I will admit it: I was a smart phone late adopter. Part of it was that, as a reporter, I had spent years – literally – on the phone; it’s still perhaps the reporter’s greatest tool. The last thing I wanted was to get calls after a long day of phoning, reporting and writing.
But I broke down. Perhaps it was because my wife worked at Apple when the iPhone came out. While she did not drink deeply of the Kool-Aid, she did love her iPhone, and with a passion she never before showed for technology. And, so, last summer, I got an iPhone 4 for my birthday. Predictably, I can’t imagine how I functioned without it.
I was a later adopter than most salespeople. Most of the sales people I know loved the phone as much as I loathed it – for them, calls meant money. It’s come to be that they can’t be away from the phone, so their mobile phones are now permanent fixtures. And, living in California, a lot of these sales pros are also gadget guys and girls. That meant they liked trying out devices, and just as no one platform owns the market, no one device captured the hearts of everyone in sales.
So, here’s what you have: a workforce that is required to use CRM as part of its job, and is also required to use mobile devices. The only question I have is this: Why isn’t mobile CRM ubiquitous yet?
In this case, I think, it’s partly the fault of CRM vendors. For years, mobility has been seen as an extra, and add-on, an option – but the way people work now demands it become a standard feature. If you’re paying for a CRM application, you shouldn’t also be paying for mobile CRM. Think about seat belts in cars – they were options you had to ask for and pay an additional fee to get until the early 1960s, when they became standard – but today most of us use them readily. Think about how absurd and out of touch car-makers would seem if they still treated seat belts as an option?
But some CRM vendors still treat mobile that way and ask users to pay extra for the right to work the way they want to work. That’s radically counterproductive: it discourages adoption, forces sales people to work the way the CRM system dictates, and keeps critical information out of the field when it might be at its most useful.
Yes, developing mobile applications for the many platforms that are being carried around is a hassle – but it’s been done, at least for major platforms, and browser-based versions can fill in the blanks nicely (and can fill in unforeseen holes in support for emerging platforms until dedicated solutions are developed).
So why is mobile CRM at this point, this far into the mobile revolution, still such an under-utilized technology? I think what’s happened is akin to the friction that developed between on-premise and on-demand software – especially within vendors that sold versions of software with different delivery models. The fear that the new model will cannibalize an existing profit stream is great enough to distort reality for some vendors, to the point where they actually make it difficult for their customers to progress and evolve the way they do business. In other words, these vendors equate maintaining profits with restraining their customers – and, since customers have options, it’s a dumb idea. Mobile is a way to make money, and changing that model is anathema to many vendors until the market forces them to change.
A smarter approach is to look at the world as it is and adapt to the realities that CRM users are working under today. Mobile CRM is not an option – it’s the extension of CRM to the platforms people use for data management. It puts CRM in front of the salesperson, no matter where he or she is. It gives sales pros access to data when they need it and allows them to update CRM records as they receive information instead of later after they’ve returned to the office or hotel. Why should this be considered “optional?”
There were more handheld devices shipped in the first quarter of 2011 than laptop and desktop PCs, and while not all of them were sold to the business market the writing is neatly printed on the wall. If you lack the ability to deliver CRM to your employees’ handheld devices, you’re depriving them of critical data when they need it and in the format in which they want to work. You’re also depriving yourself of an adoption tool and, as a result, an improved view of sales operations. These are pretty basic things when you think about it, and you owe it to yourself to investigate vendors who want to help you embrace the technology instead of holding you at arm’s length until you pay for it.