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Marrying Wireless and CRM

As the Blackberry becomes omnipresent on Wall Street, investment management firms are rushing to find compatible CRM products.

For a number of years, financial institutions have seen wireless devices as a cure for the communication difficulties they encounter when trying to keep in sync with salespeople on the road. While adoption of such technologies has moved in fits and starts, one product has taken hold over the past two years: the Blackberry wireless communications device from Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion.

When Boston-based Pioneer Investments, which has a 50-person sales team, began using the Blackberry a few years ago, its CRM data - generated on a contact management system from San Mateo, Calif.-based Epiphany - could not be accessed over the device. Rather, sales reps on the road either had to view what could have been slightly dated information offline or wire up their laptops and jump on the Internet for up-to-date information.

But viewing stale information was not an option for reps heading into a critical meeting, and trekking back to the hotel room to boot up didn't exactly mesh with the rigors of a meeting-filled day. According to Tom Santaniello, manager of application management with Pioneer Investments, the firm needed a solution to get its salespeople the vital CRM information they needed.

Pioneer identified solutions that could meet its goal of delivering CRM data on the Blackberry. Following a request for proposal and a technical and business evaluation of the products in summer 2004, "We had a core group of products," Santaniello says, though he declines to name the providers.

Santaniello says Pioneer brought in its user group and asked for hands-on help in making a final determination. "We said to them, 'We can technically live with all of these but want to know which one best suits your needs,'" he recalls. Ultimately, Pioneer selected mWholesaler from Pyxis Mobile, a Waltham, Mass.-based provider of wireless software for the investment industry. "Pyxis ... is designed for people who sell mutual funds," Santaniello says. "They understood our business and understood our user experience."

Installation required physical handling of each Blackberry in the company, so Santaniello says Pioneer took advantage of its twice-yearly sales meeting to corral the devices. The firm also worked with Pyxis Mobile to install software on servers at Pioneer's headquarters.

Blazing a Successful Trail

Now, Pioneer routinely downloads information from the Epiphany CRM system onto the Pyxis-enabled servers, thus making it available to the Pyxis-enabled Blackberrys in the field. "We download information from Epiphany a couple of times a day and also load information from Pyxis back into Epiphany," Santaniello says. "It's a bi-directional flow of information."

With such a flow in place, outside salespeople are better armed for meetings and internal support people can follow up on promising leads more quickly, Santaniello notes. This is especially important in the mutual funds field, he asserts, because the wholesale process usually involves a long courtship.

According to Santaniello, Pioneer is successful in adopting new technologies like Pyxis because its IT and sales staffs work together to decide what the firm needs - before seeking out the technology. "We talk to sales about their goals and the obstacles they have to reaching those goals," he says.

Santaniello asserts that achieving strong adoption rates depends on being available to users pre- and post-implementation. "I am a phone call away from any user who needs help," he says. But achieving adoption doesn't stand a chance if salespeople don't like the technology. "I can have the best system in the world, but if users can't use it or don't like the design, you are not going to be successful," Santaniello says.

Pioneer went live with the Pyxis Mobile solution at the beginning of 2005 and Santaniello relates that everyone has at least logged on. "Anecdotally, I am hearing that they love having the information at their fingertips. We are now starting to gather stats to see how people are using it," he says. Though Santaniello declines to specify the product's cost, he says, "I thought it was reasonably priced, quite honestly, considering the benefits which you are going to get."

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