Let Your Data Do the Walking

By - cin.earthweb.com Staff

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By  Neil Plotnick

Believe it or not, there are mobile sales professionals who still rely on the same tools that Willie Loman used decades ago--rolodexes and shoeboxes stuffed full of business cards. But paper-based systems are an inefficient way to track customer contacts, and they do nothing to enable communication with the sales representatives' home-office colleagues.

Fortunately, mobile professionals now have wireless, Internet-ready devices, such as digital pagers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and cellular telephones. And when coupled with customer relationship management (CRM) applications, software packages designed as productivity tools for sales professionals, these go-anywhere tools can provide excellent opportunities for boosting sales, fostering communications, and enhancing customer service.

One company at the forefront of adopting and deploying CRM software on mobile devices is Arbill Glove and Safety Products. The Philadelphia-based distributor of more than 4,000 glove and safety products wanted the ability to provide its more than 100-person salesforce timely information and allow workers to share data across the entire sales department while employees are on the road. Arbill wanted a wireless CRM tool that the entire sales team could use and that would put customer information immediately at their fingertips. The company also wanted the ability to tie into its homegrown, proprietary, back-end systems.

Wireless CRM software enables a mobile salesforce to access rich and easy to navigate, up-to-date customer information and other corporate data. Data, such as contact lists, inventory, and previous purchasing history, is critical to a mobile sales worker. And, applications that permit the sharing of information among inside and outside sales representatives, along with customer-service groups taking orders, can give companies a significant competitive advantage by providing better service to their customers.

An August 2000 study by Aberdeen Group Inc. entitled "eWare: CRM for the Wireless and Internet World" underscores the size and importance of the wireless CRM marketplace. The Boston-based consulting and research firm's report predicts a "wireless market of more than one billion users globally by 2004--exceeding the number of fixed-line Internet subscribers." Aberdeen's study predicts companies will spend more than $14 billion on all CRM products by 2001.

Across the Board, Around the Country

After an extensive evaluation of several different CRM products, Arbill in April 1999 chose SalesLogix from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based SalesLogix, a division of Interact Commerce Corp. The single most attractive feature of the product is its ability to support wireless users. "They can be out on the road visiting customers, and, using their phones, dial into the system and get all the data," says Julie Copeland, vice president of sales at Arbill. With the SalesLogix software, all of Arbill's nearly 100 inside sales reps and customer service personnel can share information with the company's 14 mobile, outside sales reps.

At a Glance: Arbill Glove and Safety Products
The company: Philadelphia-based Arbill Glove and Safety Products is a distributor of over 4,000 glove and safety products. Staff includes 100 inside sales reps and customer service personnel and 14 mobile, outside sales reps.

The problem: How to provide mobile sales representatives with up-to-date client information quickly and increasing successful sales visits.

The solution: Internet-capable cellular telephones loaded with CRM applications for wireless communication with central sales offices.

The technology: Arbill uses SalesLogix software from Interact Commerce Corp., which permits communication among all sales department employees. Cellular telephone providers in each sales territory supply Internet-compliant handsets.

This is a big relief for mobile employees, who are plagued by lost meeting opportunities while on the road. Often, meetings with clients are cancelled for illness, unforeseen problems, or simple forgetfulness. Prior to implementing the SalesLogix software, when meetings would fall through, sales reps would attempt to contact other clients in the area by consulting paper records. (Remember the shoebox?) Now they can plug in the zip code of a client's location on Internet-capable cellular telephones and are instantly provided with information on other customers in the same area. Pulling up the contact information presented on their cellular telephone display, they can then quickly place a call by selecting the dial feature from a menu.

"Because all the information I need is stored in the SalesLogix database and I can access it with my phone, my customer details are available when and where I need them most--in the car, at customer offices or lobbies, and when traveling," says Herb Schell, a safety specialist (or outside sales rep) at Arbill.

