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Mobile sales strategies mean more than just mobile CRM software

Creative companies are making broader use of smartphones than just email, phone and mobile CRM software, finding uses for GPS, cameras and other mobile applications.

A veteran “road warrior” herself, Deborah Malinowski, vice president of sales with Santander Consumer USA Inc.,  knew that when it came time to equip her 130-person sales force with CRM it had to be mobile CRM.

“I’m not going to give something to them that makes them go home or to the hotel and work another hour or two on their laptop,” she said. “It had to be mobile. Something they would use on a daily basis and would benefit them.”

Two years ago Santander, a Dallas-based provider of near-prime auto loans to car dealers across the country, launched a implementation, running it on the BlackBerry Bold for 130 sales reps. And while the sales force eagerly welcomed the ability to access customer contacts, opportunities and other CRM records via BlackBerry, Santander offers some functions on the device beyond email and CRM. It’s hoping for more.

Forward-thinking organizations are taking advantage of the ubiquity of smartphones and seeing promise in the rising popularity of tablet computers like the iPad. A mobile sales force can turn to phones for more than just calls, email, calendars and updating CRM records. GPS and mapping services can do more than just give directions to the nearest client and, as the built-in cameras get better, people are using them in inventive ways. Executives at itself, for example, will take pictures when in a conference room with prospective customers, identify the key decision makers and attach the image to customer records to identify the right people to talk to on subsequent visits.

“A lot of people are really getting creative using the new functions,” said Sheryl Kingstone, director of the Boston-based Yankee Group’s Enterprise Research Group. “The basics have not changed. We’ve been talking about the integration of UIs, multimedia -- the opportunity has always been there. What’s really starting to happen is the ability to think out of the box [about] how these consumer features are affecting businesses, how are they creating the infrastructure. If we’re able to capture photos, how are we tagging it for the customer?”

Santander, for example has added Ribbit to its Salesforce deployment, a service that converts voicemails to text and can attach messages to a customer record.

“That means my rep is not in the car, calling voicemail, calling someone in the office, explaining what they thought they heard in the voicemail,” Malinowski said. “With cell phone rules in some states, you can‘t have a phone to your ear.”

Santander also uses a GPS-enabled service that validates information. While Malinowski said she just uses it for underperforming reps, it allows her or other sales managers to check in on which dealers her reps visited and how long they were there.

Still waiting for CRM for iPad, tablets, smartphones

Yet Malinowski is hoping to bring her sales force more than just mobile CRM and GPS. Santander is looking at adding sales incentive software and would like to be able to do its order-to-billing processes from the phones. While most of the company’s reps sell to dealers who sell the loans themselves, there are also some direct sales.

“We’re working on a plug-in that’s going to manage the accounting and order part of it. My rep will be able to go on their BlackBerry while in dealership and take a credit card,” Malinowski said.

Indeed, it’s that cross-process mobile enablement that many are still waiting for, according to Kingstone.

“It’s easy to justify having your sales force on the mobile device,” she said. “What still isn’t happening is looking at it the way we wanted to years ago by creating new applications based on business processes.”

Santander has proven willing to experiment. When it first rolled out, Malinowski gave the application to the Executive Council, an 11-member team made up of the best sales rep from each team, the sales manager of the year and the rookie sales rep of the year.

Reps are also using’s Chatter collaboration platform to share ideas, tips and presentation materials. Malinowski said that, despite their competitive nature, sales reps are willing to share winning ideas.

“We’ve created a culture here, that we’re only better if we share,” Malinowski said. “It starts with me sharing information and being fair, having managers behave in the same manner and converting that to the sales force. The sales team I run wants to be recognized as the first [that] shared it or created it. That’s the way they’re competitive.”

While the IT department isn’t ready for the iPhone, Santander’s sales force is now testing out the BlackBerry Torch. Malinowski also gave a select number of reps iPads, and while they loved the tablet, and while has a Chatter app for the iPad, the CRM system wasn’t working well enough on the iPad for Santander.

“I don’t think Salesforce has perfected that yet,” Malinowski said.

It’s the iPad and other tablets that may offer some of the promise first imagined for mobile CRM.

“It isn’t this small screen now, there’s some true mobility,” Kingstone said. “Now you can display the information and get interactivity. It’s more than sales material. It’s feeds for customers [who are now] able to pull info and show the customer things right then and there.”

Financial services professionals, for example, could potentially conduct real-time portfolio analysis with clients or consumer packaged-goods companies can show modifications to products with three-dimensional rendering.

“We’re not there yet [and] we don’t have apps on the iPad,” Kingstone said. “Where we are with the iPad is where we used to be with websites. It’s information only, not interactivity as much.”

And there’s the expense. Malinowski couldn’t justify iPads for her sales force, because the company still needs to supply them with a phone. However, replacing laptops with iPads is a possibility.

“We’re very much debating what makes more sense,” Malinowski said.

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