CRM: The Wireless Dimension

While CRM and wireless would seem to be a match made in heaven -- the words sales force and mobile are practically synonymous -- their actual union often has been delayed. The good news for the enterprise is that this is all changing. Just as wireless field service and supply chain initiatives have pushed enterprise automation to a new level, wireless CRM is in its best position yet to follow suit.

The reason is straightforward: Both CRM and wireless communications have matured. On the enterprise applications side, the reduction in IT spending and fierce market competition have forced vendors to sharpen their focus and delivery in an effort to create more value for the enterprise. On the wireless front, years of innovation and competition across the industry have yielded tremendous benefits for end users, driving down the cost of wireless devices and services while dramatically improving their power, functionality and overall utility.

Not only are today's wireless devices better than ever -- Java-enabled for richer applications, "ruggedized" for the rigors of life on the road and browser-based for easy access to the Internet -- so are the networks, the solutions and the support. The foundation is now firmly in place to deploy secure, enterprise-grade wireless CRM solutions. Here are some tips for making sure your next steps in wireless CRM are the right ones for your business:

1. Before you do anything, poll the field. When you buy enterprise licenses and seats, they're yours whether you use them or not. Last year, Gartner famously concluded from a survey of 631 enterprises that 42% of purchased CRM software goes unused. Avoid this trap. Don't rely on what sounds good to management but on what will actually be welcomed and used en masse by the mobile workforce. Understanding what the field wants -- and will use -- is the key to driving wireless CRM adoption.

For instance, wireless technology can increase the use of CRM applications by making it easier for the sales force to update their pipelines and sales opportunities in real time -- whenever and wherever activity occurs -- rather than waiting to enter those updates back in the office. The dreaded "cram all my weekly updates into the system when I'm back in the office on Friday afternoon" scenario can really curb end-user enthusiasm for CRM.

2. Match user need to the right device for the lowest TCO. While the price of today's more-powerful generation of wireless devices are more attractive than ever, deploying any wireless solution takes an upfront investment. Matching your teams' mobile data needs to the right devices is one tangible way to drive down the total cost of ownership of wireless CRM:

  • Wireless handsets: If the primary business need is to send leads and pipeline updates out to the field at a low cost, go with a handset solution. This device will also support two-way text messaging, as long as the information being sent is concise (e.g., prospect names and phone numbers). Consider a modest upgrade to a Java-enabled handset for off-line memory and the ability to use the CRM application when outside the wireless coverage area.
  • RIM devices: If the sales force needs to create and edit information in the field, whether within e-mail or the CRM application, look at a more text-friendly device like the RIM BlackBerry. Again, upgrading to a Java client provides local processing power and data storage for important customer information, but you can go with a lower-cost version via browser access with a RIM device as well.
  • Mobile laptops: If heavy data entry, extensive computing power and large data storage are required in the field -- and the cost of also equipping the sales force with separate cellular voice service isn't a deterrent -- laptops with wireless modem cards may be in order. But it's worth noting that RIM devices can handle form and quote generation if the engines that drive these services are available back in the office or via a hosted CRM service.

3. Evaluate providers' wireless ecosystems. Take the time to understand the track record of the independent software vendors and wireless carriers in addressing enterprise needs. The success of a wireless project hinges on the smooth interrelated workings of a number of different players. Is your prospective provider quickly assembling a "pickup" squad to deliver wireless CRM, or are there serious, certified relationships in place among the carrier, ISV, device manufacturer and integrator that ensure long-term staying power and support?

Robert Consolazio is senior director of business solutions at Nextel Communications Inc. in Reston, Va.

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