Mobile CRM Apps for Field Sales- What You Need to Know

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Mobile CRM or, to be more precise, mobile access to CRM has become a hot topic fuelled by the growth of smart phones and tablets in the sales environment and the much hailed launch of 4G in major urban conurbations. Despite the significant advancements in smart phones and tablets, the success of mobile CRM has proved more challenging; the failing does not lie with the devices, but is linked to the mobile app and the need for bandwidth. Whilst bandwidth in cities has improved, in many working areas this is not the case. And just because there is bandwidth, that is not the same as maintaining an open high data connection required by some mobile apps.

going mobile

Experience has shown that when field sales people cannot consistently and easily use the app to complete their tasks in the field, such as entering field visit data, it leads to a significant and rapid fall in compliance. This easily spreads to other members of the sales team and is very difficult to prevent. Some investigation and questions early in the decision-making process of selecting which app to use can prevent future challenges. As a guide, the amount of data required to record field account information and enter it into a CRM can range between 30k (a text message is 7k) and 10 MB, and requires an open data connection as little as 10 seconds, up to many minutes. I have seen one sales person spend 15 minutes.

One of the main drivers, which is in the control of the buyer, is the type of app that the system uses. What is an ‘app’? A mobile application is software written for mobile devices that performs a specific task, such as games, music, or linking field sales to other systems such as a CRM. The term app is generally applied to 2 different types tools, both of which bring both advantages and disadvantages. Before you select your app, you should understand the difference. The 2 types of apps are native app and web app. The need to understand each type of app is key, as they have different requirements for continuous high bandwidth/3G, which is a key driver in the level of field compliance, as well as other differences around functionality and ease of distribution and use.

Native apps are specifically designed to run on each phone’s operating system and firmware. This allows the app to use all the functionality of the phone, such as camera, GPS etc. These may be important when you need pictures from the field, and they will usually run faster than web apps as it is not linked to the speed of the data connection.

The big advantage of native apps is that they run ‘off line’ or with minimum data usage, as they are not reliant on a data connection and will always work. As an example of data requirements, one field sales app can validate login credentials, account search, contact search, record full field sales call information and enter the sales call into the system/CRM using only 30k of data. As a reference, one text e mail is 350k and a web page is estimated at 500k of data. In addition, they can also offer significantly faster information recording with one sales management app, offering the ability to record a field sales visit in a minute or less.

One downside is that each OS, and sometimes each phone model, requires a bespoke app. This is why you will see many systems only offering an app that is only available for one phone or a limited range of phones. This can also have an impact on version control, though apps sourced through web stores, and in particular Windows and Apple, offer auto updating functionality.

Web apps are browser based applications where all or part of the software is downloaded each time it is run. The most common manifestation of this is when the logo and outline of the form is held locally on the phone, reducing the data requirement, but the data and functional part is accessed each time. An example that most people will be familiar with are banking apps. Generally web apps are available for most phones as their main requirement is an internet browser.

The main advantage of web apps is ease of access with either no or limited amount of software to be installed onto the phone. It is easier to maintain version control, as part or all of their functionality is accessed via the web. On the downside, they can only work when the device has an open high bandwidth data connection and they cannot make use of all the features of the phone.

Many companies have started with the proprietary app linked to their CRM and found it challenging, mainly with regards to compliance by the field sales team, often caused by the inability for the field team to regularly enter data due to the need for high bandwidth/3G.

If you are faced with the above scenario or you are looking to add mobile for your field sales team, before you do, check what type of app you are being offered and check the data requirements. In addition to the proprietary apps to help combat poor compliance and to bring additional functionality such as sales management, there are now a selection of native apps which can operate and allow the field sales person to enter and visit customer data, with either minimal data or no data signal, and sync later.

Looking for Customer Relationship Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Relationship Management software solutions.

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About the Author

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Alan Timothy

Alan has degrees in Medical Bacteriology, Mathematics and an MBA from UCLA and has published extensively in Europe and the USA. He is currently a visiting Fellow at the Business School at Teesside University. Alan is Chief Scientist at www.i-snapshot.com, which delivers improved field sales performance and management through a field app that allows a sales visit to be captured in under a minute and a benchmark data set of 12 million field sales visits. Through analysis and benchmarking of field data, improvements of over 20% in productivity are regularly seen.

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