For most B2B companies, mobile devices are a pervasive force in their sales organization, meaning most sales reps already use them in their day-to-day activities in some capacity. According to a September 2014 report from Gartner, “by 2016, 55 percent of salespeople will access sales applications exclusively through smartphones or tablets.” If this prediction holds up, then B2B companies will have to arm reps with mobile tools that make them more effective, not just more efficient.

Efficiency versus Effectiveness

To date, the vast majority of B2B sales applications have focused on making sales reps more efficient on the road and making it easier for sales reps to access customer contacts and other related data in their CRM system. These applications enable salespeople to save time and quickly communicate back up the sales management chain. Yet, these tools don’t help sales reps where it counts — actually selling more.

Conversely, a mobile sales application that is effective (versus just efficient) has a direct effect on organic revenue growth by providing actionable insights. To be effective, a mobile application should provide sales teams with real-time information on possible customer defections and cross-sell opportunities while they’re on the go. To sell more, sales teams should know within seconds where to prioritize their sales activities and product discussions. In the massively complex business of industrial manufacturing, this is easier said than done.

Decision Complexity in B2B Sales

Consider a day in the life of one sales rep at an average B2B industrial manufacturer as an example. This rep’s book of business includes 150 accounts out of the company’s customer base of 10,000 and three of the company’s five major product lines, which includes more than 50,000 product SKUs. This rep has literally millions of options when it comes to deciding which customers to call on and which products to sell. On top of the sheer volume of decisions to be made, the rep needs to know which of these decisions will directly result in better retention or increased share-of-wallet with existing customers.

This sales rep is up against serious decision complexity, but his decision-making capabilities are not limited just by the degree of complexity. The rep is limited by his available time to make these decisions and the finite scope of his personal experience. With so many nuanced and complex factors involved in B2B sales, even seemingly small oversights or mistakes in the decision process can quickly add up to significant losses.

For instance, when faced with the problem of how to allocate his time optimally, this rep may choose to spend 80 percent of his time with only the top 20 percent of his accounts and fail to catch the key purchase signals that indicate one of his important mid-tier customers is beginning to defect. If you amplify this seemingly small misstep across the entire sales force every day of the quarter, the impact becomes enormous. Knowing exactly when defection begins is critical, considering that at any given point in time, 20 to 40 percent of a manufacturer’s customer base is either dropping purchase volume in a given product category or completely defecting to a competitor.

Decision Guidance Improves Sales Rep Effectiveness

The fact remains that over time, the decision complexity facing B2B sales reps will only increase. Companies, in turn, will need to help them be more effective by providing actionable guidance. Imagine the improvements possible if each sales rep could be armed with guidance directly on their smartphones or tablets that identified which customers were beginning to defect and which were ripe for cross-sell opportunities. And those opportunities were available for the rep’s entire book of business – not just the top 20 percent.

According to Gartner Analyst Robert Desisto, “mobile devices will have the biggest impact on sales force automation since the laptop was introduced decades ago.” With this in mind, smart companies are deploying these mobile applications to ensure that sales reps are more effective, and not just more efficient. Powered by predictive sales solutions, these apps push out actionable sales insights to sales reps that tell them where the best opportunities for cross-sell and retention exist. Even better, company executives can align this guidance with corporate strategy, ensuring organic growth targets are achieved. When sales reps know where their time is best spent — accounts with defection risk and accounts with opportunities for growth — both effectiveness and efficiency improves, as does revenue and commissions.