The triangle of IT Consumerization , mobility and cloud computing is shaping a new reality for professionals everywhere. The tools of the trade for this evolving breed of mobile web workers are predominantly the smartphone and the apps running on it. This is doubly true in the case of sales persons who are often on the road and depend to a large extent on their smartphone to manage contacts, schedules and conversations.
And yet when looking closely at the selection of apps available to this professional population, one cannot escape the perception that it is greatly underserved. Yes, the business categories in the various app stores are flooded with to-do list managers, professional networking utilities and business card scanners. But when it comes to “real” business utilities, ones that tie directly into customer relationship management and sales automation practices and converse with the respective enterprise systems that govern them, the selection definitely becomes sparse.
Many business apps, few fit sales professionals CRM needs
Hold on, one might claim at this point, there are surely many CRM apps out there in the app store. And they would be right. There is indeed a large crop of CRM apps on, say, the Apple App Store. 91 results are returned, by my count, upon searching the keyword ‘CRM’. Yet a closer look reveals an interesting picture. Almost all CRM apps on the iPhone app store fall into one of the following two categories: mobile clients of established (server-based) CRM platforms; and stand-alone CRM apps.
Now, mobile CRM clients tend to mimic the behavior of their server-based, typically web-based, mothership product and represent little more than the porting of it to a mobile device. As for standalone mobile CRM apps, apart from being irrelevant when enterprise-level or business systems are already implemented, they similarly suffer from what I call the ‘bloated app syndrome’: install any one of these CRM clients or standalone apps, and you get, usually, the equivalent of an elephant in a VW beetle – 200 CRM features that you’ll never use. Let’s be clear about it: sales people don’t need mobile CRM; they need specific functions of customer relationship management or sales force automation available to them while they’re on the go, i.e., in context of their sales activities.
To explain why this is so, let’s talk for a second about how people really use their smartphone. Do they use it to edit a documents? no. To scan-view it, yes. To edit a worksheet? Surely not. But to forward it to colleagues? yes and yes. How about to prioritize the weekly schedule for sales calls? No no. But to check directions to the next sales meeting? You bet. Exploring sales performance analytics? No. Checking pipeline status? Yes.
See the pattern? Smartphones are ideal for short burst actions, the kind that takes seconds or brief minutes to complete and does not require careful reading or extensive text entry. Think searching for a contact; placing a call; checking in on Foursquare; reading tweets; sending a text message on whatsapp or sms; taking a photo and sharing it on instagram, etc.
To serve mobile pros, stop thinking like an enterprise software vendor
For CRM mobile apps to be truly useful for sales pros, their developers should avoid thinking like enterprise software developers and think like, say, a Twitter mobile app developer would, namely: how can I build an app that’s both fun to use AND useful, in that it implements the most important processes that the platform enables? To illustrate, I use TweetDeck, a popular iPhone Twitter client, not only because it’s a joy to use, but mostly because I prefer its implementation of the Twitter platform capabilities over those of the Twitter native client, or of other clients for that matter. Obviously the people in Twitter itself thought the same, since they bought TweetDeck a little while ago. But I digress.
It’s important to elaborate on the issue of platform connectivity here. For sales persons to adopt a mobile enterprise app, of any kind, it’s not enough for it to offer a mobile-optimized experience that is bloat-free. It must also interact well with the relevant enterprise system of record, e.g. in the case of sales force automation, that’s the CRM system deployed within the business or organization. This is where the cloud comes in. Today’s modern web-based (or cloud-based) enterprise applications, such as Salesforce.com, have APIs that enable mobile app developers to create nimble apps that interact with them in meaningful, useful ways. The novelty here is that developers don’t need to go through the enterprise IT anymore. They can develop (and market) direct to the enterprise or business consumer, and rely on the enterprise system API to provision them with the necessary security and authentication measures.
Where it all leads: the rise of enterprise-aware, specialized mobile apps
IT consumerization, cloud computing and smart mobility are far beyond buzzword status. I believe we will see, in the immediate future, a growing demand by mobile web and enterprise workers for tiny, smart mobile apps that truly capitalize on the strength of the smartphone platform while interacting intelligently with the enterprise cloud. The combination of enterprise processes or sub-processes, such as CRM sales automation processes (such as lead qualification, pipeline deal prioritization, etc.) delivered as mobile-optimized apps that are highly specific and maintain system-of-record integrity, is truly a powerful proposition for busy professionals, and I expect more and more developers will recognize – and address – these needs.