Mobile CRM Opportunties and Challenges

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Part 1: Mobile CRM


My eighteen year-old son provides some great examples of the trends driving mobility and social:

  • Jack uses his iPhone a LOT, but rarely for phone calls. He texts, he searches, he tweets, he Facebooks. He’s a gamer, and he loves Call of Duty on his Alienware M18x. But anything that doesn’t have a compelling requirement for screen real estate is done on the mobile device.
  • He rarely sends emails or makes phone calls (see above). Most of his communications – and virtually all with his peers – are on Facebook, or texts or IMs. Emails are for formal communications only, and generally with older recipients. Phone calls are for synchronous emergencies only, especially those involving his parents, like he needs a ride or some money. Recently, I heard him talking on his iPhone more than usual. I thought he’d gone old-school and started calling his friends, but it turns out the voice-to-text conversion is good enough now on the iPhone that he’s been speaking his texts rather than typing them.

With his generation entering the labor force, it’s easy to understand why  social and mobile are IT mega-trends, occupying the top spots in IT trend discussions, like this one on ZDNet. In this article I’ll focus on mobile CRM and address questions about these trends, like the following:

  • How will they impact CRM, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM in particular?
  • What kinds of opportunities and challenges will they present in your CRM deployment?
  • What can you do now to get started?

In the next article I’ll apply the same treatment to social CRM.

Mobile CRM

Of these two trends, mobility’s impact on CRM is more tactical, and probably more obvious: users will increasingly want to interact with CRM using whichever device is the most appropriate or most readily available. I’m old enough to remember submitting batch jobs to mainframes using punch-cards. Back then, the transition to a PC – with a keyboard and a screen! – was transformational. Then came the transition to GUIs, then laptops, and now iPads and smartphones. Mobility is as unstoppable as the other transitions were, and CRM applications need to be available on – and appropriate for -- the devices our users use. Certainly other business applications aren’t immune from the push to mobile, but CRM has some special characteristics that make it low-hanging fruit for the transition.

First, the sales and service people using CRM are generally a pretty mobile crowd. They’re out there visiting customers, after all. The traditional call reporting function – taking hard-copy notes in one meeting after another, then typing them into your CRM call reports once back in the office – helped to sour a generation of users to the whole CRM concept, but mobile CRM will soon make that scenario as quaint as punch-cards.

Mobile CRM Challenges

One of the big challenges for a mobile CRM is technical: how to modify the user experience to fit the smaller screens on mobile devices? A comparison of the following two screenshots – the first of an account form designed for the PC experience, the second for mobile – makes this obvious:



If you do a managed deployment of any of the mobile solutions for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, one of the features is a server-based configuration application that lets you tailor the mobile UI: specify which entities should be made available to mobile users, customize the mobile forms and views appropriately, and so forth.  You can even see this out of the box in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011: Microsoft’s free Mobile Express application has checkbox options to make an entity available to mobile users, and a single-column form designer to specify which fields go on your mobile forms.

At first, users are often underwhelmed by the mobile CRM experience: who wants to work in that confining single-column view, and who wants to type their call reports on a phone? But just like other popular mobile apps, the key to mobile CRM success is to adapt the UI and leverage the strengths of the platform. A good mobile CRM app, on a good mobile device, used by a reasonably mobile-savvy user, can provide a great experience and do a lot to drive overall CRM adoption. I’ll show you some examples of this below.

Another challenge for mobile CRM is organizational in nature and has to do with issues like these: How do you deploy and manage the devices? Who owns them? How do you safeguard corporate data? These are big issues, and can only be addressed if you do a managed deployment of your mobile CRM solution. I also used that term in reference to server-based mobile UI configurators, and I circle back to it here in a different context. All of the leading mobile solutions for Dynamics CRM feature server-based applications – often, but not always managed solutions running inside your CRM – that allow for scalable, secure deployment of your mobile solution.

To appreciate what I mean by a managed mobile CRM deployment, if you’ve got an iPhone you can perform your own DIY unmanaged deployment by following these steps:

  1. On your iPhone, go to the App Store and search for “Resco Mobile CRM”
  2. When you find the Resco Mobile CRM app, download it and install it. (It’s free, no credit card required.)
  3. After installation, fire it up and click the Sync button in the upper right corner of the main menu.
  4. Assuming you can access your Microsoft Dynamics CRM over the Internet, enter your organization URL and your credentials, and then click Login.

