Last week, I caught a glimpse of what happens when companies don’t choose to support iPads or other mobile devices for their sales forces. It’s a trend that might end up separating the top sales forces from the also-rans.

I met a tech-savvy, senior sales representative in their trade show booth. I carried my iPad, which usually leads to a discussion about using the new mobile tool in sales. This rep personally bought an iPad for use in the field but was getting no support from the company, was not permitted to get company email on the device and was discouraged from putting any product literature on it. Also, no recommendations for sales apps or productivity apps. Well, it turns out it wasn’t very useful to her in improving her sales productivity. Her conclusion: iPads are cool but they don’t work well for sales.

After a few minutes of sharing stories of how our clients are using iPads successfully in field sales, she recanted and said with a more than a twinge of frustration that iPads are probably not useful for her right now, because of lack of company support.

The trend of BYOD or bringing your own device to the workplace is increasing. While we don’t have any official survey data, our observations indicate that sales professionals, being mobile, independent and competitive, are more likely to try new tools they think can help them be more productive.

However, some companies are choosing to ignore or dismiss the fact that their sales people are adopting these devices rapidly. Because of either indecision or an unwillingness to support these devices, some early adopter salespeople seem to be getting disillusioned.

As with any new tool, there is a learning curve that can be uncomfortable as you to add a tool to the workflow. Sales is tough enough without also having to be your own IT team.

Here are the most common areas companies are falling short by not supporting their sales forces and iPads.

No Training

Sorry Apple, even though the iPad is incredibly intuitive, navigation can be confusing to newcomers with multiple gestures and a different file system. Without some brief training, sales reps can struggle getting to know the device and the best ways to use it.

We saw such a need that we started creating training videos for our clients. You can see one of them on Engaging Customers with your iPad.

Inadequate training on how to use new technology usually ends badly. Big expense with minimal adoption. Especially in sales, no one wants to look stupid trying out new tools in front of customers.

No Support System

When reps have to figure it out devices or the best apps for themselves, everyone is an island. Many will make the same mistakes and not learn from others. Only the most savvy users will be able to spend the time to push through the inevitable hurdles to find the right sales apps that help them the most. Most will not.

No Roadmap

Integrating mobile devices effectively, especially at an enterprise level, is about workflow. How can mobile tools help to make the workflow more effective and productive? Companies need to help their sales force figure out which parts of their workflow can be impacted immediately by these devices.

Then, recommend sales apps and productivity apps focused on just those tasks. For field sales, it can be organizing and showing sales collateral, presenting a slide deck, or it can be as simple as sharing a list of recommended pdf readers or presentation apps.

This lack of support can come back to disrupt future plans to implement new technology. Here is how:

Uncertain Support for Future Initiatives

If there experience isn’t positive, early adopter tech-savvy sales reps may not be champions for future technology initiatives-whether it’s new devices, new apps, or new software. If you believe that sales success will increasingly depend on technology to boost productivity, then companies need sales team members that are comfortable with changing and trying different things. The value of having a peer as a resource and a model for success is critical.

Missed Opportunities

Take advantage that some of your sales force already has these mobile devices and are trying to use them in the field. There is no investment in purchasing iPads and you can start to collect good information to help evaluate which path you want to start going down. It’s a missed opportunity for testing. It’s also relatively inexpensive and low risk

Recruiting and Retention

The best sales pros are attracted to those organizations that support their sales forces. Providing the latest productivity tools whether mobile devices or simply policies that treat them like grown-ups are figured into the the equation during recruiting and deciding whether to accept a competing offer or not. Which of your competitors have iPads in the field and how are they using them? You better find out.

Supporting mobile tools like iPads is a strategic decision with many different facets. Each company has different capabilities and needs to assess for themselves. However, not having any strategy or plan to deal with this trend puts companies at a competitive disadvantage. There are a lot of opportunities to support your sales team using minimal resources with minimal risk.

What has been your experience implementing iPads in the sales force? We’d love to hear about them – let us know in the comments below.