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Making the case for mobile CRM software

Mobile CRM software and salespeople are a match made in heaven. But there are other use cases for mobile CRM that can also justify the expense.

Welcome to part one of our series on the benefits and challenges of mobile CRM. Here we explore the business case for mobile CRM and how companies are using mobile capabilities to change the way that sales teams, executives and other employees work. For more, check out part two on CRM's data integration challenges.

As the pace of business grows ever faster, mobile customer relationship management applications have had to adjust to the needs of on-the-go workers. In turn, as mobile CRM applications have matured, they have also changed the way workers approach their work.

Mobile customer relationship management (CRM) applications redesign the software for easier use on tablets and smartphones so that employees can work productively, even with a smaller screen. Application menus have to be simplified to accommodate the smaller screen real estate, and tasks need to be easy to accomplish, with a limited number of clicks.

Mobile CRM is increasingly becoming a must-have for various business scenarios. Sales reps must show product information to customers and update accounts while they are away from the office. Executives should be able to view reports on sales activity from places such as a plane, for example, and technicians need to update service call information in their trucks en route from a customer's home.

Salespeople make one of the most compelling cases for mobile CRM. Reps are often in the field and need digital access to information like product pricing and features, customer account information, and contracts. Prior to mobile CRM, salespeople were toting around physical brochures and updating account information manually -- often scribbling notes on the back of business cards, then dashing back to the office at the end of the day to enter those notes into a CRM system.

You do your appointments, you take notes, and you go back to your desk to do all your CRM updates. That is the CRM of the past.
Joseph Smithmanager of fiber broadband business development, North State Communications

"You go out, you do your appointments, you take notes, and you go back to your desk to do all your CRM updates," said Joseph Smith, manager of fiber broadband business development at North State Communications, a telecom provider in High Point, North Carolina. "That is the CRM of the past."

In November 2013, North State began using Salesforce1, the cloud-based CRM platform from The company's previous custom-built CRM application was cumbersome to use and required a consultant to help build in new capabilities. Salesforce1's slimmed-down mobile version eliminated many of those headaches, according to Smith.

Joseph SmithJoseph Smith

"Holy cow, our old system was horrible," he said. "But with Salesforce, you have everything at your fingertips [in a mobile form factor]. You know everything about your contacts, accounts, the opportunities, all the leads in your funnel -- everything you need to run your business." It's also easy to customize the application to streamline a rep's tasks so they can get done with the fewest number of clicks. Sales reps don't have to open a customer record and edit it -- they can instead just choose a Publisher Action to make the update they need to complete, and then press an icon. This automates information so they have to type very little, if anything at all.

Part of what makes mobile CRM compelling is that it reduces the number of mouseclicks to complete an action. But not all tasks have been distilled down to the minimum number, even in Salesforce. For example, Smith said, it could be easier to convert a lead into a customer account in Salesforce1. Currently, that action has to be done in the desktop version. The mobile version doesn't allow for a one-click conversion.

Salespeople aren't the only kinds of workers who can benefit from a well-integrated mobile CRM software platform. Reliance Home Comfort, which provides home heating, cooling, and water heater technologies to 1.6 million customers throughout Canada, has outfitted sales staff with tablets. But last year it also provided its installation and repair technicians with Android smartphones.

Celso MelloCelso Mello

"We've been writing apps for Android to [help technicians do] their work: to accept service orders, to order parts, to do what they did before in day-to-day," said chief information officer Celso Mello. But he emphasized that the smartphone project has paved the way for new use cases they hadn't imagined previously. "We have just scratched the surface," he said. "They can process payments with smartphones, and they can also do sales because we have given them access to information where before they were relying on paper." According to Mello, having repair technicians able to cross over into the sales realm is opening up new possibilities on how mobile CRM can contribute to the bottom line.

Similarly, Smith at North State says that mobile Dynamics CRM is hardly just the province of his salespeople anymore.

"The sales director uses it constantly to access reports on sales numbers," Smith said. "We have regular conversations -- 'Can we do this on a dashboard? Can I see this in a report?' -- and we'll take our iPads out, both take a look at it, at a restaurant or at a customer [site], and we're making those changes mobilely or at least discussing them mobilely."

Selling sales on mobile CRM

As with many technology implementations, change management looms large with mobile CRM. One of the biggest challenges, agreed Smith and Mello, is that mobile CRM has changed the way jobs are done.

Smith said reps get acclimated to a pattern of going to appointments, taking manual notes, then going back to the office at the end of the day and transferring those notes into the CRM system. "People have done that for many years, it's hard for them to break that cycle."

Mello agreed and said that mobile CRM has to be sold to salespeople based on making their job easier to do. "We framed the project around 'What is in it for them?' 'How is this going to help you to make you more money?'" But Mello said that it was also about being firm that workers had to embrace change and get on board.

"More reluctant people would resort back to old ways with pen and paper, and we had to refuse that," he said. "This is our new process, and we have to adopt it across the board."

Smith said mobile CRM has a learning curve, but reps have retrained themselves out of old habits.

"They love the Salesforce1 app, but it's still a challenge for them to remember, 'Oh, wait. I can do these updates from my car now,'" he said. "But I've seen that 'a-ha' moment: 'I don't have to come back to the office to do that anymore.'"

Next Steps

Data integration challenges and mobile CRM

Does mobile CRM always make sense?

This was first published in July 2014

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