So, you’re rolling out iPads to your sales force and you want one software tool or app for field sales that can do everything?

You are looking for a one-stop shop for everything related to sales activities.

This has been a fairly recurring desire running through discussions with companies about which tools to supply the field sales force. It’s being discussed now, pushed by the iPad wave and other mobile devices coming down the pipe.

The dream goes something like this. “There needs to be a way where every piece of customer and product information is connected so sales reps only have to remember one place to access it.”

This might be:

  • customer profiles
  • customer purchase history and other touchpoints
  • product information (to sell, to service, collateral to support the messages)
  • results of marketing campaigns
  • sales performance, and on and on.

Ideally, it eliminates excuses for not using all the great information collected by the company that could be applied to and actually increase productivity, the party line goes. But does it really?

There is no doubt having this information connected is useful and even necessary. However, I would argue that while its helpful for corporate managers, it’s not necessarily nirvana for field sales people. For example, has made a nice business out of helping companies collate and connect information and opening a window for the sales force to peek into their customer activity.

But there is a key difference between using the data to plan sales activities versus accessing and utilizing the information at the moment of selling. I think that’s where most corporate managers just don’t get it.

Field sales need for information is different when doing the essence of their job–selling.

What has changed?
The customer is dictating the content and pace at which they need information for their business solutions.

Used to be, the sales person was one of the best, if not the only, source of information about products and services. Now, that product information is all around us, including third party reviews about a company’s services and products. The salesperson is no longer the exclusive gatekeeper of information and may not be as well informed as the knowledgeable customer in many cases.

To be successful, sales representatives need to fill in the information gaps that are unique to each customer to ensure that their product is considered and questions answered.

In this scenario, reps require lightning fast access to the right information. That’s not a one-stop, all-encompassing program, navigating through multiple screens to find technical specifications. That is being able to access very defined information chunks that are related to the task-at-hand, in front of the customer.

In other words, it’s using apps or doing what we call “Multi-Apping” – quickly switching from app to app depending on what information set you need to access.

Multi-Apping – The benefits of bite-sized information sets

Think about the way information is organized into apps that you see on your iphone or android smartphones. Usually focused around a common theme, navigationally simple, able to jump in and jump out fast.

You want to know where you are? – look in Google Maps. Want to know a restaurant close by? – check out Yelp or Around Me. In other words, apps are very task-oriented. Because you are mobile, the way you digest and need information is different.

In addition, mobile devices are smaller, with less computing power as opposed to desktops. That also impacts the way information is accessed.

We have seen reps rapidly switching back and forth with FatStax, GoodReader, Safari, and Keynote in the same conversation on their iPads. All open, all working, all providing different information or capabilities.  This isn’t just a fun excercise. It’s in response to customer questions or needs in the middle of a customer discussion.

On the iPad, just double-tap and then you can Multi-App.

Benefits of Multi-Apping on the iPad

Reduced development time and expense

It’s much more difficult to develop a program that is comprehensive. Planning, agreement, negotiating, testing, updating are all more time-consuming. The more information sets you connect, the more complex the programming is.

Faster to test and iterate

We have tested a lot of versions of FatStax in the past 6 months and it only does two things. Search and Send. The testing needed for be-all App is compounded many times over.

More Simplicity

The one-stop shop program necessarily sacrifices navigational simplicity. If you can get to anywhere from one screen, you have to show what your choices are. When you are looking for one thing and you have 50 different choices, it’s more complex. Apps generally have limited choices for navigation due to the specific nature of the data set.

But with new OS on the iPad for example, it’s very ease to click back and forth. Again Multi-Apping.

Less training

The more complex an app, the more time it takes to train initially. Then, if users don’t repeat the tasks frequently, they are forgotten. Calls to the help desk increase. Or maybe, it  just results in lower productivity because they cant find the information they need now and have to go home and follow up later.

There is certainly a useful place for the comprehensive ERP-CRM systems in the business world.

But ask your field reps, “Do they help you at the critical moment of truth, in front of customers?”