To Win the ‘Last Mile’ of CRM, Your Field Teams Need Agile, Consumer-Style Apps

As CRM becomes more vertical and more data-driven, it’s also had to become more mobile-friendly—especially for use cases that support field teams in sales, marketing, or support. Yet these same workers often don’t look like your “typical” CRM user: They are not tethered to a desk, and many are digital natives (especially those who work for emerging consumer brands) who would rather have work apps that look more like Instagram than Salesforce.

This is why I’ve been a proponent of a new class of data-driven apps that are more about small data than big, are simple to use, have built-in smarts, are mobile-first, and are inherently social. In fact, I wrote about this idea all the way back in 2012 in a piece in Forbes.

Today, the notion of more agile apps for capturing and harnessing small data is critical to winning the “last mile” of CRM—where workers are in the field, interacting with accounts, checking on stock (or service requests), and feeding back actionable insights to sales and product managers. These field teams are the eyes and ears of most consumer brands who sell through retail outlets, and the front lines for organizations providing equipment repair or maintenance services.

It’s All About the Data and Keeping it Simple…

In my last Viewpoint, I stressed that the key to delivering value from CRM is ensuring that the broadest set of users have adopted and continue to use the solution. And that to do so, solutions need to make data accessible and actionable to streamline everyday tasks.

In the field, this also requires a focus on simplicity and collaboration—plus a new user-centric design mind-set, whereby the tools we provide our teams are as fun and easy as the apps they use when they are off the clock. Job one is to commit to really understanding what your users need and expect. From there, get to know what data (and how much) is needed to optimize their essential daily tasks.

It’s also good practice to brush up on design thinking and look at work such as Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things for some great inspiration and guidance around the role of observation, idea generation, prototyping, testing, and iteration (more on that below).

More specifically, when considering the key actors in the last mile of CRM, we need to realize that needs vary by work location and responsibilities:

  • Managers are typically in the office and value visibility and control over ease of use, and they ultimately want to see the big picture via reports and dashboards while watching over schedules, time, and mileage, plus managing territories and new campaigns.
  • Reps (and brand ambassadors) are almost always on the go and value convenience and simplicity over all the bells and whistles, and they want to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time visiting accounts—checking on their clients, taking photos and notes, placing orders, replacing a part, etc.

Getting both groups on the same page so they can focus on metrics and stay ahead of the competition is the end goal, of course, which is why supporting messaging and social sharing is essential as well to build a sense of community among remote team members.

...While Keeping Things Agile

Many software development teams have embraced agile methods, but it turns out some of these same iterative, collaborative approaches also work well in corporate marketing (see Jim Ewel’s excellent work) and can help to drive competitive advantage for merchandising and other critical field activities.

At its core, being agile in your CRM strategy means predictably responding quickly to change and working together (via cross-functional teams) toward a common goal that results in consistently delighting customers throughout their journey.

In practice, a mobile CRM that embraces both agile principles as well as a consumer-style interface can help teams continuously improve their field execution and get their team closer to their goals by:

  • streamlining data collection—using customizable mobile forms to ensure data is captured correctly, while empowering field teams to place orders right from their phones;
  • standardizing best practices—getting reps organized for their day via centralized scheduling and account management, with updates automatically pushed to mobile users so reps are up to date on new opportunities; and
  • providing insights to all—getting real-time visibility into how your brand is performing, or even pushing recommendations (what product to offer, what stores are nearby) based on a rep’s location, account status, etc.

Beyond enabling reps to be more agile, future CRMs will also help teams become more aware by pulling in other data sources and visualizing it on the fly. And, ultimately, help them anticipate what’s next using advanced analytics to predict what customers want and even recommend the next best action when interacting with accounts. 

Yet no matter how smart these apps become, there’s no question that the social aspects of selling and marketing in the field will continue to matter. And brands that enable their field teams with mobile CRM tools they actually want to use will provide win-win-win benefits for accounts, reps, and managers alike.

Allen Bonde is vice president of marketing at mobile CRM provider Repsly and a 20-year enterprise software and start-up veteran. He formerly ran product marketing and innovation at the Analytics unit of OpenText, and was cofounder of social marketing pioneer Wyng. He started his career as a data scientist in the telecom sector and also spent time at McKinsey, Yankee Group, and Extraprise advising global consumer and B2B brands. You can follow him on Twitter at @abonde.

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