More than 60 million tablet computers were purchased in 2011, with Apple's iPad dominating the category. Well over three-quarters of businesses in the market for tablets plan to buy iPads, leaving little room for competitors such as Samsung, Amazon, HP, Dell, and RIM. While this is great news for Apple (and its investors), the real question is: what are businesses doing with all these tablets?
We asked MAPI members just that in March, and nearly 300 executives from a wide range of manufacturers shared their experiences (members: click here for the white paper). Members are adopting iPads and tablets (hereafter referred to as just "iPads") at an increasingly fast pace. While only 10 percent had deployed them in September 2010, two-thirds have done so as of March 2012. Most members, though, are still in the "toe in the water" phase, with nearly three-quarters experimenting with limited or pilot rollouts. Customer-facing functions are the primary users, with 61 percent employing them in sales and 38 percent in marketing (Figure 1).
Sales organizations are using iPads for a variety of purposes, including (at the most basic level) presentations, email and CRM connectivity, and product videos. Many companies are taking it further, using them to help customers configure products, obtain pricing, check inventories, and even sign contracts. Level 3 Communications has armed its 1,300+ person sales force with iPads and a suite of apps that is substantially boosting sales productivity. They're using the Facebook-like Chatter app (from CRM powerhouse Salesforce.com) to encourage their salespeople to collaborate, seek out advice, and share experiences, and it's all tied back to their CRM system. According to Level 3 SVP of Infrastructure and Strategy Nick Taylor, their salespeople "find themselves with these seven-minute chunks of time that you really can't do much with, and [with their iPads] they're online and they're collaborating."
Manufacturers are using a variety of apps to improve sales effectiveness, including apps targeted at CRM connectivity, communication (e.g., email, FaceTime, etc.), and product demonstration, configuration, or quoting. Around one-quarter of survey respondents have developed a custom app, and many more reported that this is in the works. MAPI member GE is further along than most in this respect, and has even created a Mobile Center of Excellence. This team has built more than 75 apps for internal use, including a Transformer Monitoring app that allows GE to remotely monitor gas turbine performance on a global basis.
Another MAPI member making great strides with iPad apps is Kennametal. According to Senior Manager of Global Digital Marketing Tim Madel, "For Kennametal, tablets are the future for distributing product information." With Kennametal's interactive catalog app, for example, customers can quickly access the latest product information, including product videos, animation, and eventually live video chat. The company's sales force has been a great source of ideas, continually bringing back suggestions for app improvements and enhancements. According to Madel, "Our sales team is pushing us hard to make our apps do more. They would much rather carry around a single tablet than 20 pounds of catalogs."
But the road to adoption hasn't been without bumps. The company's customers are not necessarily early adopters, and at first the pace of downloads was moderate; however, at a recent distributor meeting, over half of the attendees had iPads and committed to equip their teams with them. To encourage adoption, Madel recommends promoting the app through both sales and customer service, and providing training on how to use it. "Showing customers that they will actually gain some benefits by using the app over printed catalogs is the key."
What sort of ROI are members seeing from iPads? Over three-quarters of survey respondents said that iPads have delivered the expected returns (primarily increased productivity and efficiency). Put simply, members like that iPads let them access and share information quickly. According to one executive, "At a trade show, one of our sales reps was able to answer a customer's question in 30 seconds by showing them an illustration of the part on the iPad rather than taking a business card, pulling up the manual, and responding with the answer the following business day or two." For many, there is a "wow" factor associated with the iPad's high resolution display and quick start capability. Interestingly, several members told us that their salespeople have been able to close business more quickly thanks to an iPad.
While members are generally enthusiastic about the returns delivered by iPads, the tablets aren't a panacea. Most organizations still require salespeople to carry laptops, and 85 percent of respondents feel that iPads supplement (but don't replace) laptops. Why the hesitation to make the switch? Members noted several shortcomings of the iPad:
- Difficulty creating/editing content—especially spreadsheets or presentations
- Data security (although most members have deployed remote wipe capabilities)
- Reliance on wireless, especially for some overseas locations
- Lack of Flash support
- IT departments' lower overall comfort level with supporting Apple products
These concerns aside, it's clear that many businesses are embracing iPads as a valued (if not the only) tool in their arsenal. As one member told us, "We've seen a soft ROI from increases in productivity and efficiency, and in some cases we've been able to streamline the sales process by responding more quickly to customers during sales calls." Not too shabby for a few hundred dollars.