With the proliferation of smartphones and similar handheld devices, it only makes sense that data — especially customer data — is following these devices into the field. The scenarios in which sales and field service people can use the data collected by CRM are many and, in a lot of cases, obvious. However, there are also many ways for CRM to go into the field, and it’s crucial to match the needs of your workers with the IT and security priorities of your company.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the mobile CRM discussion is subordinate to the primary decision of choosing a CRM solution. In other words, the default is usually to the mobile solution offered by the vendor already selected by an organization. Still, any organization looking to change vendors or upgrade its solution’s CRM suite has the opportunity to factor mobility into its decision.
The Right Stuff
Users of SaaS CRM have a fairly straightforward opportunity to add mobility to their arsenals, since vendors including Salesforce.com, Maximizer and SugarCRM already build their products to be delivered via the Internet. Ostensibly, if you can connect to the Internet, you can sign on and use the CRM solution.
With in-house CRM, most vendors — notably Oracle and SAP — have made major investments in their own mobile solutions, and companies like Vaultus Software and Antenna Software offer their own technologies for extending CRM applications to mobile devices. As a result, in some organizations, smartphones are supplanting laptops as the crucial tool for sales reps.
However, as with all CRM, the power often comes from customization of the solution. For mobile users, that means the simplification of the fields for data entry and for the kinds of information users have access to in the field.
An overwhelming amount of data entry on a mobile device is likely to harm adoption. So is an overwhelming amount of data to swim through. The data needs of a sales rep in the field are far different from the needs of a sales manager back in the office.
Sending the right data into the field is likely to make sales reps happy — and to make your IT security team very, very nervous. The more portable a device is, the more likely it is to be lost or stolen.
If your team only uses your mobile CRM solution in an online mode, that’s one thing. However, many mobile solutions also provide an offline component to make them useful when users are out of range of a wireless connection. In this mode, a certain amount of data is stored on the device; the amount and nature of that data varies by solution and by handheld platform.
The problem this poses is very similar to what exists with laptop computers, and the solution is similar, too. Increasingly, vendors are including encryption as part of their mobile solutions; should a device be stolen, the data stored on it would be exceptionally difficult to retrieve by anyone who lacked authorization.
The Right Fit
So, how do you pick the right solution for your organization? First, unless you’re building a CRM strategy from the ground up, understand that the mobile component needs to fit into your existing CRM infrastructure. A fragmented CRM approach is a failed CRM approach.
Also, just as you need to understand how your sales force works in order to choose a CRM solution that will actually be used, you’ll need to understand what data is needed in the field in order to customize the solution properly.
What you don’t want is a failure to get these things right and for sales reps to create their own ad hoc mobile workarounds. This can result in the decentralization of information, which CRM is supposed to avoid, and it can put protected data on handheld devices without any security measures in place.
If you get it right, however, the result for sales reps is real-time access to information on customer sales, payment history, previous contacts and other information about a prospect — and the ability to learn this at exactly the right time — for a much more nimble sales force.
CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.