Getting the Sales Force to Hear Voices

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-06-25 Print this article Print

The sell line for wireless CRM is that it allows sales-people to access important customer information in central databases without being tethered to desks.

The sell line for wireless CRM is that it allows sales-people to access important customer information in central databases without being tethered to desks. Thats all well and good, but for Alliance Systems Inc., making CRM data accessible wirelessly via voice has another appeal: Its a way to get stubborn employees to use the enterprises customer relationship management application in the first place.

About two years ago, Alliance, a manufacturer of communications servers in Plano, Texas, installed a CRM package from Pivotal Corp., in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Not long after, Link Simpson, vice president of services at Alliance, found himself complaining to the Pivotal reseller that he was having a difficult time getting his sales force to abandon their traditional working methods to use the system—not an uncommon issue with any CRM application.

The reseller mentioned that other clients had come up with incentive strategies such as linking use of the system with a salespersons compensation. Or, the reseller suggested, you could try letting salespeople access CRM with the tool they most love to use: their voices. Instead of requiring salespeople to key in information and commands, the idea went, enable access to the system via voice commands.

That clicked with Simpson. It was obvious, he said. "For salespeople, the natural way to do things is just to pick up the phone and talk."

To achieve this voice-activated nirvana, Alliance installed the PVAServer (personal voice assistant) application from Conita Technologies Inc., of Columbia, S.C.

Although Simpson loved the voice-access idea in theory, he said he was still reluctant to undertake the task of linking an untested application to something as complex as the companys CRM operation. Instead, he piloted the PVA by linking its voice interface to the companys Microsoft Corp. Outlook calendar and contact management application.

With simple voice commands, users can get contact and calendar information, as well as make additions or changes to address books or schedules, through cell phones. Battery dead? A call through a regular phone works, too.

Simpson said hes impressed with the systems ability to read voice commands accurately, even the voice of one employee with a thick Russian accent.

There is a learning curve, he said. "You cant just talk to it without thinking about what youre going to say. You have to use canned commands. But that was a fairly simple training issue."

Alliance paid $4,000 per eight concurrent users, plus a maintenance fee of 15 percent on top of that, Simpson said.

And the verdict?

Alliance executives have given the green light to the project of linking Conitas PVAServer with the lead management function of the Pivotal CRM system. Alliance is now planning the architecture, Simpson said.

And if all goes well, Alliances sales force will soon be using their voices to sing the praises of PVA.


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