Could Mobile CRM Solve Field Sales' Biggest Problems?

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For many field sales representatives, CRM is a burden. After a long day of selling, they have to enter information from the day's calls and appointments, culled from hastily scribbled notes, into their company's CRM system. Once entered, that same information is hard to utilize to quickly prepare for calls, making the data more beneficial to the sales manager than to the rep. "It's hard to open your laptop in between meetings. If you don't do it right after, you think you're going to do it at night or over the weekend, then you don't, and before long, you're not entering anything at all," says Nilay Patel, a former salesperson and the cofounder and CEO of Selligy, a producer of a mobile sales tool. "The life of a salesperson...is hard. They have relationships to manage, deals they're tracking, bosses that want updates on deals, and end-of-quarter stress," observes Andy Byrne, CEO of mobile CRM tool provider Clari.

Meanwhile, inside sales representatives have long had access to a wealth of customer data in their CRM systems. They have a knowledge base that allows them to share content and tools to figure out who to call next. Data pops up as needed, and information can be entered after a call. When tied to the task, CRM is more successful. Smartphones and tablets, which are now commonplace, can perform those same functions for mobile sales reps. "Mobile allows [field] salespeople to interact with the system around the event you'd want them to interact with," says Robert DeSisto, vice president and distinguished sales analyst at Gartner.

The early adopters of mobile CRM are equally mobile sales forces, who need access to client and product information on the go, before, during, and after their meetings. "Salespeople have been the earliest adopters of mobile going back to the car phone in the late eighties," observes Chuck Ganapathi, who created Salesforce.com's Chatter and is founder and CEO of mobile CRM provider Tactile. Laptops were similarly transformational, but lack the portability of a smartphone or a tablet that can stand in for a clipboard for sales material.

Sales force automation for smartphones and tablets, while in its early stages, is on the radar of most sales teams. When it comes to mobile CRM, "we're definitely immature," DeSisto says. Most enterprises venturing into the space have "ad hoc" implementations. DeSisto sees the greatest success for apps "that are task-driven, focused on the task someone's trying to accomplish," which translates to specific apps designed around a salesperson's behavior before, during, and after sales calls.

To arm their salespeople with mobile tools, some sales executives have opted for custom mobile solutions, while others are turning to their traditional CRM vendors for mobile-first solutions focused on specific tasks, mostly related to the sales process. Other salespeople are heading off on their own, often finding free sales tools that help them, and boasting about them to the rest of their team. With this freemium model, salespeople adopt the tool and vendors use that adoption to sell the premium version to the enterprise.

Mobile CRM vendors are not only disrupting traditional enterprise selling models, they're also offering to solve some of CRM's biggest problems, according to DeSisto. "The idea is that [mobile tools will] one, improve adoption, and two, [allow managers to] 

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