Choosing The Right Mobile CRM Apps For Your Business

For many companies, staff who most leverage data from Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software systems are also the same staff who travel to deliver quotes to prospects, service customers, upsell customers, liaise with business partners and perform a host of other customer facing activities while on the road.

Historically, CRM mobile apps have incurred slow adoption. However, in combination with the rise of social CRM and cloud CRM systems, the volume and variety of options has skyrocketed. Pretty much all CRM apps have mobile options. However, specialty apps such as CPQ, e-signature and field service to name a few generally deliver the biggest time savings and productivity gains, and are often acquired from third parties.

Making customer information available in real-time and from any location enables a strong business case for adopting a mobile solution. However, the vastly different benefits of various apps as well as the dizzying array of devices, browsers and form factors slow an otherwise easy business decision.

Similar to a CRM software selection project, bringing structure and objective evaluation to a mobile app selection will result in a more informed decision, mitigate downstream challenges and aid in the implementation roll out.

Consider these evaluation tips before choosing a solution.

First, begin with your user profiles so that the best solution can be mapped to their needs. Mobile users can typically be classified into one of three personas – casual surfers, repeat readers and information seekers.

Casual surfers access information while on the road or when they simply have some excess time between meetings. They often review daily activities, reaffirm calendar meetings or look for changes with their accounts or sales pipeline. They tend to consume, and not create, information. Because their use is ad hoc and when available, mobile apps that are configurable by role, and not user, tend to be more effective and require much less maintenance. Also, mobile apps that integrate with groupware systems such as Outlook and offer large form factor displays are a big plus.

Repeat readers is a bit of a misnomer, as these users both read and create information. They often initiate or complete entire business processes from the mobile device on a recurring basis. After a customer meeting, they'll enter an activity and update the sale opportunity before their next meeting. To best accommodate this user profile, select a mobile app that is short on navigation and images.

Navigation menus should be numbered, descriptive and contextual. Numbering the menu options facilitates key-based speed and descriptive menus prevent users from taking wrong turns – which is particularly frustrating on slower cellular networks. Also, image heavy mobile apps tend to crowd out more useful menu selections and clog network traffic thereby slowing performance and frustrating the user. For this user profile, less is more. Look for streamlined menu-based navigation and plenty of white space on the screens.

Information seekers want specific content, and want it quickly. Their information needs can generally be grouped into a custom screen of favorites or short-cuts – preferably on a landing page, or with an absolute minimum number of page to page navigational requirements. Like the repeat readers, minimal use of images and an abundance of white space contribute to a good mobile user experience. Also, this user profile may be more inclined to query the CRM database, view dashboards, run reports or even view analytics. These functions tend to be advanced features for todays mobile apps, which will limit the number of CRM software contenders.

Additional tips which aid the mobile user experience regardless of user type include the following:

  • Contextual linking and menus lower the learning curve, reduce the number of keystrokes and page to page navigational requirements, and speed performance. Unfortunately, few CRM software vendors deliver contextual navigation. Those that do have a big leg up.
  • Numbered links accelerate navigation, reduce fat fingering mistakes and provide additional value for those mobile devices that don't support pinch-and-zoom. Some CRM vendors insert large buttons in place of numbered menus, which works for some user profiles, but not others.
  • Don't attempt to replicate every object, page or function in your customer relationship management system to your CRM mobile experience – and discount CRM vendors that take this approach. Such an effort renders the system overly difficult and challenges new user adoption. Instead, work with users to find the balance for the smallest list of most used features.

IT Challenges With Mobile CRM Evaluations and Deployments

Decentralization, business travel, on-demand access to information and less time in the office are only a few of today's business realities which spur the need for more intuitive and productive mobile technologies.

However, technology advances also come with complexities that must be managed. CRM integration, unified communications convergence, location based services, wireless networks, complex security and an increased number of mobile devices, form factors and operating systems present real challenges for IT departments charged to procure, maintain, upgrade and trouble-shoot a host of non-standardized tools.

The mobile CRM market share landscape is in flux making standardization choices even more difficult. Some companies may be tempted to standardize on iPhones, as they already have a significant installed base. However, Android smartphones are much more cost effective and have much greater market momentum. Some venture well beyond email and may have an advantage in a greater choice of CRM or social CRM apps to choose from.

Many internal IT departments are skilled in Microsoft technologies and therefore may prefer Windows Mobile 7. Unfortunately, Windows Mobile is lacking in user adoption, and business apps, compared to iPhones and Android smartphones.

IT should poll users to understand preferences and thereby maximize user adoption. They should also tread cautiously with regard to over-standardization. Limit users to a single mobile platform, and adoption is certain to suffer. However, trying to support every platform is a recipe for supporting none of them well. A careful balance and compromise must be struck.

IT departments also have special consideration with regard to information security. Lost smartphones and mobile devices are a fact of life. To mitigate the damage, establish a clear policy that all devices which offer access or possess company data require dual factor authentication. Make sure password controls are no less stringent for mobile devices than for desktop computers. Weak passwords are of little help and lack of user education for mobile password diligence will preempt your security efforts. As I tell my staff and colleagues, treat your passwords like your underwear – don't leave them lying around, change them frequently and don't ever share them with your friends.

Customer lists are often regarded as a company's number 1 information asset. Special safeguards should be considered to protect this asset, and prevent it from walking out the door on a mobile device with a disgruntled sales person and into the doors of that sales person's next employer, who may be your biggest competitor.

Some vendors offer third party tools to permit on demand remote removal of data from a mobile device. Others can be triggered to automatically fail authentication and make the data inaccessible when other company system credentials are terminated. At the minimum, if any customer or company data resides on a mobile device, make sure the data is encrypted.