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BlackBerry: CRM's Paradox

By Louis Columbus
Jul 1, 2005 5:00 AM PT

Watching an otherwise relaxed executive from a CRM vendor nearly jump out of his chair this week over lunch when his BlackBerry went off instantly reminded me of one of my neighbor's boys bouncing with excitement after unwrapping a Sony Personal PlayStation (PSP) for his birthday. Then it dawned on me: BlackBerries are a baby boomer's PSP with business justification and reimbursable charges. Perfect!

BlackBerry: CRM's Paradox

Necessity or Nuisance?

Research In Motion, the manufacturer of the BlackBerry family of products, has generated a strong list of CRM vendor partners. From Microsoft, Siebel, Salesforce.comand SAP to Onyx, iEnterprise, and many others, RIM's ability to promote their devices into customer process areas continues to show momentum. Yet the paradox of partnerships versus actual users remains. Looking to answer the question of why there aren't more manufacturing and service companies actively using BlackBerries for CRM, the following factors emerged:

  • Slowly Edging to Leash Status From Liberator -- It used to be a sign of being very important to have a BlackBerry. It said you were so important that you could not miss a single e-mail or message, of any kind. No longer. Wives loathe their husband's BlackBerries -- in fact a family friend is the CIO of a finance company on a blistering growth pace -- and he had his BlackBerry backed over by his wife with their SUV as he slept in one Sunday morning. The last straw for her was when his BlackBerry went off during a piano recital and the husband feverishly typed a response in the middle of his daughter's rendition of Fur Elise -- the clicking was off tempo to the piece and definitely sounded more like jazz than classical -- and that was the last anyone saw of "That Darned CrackBerry!" as his wife called it. Cell phones have become so pervasive that etiquette now even pervades restaurant menus and even playbills at concerts and plays. BlackBerries are next. If you happen to subscribe to The Economist magazine, be sure to read the short column, The CrackBerry Backlash, in their June 2005 edition.
  • The Illusion of Privacy -- Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) filed a lawsuit in Toronto, suing Genuity Capital Markets, a Toronto-based investment management firm that is founded by former CIBC employees over talent raiding entirely on BlackBerries. The suit alleges that the founders of Genuity were raiding talent from their former employer, using BlackBerry e-mails and Personal Identification Number (PIN) messages to recruit key talent for their new firm. This case has also turned the concept of PIN-based messaging being confidential on its head. Up to this point, there has been a widespread belief, especially in the financial services companies and government agencies, that PIN messages are completely confidential and not traceable. No more. CIBC was able to gain access to servers that had PIN-based messages showing the Genuity founders had violated the 21-month agreement to not directly or indirectly solicit CIBC employees. What's noteworthy is that this is the first case to gain access to PIN-level messages on BlackBerries and make them stand up in court.
  • Many Companies Have Not Done Their CRM Homework to Begin With -- Sorry to be so negative, but let's get honest here -- there are many companies that just don't have the processes in place to be able to deliver relevant information to their sales force in the first place on a mobile platform. What's so strong about hosted CRM is that it meets sales operations, service, support, marketing and even pricing where they are -- in their productivity workflows -- they don't force drastic change on them. Neither should PDA-based CRM -- but the fact that typical customer information lags events rather than predicting it is part of the core paradox of CRM on BlackBerries.

Service Is the Key

What's needed for making CRM take off on BlackBerries is for the platform providers -- IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP -- to expand on their evolving wireless platforms and show in practical terms how to turn customer data into competitive advantage by focusing first on the most commonly broken processes in companies. This includes quoting, pricing and especially service. There are many similarities here to the hype surrounding the real-time enterprise. The reality of it is that many processes do not have to be real-time. The same holds true for CRM functions on BlackBerries. However, there are those critical service functions -- and the entire area of Service Lifecycle Management -- packed with opportunities exactly for this type of solution. Additional points to keep in mind:

  • Weighing the pros and cons of having an electronic trusted advisor in your pocket. Friends in the financial services business say this is invaluable and gives them the opportunity to respond quickly with accurate service to their clients. The flip side is confidentiality.
  • Integrating with legacy systems: a consultant's dream and a CIO's nightmare. There's the Herculean issue of getting legacy and third-party systems connected to a wireless platform. While best-of-breed vendors have solid applications in this arena, the platform providers have the inside edge when it comes to making integration a reality.
  • It's beyond e-mail; it's now about predicting and responding to clients. At the heart of this paradox is making the information predictive rather than historical. That's why service makes so much sense for this application area.

Bottom Line: Solving the paradox of CRM on BlackBerries starts with a focus on predicting and responding to clients first, and for many companies the goal of upselling their customer base can serve as a galvanizing point in applying this technology. For many companies, however, their lack of ability in defining processes to get real-time data to sales reps in the first place keeps BlackBerries in the role of roving e-mail client.


Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He recently completed the book Getting Results from Your Analyst Relations Strategies, which is available on Amazon.com.


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