Alice (or Allen) in MobileLand

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There are a few things in life that every generation values—family, a sense of security, justice—and owning a cell phone.

In fact, that sense of security that we all value ties directly into our cell phone ownership. Don't think so? Tell me, how you would feel if you lost your cell phone?

I rest my case.

The cell phone is no longer just a phone, however. It is now a mobile device that not only makes phone calls or sends and receives text messages from your family or your buds. A cell phone can provide you with e-mail as it arrives at a server in some distant land; track your expenses; give you fifty or more TV channels to watch and to listen to music that you love—all in addition to taking photos, recording videos, and simply looking very, very cool.

But as we progress through the twenty-first century, there is a class of road warrior who wants more than just style and to short message service (SMS) "r u there?" from his handheld device. While certainly looking for style (we all like to feel trendy), this road warrior is also looking for enterprise functionality.

Think Blackberry Pearl here, or even better, the new Blackberry 8800, dubbed "the 8800."

Aside from sizzling hot looks, mobile devices that support enterprise functionality are becoming increasingly important to a large number of traveling employees. The numbers almost speak for themselves.

In June 2006, IDC released its Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker report and found that sales of what they called "converged mobile devices"—or what I (and 20 million others) might call smartphones—were up to 18.9 million, which was an increase of 67.5 percent from the same quarter a year before.

In-Stat found that 96 percent of its surveyed smartphone users found the devices essential, or at least helpful, at their workplaces. Not only are more people buying smartphones, but they like them—they really like them!

"What does this have to do with customer relationship management (CRM)," you ask?

In a word—everything.

Small mobile devices that can handle either field service or sales, or that can make business intelligence (BI) available are becoming mission-critical, and the adoption rates are there to prove it.

Forrester Group mobile specialist Ellen Tracy found that adoption rates for sales, marketing, and support, also known as customer-facing applications, were actually greater than originally forecasted by the research company. For example, the expectation in 2005 was that sales force automation (SFA) on mobile devices would have a 20 percent adoption rate in 2006; it was actually 30 percent. For the vaguely titled "customer-facing applications," the expected adoption rate was 18 percent. It turned out to actually be 28 percent. For field service? That had an expected rate of 20 percent, but the actual adoption rate was 26 percent.

Why the rapid growth of CRM on that tiny screened device that falls out of its belt holster so often?

Here are three of the leading "let's get real" reasons for adoption in general:

  1. Laptops are heavy and inconvenient. Do you like lugging around a laptop? Don't you find it a lot easier to whip out your smartphone and then use your trackball, or stylus, or whatever you use to get the info you need to make the sale, or repair the equipment, or find out where your next two days of appointments are, or what your current sales pipeline is?

  2. Broadband access is ordinarily built in (enhanced data global system for mobile environment [EDGE], 1x evolution-data optimized [EV-DO], etc.) and ubiquitous on smartphones. Not so on laptops, though admittedly, it is more frequently now than it used to be, with companies like Sony, Lenovo, and Toshiba building wireless wide area network (WWAN) into their signature laptop lines. However, any smartphone—almost by definition—will have some ubiquitous broadband access built right into the unit (for an additional monthly subscription price).

  3. It's cooler to do it on a smartphone. Don't underestimate the power of "coolness" as a "feel good in the enterprise environment" factor, a status thing, and a conversation piece with your customers. Back in 2005, Intel and Toray Ultrasuede did a Technology and Lifestyle study that found that 76 percent of the respondents want their technology purchases to reflect their sense of personal style. Pooh-pooh this? Tell me, if you're a Blackberry user, would you rather have the clunky 7230, or the high-luster, glossy, slim Pearl—in the color of your choice?

Often, we look to "experts in the field" who will throw a large number of left-brained metrics at us about productivity increases, and a set of ratios that will show us what return on investment (ROI) will be and the variances that are built into the formulations around that—the "CYA" variations (variations that are put into the forecasts to deflect any blame from the forecasters should they be wrong). I have to say, there is some necessity to do this, because you have to be able to measure the success or failure of your efforts. But when it comes to mobile CRM, some of the factors are not easily measurable.

For example, does the device allow the field service technicians to access information they need to do their jobs more productively? If the answer is yes, this is a big plus.

York International, a multibillion dollar heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturer, found that prior to the use of such devices, it was having trouble with the amount of time it would take from when it first identified a need for parts for repair or replacement, to the actual installation of the parts because of the length of time it would take to get the parts to the customer. So, one of the company's key goals was to reduce this amount of time, which was around six weeks. By using handheld devices that facilitated ordering the part right at the site (among other things), in a matter of months, those six weeks became around forty-eight hours.

The metrics here are obvious—more than a thousand hours became forty-eight. But the true value is that the customer was exceptionally happy at having his problem solved quickly. The customer's satisfaction means the likelihood of increased loyalty—which means increased trust—which means more dollars committed to York International from this customer.

But those metrics aren't the valuable ones for a company that sells pharmaceuticals to the medical world. This type of company's sales process is quite complex, and field service has nothing to do with it. So what do they care about the productivity of field service workers?

They don't. Their idea of ROI is entirely different. But the human and behavioral characteristics—their people feeling more productive, more in control, and "cooler"—remain the same.

That's what I'm talking about.

So, the value of mobile CRM isn't always in the numbers; sometimes it's in how productive a mobile warrior becomes and how he or she feels while carrying the device. In other words, the value of mobile CRM lies in both the tangible and the intangible.

One last example.

In October 2006, I spoke at the NetSuite partner conference in San Francisco, California (US). During my speech, I mentioned the fact that I noticed there were three or four Blackberry Pearls in the partner audience, and I pointed in the direction of those using the Pearl. I then went on with my speech.

At the end of my speech, I noticed something very interesting. Several of the other partners began to congregate around the people with Blackberry Pearls to see the smartphones. Immediately after I was done. No hesitation.

Who says that style doesn't matter?

Okay, folks. Whatever you do, don't lose your Blackberry or your Treo. You'll feel awful, probably nearly naked—and your clients won't like the results.

About the Author

Paul Greenberg is president of The 56Group, LLC, and chief customer officer of BPT Partners. He is an internationally renowned expert on CRM and one of CRM's most influential authors. His best-selling book, CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, is now in eight languages and is used as a textbook in over sixty universities across multiple continents. It was named "the number 1 CRM book" by Greenberg is the co-chairman of Rutgers University's CRM Research Center and executive vice president of the CRM Association. His blog, PGreenblog, won SearchCRM's first annual "CRM Blog of the Year" in 2005 and was given a " Editor's Award" by TechTarget as favorite CRM blog. He can be reached at

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