Mobile CRM Keeps Field Sales Reps Up To Speed

By  Teresa von Fuchs — August 12, 2009

Mobile technology has long been recognized as a boon to salespeople on the road. Having more information makes sales people more effective both in wooing new clients as well as keeping up with current accounts. That's why American Century Investments, a privately held investment management firm, has tried to keep its sales teams equipped with the most  up-to-date mobile tools available.

While the company has offices in New York; London; Hong Kong; Mountain View, CA, and Kansas City, MO, company representatives serve clients all over the world, working not from out of the office, but right in the field. And, while laptops are still essential for most mobile professionals, sales reps with American Century were noting that they weren't always the best tool when they only had a brief moment in front of clients.

Owen Geisz, director of sales and operations at American Century, explains the issue this way: "For our sales teams to be most effective, they needed actionable information immediately, and we were realizing that getting that info via laptop was just not reasonable anymore. These folks have 15 minutes at most to communicate a story, to give brokers a vision of American Century and to describe the value we can offer, and if you've got to access to an advisor and you're waiting for a laptop to boot up and get a connection, you're wasting time."

Geisz's group of 150 sales representatives needed a better way to access real-time information. But Geisz knew that the solution had to offer the sales team real value in order for them to adopt it.

Over the previous few years the company had been investing in business intelligence and CRM systems to help it keep better track of its data. Sales reps had been accessing these tools remotely via their laptops in order to share market information with potential customers and keep an eye on the current customers' habits.

American Century wanted to allow sales people access to these same tools, but in a more immediate format that was easy to view.

Enter Pyxis.

Pyxis Mobile was founded in 1998 with the goal of providing system integration that would allow companies to extend backend data out to the field. Pyxis Mobile now offers real-time and offline wireless access to back-end enterprise data, with tailored solutions that can increase the value and usability of existing corporate systems. Pyxis is compatible with any existing CRM or enterprise system, and works with any mobile device.

For American Century, Pyxis represented an easy way to access the Siebel business intelligence and CRM applications that sales reps were already familiar with using, and on a device that was more field-friendly than a laptop. "Pyxis gives our field-based folks access to real-time info from our CRM system, and the ability to enter meaningful details about accounts as they go," explains Geisz. "Our analytics intelligence tool refreshes data every day, so people know immediately what their territory did on the last day, how that compares to last year, who's dropped large tickets, who made a first purchase, all the info that a sales person would need to manage his or her territory."

Along with rolling out Pyxis, American Century standardized on BlackBerrys. Geisz also explains that the company conducted multiple surveys of its user communities to ascertain which pieces of data were most useful to have on hand. "We could do this," says Geisz, "because they had been using the business intelligence tool over Siebel for over a year. Folks knew what they used each day. It was very important that users know what's in it for them."

Geisz was surprised by how little pain deploying a new solution incurred. He chalks this up, in part, to getting users involved in tailoring which data points were most useful. He also credits the company's thorough and varied approach to training, and the multiple support channels provided during roll out.

While American Century declines to share any hard ROI data, Geisz says that sales reps have told him that having fingertip access to real-time information about what is going on in their territory empowers them in ways that were never before possible. "Quantifying it is difficult, but I can tell you it has changed the way individuals work. A testament to that is the log-in rates of 85% to 90% per day. If the info didn't have value, folks wouldn't bother logging in."

Security is an important issue is any field, it can be a crippling compliance issue for enterprises in finance. Luckily for American Century, security has not been a major hurdle; while devices are password protected, the company chose not to have any customer data reside locally on the devices. Even if a BlackBerry should go missing, the IT department has the ability to lock down and wipe a device remotely.

When asked if there were any surprising benefits of the solution, Geisz says that he was surprised at how easy integration and deployment came off.

Even more notable, he says, is the ability sales reps now have to answer questions for customers on the spot.

"As much as it shouldn't be such an ah-ha! moment, my team has told me that when they are in a meeting, if the question were asked by an advisor 'tell me again how much we've purchased with you in a particular fund this year?' that used to stop them in their tracks. They'd have to call the office to find out. But now, while still sitting in front of the customer, they can pull that info up in less than 60 seconds. [It means] that my sales team is informed and can quickly move onto other things. Something as simple as that is a big deal, especially in today's market."

This article is based on an interview conducted by Susan Nunziata.

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