My company represents a number of manufacturers' products, and we sell through brick-and-mortar stores as well as a field sales organization. Our industrial customers don't buy on impulse. Most often, our specialized sales force helps them understand their requirements and recommends product configurations that will meet their needs.
With a broadening, ever-more-sophisticated product line, however, our reps struggle to keep current. In the past, sales support information came mostly in print materials as part of training. Today, all bets are off. Each supplier has its own new idea for supporting its products, based on the technology platform or tool of its choice.
One supplier recently warned me that its new software, required to specify its product line, will be so processor-intensive that our reps will need laptops with the performance specs of our current server configuration--8 gigs of RAM minimum to support the high-end graphics and animations that will simply delight our customers.
Another of our suppliers dropped by the other day to announce the company's new line of iPhone applications, aimed at our sales force as well as our customers. Imagine the power of having this rich sales content at your fingertips, we were told--anywhere, anytime, and delivered in a very fashionable package. Move over, high-end laptop. Make room for the iPhone.
Yet another supplier recently demonstrated to us its new iPad sales applications. "You don't want your sales reps pulling out those old grampa notebooks, do you?" asked the supplier rep. The iPad makes a statement, we were told. This sales app is designed for the full tablet real estate, so an iPhone won't cut it. Move over, high-end laptop and iPhone. Make room for the iPad.
Our reps all use BlackBerry smartphones for company email and BlackBerry Messenger. As I wrote last month, my return on this investment appears to be on the decline as Research In Motion struggles to keep pace with the innovations of its competitors. However, we can't just toss out this large technology investment without a good reason (called a business case). Excuse me, high-end notebook, iPhone, and iPad: Our BlackBerrys are going to stick around for a while.
It's the Wild West of mobility. It will be tough for our reps to keep up, and we're going to see haves and have-nots emerge. Some reps will simply choose not to cope with the multitude of interfaces and will opt out of certain communications channels. They will become less and less knowledgeable about key product lines. Individually, each supplier's application may look terrific, but collectively, our sales team is going to struggle to keep up.
The IT side of this situation doesn't look pretty either. Sure, we're evaluating "bring your own device" policies, but we're doing so with the intention of creating greater value for our organization, not to be part of a trend. New devices have clear advantages for certain requirements, but my responsibility is to put technology to work for our organization in the most cost-effective manner. Multiple devices, multiple training requirements, new security models, and added support demands add up.
This is a new problem, and it's going to require new thinking. I'm open to suggestions on how to adapt to this new Wild West.
The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, shares his experiences under the pseudonym John McGreavy. Got a Secret CIO story of your own to share? Contact email@example.com.