Better tools for mobile users

* Nice Office can turn your PDA into a valuable sales partner

Painful fact of life: small business sales people spend more time out of the office, with little or no support, than big company counterparts. But these sales people can potentially level that disparity with the new Nice Office Wireless from eAgency.

One of a group of online collaboration tools (I'm testing HyperOffice.com now and will report soon), Nice Office focuses on the sales side of business. It provides tools to import your contact list from competing sales programs like ACT! and Goldmine. When used properly - in other words, all your communications go through Nice Office - audit trails, reports and transaction histories are available to sales managers for proper sales team monitoring.

EAgency offers four levels of Nice Office: Personal, Small Business, Corporate, and Wireless (the latter is an add-on to the others). A current promotion for Nice Office Personal gives new customers the $19.95 per month service free.

The company sent me a RIM BlackBerry loaded with Nice Office Wireless software for a demonstration. It was a canned demo, but an impressive one. Using a car dealership example, the demo tracked how an Internet query flows through the system to a sales person, and how the sales person can respond using nothing but thumbs (and a BlackBerry in this case, although the company supports the Treo 700w and PockePC and a few other wireless PDAs).

EAgency claims 80% of what a sales person can do sitting at a desktop computer in the office can be done remotely using Nice Office Wireless. In the demo, an Internet query about a specific car hits the Web server and gets forwarded to me via the BlackBerry.

Internet leads tend to be fickle, and a delay can mean no deal. EAgency calculates that the value of an Internet lead falls to zero after 24 hours, remember they are in the business of selling fast response. But if I had $40,000 cash in hand to buy the Chrysler Crossfire used in the demo, maybe I would demand fast service too.

As the impatient car buyer, I decide I want a red Crossfire with turbocharger (hope $40,000 is enough.) As the sales person in the demo, I receive the query on the BlackBerry and responded by sending a PDF brochure via e-mail, check my inventory, check other dealer's inventory, and put the potential customer into a defined sales process for tracking. Everything done on the BlackBerry immediately appears in the Nice Office Web pages. New contact information added on the BlackBerry, such as the brochure e-mail action, can be tracked by a sales manager within seconds.

Just the synchronization between the PDA and the main database in the Nice Office site will be valuable to many users. Yes, Microsoft Outlook is supposed to sync with your PDA, but that's often tricky, and you have to be at your computer to sync. Nice Office Wireless does all the synchronization wirelessly. That makes sense because the transactions all flow through your personalized Nice Office site.

Of course, personalization is just a different word for programming. Some of the preparation isn't too bad, like saving copies of brochures on your Nice Office site for easy e-mail distribution. Nice Office promises they can integrate with standard message systems like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, but users of both products know nothing is simple when making such connections.

Since Nice Office does have plenty of experience doing those connections, you may not suffer too badly in the process. It might be interesting to see Nice Office provide full e-mail support, like HyperOffice does, to avoid the need for another message system for smaller companies. Nice Office claims it has set a few customers up in an hour or so.

The company launched in 2000, and the wireless addition of the product was introduced 18 months ago. The private company says it is in the "pre-revenue" stage. I assume that means "pre-profit" stage, because it has thousands of customers providing cash flow. It is working with the Hand and Go (.com) people, which makes great sense for both parties. Nice Office also works with Verizon for the same reason, and is a Business Matchmaking co-sponsor for the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Mobile users need better tools. You can check out Nice Office for free (Web pages) and for about $20 per month (wireless support) to see if this is a tool that will help you make more money.

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