Every (successful) business knows there's nothing more central to success than the customer. About 10 years ago, that realization spawned an emphasis on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, designed to offer a broad range of services relating to the customer. Specific functions, depending upon implementation, can include prospect tracking, order entry and status, call center management and tracking, Web-based marketing and sales, customer self-service functionality, supplier and partner contact management, and related business analytics. The scope and degree of CRM functionality depend upon the needs of specific industries (and their budgets!), but one thing is certain: With sales often occurring in the field, wireless can be a major element in an effective CRM solution and even a source of improved customer service and competitive differentiation.
Let me start with an example that I've used for years when teaching seminars. Suppose you're an insurance agent, sitting in your client's office, and he asks for a quotation for coverage on a number of items. If you're like most insurance agents, you'll dutifully take down the information and later -- back in the office -- generate a new quotation. There's likely to be some telephone tag in the middle of this process as questions come up while you type away in the office.
Now suppose you're a competing agent with another company, sitting in front of the same customer, but you're equipped with wireless access to the CRM system back in your office. While the prospect rolls off the list of requirements and you ask questions, you enter data into the CRM system. Not only do you have a complete record of what transpired during the sales call, you have the numbers ready to read to the client. You can direct that a formal quotation be faxed or emailed to the client on the spot. No follow-up is required, other than to ask for the order, of course.
And guess who's likely to get that order! These days, customers of all kinds are far less tolerant of delays in getting the information, products, and services they need. Wireless, being all about "anytime, anywhere" access to information, is likely to be part of the arsenal of the most successful firms, in any field, over the next few years.
This brings us, though, to the two big challenges in implementing a mobile CRM solution. The first of these is the coverage (and related cost) of the wireless network being used. There's no guarantee that the wireless-equipped agent discussed above will in fact be able to get and maintain a connection from the client's office. Of course, this is a core challenge for the entire wireless industry itself and will be addressed via more cells and converged multi-technology solutions. The agent might also, for example, be able to use the client's WLAN system as a guest to get to the Internet, and from there, via a VPN, back to the CRM system.
The second issue involves software integration – building mobile applications, a topic I'll cover in a future column, can be complex. Fortunately, the big CRM suppliers have mobile solutions that are at least easier to implement than the traditional custom approach. For example, Oracle, via its acquisitions of PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems, has a huge portfolio of mobile CRM capabilities. For smaller firms, check out salesforce.com, which has inexpensive solutions in a variety of forms.
Next time, we'll look at mobile service opportunities, the other side of mobile CRM.