About 41 per cent of Australian consumers have now installed a mobile application on their phone, and, given their incredible popularity, it’s no surprise that businesses, and their employees, are crying out for mobile apps.
Microsoft says that mobile solutions are currently one of the top ten IT investment priorities of SMBs, and – according to mobility solutions provider iPass – 38 per cent of businesses will have deployed a mobility solution in 2010.
These solutions will include everything from voice, messaging and collaboration applications, to mobile data and intranet access solutions.
However, I want to focus on creating competitive advantage through business capability enablement – that is, through mobile business applications, in particular CRM.
It’s no secret that businesses who deal with their customers well retain their business. From good value to good service, customer relationships can have many foundations, but what’s common to all of them is that they do not take place at head office.
Mobile CRM software takes the power of CRM software and delivers it anywhere – including straight to the customer. It allows staff to check inventory and price lists, act on leads and opportunities, deliver quotes and invoices, see customer accounts, histories and dashboards – all while on on the road, on site or at home.
The business benefits of this are numerous. Faster access to information means faster responses to customer emails, calls and enquiries - improving customer satisfaction and increasing sales.
Reduced ‘dead time’ – when employees are either away from the office or in transit – means greater productivity. (Indeed, in an iPass survey 93% of employees with mobile solutions believed that they made them more productive, delivering an extra hour’s work per day).
Using mobile CRM, information flow across the business is also greatly improved. Mistakes that are the result of inconsistent data, such as out-of-date pricelists, catalogs and stock lists, are removed. The business can respond to customers in ‘real-time’, and not ‘real-time’ plus ‘as long it takes to return to the office’.
Low-cost mobile Point of Sale devices which integrate a magnetic strip reader and barcode scanner with devices such as iPads and iPhones – also offer reps the ability to complete sales on the spot, improving the bottom line.
If your business is considering mobile CRM, make sure that your strategy keeps in mind the following:
Security and identity – There are few better ways to fail your customers than by failing to protect their data. As with any mobile solution, an adequate security regime is a must. Procedures should be in place for mobile handsets that are lost or stolen, including remote wipe, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), device and application passwords are a necessity.
Scalability and performance – Mobile applications are popular because they’re fast. Ideally, it should be just as easy to find and execute complex functions in the mobile app as on the desktop. Some smart phones provide more processing power than others.
User experience – Remember that your mobile app will often be used while staff who are directly engaging with customers. Thus, how intuitive and speedy it is will reflect on the business itself. Also, the more ‘natural’ the experience, the less training staff will need.
Many popular CRM solutions now come with mobile application extensions, including Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Sage SalesLogix.
If your current CRM has an extension, it should be your first port of call. The biggest advantage in this case is rapid deployment. Using pre-defined templates, for example, your mobile CRM solution can be active within days, not weeks. There’s also the added benefit of multi-platform compatibility, with most CRM providers offering applications for iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. While some lack the full feature set, this should improve over time.
If your CRM system does not yet provide a mobility solution, you might consider easy work-arounds with fast ROI. If your current platform offers a web interface, for example, adapting it to a tablet-driven solution using a web browser may deliver a quick solution. Indeed, in place of native mobile applications, some CRM providers are offering mobile formatted versions of their systems with simplified layouts and small screen sizes.
In the mobile space, more so than in the desktop world, a key step is to ensure that your application’s design is driven by your users and their workflows. This can mean creating several options for different roles within your business.
More with less
Whichever way you implement mobile CRM, its essential attraction is that it allows your staff to do more with less using smart devices with which they are becoming increasingly familiar – whether that’s creating new customer contacts and leads in the field, logging calls and emails, or downloading the latest sales collateral.
By providing a business-wide, up-to-the-moment view of your customers and their needs, mobile CRM makes your staff more effective, both in the office and in the field.
Long term, mobile CRM solutions won’t be a trend but a given. But for the moment, those who equip their business to engage with customers when and wherever their staff happen to be will enjoy a significant edge.
Ian Whiting is CEO of Markinson Business Solutions.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.