Mobile devices are uprooting your CRM business processes

Even if you don't know it yet, mobile devices are butchering your old CRM business processes. Is your company ready for the adjustment?

Every emerging software category has enabled new business practices and paved the way for new business processes.

Denis PombriantDenis Pombriant

As computing has become increasingly mobile, more varied CRM business processes have emerged. If the first generation of mobility made us productive on the road, the new generation of handheld devices and tablets has enabled us to engage in real time with customers. Perhaps even more surprising, mobile devices and their apps have also changed the way we work even when we're "stationary" and in our offices.

Mobile is disrupting today's business processes, which should prompt all of us to rethink how we work: Are there more efficient and effective ways to work that incorporate mobile? How do mobile devices and applications enable us to gather the most accurate and up-to-date knowledge and to use it?

Let's consider some ways in which mobility has sparked needed change in our existing tasks.

Inconvenient laptops

Laptops -- the devices that ushered in the mobile age -- have become inconvenient in many use cases. They are relatively bulky, have short battery lives and are slow to start up. As a consequence they are often unused when they should be within reach and ready to provide some important content that knowledge workers can base decisions on.

Mobile devices don't offer all the real estate of previous generations of devices, but the business processes that new devices support are simpler and closer to customers.

Mobile devices improve or simply make possible new CRM business functions. Here's how:

1. Collaboration. Laptops and conventional customer relationship management enabled mobile salespeople to communicate and collaborate with their bosses to strategize deals and focus on next steps, for instance.

Today, collaboration software enables temporary groups to form and work jointly on issues, from customer concerns to internal politics. Collaboration brings the most relevant people together so that they can pool their knowledge, achieve a solution and move on. But collaboration works best when people are online and able to participate. For collaboration to be successful, you can't be concerned about running down the battery.

2. Communication. Email is the communication tool of the laptop, but social media is more suited to mobile devices. Email is, by its nature, asynchronous; but social media, especially Twitter, is more contemporaneous. People expect rapid responses in social media much more than they do using email. It's one of the things that makes it possible to form tighter relationships with customers and associates. But devices enable either channel to be more effective because they can always be on and users can receive messages anywhere.

3. Synthesizing knowledge. Increasingly, vendors are creating apps that combine up-to-the-moment data and analytics with more conventional information and presenting the results in attractive and graphically insightful ways. With more easily available information, users can base decisions on facts rather than opinion and this is true regardless of whether they are on the road or in the boardroom.

4. Delivering a broader array of content, including multimedia. Content doesn't have to reside in a document or a spreadsheet. Mobile devices have helped foster new forms of content consumption, such as video, which has become an important approach to delivering business information. Pharmaceutical representatives, for example, discovered that they could show a doctor a two-minute video on their tablets more frequently than they could if showing the video on a laptop. The tablet is already on and in front of the doctor and thus less invasive.

The mobile-first approach is permeating application development as well. Not surprisingly, people like Salesforce.com's CEO, Marc Benioff, say that they now build software for the device first and expand to older desktops and laptops next. Mobile devices don't offer all the real estate of the previous generation of devices, but the business processes that new devices support are in many ways simpler and closer to customers, hence the urgency of deploying there first.

Mobility has its downsides, and managers especially need to be aware of them. The growing array of devices and operating systems, combined with the bring your own device (or BYOD) trend, presents a challenge to IT departments. The form factors, operating systems and differences in browsers make it hard for any IT group to keep up. Fortunately, development and maintenance suites like Salesforce1 make it relatively easy to write once and generate code for multiple platforms.

There are at least two kinds of security issues to deal with as well when developing CRM business processes: ensuring the security of data and networks when Wi-Fi signals can easily be intercepted, and physical security to deal with loss or theft of the device. Fortunately, both issues have solutions that, when implemented correctly, significantly mitigate risks. Encryption is becoming a larger part of IT generally and is reaching the systems that support mobile devices. Also, most IT organizations have tools that can wipe the data on a lost or stolen device.

Mobile devices have permeated daily business life at a curious time. Markets everywhere focus on individuals who can achieve tasks in new, faster and more satisfying ways. Mobile devices are the underpinnings of new business practices that bring customers and companies closer together. No one's ever lost money doing that.

This was first published in February 2014

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