Susan Sink

How Tablets Can Mobilize Sales

Three strategies for adopting mobile sales tools can deliver a higher-performing sales force and a superior sales experience.

by Susan Sink, March 2012

A 2010 McKinsey survey (“The Basics of Business-to-Business Sales Success,” May 2010) on successful business-to-business (B2B) sales found companies with a high-performing sales force could boost their share of a customer’s business by an average of 8 to 15 points. The study revealed that the two most important factors that influence a customer’s perspective of a sales force are 1) the sales team’s knowledge of the prospect’s (and its competitor’s) products and 2) the overall sales experience the team delivers.

So how do managers ensure their sales team properly positions product messages, while also delivering a superior sales experience? To achieve these two critical objectives, leading companies are adopting a new generation of mobile sales applications, enabled by powerful mobile computing devices such as the tablet computer.

With intuitive, media-rich, portable and “instant on” capabilities, plus a longer battery life and lower price tag than laptops, the tablet is taking the world by storm. According to the analyst firm Gartner, worldwide media tablet sales totaled 63 million units in 2011 — a 261 percent increase over 2010 — and are expected to exceed 326 million units by 2015. Combined sales of tablets and smartphones were 44 percent higher than the PC market in 2011 (“Gartner Says Apple Will Have a Free Run in Tablet Market Holiday Season as Competitors Continue to Lag,” Sept 22, 2011).

Until recently, corporate IT departments shunned consumer-oriented technologies, such as iPhones and iPads, due to security, network, and application development and distribution concerns. Since device providers addressed many of these initial concerns, business executives are becoming the driving force behind tablet adoption in order to reap the financial rewards of improving existing processes or implementing new ones.

The benefits of adopting mobile sales tools

Tablets are enabling field sales and service teams to sell more efficiently, replacing more expensive laptops, and reducing print and distribution costs for sales material. According to Gartner, the top commercial business application for tablets is sales force automation for customer collateral, sales presentations and sales ordering systems (“Gartner Identifies Top 10 Commercial Business Applications for Tablet Devices,” Nov 15, 2011). This new generation of sales automation systems is emerging both in B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) industries, in the form of:

  • Pharmaceutical representatives explaining the benefits and contraindications of a new drug to a time-pressed physician or medical office manager

  • Consumer products sales teams positioning new products, upcoming promotions, and category analyses to retail customers

  • Insurance and financial services firms explaining offerings to independent agents

  • Architectural firms presenting design proposals to clients

  • Auto sales associates helping customers design, order, and finance an automobile directly from the showroom floor

One international vision care company found customers had better recollection of product offerings when they were presented digitally. Management has since deployed more than 1,500 tablets with mobile sales applications to the sales force.

Forward-thinking managers, realizing the strategic advantage of this new generation of mobile sales tools, are arming sales organizations with marketing, product, and business intelligence templates tailored for mobile tablet delivery. Leveraging these templates, a sales person can quickly personalize marketing content and business insights to address a customer’s specific needs and opportunities, and become a value-added business advisor.

This new generation of sales force automation systems—with personalized content delivery—are delivering higher revenues through insight-driven selling capabilities, lower marketing print and distribution costs, and increased sales productivity. Other benefits include the ability to deliver a consistent, controlled and current marketing message to the customer and lower IT capital expenditures and support costs with the move from laptops to tablets. Sales on-boarding and training costs are reduced with the use of more intuitive devices. And the newer generation of sales force automation systems like Oracle iSales, a mobile sales force application with core customer and contact management plus calendaring capabilities, also provide market audit, customer survey and order management capabilities. These capabilities can provide immediate, actionable business intelligence on field market conditions, while also improving customer responsiveness.

Strategies for adoption

To design and implement a strategic plan for the new generation mobile sales force, mobile-minded executives should adopt three best practices:

1. Conduct a mobility audit
Historically, enterprise mobility has been tactically developed in silos to meet narrowly defined business requirements, resulting in disparate infrastructure, network providers, mobility contracts, devices, provisioning policies, reimbursement practices, and user applications. An audit identifies opportunities to standardize and rationalize mobile technology and applications to reduce complexity, lower costs, and achieve compatibility and communication across the enterprise.

2. Note mobility requirements and priorities
Review sales processes to identify which could be made faster, more efficient, or even eliminated with mobile capabilities. For instance, the ability to rapidly update and disseminate marketing messages, sales campaigns, product features and price lists via a mobile sales application would quickly remove outdated information from the marketplace. This would reduce miscommunication to customers, prevent sales order errors, improve sales and marketing productivity, and decrease print and distribution costs with the elimination of paper sales binders.

Have a firm understanding of the network availability and online/offline capabilities sales will require. If the mobile sales application is to be used for customer presentations, it will require a high level of availability. If sales people are working in remote locations, where network access is sketchy, offline and sync capabilities will be required.

Understand the requirements by user group. Not all sales users are mobile. Some will not have access to confidential information, such as product profitability. A “one size fits all” mobility approach is outdated in the new mobile sales environment.

3. Create and implement a strategic sales mobility plan
Center the plan on enabling the mobile sales priorities identified in the sales process review, focusing first on productivity, collaboration and communication requirements. Ensure the plan addresses any disparate technologies or policies identified in the mobility audit. Consider not only the needs of today, but contemplate requirements of the future. A narrowly focused, task-specific mobile sales solution today restricts the organization’s ability to extend its mobile sales capabilities into new application areas in the future.

Take a 360-degree view of the organization when the mobile sales plan is developed. Engage senior management, human resources, legal, operations, as well as sales users and IT, to establish the mobile sales priorities and standards, which will help avoid unnecessary delays and reduce the risk of “under the radar” mobility projects across the organization.

IDC analyst Nick McQuire, a specialist in mobile technology, recommends central governance of the mobility strategy via a center of mobility excellence or oversight by a VP of mobility (“Deploying Enterprise Mobility — Best Practices,” Computerworld.com, March 2011). When this is not feasible, at a minimum, the organization should develop, distribute and enforce a governance framework for mobility.

This new generation of mobile sales force systems with personalized content delivery is an industry game changer, capable of delivering first mover advantage and strategic agility. Tomorrow, it will be table stakes.


Susan Sink is director of Industry Strategy and Insight at Oracle.