Is Wireless CRM Worth the Extra Expense?

By Geoffrey James

Wireless computing is one of the hot trends in high tech. Most laptops computers have built-in wireless capability, and most new cell phones have Web-browsing capabilities. Given that wireless is all the rage, could 2005 be the year your sales group moves to a wireless CRM implementation?

Experts recommend caution. Rather than adopt technology just because it’s hot, sales managers should look at the cost-benefit equation for new technologies they want to introduce to the sales team. For wireless, the main benefit is the potential to provide sales reps with up-to-the-second accuracy. That might be invaluable in some sales situations, while in others it might be of marginal value.

For example, a company selling complex, customized manufacturing equipment probably would not benefit much by giving its sales force the ability to check on the minute-by-minute status of a custom job. Sales reps in this case would be served just as well if they had data on the status of the job at the beginning of the day and the expected day of completion. In other words, the benefit derived from wireless access would be minor compared to the ability to synchronize the data on the sales reps’ laptops each morning.

The other side of the equation is cost. Wireless is expensive, not so much in terms of equipment and training, but in terms of the time and effort sales rep must expend to make it work correctly. It’s not always easy for sales reps to find a wireless hotspot, and time spent searching for a connection is time that isn’t being spent selling.

This is not to say that wireless CRM won’t someday be the norm. Over time it will undoubtedly become easier to find a wireless connection, which will reduce the cost. When wireless coverage becomes as ubiquitous as cell phone coverage, the cost will drop so low that it will be economical to provide wireless CRM even in cases where the benefits are marginal.

Even if the cost-benefit equation works for your firm today, experts still recommend caution. Wireless CRM is still under development and many of the designs for wireless CRM systems are in flux. Wireless CRM currently is in a period of early adoption during which pioneers are experimenting with the technology and discovering how to make it useful. It might be months or even years before all the technical and design issues sort themselves out. Because of this, sales organizations that aren’t absolutely convinced that wireless CRM is necessary to their success should treat the technology as something to monitor rather than implement.

The above is based on a conversation with several IT analysts, most notably Chris Foster, a software industry analyst at Technology Business Research, a market research firm headquartered in Hampton, NH.