Ontrac puts mobile CRM in motion

Ontrac Equipment Services Inc. knew it needed a customer relationship management system for its sales force, but it didn’t want to have to change its processes to fit an off-the-shelf product.

Instead, the John Deere equipment provider wanted something that would fit its needs and accommodate its existing work flow processes. So Ontrac brought in a third-party to build a new system rather than using an existing product.

“We wanted a totally customizable solution,” says Dwight Corcoran, vice-president of sales and marketing at Peterborough, Ont.-based Ontrac. “We wanted to manage the design ourselves, essentially to get the look, feel and functionality. We’re a unique business.

“The out-of-box solutions wouldn’t work. What we developed characterized how we do business, some of our philosophies.”

Ontrac turned to SilverBlaze Solutions Inc. for help, as it had worked with the developer to build its costing system in 2002. Both are based on IBM’s Lotus Notes.

The mobile CRM solution, Apollo Opportunity Manager (OM), resides on Pocket PCs. This, says SilverBlaze’s director of e-business solutions, Neil Atkinson in Richmond Hill, Ont., has both advantages and drawbacks. The Pocket PCs can instantly be turned on, he says. The sales force didn’t want to have to wait for five minutes for a laptop to boot up while their potential customers waited.

The small size makes the Pocket PC easy to carry around, but the small screen made designing the user interface a challenge, Atkinson says.

To prevent salespeople from having to do a lot of scrolling and navigating, SilverBlaze designed a complicated search engine, he says.

“The search fields we present to them are limitless,” he says. “Most people know what they’re looking for. They just want to get there fast.” As people dig down deeper into their search results, the system leaves a trail so that users can quickly find their way back.

The information resides on the Pocket PC itself. Ontrac and SilverBlaze decided to go this route because constantly connecting back to the office to obtain records would have been a costly prospect, Atkinson says. And given the remote location of some of Ontrac’s customers, a connection wouldn’t always be guaranteed.

However, with the number of records available, SilverBlaze had to look hard for a handheld that could accommodate Ontrac’s needs, Atkinson says. It finally found a provider in the Middle East that had Pocket PCs that have 128MB of storage, he says.

The system has proven beneficial, Corcoran says, though it has taken time for the salespeople to adjust to it. They now have instant access to real time data, he says. They can now grab consistent data to make better business decisions and react to market demands, he says. But he admits it wasn’t easy to win over everyone to the devices.

“They’ve had some struggles, but that’s just normal change issues and some are not computer literate,” he says. “Some are still hanging on to the old ways, but we’re working on getting people used to the system.”

It’s now the only way salespeople can get pricing information, he says.

Ontrac also communicates with salespeople through e-mail, forcing them to use the PDAs. And being able to access the pricing system was something the salespeople always wanted.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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