With more people going mobile as both consumers and workers, there is more reason than ever for companies to upgrade their CRM systems to enable remote access.
But while recent research shows that many businesses are doing this, it also shows that more than half are dragging their feet when it comes to allowing employees to tap into customer data wherever they're working, according to Mike Richardson, managing director EMEA for CRM solutions provider Maximizer Software.
There is no denying that we live in an increasingly mobile world. The days of companies operating strictly from a specific 'workplace' are gone and, instead, firms face a far more flexible business environment in which hot-desking, working from home and setting up a virtual desk on the road are commonplace.
As a result, businesses today need to ensure that their enterprise infrastructure is adaptable, so that their employees can do their jobs – and do them well – no matter where they are.
The emergence of smartphones, tablets, netbooks and other mobile devices in people's personal and professional lives has meant that consumers are used to handling their commercial dealings whenever and wherever they need to. In order to keep up, the companies targeting them need the wherewithal to operate in an equally mobile manner – without losing track of crucial data which will ensure that all staff engaged in customer communications and interactions, whether for marketing, sales or service, are always fully informed and up-to-date.
In this increasingly mobile environment, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems need to be accessible anywhere, anytime. In today's tough business climate no firm can afford to drive customers away or miss new opportunities simply because they cannot access the information needed to handle them intelligently.
Maximizer's own research found that SMEs are taking note of this, with the number utilising mobile CRM systems growing steadily. The research report, entitled 'Everything, everywhere, right now', shows that firms are indeed making CRM systems more usable for staff who are on the move or working off-site. The independent survey of nearly 1,400 small and medium-sized firms in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) reveals that nearly half of SMEs with CRM systems in place have now upgraded them to include mobile access and functionality.
While this growth is substantial, it does not match the steep uptake of mobile CRM anticipated in a major research report three years ago. According to a 2009 Forrester study, a third of SMEs (33%) had already deployed web-accessible CRM systems, with market penetration predicted to reach 96% over the next three years. While further uptake has taken place, Maximizer's research reveals a considerably slower rate of adoption, with 46% of SMEs in EMEA having now upgraded to web-accessible CRM.
Why are companies holding back? Maximizer's research uncovered three main areas of concern for SMEs. The first, unsurprisingly, is cost. It is understandable that in the current economic climate many businesses are hesitating to make all but the most crucial investments. However, the report finds that perceived cost is a major disincentive for SMEs and indicates that further market education is necessary on the part of the CRM industry – especially given the significant commercial benefits of flexible and effective mobile platforms and the fact that hosted provision via a subscription model can help companies avoid considerable IT infrastructure and staff costs, while providing the option for growth when it is needed.
The research showed that SMEs are also anxious about the implications of web-accessible CRM for their data security. Protecting customer data is an increasingly high priority for businesses, particularly in the context of EU data protection legislation and the emergence of remote and cloud applications. Half of the respondents to this study also expressed concerns over integrating mobile CRM with their existing systems. Again this is a legitimate point, given that there are countless examples of apparently affordable solutions escalating in price when integration services are added on.
However, both concerns underline the need for CRM systems suppliers to increase awareness amongst SMEs of the variety of affordable platforms in the market with inbuilt security features and integration capabilities – and for the user companies to satisfy themselves about system compatibility and robust security features in the mobile CRM solution they choose.
A case in point…
While these doubts clearly weigh heavily on SMEs considering web-accessible CRM solutions, feedback from those that have already upgraded indicates that the benefits far eclipse any potential difficulties. One such example is Combiflow, an Irish provider of process pumping and conveying products. Upon realising that its existing system was limiting its salespeople's ability to spend time talking to prospects in the field, the business upgraded to mobile CRM in 2008.
Combiflow's managing director, Morgan O'Brien, says that having a web-accessible CRM system "has given our remote workers the luxury of being able to work almost anywhere. They can update and share their calendars with the entire sales team, as well as add appointments, sales quotes and customer correspondence details without having to go into the office. It has given us the freedom to make the most of the time spent with potential clients. This has resulted in more sales calls and, ultimately, more business."
Having remote access to all the customer data available is becoming a fundamental requirement in modern business. The simple truth is that the companies that act on this fact will steal a march on their competitors, while those that don't will fall behind.
Salespeople who can access correspondence, schedules, inventories and customer preferences in the field are better equipped to approach customers. Marketers who have instant access to accurate and up-to-date information – wherever they happen to be working – are in a better position to attract business from new and existing customers alike by providing communications at the right time, in the right way, to the right contact, and with the right message. Customer service people who have the complete history, correspondence and up-to-date product information for clients are better placed to provide a positive customer experience.
And those that don't have the necessary data to hand, regardless of whether they are in the office or on the move, risk alienating customers with irrelevant, ill-informed and inefficient interactions. With fewer than half of SMEs currently being equipped with mobile CRM, it appears that many companies still have some way to go.