March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 07.01.05

Selling CRM on the Fly

Mobile sales solutions are following in the wake of Web-based subscription CRM. But for many sales-driven companies, wireless is the last stage in the evolution of CRM.
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By Arielle Emmett




“Most sales folk appear to be stuck in 1984 Franklin Covey Day-Timer hell,” says Martin Payne, VP of national business development and client relations for the Hanger Orthopedic Group, a $600 million U.S. company producing prosthetic devices and operating hundreds of patient care centers. Payne, an Englishman transplanted to America, enjoys describing the transformation of ordinary “worn shoe leather, knock-on-door” salespeople into hip, mobile customer relationship management (CRM) avatars. “Before we got mobile CRM we were making our sales teams fill out endless, mindless spreadsheets. They didn’t want to go home after hours and do that,” he says.

Though salespeople aren’t exactly lazy, Payne observes they are more like high-performance rabbits that run hard but then collapse at the end of a day. “I want them to make more sales calls yet have more leisure time to spend with their families,” he says, wryly. “We needed a mobile CRM system we could launch quickly that would give the group access to a whole slew of data. But the real reason for CRM was to increase the efficiency of the sales process. When I put customer data into the right hands, ultimately I enhance the sale.”

Results matter.

Today, Payne leads a small army of 50 reps who rove their national territories with Palm Treos, knocking on the doors of hospitals, orthopedic clinics and private practitioners. Sales are up 2 percent since the implementation of the mobile CRM solution a year ago—a positive trend given the general downturn in the prosthetics marketplace, Payne observes. The Palm Treo 600 smartphones are linked in real time to Salesforce.com’s mobile CRM solution, and the Hanger team gets customized (and relevant) data fields, such as recent doctor referrals, the numbers and value of those referrals, and information about patients and orders.

A systems integrator, Growth Circle, of Atlanta, Ga., adapted the Salesforce.com CRM application to the device, implementing a Sendia wireless SFA tool—actually a mobile smart client application. “Without Sendia, the sales team must lug around laptops and find wireless hotspots for access to Salesforce.com,” Payne says. “I did not want the team overdosing at Starbucks.”

Growth of On-Demand CRM

The Hanger Orthopedic mobile deployment is at the cutting edge of subscription, or “on-demand,” CRM services extended to the road warrior. On-demand CRM is the fastest-growing segment of the CRM marketplace. “While sales of on-premise [corporate] CRM solutions have remained flat, hosted [i.e., third party, Web-based] CRM sales have been increasing 20 to 30 percent per year,” reports Liz Herbert, an analyst at Forrester Research, quoting from a 2005 survey the company conducted of 596 mid-size companies in North America.
Hosted services are now favored by many because of their comparative simplicity, low cost and ease of use and deployment. Sales teams can get up and running on Web-based CRM with a mobile tie-in without the complications of getting corporate IT department buy-in, according to Herbert.

In addition, a startling number of old-fashioned in-house CRM system deployments fail, adds Tien Tzuo, senior VP of product management for Salesforce.com, the leading on-demand [Web-based] CRM company in America, boasting 140 percent growth rates from late 2003 to 2004. “You have all sorts of companies spending millions on CRM systems that never get deployed,” Tzuo claims, citing industry studies showing that 50 to 70 percent of large enterprise CRM installations have fallen flat. Customization, training and ease-of-adoption for sales and field forces are big issues, as is integration with ERP, accounting and other back-office software. That’s the reason the on-demand model succeeds; it’s cheaper and easier. According to Gartner’s Robert DeSisto, a VP of research, “the people who’ve adopted [on-demand CRM] have wanted an integrated sales environment and couldn’t afford to do so in the past. So this part of the on-demand model is the fastest growing area on the sales side: it succeeds.”
Currently, on-demand leader Salesforce.com and its competitors, Siebel OnDemand, SalesNet and NetSuite, along with several newcomers (e.g., Entellium, NextSale, RightNow and SalesCenter) are offering a streamlined vision of service as “utility.” “Just think of it as an outlet in the wall,” says Tzuo. “You simply plug into our utility from your wireless browser. You can even plug in from a legacy SAP application, or plug your Microsoft Office Outlook into [Salesforce.com]. We’ve become an information utility with no up-front investment, and clients subscribe to it under a monthly service plan.” Subscriptions average $72 to $125 per user, per month.