Simply using the zip-code lookup tool has led to an increase in sales visits from four to five per day to six to eight visits per sales rep per day, according to Julie Copeland. "These are solid visits," she says, since customers are contacted by telephone and have made themselves available for the sales rep during the conversation. "In the past they would drop off only a catalog, sometimes," and have no face-to-face contact.

Behind the Scenes

To achieve Arbill's wireless CRM goals, Copeland needed to replace an ancient, text-based TeleMagic CRM product that faced Y2K-related obsolescence. The reliance on a dumb-terminal-based package hampered the company's ability to embrace the Internet and the opportunities presented by e-commerce and other Web-based technology, which Arbill saw as a competitive disadvantage.

Installation and deployment of the SalesLogix software at Arbill was simple and straightforward and done over a weekend, says Copeland. The most time-consuming part was importing existing CRM information from the old system, she says. Arbill worked with Practical Sales Consulting Inc. of Blue Bell, Pa., to create custom software to read its antiquated systems information. The telephone deployment took less then two weeks to implement. Interact Commerce provided extensive training on the new package well in advance of product rollout.

Cost of the installation from the systems integrator for the first year was approximately $74,000, including customization, back-office integration, and training. Aside from the costs regularly associated with cellular services there are no additional charges for providing mobile connectivity. Since cellular telephones were already a part of the mobile sales reps' tools, no additional expense was needed to supply them. Telephones are supplied by Arbill for all users and are provisioned with sufficient minutes to support virtually continuous access. "The increased number of successful sales calls easily justified the project cost," Copeland says.
Lessons Learned About Using Wireless CRM Software
  • Wireless technology and intelligent devices carry great potential for empowering mobile workers, including increased communication between road and office workers; instant access to customer data; and impressive technology capabilities that demonstrate the ability for better customer service.

  • Be certain to select individual wireless providers for each specific geographic region.

  • Design corporate infrastructures to support wireless capability now that is also scalable for the future.

  • Instant access to data increases customer satisfaction.
  • Know Your Needs and Capabilities

    When planning IT infrastructures, companies should do as much as possible to anticipate the impact of mobile, intelligent devices. "Allof this stuff is borderline miraculous," observes Peter O'Kelly, senior analyst at Patricia Seybold Group in Boston. "If you don't look at wireless capability as a fundamental part of your corporate architecture then you are not doing the right thing."

    A major stumbling block early on for Arbill was the ability of communications providers to support the protocols for Internet-capable telephones needed to run the SalesLogix software. "Sprint Communications Co. was the first and only provider, and we had to wait for others to offer comparable services in different geographic regions," says Copeland. "We selected the strongest provider in each territory for individual salespeople."

    Companies also must remember that bandwidth and capacity still pose limitations to mobile devices. "Determining which enterprise applications to enable wireless capability for" is a major challenge, says Mark Zohar, research director, communications, at Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass. You must compromise to account for the limited bandwidth, storage, and display capabilities of these wireless devices. "You can't take all content wireless; you strip out and select which content you need," he says.

    Wireless CRM will enable new types of products and services and will usher in an entirely new set of opportunities and challenges, according to Aberdeen Group. Christopher Fletcher, a vice president and managing director at Aberdeen, says CRM software is a natural fit for mobile devices. "Salespeople can access the most recent inventory information and can make delivery commitments based on that information. That alone is a compelling reason to adopt this technology," he says.

    "It is culturally acceptable to use a palm device or cell telephone at a meeting and refer to it," continues Fletcher. "They are unobtrusive where a standard Windows PC is more distracting."

    Arbill sales reps have found that using this type of technology in front of their customers creates a positive image for the company, according to Copeland. "Right in front of the customer they can see the kind of technology capabilities that we have," she says. "Our customers can see we are innovative, that we are fast paced. The more information I can provide to the salespeople and customers, the better." //

    Neil Plotnick is the author of "The IT Professional's Guide to Managing Systems, Vendors and End-Users." He has supported a variety of computer systems in various industries for more than 15 years. He can be reached at Neil@NeilPlotnick.com.