer Software, a CRM provider for small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs), and intended to develop a life of its own as a viral ad.

For Maximizer, which just last week was named the winner in the Small Business Suite CRM category in CRM magazine's 2008 CRM Market Awards, the viral marketing effort is part of a branding shift the company has undertaken, connoting an increased commitment toward mobile CRM. Indeed, executives at the Vancouver-based company say that Maximizer Mobile CRM is now considered Maximizer's key focus.

New marketing aside, Maximizer has a long history with mobile devices, particularly with ResearchInMotion's BlackBerry handhelds. Whereas, in the past, BlackBerry users could access Maximizer CRM from their handhelds via the Web, now BlackBerry owners can install Maximizer Mobile CRM on the actual device. CRM data is stored on the Blackberry, rather than relying on data transferred over a network. With Maximizer Mobile CRM, data is synched from the mobile device back to the corporate headquarters either through USB hook-up to an Internet-enabled computer or through wireless synchronization. (Maximizer isn't the first CRM vendor to reposition CRM data to reside on a BlackBerry; SAP announced a similar offering earlier this year.)

Angie Hirata, director of marketing and product development for Maximizer, says the advance will help Maximizer make the most of a growth opportunity within what she calls an “exploding market.” Pointing out that there are now more cell phones than personal computers, Hirata says Maximizer's new branding focus is part of an effort to “keep up with the demand of our customers saying it’s not as important to have information for sales and marketing on desktops; it’s more important to have [that data] on BlackBerry devices.”

As of now, the mobile CRM application is being tested by more than 1,600 companies, according to statistics provided by Maximizer. The application is available for BlackBerrys, but Maximizer CRM is also integrated with Windows Mobile. As for future work with Apple's iPhone or Palm handhelds, Hirata says that the company plans to keep its options open. “We are keeping an eye on the market,” she says. “We know that today, in terms of mobile sales, customers are using BlackBerry, but we don’t want to discount other mobile operating systems and hardware makers.” She adds, “We don’t want to be just a BlackBerry vendor. We will focus on mobile CRM as a whole and will respond to the market as quickly as we can to keep up with mobile demands.”

Even as Maximizer focuses its strategy on mobility, though, Hirata says the company in no way plans to discontinue its desktop and Web CRM applications; as part of the new alignment, she says, the company will push mobile as the front end, and the Web and desktop applications will be the back end.

Laurie McCabe, vice president of SMB insights and business solutions at AMI-Partners, says that Maximizer’s announcement doesn’t come as a total shock. “We are definitely seeing SMBs becoming more and more mobile,” she says, noting that Maximizer has had presence in the mobility area for a while now, and suggesting that the rebranding strategy may be a ploy to bring attention to the mobile capabilities that Maximizer had already had. “With mobility, the bar is always being raised,” McCabe says. “Everyone is really kind of racing to add capabilities and make their mobile interfaces easier to use.” She points out that Maximizer’s viral marketing efforts -- such as the laptop-versus-BlackBerry YouTube video -- are a good starting point for getting the word out.

That said, McCabe says she has three recommendations for Maximizer and other small SMB players in (or entering) the mobile arena: “Keep [an] ear to the customer, keep the focus on SMBs, and keep the focus on making it simple and affordable.”

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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