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Mobile CRM: Always The Bridesmaid, Never The Bride

Smartphones are proliferating at light speed, and applications for them—especially for the iPhone—are growing apace. The iPhone has long been the rival of the business-friendly BlackBerry, but since the advent of the iPhone, other smartphones are rolling out different features in an attempt to match it.

Most recently, the iPhone and the Android phones have taken center stage, and despite lackluster sales, many consider the latest Droid model as the mobile phone that will outdo the iPhone. The Droid has been positioned as a business phone in many ways—honing in on the BlackBerry crowd—but the phone’s projected coup remains to be seen. Regardless, both the Android phones and the iPhone could succeed the BlackBerry as the enterprise phone of choice—many companies are weary of paying for BlackBerry’s secure messaging server, and both the aforementioned phones will likely adopt similar secure messaging services soon.

So considering that the battle of the smartphones becomes more and more heated, and we see people of all professions carrying them, you’d think a deluge of mobile CRM applications (and news about them) would follow. But like the Droid takeover, the rise of the iPhone CRM application has yet to be seen, and it is very likely it may never be realized.

Devices like the BlackBerry and iPhone offer accessibility to more information, which can be very helpful to sales and field teams in need of CRM data. To remain competitive, it is becoming more important for these service people to have CRM information readily available, and thankfully most CRM vendors have applications for the major mobile devices at this point. When searching for a mobile solution—be it iPhone CRM or other—it’s important that the mobile employees’ needs match the IT and security priorities of the company. But what is most likely going to affect your mobile CRM selection—and the reason mobile CRM will probably never surpass the presence of the desktop application—is that it usually depends entirely on your choice of desktop solution. In most cases, it’s easiest to just rely on the mobile version of the native platform.

Those using on-demand platforms can readily access CRM data from their iPhone, since vendors like Salesforce.com and SugarCRM build their products in the cloud. Companies dealing mostly in legacy systems, like Oracle, usually develop separate applications, and some non-CRM companies are creating applications to extend CRM functionality to the smartphone.

There are a plethora of solutions, but the options for personalization, and how closely they resemble the native app are another story. Dealing with tons of data on a mobile device is not ideal, so an iPhone CRM application is very much “CRM lite.” In addition, security issues may have IT departments worrying about certain data being stored on mobile devices—many mobile CRM apps have offline components, and if the phone is stolen or lost this could be problematic. Fortunately, many vendors are incorporating data encryptions for mobile solutions to prevent the theft of valuable or confidential CRM data.

When it comes to choosing a mobile CRM solution, CRM Buyer has a few recommendations: find a mobile CRM component that correlates to the native application, and more importantly, be sure the mobile solution meets the sales staff’s needs. Should they find the app lacking, they will most likely enact their own solution, which leads to counterproductive fragmentation of information.

It has long been noted that the people benefitting the most from an Android or iPhone CRM application are sales people; aside from maybe help desk centers, they are also the ones thought to benefit the most from social CRM as well. Recently, the CEO of appssavvy, a consulting company that launches mobile applications, told the press his company would soon be expanding from social gaming apps to social CRM applications. Whether these social CRM apps will differ greatly from traditional iPhone CRM apps has yet to be seen, but it sounds like a space where mobile CRM could really grow, especially since social media platforms are already simple, and translate well onto mobile devices. In addition, social networking applications are popular on smartphones, so social CRM as an extension could be highly successful.