With Mobile Sales Tools, Jury Is Still Out



Mobile has not changed the way we sell. You may think I have gone nuts since I talk about mobile tools on a fairly regular basis and folks ask me for sales technology recommendations. Despite my out-of-the-box obsession with it, the current mobile sales technology still operates according to status quo.

This does not mean that sales reps have not gone mobile. That is the subtle point; mobility serves as a core field for sales, but today’s technology has failed to improve this method. Sure, some sales people will always use the latest technology to increase productivity and gain a jumpstart on the competition. For sales organizations, however, little has changed since the first two waves of mobile technologies swept through.

The first mobile wave for sales was the laptop. In the mid 90s, smaller, portable machines became a ubiquitous tool for the mobile employee—particularly the field sales reps who were constantly travelling. Before laptops, business was done on paper, and reps used briefcases that overflowed with documents. The earliest laptops may have been just has heavy as the reams of papers they replaced, but they were much more productive. They could store more information, access corporate databases on the go, and easily locate documents.

The second tech wave was email, which quickly became the default communications channel for the workplace. This invention was still no walk in the park for travelling reps. On the road, people dealt with lousy Internet connection and painful security steps to retrieve their email. This is where the Blackberry emerged, and created a simple, instantaneous method to read and reply to email. With the Blackberry also came BBM, Blackberry’s messaging platform that inspired numerous messaging apps years later. With email and messaging, salespeople had the means to stay on the road without disconnecting from the office.

We are currently 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 tablets, which are practically pocket-sized supercomputers. But for most sales reps, mobile still means access to email and documents (usually stuck in email). 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 (or your CRM system).

That is where we stood at the end of 2015 for mobile sales tech — lots of incredibly powerful hand-held supercomputers, but not much to use on our devices. Again, there are plenty of existing apps (just search any app store for “sales tools”), but nothing that is necessarily improving the strategies of sales reps. Many of these apps merely act as data-aggregating sources. One could say the app store has thrown us a bunch of tools, literally leaving us to our own devices. Is there a “killer app” in this third mobile wave waiting out there to revolutionize the way we sell?

We are on the cusp of some significant innovations 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 most of the energy out of the business tech market. The other issue is that most of the latest efforts in sales tech have been focused on serving the needs of inside sales/sales development teams. This means prospecting tools to manage outreach communications, lead scoring, content optimization, and sales performance, all activities geared to users tied to the office that are non-mobile.

Another issue in mobile computing is complexity. When laptops came out, there were different makes, but each ran the same software, namely Windows and Microsoft Office (Apple rise in corporations is a relatively new trend). 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 complexity in terms of user interfaces and app interoperability. More infrastructures, like MDM’s, are required to protect and manage corporate data, especially since the companies no longer control the end devices.

We are now at the stage where the killer mobile 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 of this experience is leading to more innovation and more solutions that do not mirror existing web-based apps, designs or user experiences.

I believe 2016 is the tipping point where mobile sales solutions truly take hold and the early breakout successes can begin. It is for this reason I invited the co-founder of Mast Mobile to speak at the Enterprise Sales Meetup recently . This is why I have been supportive of companies like HandshakeRed e App, and Spiro that are taking novel approaches to sales productivity. I collaborated on the launch of the SALES:tech group to dive into the intersection of data, tech and sales. Later this year, I will kick-off the Mobile Sales Summit at the Enterprise Sales Meetup to introduce the market’s most innovative sales solutions and to discuss developing trends in the mobility arena.

To be clear, I do not believe nor advocate that mobile sales technologies replace the need for core sales skills, a well-defined sales process, or the ability to choose talent. However, I do feel that laptops, email and the early versions of mobile each provided a significant boost in productivity and efficiency that sales teams can readily exploit. The eternal struggle in sales is involves time allocation, meaning helping reps focus their limited time on the mutually beneficial opportunities. This exemplifies that mobile sales tools can be the biggest difference maker.



Reprinted by permission.

Image Credit: CC by Ansley Alvarez

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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