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Mobile CRM gets a move on

We're hearing it again. This is the year for mobile CRM. What makes 2006 different?

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For years experts and prognosticators have predicted that mobile CRM was ready to take off, only to be disappointed by slow adoption and sorry returns.

Yet optimism over mobile CRM has returned once again and this year just may be different.

A report released last week by the London-based research firm Visiongain predicted that mobile CRM will exceed the growth rates of traditional CRM and account for 20% of all CRM revenue by 2010. To this point, mobile CRM has accounted for less than 10% of total CRM revenue.

Mobile CRM has long promised to be the answer to the problem of how to keep field salespeople or field service agents connected and up to date with the company and customer records by offering wireless connections.

"We've been saying it for years, 'next year is the year,'" said Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager with Boston-based Yankee Group. "I think it's finally showing its real value."

Count State Industrial Products (SIP) Corp. is among those driving investment in mobile CRM. The Cleveland-based maker of specialty chemical cleaning products rolled out mySAP CRM from Germany's SAP AG for its field sales team last year.

This rollout came after SIP faced some bumps in the road with mobile CRM.

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SIP revealed today that it has replaced its mobile sales application from Siebel Systems Inc. with SAP after having difficulty replicating pricing from SAP's back-end system into Siebel Sales, according to Bill Rady, director of information services. SIP rolled out two implementations of Siebel Sales in 1999, one for its outbound telesales operation and one for its mobile salesforce dispersed across the United States.

"Essentially, the mobile sales implementation didn't go as we hoped, mostly due to the ineffectiveness of pricing," Rady said.

Moving to mySAP CRM has allowed SIP not only to facilitate its pricing and order entry into its back-office SAP system, but to save on license fees.

"We've been able to consolidate licensing in some places, so instead of two software platforms we'll have one," Rady said. "We're also consolidating data. Going forward, we will have CRM activity info for our customers in essentially one database."

SIP plans to replace the Siebel application in its outbound telesales operation with mySAP CRM in the next year and eventually add the SAP module in its inbound sales support operation as well.

In addition to the integration issue between Siebel Sales and SAP R/3, SIP also had some adoption issues when it first rolled out mobile CRM.

"We learned a lot about training on that platform. Some reps were still using a pen and paper," Rady said. "We've gained a little in terms of maturity over last six years. Salespeople have become more computer savvy."

The maturity of not only salespeople, but mobile CRM applications and the wireless market itself, has been one thing that's kept mobile CRM from reaching the heights people have been predicting, Kingstone said.

"What's happening is, not only are the networks maturing, [they're] becoming more culturally ingrained to carry these converged devices," she said. "We also understand when we look at information in these devices we're not trying to solve world hunger. It's get in, get out."

While mobile e-mail has become ubiquitous with people roaming through airports tethered to their wireless devices, CRM suite vendors and third-party, add-on applications have matured to offer simple access to sales pipeline, customer history and service information.

Paradigm change

"We continue to see good demand for mobile CRM, but we're also seeing the paradigm change," said Cathy Rheiner, vice president, CRM Industry Solutions Group, for SAP. "People have been talking about pervasive computing for seven or eight years. We just had a customer with a couple thousand-person salesforce in the field mobilize CRM. But rather than in the traditional way of putting the database and everything on the sales rep's laptop, they enabled sales reps with wireless cards."

Rheiner said customers run the gamut with their implementations from always connected sales teams to unattached field service teams.

If there's one cause to doubt that this may be the year of mobile CRM, it's the ongoing legal dispute with Research In Motion. The BlackBerry maker is facing a patent challenge and for the past two weeks has been living under the specter that a district court judge could shut down its service in the U.S. However, rival vendors, including IT heavyweight Microsoft, have rushed to offer their own wireless platform.

Simple, easy access to information through wireless devices still holds the most promise for mobile CRM, however.

"When companies are looking to use a mobile device to share and extend a corporate network, you don't want to cram everything on a device. You want to make sure you're standardizing the experience," Kingstone said. "The complexities are still there, but companies now understand what they're working with ahead of time."

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