With Mobile Sales Tools, Jury Is Still Out



Mobile has not changed the way we sell. You may be thinking that I have gone nuts right about now, since I have a startup that is squarely in the mobile sales tools market. But when it comes to our current iteration of mobile technology, the way we sell still seems to be stuck in the same old patterns that have not changed much over the past decade.

That is not to say that reps have not gone mobile. And that is the subtle point; mobility has been core to field sales for a while, but the current wave of technology has not made much of an impact. Sure, some sales people will always gravitate to the latest bleeding edge tech to gain a jump on the competition and increase their productivity. For the most part though, the greater mobility seen in sales has developed over two major waves of technology innovation dating back fifteen years earlier.

The first mobile leap for sales came with the advent of the laptop. In the late ‘90s, smaller, portable machines started to become a ubiquitous tool for the mobile employee, especially field sales reps that were always traveling to visit customers. Before laptops, everything was paper, and the briefcases of reps were overflowing with documents and brochures and order forms and file folders. The earliest laptops may have been just has heavy as the reams of papers they replaced, but at least it could store more information, access various corporate databases on the road and search for documents much easier.

The second tech wave came as email and embedded itself as the default communications channel in the workplace. Being on the road, however, with only a laptop, a lousy Internet connection and painful security steps made receiving and responding to email a huge chore. That is where the Blackberry came in, with its dead simple and nearly instant means to read and reply to email. It is not a stretch to say that the killer app for mobile technology was email. Close behind was BBM, Blackberry’s messaging platform that alluded to the explosion of messaging apps years later. With email and messaging, sales people had the means to be on the road while still feel connected to HQ.

But here we are in the third wave of mobile technology, and not much has changed for sales reps and sales tools. The third wave of mobility gave us smartphones and tablet that are practically supercomputers in our pocket. Mobile for most sales reps, however, still means access to email and documents (usually stuck in email). And while we have a plethora of apps at our disposal, the farthest most reps have gone is note-taking apps like Evernote or file-sharing apps like Dropbox. Some larger companies have rolled out apps to their sales teams, but most of these apps are about as user-friendly and attractive as a DOS prompt.

So that is where we stand in 2015 for sales tech — lots of incredibly powerful hand-held supercomputers, but not much to use on our devices. Again, there are plenty of apps out there (just search any app store for “sales tools”), but nothing that is really changing the game for sales reps or improving how they sell. We kind of got thrown a bunch of tools and were left to our own devices to figure it out. Is there a “killer app” in this third mobile wave waiting out there to revolutionize the way we sell?

I think we are on the cusp of some significant changes when it comes to mobile technology and sales. We just had to wait a bit longer for the wave to hit shore. The problem is that consumer tech sucked much of the energy out of the business tech market and the devices themselves were part of the problem.

When laptops came out, they were different makes, but they all ran the same software — Windows and Microsoft Office. When the Blackberry hit the market, it connected to your email, regardless of the email server. In the third wave, we have two (and an emerging third) major platforms, across three different device size categories (with different use cases). There is lots of complexity in terms of user interfaces and app interoperability. More infrastructure like MDM’s was required to protect and manage corporate data, especially since it was no longer the company that controlled the end devices, unlike with Blackberries and laptops.

Now we are at the stage where the killer sales app can emerge. IT organizations have accepted and learned to deal with a BYOD world. More developers and designers are taking an interest in B2B tech. The experience in developing apps is growing and more tools are available to create and deploy higher quality apps. All this is leading to more innovation and more innovative solutions that do not mirror existing web based apps, designs, and user experiences.

I believe 2015 is a tipping point where mobile solutions truly take hold and the early breakout successes begin to emerge. That is why I decided to host the very first Mobile Sales Summit to bring together some newer, innovative tech startups that are truly changing the way we sell. The common thread with each of the presenting companies is that each is a true mobile-first solution. That means they are built to take advantage of the full benefits of mobile devices, they are built to optimize the mobile user experience and they are solving real problems sales reps have that is not addressed with current web-based tools.



Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Sascha Kohlmann


About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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