• June 1, 2007
  • By Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal, Beagle Research Group

Truly Mobile Strategies

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There has been a great deal of talk lately about the CRM of the future. Words like customer experience and CRM 2.0 crop up frequently, and that's good and welcome--but the conversation focuses almost exclusively on the software side of the equation. What about the hardware that will make it all possible? The way companies have explored CRM's various options is about the chicken-before-the-egg evolution of hardware and software--the software needed for a new business process has always followed the availability of hardware. SFA gained footing, for example, in part because many mobile salespeople were already toting around laptop computers to give presentations. Today, virtually everyone in the field has a laptop and most people would say it's a nice thing to have, especially for doing reports on the road. They would probably also say that a laptop is too cumbersome to use to simply check the status of a customer's order or bill payment. That's where mobile devices have an opening. Delivering superior customer experiences in some cases will require a facility with information that has not been easily possible with laptops and getting to that point requires work. Wireless CRM solutions have been just out of reach for a long time--each time we thought there was a breakthrough we found the solution was simply an attempt to emulate bigger systems and the wireless solution lost in the comparison. That seems to be changing. Vendors realize that a mobile sales rep doesn't need to carry around a lifetime's worth of data; instead, they concentrate on providing access to the information most likely to be needed in a given day, week, or month. That's one part of a mobile CRM strategy; the other part is providing access to the same data and a broader array of applications on larger platforms. A mobile SFA solution must do different things from its PC cousin. For example, the handheld device must be able to store data and synchronize with the mother ship, but that includes data push-and-pull as well as application updates. This potential needs to be realized whether the device is in its cradle or in a rep's pocket. Beyond that, smaller devices are more liable to be lost or stolen, so extra security like the ability to cancel accessibility or destroy data on a device that falls into the wrong hands must be built in. Handheld devices have their own constellation of accessory apps that are of no use in the office, but that make good sense in the field--GPS services, for example. Vendors also have to deal with significant differences in platforms on the market today. There are about five different operating systems vying for the attention of mobile users, each with strengths and weaknesses, and mobile application providers must be able to generate their applications for any environment a customer has. Together, these needs and the solutions amount to a good deal more than simply having a wireless approach to CRM. A clearer picture of hybrid solutions has emerged, giving users access to data through a variety of devices and interfaces. This leads to the recognition of mobility strategies, rather than wireless solutions. The availability of true mobile strategies will better enable users to support CRM 2.0 business processes through which employees are capable of delivering high-quality services and better customer experiences because they have better access to information. Denis Pombriant is the founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. He can be reached at denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.
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