Special Report: Wireless CRM starting to support sales forces

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Time was, salespeople marched into the field armed with clunky binders and clumsy briefcases crammed with all the materials they could carry from the office. Now that wireless software is catching up with the built-in capabilities of personal digital assistants, cell phones and laptop computers, more and more salespeople can tap into a wealth of customer information—unencumbered and untethered.

"By opening up a wireless channel, you start to improve customer service," said Phil Lopez, a partner in Accenture’s communications and high-tech practice. "You’re allowing the enterprise to leverage all of its resources and anything that is in its CRM database. The result is the ability to respond much, much quicker, and recognize issues much, much faster."

Accenture recently developed a wireless CRM application with tele-communications and Internet giant Nortel Networks Corp. The companies said the new product, part of Nortel’s eFront Office CRM suite, gives field workers access to customer service history, inventory data, client leads and other important information. The software will also increase scheduling efficiency by allowing businesses to reroute or reassign field service personnel, officials said.

Available in the U.S. and Canada, the new application supports wireless application protocol phones, Palm OS-based handhelds and various other devices and networks. Lopez expects most of the major CRM vendors to develop similar wireless platforms as corporations begin to link their mobile workforces with real-time customer data.

"Anything that is Web-enabled will be eventually accessible through wireless devices," Lopez predicts. "There’s going to be an explosion in ubiquitous, untethered computing."

Instant information Keith Raffel, CEO of, a provider of Web-based sales management, said companies will embrace wireless CRM applications because they can close more sales quicker just by having the right information at hand. Or conversely, they won’t want to lose sales because a field representative didn’t have the most current information on a competitor or a forecast about inventory.

"The half life on some of these sales is extremely short," Raffel said. "The key is moving opportunities through the sales cycle as fast as possible."

Silicon Valley-based UpShot Corp. recently released a wireless version of its hosted, enterprise-level sales force automation software that works on Palm Pilots and Internet-enabled cell phones. Emphasizing ease-of-use and security, the application offers real-time updates on customers, competitors and the salesperson’s own team. The software also can create customized reports that measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.

But going wireless isn’t as easy as some CRM providers are claiming. For instance, UpShot’s biggest customer, Hewlett-Packard Co., has equipped 1,800 of its sales representatives with the vendor’s browser-based softwarIe, but has resisted implementing a completely wireless solution.

"Some of our sales reps handle more than 10,000 accounts," said Tom Hughes, HP’s North American program manager-CRM tools. "The upload and download time would be prohibitive."

Nonetheless, Hughes said the introduction of UpShot’s CRM software has been a huge boon for HP, considering as recently as three years ago, the sales force "had virtually no information about their customers in a handy way. With UpShot, we now have a complete history of all the leads attached to a particular account. The change has been dramatic."

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