ASP Connects CRM with BlackBerry, Windows Mobile

Eagency is an application service provider (ASP) that specializes in offering customer relationship management (CRM) systems for small businesses. It hosts personal information management (PIM) data &#151 calendar, contact, e-mail, tasks and notes &#151 through its Nice Office platform. The Newport Beach, Calif.-based company says its big differentiator, however, is the capability to fully synchronize said data with various wireless handhelds.

Eagency’s claim is that Nice Office increases accessibility to information and applications and opens up a host of new opportunities for generating revenue; decreasing operating and transaction costs, strengthening client relationships and improving productivity for smaller businesses.

Besides the basic contact management, Nice Office includes an e-mail client, a lead-management program, mail merge for e-mail or snail-mail, a journaling system to help you track client activity, reporting and research tools, a sales funnel system that helps you to drill down into a client’s needs and fulfill them &#151 as well as maps and directions.

Wireless Eagency’s goal &#151 in short &#151 is to give small businesses the behind-the-firewall BlackBerry Enterprise server (BES) and Microsoft Exchange experience of large corporations. For BlackBerry wireless handheld customers, that usually means turning to BlackBerry Internet Server (BIS) at retail (for e-mail) and not very many BES desktop syncs for other PIM information.

Eagency’s Nice Office can run on top of BIS for e-mail, true, but it also lets you wirelessly sync PIM data &#151 a feature for which the BlackBerry is famous.

Company Chief Operating Officer Tim Allard said that anybody who uses hosted e-mail today is Eagency’s target audience. And it’s not just BIS users. Nice Office also integrates with contact management solutions typically used by small businesses, such as Act, Goldmine, Outlook and others.

“We are targeting small businesses, giving them the power that large enterprises have today,” Allard explained, aiming to fulfill SMB information management needs at every level.

All data is hosted and secured by Eagency on its servers, accessible to customers through Nice Office’s customizable Web interface. Security is essential. Allard put it this way: “If everything gets washed away by the next hurricane, you can pick up and carry on.”

Even if you have multiple employees working in remote offices, and you want them to all to have BlackBerry handhelds, they can all go buy their devices separately and then be updated remotely to Nice Office from a central Web-based console.

In addition, if you or an employee loses a device, Eagency can remotely wipe info from it and transfer the data to another handheld or smartphone. In addition to BlackBerry, Nice Office supports the Pocket PC 2003 and Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC platforms. Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphone edition compatibility is due soon.

Shiny New Automobiles
During a demo session using a BlackBerry 8700 (over Cingular’s network), all messages from (and changes to) Nice Office appeared almost instantaneously. (The EA icon in the upper-right corner of the screen shot above shows that Nice Office is installed on the BlackBerry.) We logged into a demo account &#151 a pseudo franchise for a car dealership &#151 set up for our test device. We wore two hats: a consumer interested in buying a car and the owner of the dealership &#151 a typical small business.

As the consumer, we went to the homepage for the car company on a desktop computer, where we perused cars; picking out a model, choosing a color, etc. and &#151 this is key &#151 giving some personal information, including our name, address, e-mail and phone number. We said we wanted to buy within the next 72 hours.

As the dealer, we sat in a lawn chair at our kid’s soccer game. Eagency cited a variation on an old salesman’s axiom; the sooner you follow up on a sales lead, the more likely you are to close the deal on a car. Better to do so within 24 hours than days.

As soon as we (as the consumer) submitted the info, our Blackberry (as the owner of the dealership) started to blink, telling us that we had a new lead. An e-mail arrived informing us that a potential customer had just expressed interest in a car. We clicked on a phone number in the e-mail on our phone, which directly dialed my alter ego, the consumer. But wait, there’s more.

In the BlackBerry address book &#151 the Rolodex &#151 the new consumer’s name appeared as well. When we highlighted the name, there was an option to view opportunities. A table on the BlackBerry showed customer fields with preferred method of contact, purchase time and all the information that our consumer-self entered. As the dealer, I also had the option to e-mail documents associated with cars the consumer had been perusing.

Nice Office also regularly logs and keeps track of your everyday correspondence within your account. Eagency’s Karen Joffe explained that NiceOffice offers a customizable system-sales funnel setup. Track phone calls, put notes in, e-mail documents and everything you would normally do to follow up with a client, such as the case outlined above.

Customers sign up for Nice Office online and Eagency is currently working on bringing it to retail. The company said it doesn’t take much to walk people through the setup process. Once a change is made on the desktop (through the Web interface), it’s reflected automatically on a handheld or handhelds.S

While there’s a free version of Nice Office, called Personal, it’ll cost you $19.95 per month to add wireless functionality. Nice Office Small Business sells for $29.95 a month, and Nice Office Corporate &#151 which adds wireless connectivity to databases &#151 goes for 49.95.

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