Jim Stueve is a habitual "Crackberry" user and has no problem admitting his addiction.

As director of retail sales for Houston-based fund manager AIM Investments, he craves the instant messaging capabilities and seemingly endless flow of real-time data that comes across the screen of his nifty BlackBerry handheld device.

"The BlackBerry has become an integral part of my business," Stueve said. "When I don't have it for whatever reason, like if I forgot to charge it, I miss it dreadfully. I go through data withdrawals."

His ringing endorsement for the Research in Motion product provides further evidence that the BlackBerry has become a must-have tool of the trade for today's mutual fund salesman, one that increases productivity, provides immediacy and improves response time.

In heading up the sales unit at AIM, Stueve spends most of his days running in and out of a series of meetings or traveling around the country. He manages a 200-person staff including a team of 100 wholesalers. Through his BlackBerry, he is able to read and respond to the 75 e-mails he receives daily from his AIM colleagues alone. If he were at his desk using a PC, he admits, he would spend the entire day reading e-mails.

The portable e-mail function on his BlackBerry, however, allows him to respond from any location with ease rather than being tethered to his desk. Having it at his disposal at all times enables him to prioritize, review and amend his calendar as well as shoot e-mails to his assistant in real time without ever actually having to pick up a phone. What's more, he doesn't receive any spam on his BlackBerry, making him the envy of the entire floor at AIM headquarters.

Stueve also noted that key reporting metrics are constantly being pushed to his BlackBerry from the company's customer relationship management server, which is powered by Siebel Systems. "I have a report in a readable format no matter where I am," he said. "If I can handle my communication stream and my contact management stream faster, more efficiently, hopefully it allows me to stand in front of my clients more frequently with more value added than I had without it."

He also points out that it has made CRM much easier. "If you can speed the entry point, then the probability of your CRM working is greatly magnified," he said. "That's what the BlackBerry does. It gives a more handily, readily accessible, easier-to-use entry point as well as viewing point on your CRM."

It's no secret that these sales reps and executives spend more of their time away from their desks than ever before. Given that reality, account management, order entry and opportunity awareness are challenges when these road warriors venture out in the field. Real-time access to customer information and opportunity management systems using the BlackBerry can provide them with a distinct competitive advantage.

Since AIM first launched BlackBerry service one year ago, each of its external wholesalers has been deployed with a BlackBerry device readily equipped with mWholesaler, a software platform developed by Pyxis to maximize productivity and sales effectiveness in the field. The rollout has proved to be "a great success story," Stueve noted, as his sales force has cut down on reporting paperwork and other tedious administrative tasks, freeing them to focus more on getting face time with clients and improving dialogue.

Stueve estimates that using a BlackBerry saves his staff roughly three hours in reporting and planning tasks a week, thus making contact management more efficient.

For example, wholesalers can instantly log meetings with clients, record who they met with, the basis of their conversation and the benefits it yielded. This means the wholesaler doesn't have to head back to the hotel to write a report or struggle to recall key points discussed at the meeting.

"If you were spending an hour doing your reporting weekly, that hour is now gone because you're doing it real time," Stueve said. "If you were spending two hours each week mapping out, in terms of paperwork, who you were going to see the next week and what they did in terms of sales, that two-hour [period] is now free."

The BlackBerry enables his wholesalers to drill down and pinpoint vital statistics that help prepare them for meetings with clients. Information related to clients' sales numbers, the last time they were contacted and the breadth of their product mix are all available at the click of a button. This type of data would normally require a ream of paper, Stueve noted.

The most obvious advantage of having a BlackBerry is 24-hour e-mail access and the ability to communicate or transport data instantly from any location at any time. When combined with the CRM and contact management capabilities of mWholesaler, the BlackBerry proves to be much more than a luxury item, but rather a necessity. Currently, AIM is in the process of integrating cell phones into the BlackBerry. Once implemented, AIM will be able to track every sales call made by its sales agents in the field.

Putnam Investments of Boston is also a subscriber to mWholesaler through its BlackBerry devices, having equipped 87 wholesalers with the handheld tool.

Putnam has already successfully integrated cell phone service on its BlackBerry devices through mobile providers Verizon and Cingular. The Putnam wholesalers use the BlackBerry phone service to execute follow-up sales calls thanking customers for their business using its click-to-dial functionality, a handy feature when handling a big-ticket order.

Like AIM and a number of other big fund shops, Putnam also uses the device to enter customer touch points, update intermediary data, segment their call rotation and make sales calls based on lead-generated e-mails. Given the wider user acceptance of the BlackBerry as an all-in-one device, many sales professionals are leaving their laptops and cell phones at home when they go on the road. What they take with them, however, is the comfort that they now have more time to focus on what they do best - sell mutual funds.

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