The future of life on the road

Heather works as a salesperson for services in an IT company. Her portfolio includes selling catalogue solutions, as well as designing custom services with the help of the client solution design group.

As a salesperson, Heather needs to access information ubiquitously to provide answers to client questions, retrieve order information, upsell and cross-sell, forecast performance and quotas, and explore opportunities and client contacts. As a designer of custom services, Heather needs to acquire data from the client, understand the client's needs, report these needs to the solution design group, and act as a link between client, sales and solution design.

Mobile technology can help. It can reduce the amount of preparation time needed, it can make the client time more productive and it can speed up the administrative tasks. And in those cases where the salesperson is travelling by means other than driving from one client site to another, a mobile solution can provide ways of performing administrative tasks or doing something else productive, such as e-mail or on-line training, during travel time.

Specifically, mobile wireless solutions will provide Heather the following advantages on the following topics: sales cycles, trips to the office, preparation time, up-selling and cross-selling, administrative tasks, sales efforts, social networking capabilities, and the delegation of simple tasks.

In the sales cycle, for example, response time to customer queries can be reduced significantly through the availability of information anytime and anywhere. The salesperson can reduce the number of trips and phone calls back to the office significantly as all information is available on site.

The same applies to order entry, which can be done anytime and anywhere. Due to the availability of information, preparation time can be done while travelling and can be delegated to smart agents and intelligent services. Intelligent appliances will be able to provide the right information whenever required.

Up-selling and cross-selling also become easier, as smart agents can find the appropriate products and services that can be used in conjunction with whatever the client is prepared to buy any way. These personalized proposals can be made while entering the order at the customer site, for example. Many administrative tasks, such as travel expense reports, can be done during travel time and can be automated easily, for example, through smart credit cards that will make sure that all travel-related items will be put into the expense report automatically.

On The Road: In the Present

Heather is about to visit a customer. The mission preparation in the office uses the Internet, connected through a managed network. Instead of going back and forth to the office to receive updated information, Heather and Jim, the field engineer, can synchronize through a wireless connection with people and data in the office. In addition, the managed network guides Heather and Jim to the client site. Heather's primary repository for information is her PDA. She uses it to synchronize data and to communicate wirelessly with scanners, cameras, microphones and client devices.

Before Heather leaves the office, she downloads all information required for this customer to her PDA: mission preparation, updated answers for client, updated client accounts, ongoing actions, sales opportunities, sales forecasts based on account management.

During the travel, the PDAs are working in standalone mode until Heather and Jim reach the client site. Once there, Heather updates Jim while they take the time to establish communications between their appliances. This lets them transfer files and cross-reference devices.

During the meeting with the client, they use to-do lists to help increase efficiency in achieving goals and keeping the discussions on track; they use their PDAs to transmit feedback and input for service specifications to Jim's backend support as well as to Heather's sales office; they can also use their cell phones to make phone calls, if needed. These connections let them share information with people in the room as well as with the backend office. This information can take various forms, such as pictures, plans and voice annotations, enabling a more interactive description of the specifications. If needed, they could also have video conferences, scan documents and share spreadsheets, just to mention a few possibilities. Before parting, Jim and Heather synchronize their data once more and send the information back to the Internet.

On The Road: In the Future

Someday soon, digital knowledge agents will make Heather's sales calls even easier. While Heather prepares for her customer visit, agents will work to carry out certain tasks on her behalf. As Heather and Jim reach the client's campus, their devices automatically will discover the local services provided near the campus. They will confirm the location of high-quality printing facilities so that Jim and Heather will create updated documents as input to the meeting.

At the site, their appliances will communicate, synchronize and interact automatically, taking care of the low-level administrative details such as the day-to-day operations, updates on prices, checking the to-do lists and so forth. This also enables them to establish a private communication during the meeting, letting them dynamically adapt their strategy based on the client's reactions. They can delegate tasks during the meeting, either to their backend offices (if any) or to services working on their behalf. For example, they could look for background knowledge on the client's project, or gather evidence on how to reduce the risk on the project by analyzing similar previous contracts and experience.

Finally, after the meeting, their agents can fulfill such administrative tasks as trip reports and order forms. Heather and Jim can delegate further tasks instantly, resulting in faster answers for the client.

In this scenario, Heather, Jim and the client have more time to focus on important issues; their meeting is more efficient because data is exchanged in the background without human intervention. This is a high competitive advantage to the salesperson, as it reduces cost and time while increasing efficiency, and the salesperson is in a good position to close the deal earlier.

On The Road: The Summary

Let's look at the key features of a me-centric future. From an appliance point of view, not much will change. Small, handheld devices will still be used, but with one big difference -- they will be connected anytime and anywhere, either through local networks, managed networks or the Internet. Today, many appliances can connect to only one of these at a time. In the future, it is expected that an intelligent appliance will be able to roam through different networks without losing the connection. Users will maintain the security standards and the IP address no matter where they are or what they do. This is essential to a me-centric environment.

So while the devices do not have to change dramatically, the services that run on these devices do. With agents, processes can be automated to help users resolve issues much faster.

A set of services exist around the core service of mobile sales force support, and one of the key services is roaming. The core mobile sales force service contains knowledge about the required processes and maintains the connections to all other services. It provides the context on behalf of the salesperson that is required by agents and services to bring back the right information at the right time. By moving the context to this central location, the salesperson is not dependent on a specific device. The adjunct services are not dependent on a particular implementation of context, as the core service will provide translation mechanisms for different technologies.

Besides roaming, knowledge agents are providing an important service to find all relevant information about a customer and the desired products and services he would like to buy. A travel management service will help the sales force to optimize its trips to various clients and make sure that the sales agent's calendar is synchronized with all changes that may occur at the customer site. Therefore, a scheduling agent or service needs to be put in place that does all the timely coordination, based on the feedback from the travel management service and the customer. Additional services may be needed during negotiations, such as status order updates or answers to legal questions. Today these services exist as information pools that can be accessed when required. In the future, this information will be retrieved by agents that will provide contextually relevant information on time.

Through new sales knowledge services, it is possible to coordinate sales efforts towards a target customer group. This makes it possible for salespeople from different regions who work on similar clients to get insight on sales strategies of their colleagues, for example, and show how they can combine offers to create more sales. These collaborative services and agents can also create social networks with other salespeople and clients. These social networks make it possible to reuse existing marketing collateral, proposals and service brochures more effectively. A salesperson would only see relevant information for that particular kind of deal and it would also allow that simple and standardized tasks can be easily delegated to other employees or to smart agents.

As you can see, both infrastructure and business services must be introduced to make this me-centric scenario a reality. Building up such a scenario would probably be feasible, as the targeted audience of salespeople is enormous and the processes are standardized in many cases. A standardized service with configuration possibilities can help reduce the costs for sales activities drastically.

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