It seems everyone in the office (alright, not everyone) is talking about mobility options for CRM. Why? To me it seems the latest craze in the ever changing CRM world and I don’t think it’s completely founded on need.
Having worked in the CRM world for ten years now, I’ve seen fads come and go, and the need for mobile solutions for CRM has also come and gone. I remember, particularly, how much people wanted CRM on PDAs, as they were then referred to. It failed because the screens were too small, the connection wasn’t available and the core CRM products just tried to push the same desktop experience to the mobile device.
Is this any different now?
The screens are no longer small. Tablets are all the rage but they do genuinely allow you to at least look at information in a readable font size. Net connection on the device is also much better, although 3G coverage required to get a truly mobile experience is dicey in the UK at best. Because memory is so cheap (and small), storage capabilities have allowed offline capabilities. And you can now create a unique mobile experience cutting the unwanted view/screens/fields etc. to minimise data transfer.
There are several products we’ve been looking at at Concentrix TSG lately: CWR Mobility, Resco, TenDigits, SageCRM iPhone Client to name a few. Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll write a quick review of each as I get to use them.
I accept that mobile CRM is more likely than ever to come to a useful fruition; I use my iPad all the time, albeit not for business. What is most interesting to me is whether the usability of the individual products dictate the device on which they should be used, or whether the opposite is true; that an MD’s insistence on using his iPad ensures total exclusivity.
I was searching through WordPress, Twitter and LinkedIn the other day (as you do) – you know the sort of thing, see someone whose name you know, click on their profile, click through to their blog, find a link, click on that, find out who wrote it, click on their profile (and so on) – and I came across this blog post by Robert Pope. Now Robert is well known within CRM circles in the UK; indeed, he won Sales Person of the year at last year’s Sage Visions conference, so I was somewhat surprised to read his rather negative views about what was wrong with the Sage business partner and software development model.
Now, I must point out that Robert wishes Sage well, and there are no hard feelings (please read the post so you get his views), but it got me thinking about a topic I feel passionately about: beta testing.
I’ve worked in the business partner channel for Sage, Microsoft and FrontRange (amongst others) for ten years now, so in my humble opinion, I have the right to comment on how software versions are released to partners and the user community as a whole. Sure, I’ve not engaged with every software vendor out there, so let’s not get hung up about that; I know I won’t have experienced everything; instead, let’s concentrate on my experiences.
When companies who sell a product that is authored by someone else, they do so with a certain level of trust that the vendor will do everything it can to release a decent product that works and, where there are faults, listens to the feedback and moves swiftly to take corrective action. They do this in the knowledge that such practice is in the interests of all parties. They also expect the vendor to give them a preview of any new release so they can talk about it in advance of the launch and build up trade – again in the interests of all parties.
The best way to ensure that any partner can sell a product is to know and understand it. They can only do this by learning and ‘playing’ with that product. They cannot do it by reading the release notes or attending presentations.
I’ve been staggered, over the years, that some software vendors do not have a beta program to assist their channel in selling their product. Indeed, when challenged, some have been so viciferous against the idea that it has left me wondering who they are writing the software for. Having a beta program allows so many more users of a package to feed back to the authors at a critical time in a release’s life (pre-birth). I work with a team of developers – they think differently to users. Users are needed to test/break software, to pose challenges to the perceived processes within an application. I simply cannot understand why anyone would not want to allow a controlled rollout to trusted people (i.e. channel partners).
Let’s take some practical examples. Microsoft’s release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 has been, again, in my opinion, a fine example of how it can work. The beta was released months before the scheduled release date. There were many caveats about liability/reliability etc. It was very clear that it was unsupported. But it allowed my team of consultants to gain vital information and practice new functionality which, in turn, ensured we could consult intelligently and, come release date, implement systems straight away.
A second example is Sage CRM 7.1. A select number of business partners were asked for some specific feedback on their beta within a set period of time (of course, feedback is welcomed at any time) so that Sage could then make any necessary amendments in time for launch. More controlled than Microsoft’s approach, particularly in terms of time, but nonetheless, it generated a feeling of inclusion and gave us an opportunity to understand what was coming.
Conversely, any vendor (and there are some) that refuses to start a beta program for its product will find everyone playing catch up whilst putting customers off installing from day one. Such an approach makes business partners reluctant to recommend the product initially, which is surely counter-productive to the momentum the vendor would like to see.
To summarise, beta programs work, they generate good will and help to sell your product. If you don’t want to take advantage of these benefits, that’s your perogative, but I guarantee your software will be at the back of the queue when considering the options open to the business partners and their customers.
This has been a long time coming and a feature that my Sage CRM clients have been asking for for years. It’s great to see a company like Sage listen to their user base and produce something that the end users need. Here’s a little video about Exchange integration and Sage CRM 7.1:
One of the great things about Sage is how close (certainly in the UK and Republic of Ireland) you are as an end user to those who develop the product. This cannot be said of all software vendors, but perhaps this is different depending on your location and the size of the vendor itself. Another way Sage have demonstrated their willingness to listen is with their Ideas Hub on the Sage CRM Ecosystem. A great idea!