by Thomas Wailgum

Mobile CRM: Why Less Is More

Oct 19, 20078 mins
CRM SystemsEnterprise ApplicationsMobile

CIOs struggle when they try to mobilize enterprise applications. Dow Corning thinks its sales force now has a competitive advantage with its SAP CRM rollout. Here's how the company did it.

Chip Reeves knows all about the life of a sales guy. That’s because during his nearly 20 years at Dow Corning, a global manufacturer of silicon-based products, he was one. He knows all too well that salespeople ignore any new administrative process or technology unless it allows them to make more sales or use their time more efficiently.

Now, as Dow Corning’s director of marketing and sales processes, Reeves is leading the company’s convergence of its CRM and e-business efforts, as well as streamlining its compliance and reporting functions. The goal, naturally, is to provide excellent customer service-and to make it easy for Dow Corning sales and marketing staff to use the expansive CRM system. Real easy.

Reeves also served as the chairman for the Americas SAP User Group’s customer management group, so he knows both the power and limitations of enterprise technologies and the reality of how salespeople use CRM tools on mobile devices such as laptops and smart phones.

Both topics are important, if you’re to bring mobility to corporate applications Many companies and CIOs are struggling to determine exactly how best to mobilize critical applications that can bring a measurable payback to the company but also limit the disruption to and administrative headaches in their users’ lives. “Salespeople don’t want to get on their devices for 30 minutes after a sales call,” says Christopher Fletcher, a research director who specializes in mobile applications at AMR Research. “Salespeople by nature are independent, autonomous and don’t always play by corporate rules. It’s sometimes tough to get them to use what seems like administrative functions so that management can have better control.”

Reeves says he is always balancing the pushback from the sales folks with the CRM demands of the business. “Heavy involvement with the salespeople has been key, and we’re trying to be responsive to them,” he notes. “But by no means do we have that balance perfected yet.”

A huge part of Reeves’ task during the past two years has been ensuring that Dow Corning’s core enterprise applications, which rest on SAP’s suite of products, is intact and can be used by all users in Dow Corning’s sales and marketing group. “A lot of what we’ve done in the CRM space has been putting a foundation in to help our people work more effectively and give them more access to information,” Reeves says. Currently, that foundation encompasses the MySAP CRM 2005 package, and the SAP Portal and Business Information Warehouse 3.5 BI applications that extend the capabilities of salespeople’s mobile devices (which are primarily BlackBerrys).

It wasn’t that long ago that all the big enterprise application vendors were crowing about their desire to mobilize their packaged software applications. “I think back four or five years, and there was a lot of excitement,” recalls Fletcher. The vendors included Siebel, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Microsoft and SAP. However, “I don’t think the enterprise application vendors did a very god job at providing mobile clients as a core part of their lines,” Fletcher notes. The reasons included a steep learning curve (synchronizing back-end data with mobile devices, and screen-size issues); a reliance on browser-based interfaces (which don’t work well for mobile devices when users can’t maintain live browser connections); and a reluctance on the part of many of those vendors to actually invest in the space, even though there was tons of talk, according to Fletcher. “The mobility groups were, internally, always the orphan child” at the vendor companies, Fletcher says.

At Dow Corning, Reeves recalls the company’s frustrating starts and stops with its CRM efforts over the years. In the 1990s, they used Siebel until it became too complicated; then they relied on Microsoft Outlook to capture generic customer data, until that showed its limited scalability. In 2002, the company went back to a Siebel system but that showed usability problems and language limitations (Dow Corning has more than 25,000 customers worldwide). In 2004, they upgraded Siebel, which fixed the language problems but offered little reporting and analytics capabilities that Dow Corning wanted. Finally, in 2006, they transitioned to the aforementioned SAP suite, which offered BI reporting, portal access to a number of sales applications, and the ability to push and receive data from mobile devices.

“I don’t think [Dow Corning’s] challenges are unusual,” says AMR’s Fletcher, meaning, many companies have struggled to find the right fit for their CRM needs.

While Dow Corning had been smoothing out the back-office infrastructure, however, Reeves and his team also had to ensure that salespeople were being listened to and would want to use the mobile devices and applications. His team approached that by “looking at a day in the life of a salesperson,” he says. “Thinking through their information and task needs, what were their priorities, what were their common tasks, what were the process pain points.”

One thing became immediately clear to Reeves: When equipping mobile teams (such as the sales force), less is always more. He says that he has preached a “low input, high output” strategy that has guided the entire mobile deployment. Adding dozens and dozens of input fields to salespeople’s BlackBerry screens, which forces them to do a ton of extra work, is a recipe for disaster. “We’ve tried to weed out and simplify the processes: What are we going to need to know and how do we need that information,” he says. “There’s always a logical explanation for why a field is there. But then the question is: Do we really need it? We’re constantly trying to move toward a simpler set of questions.”

Since piloting the devices last year, Reeves says the mobile team has been working with the salespeople to tweak capabilities and address their ongoing concerns. “We are constantly in change-management mode,” he says.

For example, there used to be more than a dozen classifications of customer sales opportunities and two screens’ worth of data to input data for each sales opportunity. Now there is one opportunity type that can be filled out – on just one screen. Salespeople can get what Reeves calls “quick links” on SAP CRM data on their BlackBerrys simply by clicking an icon. These quick links show critical data, such as each salesperson’s sales by customer, open order statuses and customer complaints (which is important for a salesperson dropping in on a customer). Before the mobile deployment, when a customer asked to check on order status, the Dow Corning sales rep had to call into Dow Corning customer service operations, Reeves notes. Now the sales rep gets that in seconds on his BlackBerry. For Reeves, it all comes back to: “How much quicker can we get that responsiveness?”

In addition, the sales lead-generation process has been streamlined for salespeople on the BlackBerrys. Again, the quick links allow them to view critical lead information and input data that’s tailored specifically to the mobile device’s screen size, Reeves says. Using the SAP Portal technology, that lead generation data flows back into Dow Corning’s CRM system “without a salesperson having to open up the CRM application,” Reeves notes. So far, he estimates that the simplified lead follow-up via the mobile SAP application saves 15 to 30 minutes per lead and increases the likelihood for follow-up.

The enterprise vendors have certainly realized the importance of mobility and have increased their capabilities and offerings, says Fletcher. Shailesh Rao, vice president of product management at SAP, says, “Customers are demanding that every application vendor provide mobile access.” Rao uses Dow Corning’s situation as an example of the overall trend that CIOs need to realize. “It’s not application-centric anymore; it’s more scenario-based information access for mobile workers,” he says. “We’re not so much talking about the applications. I just want to provide the information the business users want and need the most-irrespective of where the information is coming from.”

For any CIO starting out on a mobile endeavor right now, AMR’s Fletcher offers these pieces of advice. First, before CIOs start any project, figure out what you want to happen at the end of the project, such as exactly what salespeople will get out of the new system and how long it will take to get payback on the rollout. “Know what your business case is and stick to it,” he says. And second, don’t forget the carrot with the stick: “You have to tell salespeople, ‘You’re going to start using this new CRM system, and you’re going to be able to give better quotes to customers.’ Or ‘we promise to give you 40 new qualified leads every month-but you have to put that critical information into the system,'” he says.

At Dow Corning, Reeves says his salespeople now have a competitive advantage, but it’s still early on in the transformation. “I have a lot of excitement at where we’re at today and what’s possible looking ahead,” Reeves says. “But there’s more work to do.”