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Several big CRM vendors and some little players, too are coming out with Web sites where salespeople can meet and access the services they need. What's it all about?
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SalesLogix is doing it. Siebel is doing it. Now even small start-ups like SalesRepCentral.com are doing it. CRM vendors big and small are opening online business-to-business marketplaces where salespeople can access services from travel and loans to leads and printing. "Salespeople are free agents," says Judy Hodges, program director at International Data Corp. "These services are empowering."

"When the concept dawned on me one and a half years ago, there was no one in the space," claims Ralph Massetti, CEO of SalesRepCentral.com, which launched in early January. The day Massetti opened an office, he says, he found out about Sales.com, the Siebel-backed site that recently became an independent company, of which Siebel Systems is a noncontrolling shareholder. Now they've been joined by Interact.com, SalesLogix's entry, which launched in December of last year.

The sites are designed to improve the efficiency and productivity of the world's 42 million sales professionals. Each claims to meet all salespeople's needs, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Sales reps have only to access a Web site, or in Interact's case, click on a button in ACT! or SalesLogix, to get things like:

  • News bulletins
  • Travel arrangements
  • Employment services
  • Sales and marketing resources, including books, articles and training courses
  • Networking opportunities with discussion groups and bulletin boards
  • Online meeting facilities
  • Online stores
  • Investing and borrowing help
The vendors sponsoring these sites are partnering with e-commerce providers such as Biztravel.com, WebEx, SellingPower.com and MapQuest.com to offer services that even extend to cover golf, weather reports, maps, directions and gifts. Analysts predict that these initiatives will change the way salespeople live and work by delivering tools and services to them directly via the Internet.

Enormous Appetites
According to Hodges, there are several reasons for CRM vendors to inaugurate Internet offerings. First, these companies have enormous appetites, she says. They want to dominate each and every segment, from big business customers to small, as well as all vertical markets on a global basis. "Siebel and SalesLogix are two of the more aggressive CRM players," she says.

For those companies, the Internet is just one more way to sell software. "These vendors are trying to exploit the full market opportunity that the Internet affords them," says Hodges. "The Internet is radically changing the way they sell to salespeople, although it will represent only a portion of the way they sell."

In addition, Hodges points to the Internet as a way for CRM vendors to attract venture capital money. "Spinning off these new entities allows them to seek additional funding," she says. Certainly, Siebel was successful in that regard. Sequoia Capital and U.S. Venture Partners both contributed to the $27 million raised when Sales.com was spun off.

And, according to Hodges, Siebel and SalesLogix don't want to dilute their brands with the new offerings. "Siebel was hugely successful at branding," she says. The new Internet sites involve multi-branding with numerous partners, and the CRM vendors want to avoid any negative impact to their brands if one of their partners doesn't fare well.

The Little Guy
So much for the big guys, but what about SalesRepCentral.com? Internet marketplaces are a good idea, says Hodges, so everyone is scrambling to get on the bandwagon. "Siebel and SalesLogix will own big shares of the Internet services market, but they won't have an absolute monopoly," she says. Massetti agrees. "Now, there are more solutions for the rep," says the SalesRepCentral.com CEO. "There's a lot of space to be filled. I think salespeople will use both."

Massetti was a salesman himself when he thought up the idea of filling salespeople's needs over the Internet. "I worked for Computer Associates in Phoenix and my main accounts were in Albuquerque," he says. "A good family man, I flew back and forth every day. The idea for SalesRepCentral.com came to me because I was looking for something to put my laptop on when I was in a rental car. I couldn't find any Web sites selling the stuff reps need, so I decided to start one."

Massetti built his site with $300,000, and he still owns 82 percent of the business. He differentiates his site from those of his more well-heeled competitors by the fact that he's not trying to sell software. "More and more, I'm not sure we even need to offer a contact manager at our site," says Massetti. He claims sales reps don't necessarily live in their contact managers anyway. "We don't want to monopolize their desktops," he says.

So how will he make money? "The old-fashioned way," he says. SalesRepCentral.com will charge fees for the products and services it offers. "Advertising is there," says Massetti. "But it's not a big part of our revenue model. We won't litter the site with ads."

Hodges is not convinced that he or other Web sites she predicts will appear will survive. "We'll see a market shake-out," she says. "And Siebel and SalesLogix will want to expand as rapidly as they can."

The winners in the Internet game will have to be innovative in order to fend off rivals, according to Hodges. But she predicts there will be strong buy-in from reps for these sites. "Salespeople will become more efficient by being able to extract all the information they need from one central facility," she says. "The Internet is driving how salespeople will operate in the future."

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