March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 03.01.05

Quibbling Over Equipment

How to choose the right device for your workers? The short answer is: It depends.
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By Chetan Sharma




Mobile sales applications support sales professionals who frequently work outside the office, empowering them with intuitive mobile technology that facilitates improved sales force effectiveness through access to customer and product information at the point of customer contact. With just a few clicks, users can create and update orders, leveraging the most current product and price list information and ensuring that orders are submitted to the
correct internal personnel.

Once you have decided to arm your sales team with wireless access to critical information, the next important decision is choosing a device. There are literally hundreds of options, which you can narrow according to your requirements. Below we take a look at four devices that exemplify the variety of shapes, sizes and functionalities available.

Tablet?

Paul Moore, director of product marketing at Fujitsu Computer Systems, thinks tablet PCs are perfect devices for form-based computing where frequent interaction with the screen is required. Jim Sales, manager of global sales force technical support for Thomson Learning, a global provider of integrated information solutions based in Ohio, agrees. He recently deployed over 850 Fujitsu T4000 tablet PCs to Thomson’s sales force and has seen significant benefits in a short amount of time: performance is up, productivity is up 150 percent, the sales team is having 15 percent more face-to-face customer meetings, sales quotas have been met much earlier and, most importantly, customers are happy.

Thomson is in the information distribution business, so its sales force needs access to the millions of customer records stored locally on the device in the CRM Siebel application. The Ohio sales team generally synchronizes offline data at home using WLAN or broadband networks. WLAN capability is also very handy during sales team meetings and conferences, as setting up the network is very cheap and quick; maintenance costs are also low. Additionally, the sales team is using the T4000s for applications such as corporate e-mail and calendar.

Handheld?

In October 2004, palmOne launched the Tungsten T5, a 5.1-ounce handheld with an impressive 416MHz processor, an extra-large TFT color display and built-in Bluetooth. The T5 is also PC and Mac compatible and includes applications such as VersaMail, making it attractive to mobile reps.

The device does have one drawback, which is that it lacks any wireless LAN or WAN options; there are a couple of ways to achieve wireless LAN/WAN functionality, though. One is through integrated Bluetooth, but it requires a compatible Bluetooth- and data-enabled mobile phone. The other is by using an SD WLAN card. Both solutions mean additional costs. If your job duties require wireless WAN connectivity, this device probably won’t be convenient or cost effective for you; but if you can live with synchronizing your work at the end of the day, either at home or at the office, the T5 offers some compelling capabilities, which are exemplified by its rampant use throughout industries such as healthcare and insurance, industries that require the collection and storage of large amounts of data out in the field.

Smartphone?

The HP iPAQ 6315 is a feature-rich PocketPC 2003–based smartphone launched by T-Mobile. This device, with its three-way one-of-a-kind wireless options (GSM/GPRS, Bluetooth and WLAN), provides a single device capability that can work under various enterprise scenarios pretty much around the world. It sports a 3.5-inch VGA screen, weighs a pocketable 6.7 ounces and boasts a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack and Bluetooth radio.

Sales folks can use the IE browser to access their corporate Web site, databases or sites such as salesforce.com. If you are looking for an integrated phone/PDA device that you want to use anywhere, this is it, at least for now. The 6315 also comes with an integrated camera for people needing to take pictures in their sales job. The high-resolution screen is good for pulling up product images or diagrams. One can also attach an accessory keyboard for tasks requiring data entry.

Cell Phone?

If you don’t like or can’t afford smartphones for your sales force, all is not lost. You could still consider a data-capable phone with decent memory and a processor, off-line capability and perhaps some other useful applications. Motorola’s V710 clam-shell phone is one such device. Launched by Verizon Wireless, the V710 is the first integrated, Bluetooth-enabled CDMA handset from Motorola that also offers megapixel imaging and video capture. With an integrated, hands-free office-quality speakerphone for conference calls on the go, built-in PIM functions, PC sync, advanced speaker-independent voice recognition and CDMA 1x high-speed packet data, the V710 is a good option for mobile sales applications that don’t require much data entry and display real-estate.

This device is clearly not for viewing documents or doing spreadsheets but will be quite useful if you just need to check the status of a sales cycle or for menu-driven sales or CRM applications. The e-mail client will help you connect with your corporate e-mail, and the phone’s GPS capability can help traveling sales reps locate their hotel, a client’s office or even a recommended restaurant.

The Right Device?

The short answer is: It depends. Before selecting a device, consider your needs regarding the following key criteria:
•Network coverage—LAN, WAN, PAN; regional, national, international
•Connection mode—disconnected, occasionally connected, always connected
•Application development costs (porting costs in some instances)
•Device budget (don’t forget TCO)
•Screen size
•Input capabilities (keyboard, keypad, stylus)
•Future-proof—how long before the device becomes obsolete?

Every device has its pros and cons. Tablets have large displays and ample horsepower but can be pricey. PDAs can have good processors and plenty of memory but lack wireless connectivity. Smartphones can be highly integrated devices that will pretty much work anywhere in the world, but the processing power can be an issue if you are trying to run multiple applications at once. Cell phones can provide both data and voice capability, but sync functions will cost you more and applications need to be tightly written for a good user experience. It really comes down to determining what set of requirements absolutely must be met in terms of equipping your sales team and what tasks you want to mobilize.

Sales professionals can access time-critical information, including inventory information from ERP systems; product, pricing and promotion information from corporate intranets; order status information; and customer history from mobile devices, allowing them to capitalize on new sales opportunities in real time. Mobile solutions help sharpen your competitive edge by enabling your sales force to wirelessly access the information, applications and resources necessary to improve closure rates. Enhancing your business processes can lead to reductions in operating costs and increases in profitability.
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