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Let Your Data Do the Walking: Page 2

By Neil Plotnick     Feedback
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"The increased number of successful sales calls easily justified the project cost." --Julie Copeland, VP of sales at Arbill, with Barry Copeland, Arbill's president.

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. "All of 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.

    Additional resources

    META Report: WAP: Home Run or Dull Thud?
    During the next two years, the number of wireless devices connected to the Internet will explode. Most digital service providers now support the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), opening new avenues for customer interaction and field integration.

    Rewiring the World for Handhelds
    For established retailers, going online presents a unique set of challenges and no guarantee of success.

    This article was originally published on November 7, 2000
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