After years of unfulfilled vendor promises, CRM is finally going mobile in a big way. In the past year, Salesforce.com's introduction of AppExchange Mobile and Sage Software's acquisition of CRM mobility specialist Corum Group Ltd. helped fuel business interest in mobile CRM software. Oracle's announcement that it will offer Siebel wireless CRM applications on BlackBerry smartphones has also caused many companies to look more closely at mobile CRM.
But as CRM mobility tools arrive in greater numbers, a question lingers: Is mobile CRM technology necessarily a good thing for all businesses in every situation? In many respects, the jury is still out.
The Last Mile
Many enterprises view CRM mobility as a "last-mile" link for sales reps in the field who need fast access to key business and customer data. Yet such anytime, anywhere data access comes at a price, including decreased usability, as well as integration and security issues.
As anyone who has ever used a mobile Web device knows, viewing data on a three-inch screen is nothing like looking at the same information on a desktop display. Getting sales reps to use a technology that's hard to read or that's slow or difficult to navigate can be tough. If employees simply refuse to use a CRM mobility system, the technology's promised rewards vanish — along with returns on the enterprise's hardware and software investments.
Ensuring a usable system requires careful planning and platform selection. Products need to be selected on the basis of visibility and a convenient, accessible physical design. Since little can be done about display size, the software needs to generate an interface that accommodates a small screen and presents information in a condensed yet logical and consistent manner. The system must also seamlessly integrate with enterprise back-end systems, such as ERP (enterprise resource planning), intranets, databases and email, so that users aren't shortchanged on information once they leave the office.
To give sales reps working in the field access to the latest and most accurate information, look for software that includes features such as scheduled-synchronization and server-pushed alerts. But don't go overboard on features; the goal should be a system that starts quickly, runs efficiently and is easy to use with minimal training.
Remember, too, that reps will sometimes find themselves working in locations where wireless service isn't available. That's why it's important to deploy CRM mobility systems that support full offline functionality. Any mobile CRM application should instantly default to live data whenever a connection is available but should also continue to give users easy access to stored information at all other times.
CRM systems typically contain many of an enterprise's most closely guarded secrets. This means that a CRM mobility solution should incorporate a full set of security technologies. While most business owners and managers worry about third-party interception of wireless signals, a far bigger threat is lost devices. A smartphone containing customer contact information and other vital data that gets left behind in a hotel room or a customer office can potentially devastate an enterprise. That's why all CRM mobility devices should be protected with enterprise-caliber security tools featuring access control, authentication, encryption and centralized policy-based control.
Any organization pondering the acquisition of a CRM mobility solution must carefully analyze its need for the technology. If an enterprise's sales reps don't travel very often or very far and don't routinely visit customer sites, CRM mobility will probably turn out to be little more than a unnecessary business expense. On the other hand, organizations with highly mobile sales forces will probably derive significant productivity benefits from CRM mobility, such as improved communication, decision making and customer responsiveness, but only if the system is carefully planned to meet the organization's specific needs.