Always-on CRM

Consumers have embraced smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices with gusto in their everyday dealings, and businesses need to follow suit if they are to keep pace with the expectations of their customers.

The age of the mobile consumer used to dealing with companies anywhere, anytime has been accompanied by that of the mobile worker – people doing their jobs on the move, at home, or while hot-desking. Companies should therefore seek to ensure that employees have access to up-to-date data that enables them to deal with prospective and existing customers in an intelligent and informed way, regardless of where they are working.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems enable companies to store, access and share comprehensive and accurate information on customers and prospects, including purchasing histories, service records, notes on previous correspondence, and communication preferences. Successful execution of marketing and sales depends on such data. However, if it is only accessible back at the office, its value diminishes. With both businesses and consumers increasingly carrying out their day-to-day activities on the move, it makes perfect sense for companies of all sizes to use CRM systems that include mobile access and functionality.

Strategic information
Not only is web-accessible CRM a great tool for marketing directly to customers for whom mobile devices are now commonplace; it also gives marketing and sales directors the means by which they can manage campaigns and sales forecasting more smoothly and effectively, enabling them to share important strategic information across extended and dispersed teams, and with all relevant partners.

The advantages of mobile CRM solutions are being recognised by an increasing proportion of businesses, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as research we carried out earlier this years shows. The study, Everything, Everywhere, Right Now, reveals that 46 per cent of SMEs in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) with CRM systems in place have now upgraded these systems to include mobile access and functionality.

Companies are not, however, embracing this trend as enthusiastically as expected; according to a major research report published by Forrester in 2009, almost all companies with a CRM system in place would have made the move to mobile CRM by now. The report revealed that a third of SMEs had already upgraded to web-accessible CRM (33 per cent), and that a further 63 per cent planned to do so over the next two to three years. In actual fact, the market penetration of mobile CRM – while significant – has fallen considerably short of these levels.

False economy
So why are companies holding back? Our research identifies a number of reasons for this. One, unsurprisingly, is cost – in a harsh economic climate, it is understandable that SMEs are hesitating to make all but the most crucial investments. However, since companies which resist developments in mobile technology risk being left behind in a competitive market, this may be a false economy. Hosted, service-led provision via a rental model can provide a solution, without the traditionally high up-front costs associated with on-premise software. 

Other barriers to the adoption of mobile CRM cited by SMEs are the issues of data security and integration with their existing systems. In both cases, it is up to CRM systems providers to convince end users that their solutions are equipped to deal with these legitimate concerns, and for clients to look for suppliers that can provide the security and integration they need. As data protection becomes a central aspect of modern business, companies clearly need to be satisfied that the CRM system they choose is designed to minimise the risk of breaches, and that it can be adapted to their existing system, without astronomical additional costs.

Overall, CRM systems suppliers need to improve awareness amongst SMEs – and larger firms – of the wide variety of successful solutions already on the market that have an affordable entry point, in-built security features, and sophisticated integration capabilities.

The experiences of businesses that have already upgraded to mobile CRM systems indicate that these fears are well worth overcoming. Combiflow, an Ireland-based provider of pumping and conveying products, introduced web-accessible CRM in 2008. The flexibility of the new system has enabled the company to coordinate lead management across a disparate sales team far more efficiently. As well as being able to target prospects more effectively, the company has also been able to improve the way in which information is shared internally.

Combiflow’s managing director, Morgan O’Brien, says that having a web-accessible CRM system “has given our remote workers the luxury of being able to work almost anywhere.” He adds: “They can update and share their calendars with the entire sales team, as well as add appointments, sales quotes and customer correspondence details without having to go into the office. It has given us the freedom to make the most of the time spent with potential clients. This has resulted in more sales calls and, ultimately, more business.”

Positive impact
Ensuring that staff have mobile access to accurate and comprehensive sales, marketing and customer service information – no matter where they are – can have a positive impact on a business’ ability to manage marketing and sales right across the board. For staff dealing directly with customers and prospects, often out in the field, having access to inventories, previous communications, service histories and other records, is vital. For those managing campaigns, being able to share information and strategy quickly and easily across the enterprise facilitates better coordination between disparate areas of the business.

The benefits are clear. While it is up to CRM vendors to spread the word amongst the companies they deal with, it is also up to those businesses to look for CRM solutions that meet their needs in terms of cost, security and integration. The way business is done is changing, and while our research shows that many SMEs are upgrading to mobile CRM in response, it also reveals that an equally significant proportion still needs to catch up.  

Mike Richardson is managing director EMEA at Maximizer Software

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