The Resco Mobile CRM app is the best iPhone CRM app I’ve ever used. To me, it feels like the first mobile CRM app that simply works the way you expect an iPhone app to work. So why do they give it away free? Because they want organizational business, and they know organizations aren’t going to deploy with the DIY approach just described. Organizations need to manage their deployments, and for that, they need to license Resco Mobile CRM: only with a licensed version do you get the tools to centrally deploy, configure and manage your mobile CRM users.

Mobile CRM Opportunities

If you work in IT for an organization with users clamoring (insisting?) for mobile CRM, imagine the relief you’ll experience after a successful rollout! Apart from that, here are some other opportunities you can mine for mobile gold:

  • Easier data means more data. If we’re serious about providing 360 degree views of our customers, we need to make it easier for our users to tell the story. With a good mobile CRM app, they can search for a contact record, tap her phone number to call her, and record the activity as a completed call when done.
  • More timely data means better quality data. Not only are activities easier to record, but they’re easier to record sooner. This means not just a more complete customer view, but a more accurate one. Back to the dreaded call report scenario. I was on the road recently and had a conversation with a client about mobile CRM. Being mobile, too lazy to type and not wanting to forget our conversation (and my followups), I attached a note to the account record. Resco’s Mobile CRM is a native iPhone app, so it can use the native capabilities of the platform. If you read the note in the following figure you can tell I used the voice recorder to create it. (Believe me, I don’t think I could make up “see our M” if I tried!) I may never have to type another call report!

Mobility provides unique advantages to CRM. In addition to allowing users to be more efficient at the things they’re already doing, you’ll discover that a good mobile CRM lets you do brand new things. And customer relationship management does derive some unique advantages from things that are inherently mobile. For example, my family recently made a trip to Ann Arbor to help Jack launch his college career. On the return trip, driving west on I-94, I opened the map feature in Resco Mobile CRM. Zooming out just little bit from my current position, I could see that Greenstone Farm Credit Services – an account I hadn’t visited for way too long – was in Lansing, just a few miles north of my current location:

Unfortunately it was 7:00 PM and they were closed for the day. Fortunately, zooming out a little showed me I had plenty of other Michigan-based accounts (red) and contacts (green) that I might call on:

I might never make it home!

Getting Started Now

I mentioned Microsoft’s free Mobile Express add-on. Its primary advantages are that it’s free, and it comes out of the box with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and on-premise deployments. It’s also optimized for tire-kicking: Open the browser on your mobile device, enter the URL of your Microsoft Dynamics CRM and if it’s Internet-facing and your security role supports it, there you go. One disadvantage of Mobile Express is that the UI is the web browser, so it will disappoint users looking for something tuned for their device.

Apart from the UI, the main disadvantages of Mobile Express are its lack of manageability features. It’s really intended as a proof of concept more than anything else.

That’s where the commercial mobile CRM apps come in. I mentioned Resco previously, and while in my experience it’s the best mobile CRM app I’ve used for the iPhone, it’s been at least a few months since I’ve tried their competitors’ mobile apps. These companies crank out new versions all the time, so they may well have very good applications too. Besides Resco, CWR Mobility and TenDigits have been the traditional leaders in commercial mobile apps for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and I have enterprise clients who have successfully deployed both to mobile users. All three have free versions available in the App Store, and all three support the most popular mobile platforms. Here are their web sites for more information:

Next Steps

Microsoft has big plans for both mobile and multi-browser support, and in the relatively short term. The CRM Anywhere release – originally scheduled for Q2 2012, since pushed back to Q4 – should have support for IE, Chrome, FireFox and Safari  (on both the Mac and the iPad). Microsoft also announced that CRM Anywhere would add a full-featured mobile CRM app available directly from Microsoft, powered by CWR’s mobile technology.  Here’s a link to the original announcement of CRM Anywhere, and here’s an article on the new delivery schedule.

If you haven’t yet sketched out your mobile CRM strategy, you should get started now. Microsoft’s next release isn’t far off, and most CRM administrators can expect plenty of questions from antsy users when they hear they can access Microsoft Dynamics CRM on their iPads!

Magenium specializes in helping clients realize the potential of Microsoft Dynamcis CRM, and mobile CRM is in our sweet spot! If you have questions or want to see a demo, contact us at or call 630-786-5900.

By Magenium Solutions, a Microsoft certified Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner in Chicago, IL. Follow us on Twitter or Connect on Facebook.



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