Making Mobility Work

Analysts acknowledge that mobile CRM deployments today are actually extensions of corporate-wide CRM and SFA, whether Web-based or in-house. “Mobility is definitely second or third-phase CRM,” Forrester’s Herbert affirms. “Our data show that only six percent of companies buying SFA in 2005 for the first time plan to enable wireless access in 2005.” However, she adds, 27 percent of companies that already have CRM in operation are planning to enable wireless access within 12 months, strongly suggesting that enterprises see the value in a CRM-enabled remote sales force.

But what kind of mobile CRM? Everyone has a different answer. “The pendulum has clearly swung to a ‘less is more’ category for mobility and sales,” observes Gartner’s DeSisto. “In the late 1990s, the philosophy was to give everything to the mobile laptop. But now, it’s, ‘Let’s provide the basics and leverage other, smaller devices,’” he says. “There is a realization that the more data I shove
out to a device, the more the device and software require support and upgrades. Salespeople don’t need all these capabilities to be resident on a mobile device. Most reps simply say, ‘I want to pick up my cell phone and enter some data about what just happened in the car.’” The required CRM functionality is actually limited to a few keystrokes and data fields—enough to capture the vital information of a sales call, including a few short notes—and just enough to accomplish real-time updates with a central CRM database via push, SMS or request. Consequently, “we see a pull back from providing too much locally on the laptop, because the cost of maintaining the infrastructure is too high,” DeSisto concludes.

What seems to be in vogue for mobile sales CRM are four different models of functionality:

•First, mobile client extensions optimized for specific on-demand CRM systems. Examples are Salesforce.com optimized through Sendia’s mobile client application for RIM BlackBerry and Palm devices; Salesforce.com optimized with Vettro’s RainMaker mobile CRM smart application client for BlackBerry; and Siebel On-Demand, optimized with the Antenna Software A3 mobile CRM platform for BlackBerry, Palm Treo and Pocket PC.

•Second, multi-client platforms and adapters/
switches to legacy back-office systems (i.e., Oracle E-business, SAP, Siebel, etc.). A leader in this field is Dexterra, which provides an “outside in” approach to third-generation, XML-enabled wireless CRM mobility. “Outside in” refers to a system that starts from the mobile worker’s vantage point—requirements, handheld device, needs for updates—and then extends remote connectivity in real time directly to the back-office server, gearing all services to remote workers’ needs. Dexterra provides a 3G mobility platform with standardized plug-ins to several leading enterprise back-office/ERP systems.

•Third, an all-in-one niche Web and wireless SFA/CRM solution designed for small to medium-size verticals. An example is e-Agency’s recently released Nice Office Web and Nice Office Wireless, a product suite being sold as an on-demand mobile CRM tool for insurance and financial service sales teams. The wireless solution is browser-less, featuring over-the-air synchronization of real-time data between the wireless handheld (i.e., RIM BlackBerry), the Nice Office Web application and corporate databases. The mobile client does not require a cradle and is fully provisioned over-the-air. Moreover, it can adopt the mobile Web/wireless CRM solution either through e-Agency, acting as an ASP, or they can license their own in-house system.

