Mobile CRM Is Slow to Take Hold

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Consequently, mobile systems offer employees few advantages. “Mobile CRM systems do not fit with the way that [salespeople] work,” Pease says. “They do not work well on planes, trains, and buses. Sales reps like to talk; CRM makes them type. Laptops feel like a ball and chain, an anchor around their neck.”

Another problem is the CRM systems do not present users with relevant information. With an application like email, mobile data is easily accessible, and it takes only a few clicks for reps to complete their work (say sorting through email messages). CRM solutions do not operate that way for a couple of reasons.

The information needed varies depending on the user. A salesperson wants the data relevant to the specific business unit that he or she deals with, not every possible sales opportunity. With email, the information is sorted before it reaches the user. Employees do not have to go through all of their department's messages to find their own email. With CRM solutions, the user often must complete such a paring—if the system even presents the user with the data.

That seemingly simple task is a major roadblock for vendors; the design of email and CRM systems illustrates the challenge. Email has a narrow range of data inputs: basically, any text the user enters or any files he attaches. The files come from the user's own personal drive, so the data sources are limited. CRM is the opposite; the relevant data is often buried in a hodgepodge of back-office systems. A salesperson going on a call would like to know if there are any outstanding issues, when the customer last received the company's products (accounts receivable system), the status of any outstanding orders (the supply chain system), or if the customer had an outstanding service request (contact center information).

Coming to a Dead Stop

In most cases, the mobile system stops dead in its tracks when trying to collect information stored in back-end systems. Currently few (if any) links move information from the various back-end systems into the CRM system. Many vendors have not yet built those connectors.

If by chance, a supplier did find a connection from one of its back-end systems to the CRM software, it would likely be of limited value. Typically, the connections move the data in a big bulk file that the user, once again, has to sift through. The connections operate in a piecemeal fashion. If salespeople were somehow able to tap into the accounts receivable, supply chain, and contact center applications, they would need to consolidate the information themselves. Chances are slim that most users will go through that hassle. Consequently, many of the current mobile CRM systems collect dust.

To reap any return on CRM investments, businesses must integrate mobile data collection, consolidate corporate data in a way that makes sense to each group of employees, present that information on a handheld device, and streamline employees' workflow.

Money, Money, Money

Making such changes has been possible but requires significant investments in time, money, and effort. Because the connections to back-end systems have been at a low level, businesses need to identify what information is needed, find a way to pull it out, consolidate it, and format it for the CRM user. To date, the cost of developing that software has been high; few programming tools have been available; and the expertise needed to use them has been limited as well.

But there have been signs of progress. "In the past twelve months or so, we have seen many more enterprises start moving to integrate mobile with their CRM systems," Wettemann says. One reason is that standards are emerging. For instance, HTML5 clients run as well on mobile platforms as they do on PCs and laptops. Development cycles and costs are being reduced.

Integrating mobile systems into back-end applications has also become easier. "The movement to cloud computing has made mobile application development more configurable; more building blocks have been put in place," Kingstone says.

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