Where to Use Wireless for CRM

By Geoffrey James

Wireless is a big CRM buzzword, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically shell out the shekels for new technology. The trick to knowing when to use wireless for CRM is to match the capabilities of the technology to your real needs as a sales group.

There are two ways to connect a mobile sales rep to the CRM system – 802.11 WiFi, which is fast and standardized but only available in a checkerboard of access points, and cellular, which is slow and nonstandard but available virtually everywhere. The specific characteristics of the two communication methods determine which wireless CRM applications are practical.

WiFi is nearly as fast as a hardwired Internet connection, so any CRM application that runs across a hardwired Internet connection will perform adequately across WiFi, even if the application has many complex information screens. Because you have to find a WiFi hotspot to use it for CRM, however, it may not be possible for your reps to get a connection every time they need it.

The lack of geographical WiFi coverage does not mean that WiFi is entirely impractical for CRM. Many CRM applications don’t need to operate in real time, but instead only need to be synched so that the data on the mobile device matches the data on the corporate servers. If sales reps know ahead of time where they can get access, then WiFi might provide sufficient connectivity. Pharmaceutical sales reps, for example, spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices so they don’t have access to hot spots. They can’t use cellular either because the use of cell phone technology generally is forbidden in hospital environments. Instead, many pharmaceutical sales reps find it adequate to sync their mobile computers in the morning and then repeat the process later in the day, perhaps at a Starbucks next to the hospital.

While cellular coverage is broadly available, the slow data transfer speeds make it impractical to display all the CRM screens. Because of this, wireless CRM via cellular generally is most appropriate for short emails, messaging, contact management and other relatively simple applications. The potential impact of such technology should not be underestimated, however. Cellular can serve as the core of more robust CRM applications, providing they’re programmed so they don’t require a great deal of communication bandwidth.

Sales managers must be highly selective when looking to add wireless to their CRM bag of tricks. For example, contact management and messaging are natural applications for cellular wireless because they don’t require a lot of communication bandwidth. Similarly, when it comes to field sales the critical factor for sales rep productivity is the speed with which the order can be processed. In this case, real-time wireless CRM, even if only cellular based, offers reps the ability to immediately confirm that a product is available so they can assure their customers that the inventory exists and that it is earmarked for them.

While wireless CRM might have some limitations, you still can apply it to a variety of CRM situations provided you don’t expect too much. That’s the case today. Over time, however, the advent of high-speed cellular networks, along with the continued proliferation of WiFi hotspots, will make wireless appropriate for a larger number of CRM applications, so stay tuned.

The above is based largely on a discussion with Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group, a CRM consulting organization. He can be reached at 781-297-0066 or through www.beagleresearch.com.