•Fourth is Outlook integration. Avidian Technologies, a Seattle-based company, eschews the syncing issue altogether with its CRM product Prophet 2004, available for laptops, desktops and PDAs. Prophet 2004 “deeply integrates” with Microsoft Outlook while adding key sales management features, according to James Wong, president and CEO. “We are our own standalone CRM,” he says. Using a .Net development tool released by Microsoft with Outlook 2000 and XP, Avidian allows individual users to access the best of Outlook (i.e., e-mail, calendar, appointments and tasks) while layering on sales tracking and reporting features. For example, users can integrate e-mail, contacts and associated tasks under a “sales opportunity window,” which allows them to enter all information in customized data fields, all in one place. Further, consolidated sales information can be shared among team members using any of 30 standardized reports that can be accessed through a peer-area
network (i.e., VPN, LAN or standard wireless connection). However, the technology does not address the reconciling or updating to a centralized CRM database, or there is no syncing between applications.

Complete vs. Partial Mobility

According to a Gartner study (“Broadband Alters the Definition of Mobile Sales,” by Joe Galvin), mobile functionality can be defined as “complete” when the application can run fully in connected or disconnected mode, later syncing automatically when a wireless network is found. Alternately, the client can offer “partial mobility,” where the application provides incomplete functionality while disconnected, but enables individual files to be identified and downloaded from a fully functional online application. Sales reps can access and change these files while mobile.

In the past, mobile CRM with so-called disconnected functionality has produced data discrepancies, lost data, frustrated field sales reps and caused hours-long synchronization times and extensive input requirements, according to the Gartner study. In one instance, a 700-person mobile sales organization discovered its IS organization had to maintain two systems—one online for inside sales representatives, the other offline for field sales reps. Ultimately, the offline, mobile system was abandoned and everyone converted to the online desktop application, reporting less work and greater access to a wider variety of data.

However, some organizations have reported success with fully implemented wireless CRM. For example, Dexterra has now implemented mobile CRM on Pocket PCs for the sales force of Compal, the “Starbucks of Spain,” according to Manager Marc Austin; the application is linked to an SAP R3 inventory system. “The mobile platform covers the server and plumbing, and we sell a certified pre-built Dexterra SAP adapter,” Austin says.

Antenna Software, in Jersey City, N.J., produces a CRM-enabling product suite called A3, which consists of Smart Clients, hosted network management and data extraction, and delivery services to back-end servers, and now supplies the mobile CRM solution to L3 Communication, Pitney-Bowes and Heineken of Ireland. “Heineken has used the solution about a year; these guys are trying to take a share of the [very competitive beer] market in Ireland,” says David Appelbaum, a VP of marketing. “Part of the job is to guarantee delivery of new product and replace inventory, as well as guarantee very strict service level agreements. Sales and service people really need access to mobile data quickly.”

In the main, though, the productivity benefits of mobile CRM are up for grabs. According to Chuck Cronin, CEO of e-Agency, salespeople can save an average of 30 minutes per day by using synchronized wireless data rather than standard e-mail. Cronin also cites industry data suggesting that instant access to contacts, calendars and sales data on the fly can save a salesperson another 25 minutes per day, while the wireless retrieval of forms, documents and faxing can save 25 to 30 minutes per day. “Salespeople don’t even ask about the time saved once they see what the system really does,” he claims. “Everyone can now resolve conflicting data with real-time updates to a centralized database.
The kicker, though, is whether or not mobile CRM will result in more sales, higher revenues and more productive sales teams. “The reality is that technology [alone] will not increase revenue,” insists DeSisto. “A lot of false expectations have been going into these projects—namely, that you can increase revenue by automating administrative activities.” In reality, companies that force salespeople to use mobile CRM as a way of enriching databases, making the process overly complicated, will likely reduce productivity, not increase it.

However, if teams can use mobile tools judiciously to capture and share vital data while saving time, benefits can result. “We’re getting better data, more accountable sales folks and greater visibility to each team member’s interactions,” reports Hanger Orthopedic’s Payne. “Mobile CRM requires a relatively tech-savvy team, “and often it takes a strong personality to push the sales team’s late adopters into the 21st century.”

For Payne, no wallflower, mobile CRM works great.•
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