Always Be Closing

— April 10, 2007

Mobile CRM solutions are now on the radar screens of most sales organizations as a way to increase sales productivity. These organizations understand that access to vital customer information could mean the difference between a multi-million-dollar sale and no decision. But simply mobilizing existing sales information is no guarantee of more sales.

The problem lies with the fact that not every sales agent is technology astute, or even enthusiastic about using new technology. In short, if a salesperson doesn't understand how to use a device or service, or finds them too cumbersome, they simply won't use them. As it turns out, the most successful applications within sales organizations aren't necessarily the most cutting-edge ones.

"People say, 'We need to automate,' but you can't mess with the human element," notes Paul Moore, senior product marketing manager with Fujitsu Computer Systems. "Organizations simply must find equipment and services that complement how their people already work. If they don't do it, there are problems."

For instance, an insurance agent with American General Life and Accidental Insurance Company accustomed to using a pen paper for 30 years wasn't welcoming a small mobile device with a QWERTY keyboard. Instead, a Fujitsu Tablet PC with a Stylistic pen offered an easier transition to sales automation. (The same can be true for applications--moonlighting workers employed to set up displays in supermarkets, for example, need an application that gives step-by-step directions by clicking once on tabs, not an application that requires several clicks and more time fiddling with the device than constructing displays.)

Finding a solution that its sales reps would be happy with took a bit of trial and error for adidas America, a Portland, Ore., division of the globally famous producer of athletic footwear, clothing accessories and equipment. The main challenge was coming up with a solution that would enable sales reps to easily check inventory while sitting with a motivated customer.

"Adidas learned early the value of using mobile technology," says Russ Hopcus, VP of sales. "The nature of the business that we compete in means we must have quick answers for our
customers or risk losing out to the competition."

The cell phones that adidas sales reps had been using to call one of the company's 65 customer service representatives to check the warehouse for available inventory weren't cutting it. Customers were left waiting and listening in for an answer. And no one liked lugging around a laptop to access information from the company's Web-based inventory tracking solution. When customers saw a sales rep with a laptop, they knew they were in for a meeting that would take up too much of their time. In the end, sales associates wound up checking on product availability after the customer left and then calling them back later.

Tim Olligmueller, adidas' sales force automation manager, began to study his corporation's human element. Larger handhelds and smartphones were too much like laptops because they meant loading Web pages and required syncing with a computer to update email, calendars and contacts. He determined that sales reps were already happy using BlackBerry devices. Why not build a CRM application that leveraged the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution?

"I really feel the primary consideration is this: If it takes too many steps, the end users won't go through all of the steps to use it. So Web applications and loading Web pages just weren't going to cut it. By requesting information via a BlackBerry, you're not waiting for a screen to load," said Olligmueller.

He decided to use the resouces adidas had in-house to develop the sales force and CRM application that would mobilize the company's Atlas2Go solution, an order entry and tracking system that formats information into a Sequel database and pushes it to the SAP system. He was able to download developer tools from the BlackBerry Web site, and his in-house developer used those resources to create the wireless application. The whole endeavor took two weeks and cost less than $10,000.

Olligmueller's mantra of "three clicks or less" means adidas sales reps have few choices within the application, and that is acceptable to them. Their primary goal is to check inventory, as well as suggest products to customers now that they know what exactly is in stock. The customer interaction is no longer, "Wait while I call in to see if we have this red shoe in stock." It's "I see we don't have this red shoe on the wall. Would you like me to order it since we have it in stock?"
Hopcus said adidas has recorded a measurable increase in sales for both the company and its customers as a result of its mobile CRM application.

Sales reps can now also check the status of customers' pending orders and email the invoices directly from their BlackBerry devices, even attaching pictures of the product. The risk is dumping too much information into the solution that could overwhelm sales reps and require more than three clicks. To combat that, Olligmueller has added new capabilities one at a time; once sales reps adopt one capability he moves on to the next.

"We started with inventory and people loved that and adopted it, and then we started adding pictures," Olligmueller said. "But we do it in bits because it gives me a way to be evergreen all the time. The sales reps look forward to coming to my presentations because they knew there is going to be something new."

Olligmueller's advice to others is to start small. "Think of any table you have in your Sequel database and how that might benefit end users in a mobile environment. Restrain yourself from dumping too much information because you see the potential. Keep it relevant, and ask yourself, 'Do we really need this information?'" Gauging Impact Yacov Wrocherinsky, founder and chief executive officer of Infinity Info Systems, a 20-year-old CRM consulting company, advises clients to look for areas of their business where mobile CRM solutions will have the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time. "It took millions of dollars in the past to make this work, but today, for a
fraction, you can get a device and buy an application that people can use in all different situations. First you crawl, then you walk and then you run. You can always add more things to it later."

This sentiment is echoed by Mike Chang, IT manager with Vancouver-based Suntech Optics, Canada's leading ready-to-wear eyewear company. "A lot of companies think they need a big SAP solution, but at the end of the day, they only need to leverage about 10 percent of the functionality," he said. "They have to really study the key business drivers, and that is usually tracking inventory and sales."

Suntech is a veteran in mobile CRM, since it was the first sunglass company in North America to give its sales force laptops in the 1990s. Laptops became necessary when the Canadian government introduced a new tax on goods and services, and Suntech needed to limit those taxes by automating the process. In 2005, Suntech decided to replace its legacy system with three goals in mind: to give its sales reps the advantage of making the order entry process faster; to extend corporate email; and to find a device that was light and efficient enough to handle presentations and store reviews.

Chang chose a sales automation application called EZRoute to increase sales efficiencies. The application required a mobile device platform, but Chang determined that PDA screens were too limiting and laptops would be too bulky. He needed a device capable of displaying route maps, product photos and multiple application windows. He eventually chose Fujitsu LifeBook P1510D Convertible Tablet PCs, which were big enough to display Suntech's sales templates but small enough to carry in a briefcase or handbag. It was also fully functional, so reps wouldn't have to go home and use a desktop to check their email.

"We could have spent less money on a PDA, but we weren't able to service our stores properly or make proper reports," said Chang. "If you have to synchronize, that creates a lot more work."
The application consists of just three menus, two sub-menus and the top 10 reports to access sales and customer history, inventories and receivables. "That's all we need," said Chang.

Now sales reps can write up and send orders while in front of the customer. Sometimes orders can be packed and shipped the same day. But what's more impressive to Suntech's customers is its ability to provide a service record to them detailing how well Suntech is servicing their stores.

"We know where our reps are, and it ensures that we get to keep the account," said Chang. "We are able to retain business, review our business better and give customers a running report. That's generating a lot of good publicity."

Lynnette Luna is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience writing about the wireless telecom industry.

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