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SMBs moving to mobile CRM

New releases from on-demand CRM vendors and a willingness to spend has small businesses and mobile CRM coming together.

Like many, Chuck Edwards considers his BlackBerry a vital part of his business, but for Edwards, and increasingly for other small-business owners, it's also becoming a way to access CRM systems.

The president of Blue Gecko, a Seattle-based database administration and operating system support firm, Edwards needs to stay connected to his clients at all times. Blue Gecko operates a hosting service, and he needs to know immediately if there's an issue with a client's system.

"A big part of what we do is being responsive when our customers need us," Edwards said. "The last thing a customer wants is to call [a] support organization and have them sound confused."

As president, Edwards gets many of Blue Gecko's client calls first. He needs to direct them to the correct support staff, and he can now do that via the CRM system, which is completely accessible via his mobile device.

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Edwards runs his CRM and ERP systems through an on-demand application from San Mateo, Calif.-based NetSuite Inc., which last month made its application accessible via BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Palm Treo devices via third-party application developers. It's just the latest move to mobile from an on-demand or Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM vendor. Last year, and Entellium released mobile versions. It's clear that mobile CRM is following the money.

Small and midsized businesses (SMBs) are increasingly taking advantage of CRM's mobile capabilities. Recent research from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Compass Intelligence LLC suggests that businesses in the U.S. will spend roughly $9 billion on mobile applications by 2011 and $3.8 billion this year. Small businesses will represent 38% of that spending, according to Compass. In addition, CRM will be a major mobile application.

NetSuite has become the system of record for Blue Gecko. It is, however, a small mobile deployment. The 15-person company has only three people using the mobile client.

"We really are increasing our reliance on NetSuite as the system of record for our customer information, so it's critically important that information is accurate," Edwards said. "We could miss service-level agreements. Getting the information in and getting that information accurate is of paramount importance."

The NetSuite mobile applications are built on top of SuiteFlex, its customization platform, making each specific to its own mobile platform. And, because NetSuite also provides back-end ERP functionality, it can offer vital, end-to-end access to processes like order management and accounts receivable, according to Mini Peiris, vice president of product marketing with NetSuite.

Like Blue Gecko, JTG Pro, a Kirkland, Wash.-based mortgage brokerage, is relying on NetSuite and its mobile client, but JTG Pro's deployment is even smaller. Jason Gardner, the owner, is the only user. All loan applications are loaded into the system and can be accessed directly from a mobile device.

"I push on one of the icons on my BlackBerry and it's like I'm at my local computer," Gardner said. "A lot of the time, I'm in a car and it's been phenomenal for me."

The NetSuite mobile applications cost roughly an additional $25 per user per month on top of an existing NetSuite subscription -- a price some SMBs are ready to pay, given the access to more than just CRM data.

"The requirement for wireless connectivity surpasses the need to just access emails and text messages," said Sheryl Kingstone, program manager, customer-centric strategies at Boston-based Yankee Group. "Now the requirement is for access to real data and the ability to conduct transactions remotely."

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