Sales forces gear up for wireless work

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Wireless sales-force systems are rapidly becoming a reality, but how effective are they? That's the question sales-force executives, marketing executives and other business managers face when evaluating one- and two-way wireless systems for keeping in touch with salespeople in the field.

Though vendors are beginning to produce wireless systems for notifying sales representatives about leads or a customer's status, few corporations have actually implemented them, said Sheryl Kingstone, program manager of CRM strategies for The Yankee Group. In fact, Yankee recently shelved plans to generate reports on wireless field sales force applications because so few of them actually exist, Kingstone said.

Yet the business benefits of such systems are obvious, she said. "When field sales representatives are going through the revolving door of a client's office building, you want them to be able to check whether the customer has recently checked on an order, complained or sought any other form of customer service," Kingstone said. "It ensures the sales representative is not blind-sided. There is no question there is value there."

Playing catch-up

European companies are far ahead of their U.S. counterparts in wireless implementations of sales-force applications because they set a unified standard for wireless communications, Kingstone explained.

Compaq Computer Corp. moved on Nov. 29 to capitalize on the trend in the foreign market with its formation of the Compaq Wireless Center, which will conceptualize, test and develop wireless business systems. Among Compaq's partners in the new business is AtoB, a mobile marketing company that has already deployed a wireless sales system for KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines.

In the U.S., corporations are forced to deal with multiple standards when creating wireless sales force and customer relationship management applications, Kingstone said. However, technologies are coming online to make wireless sales forces feasible. MarketSoft Corp., Siebel Systems Inc., Annuncio Software Inc., Astea International Inc., Kana Communications Inc., E.piphany Inc. and Interact Commerce Corp. are among the leaders in developing wireless sales force applications.

This week, MarketSoft is expected to announce a new wireless service called eLocator, which makes it possible for companies to send leads to reseller partners as well as in-house sales forces.

These systems are not cheap. A typical installation can cost as much as $100,000 per 100 users, analysts said. In addition, many services charge about $10,000 monthly to keep the systems up and running.

"We're betting that getting sales-lead information and distributing it as quickly as possible is going to prove valuable," said Mike Kozub, MarketSoft's chief marketing officer. "In b-to-b markets, the competition is fierce. We think we're developing sales lead systems that are faster and more accurate."

Measuring success

Darren Orzechowski, VP-marketing at Aprisma, has implemented a wireless system serving 90 field sales representatives. An infrastructure management software developer, Aprisma views the wireless system as key in measuring the success of its marketing efforts. Aprisma uses MarketSoft technology.

"Our marketing department was out there bringing in leads through trades shows, our Web site and a $12 million branding campaign, but we had no way of making sure the lead got into the right person's hands," Orzechowski said.

The new system, which has been running for 10 months, allows Aprisma to gather leads from all sources and map them to their inside sales-force applications. Then, via wireless communications, sales reps received the updated information in real-time.

Aprisma requires that marketing executives categorize each lead as hot, medium or cold and add important notes to each lead as soon as they receive it. Meanwhile, salespeople have been given wireless personal digital assistants to get messages wherever they are. That way, there's no latency on the human side of the system, Orzechowski said.

"Our sales are spread throughout the country and [salespeople are] rarely dialing in with their laptop," Orzechowski said. "This system ensures that if someone is in the process of making a decision on network infrastructure management and contacts us, we can get in the middle of the decision quickly."

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