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Sales Resource Portals: Opening Doors for Closing Sales
Put your resources to work by making them available at a keystroke.
For the rest of the March 2000 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Internet technology is changing business in an astounding number of ways. One aspect of this change that has huge benefits for every type of business, especially those with large, distributed sales organizations, is the concept of a sales resource portal.

"The most promising (and profitable) way to use Internet technology," according to a Booz-Allen & Hamilton survey of 600 global CEOs, is through "private Web sites (or corporate portals) that can be accessed by select groups of constituents-employees, suppliers, customers, alliance partners." As consumer portals like Yahoo!, Excite and Netcenter have organized and aggregated vast amounts of diverse public information through a single, personalized view, corporate portals will organize and aggregate vast amounts of corporate information and provide access through a single, personalized view based on the user's profile.

As further evidence of the growing emergence of corporate portals, Merrill Lynch forecasts that the market will grow from $4.4 billion in 1999 to more than $14 billion by 2002. Field/sales support alone is potentially a $4 billion segment, or 28 percent of that total.

The application of the corporate portal concept for automating sales, marketing and communications is one cost-effective way to help sales and marketing teams connect with customers, agencies and business partners, along with the text, audio, video, animation and images they need to communicate their messages. The sales resource portal provides a single point of access to the content, and tools to help these teams organize, manipulate and customize sales materials.

This is an essential ingredient for future success. As Microsoft's Bill Gates says in his book, Business @ the Speed of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System, "How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose. The winners will be the ones who develop a world-class digital nervous system so that information can easily flow through their companies for maximum and constant learning." For sales organizations, this means creating an interactive channel, gathering distributed and unorganized rich media content, logically organizing it and linking it to databases or processes already active in the business. The goal is to use sales resources more effectively by putting them at the fingertips of the field sales force.

Communication Disconnect: The Way It Used to Be
Traditionally, marketing teams have developed programs and shipped boxes of printed material out to the channel. Unfortunately, all too often when a rep has a real sales opportunity, the materials either can't be found or are too generic to represent the needs of the customer. As a result, the rep is left to improvise with whatever is available, or worse, create something on his own and jeopardize brand messaging and identity.

What most salespeople want and most customers are looking for are presentations that say, "We understand your business, and here's how we support it." With the power of Internet technology, the sales rep can actually bring that message to the customer. Through a sales resource portal, a salesperson can access all the tools and support necessary to speak to the customer in the customer's language.

The portal creates a dynamic channel whereby salespeople have fast and easy access to the information they need to best represent their product in the marketplace. They can stop wasting time looking for brochures or collateral. They know what's available and can get to it quickly and easily.

It's a given that salespeople need to get out from behind their desks and meet with their customers as much as possible. Time spent trying to pull together material for a proposal is often not the most productive. Through the portal, salespeople know what's available, and they can put together a presentation that's personalized for their client.

"For most, if not all companies, the solution is to have the sales resource portal hosted by an outsourced service provider-one whose team of experts can work with complex material and understand customer requirements for customized output."

Getting started
How does a company get started with this approach to improving sales effectiveness? For most, if not all, companies, the solution is to have the sales resource portal hosted by an outsourced service provider-one whose team of experts can work with complex material and understand the marketing applications, media files and formats, and customer requirements for customized output. The hosted portal integrates access to product information, the media supporting the product and associated artwork. It also provides services to help users customize the material. For example, suppose a retailer wants to use existing artwork for a special merchandise coupon. Through a sales resource portal, the sales rep can quickly access the artwork, customize it to the retailer's specs and deliver it on time.

The hosted model fits well with how marketing professionals work. They don't typically purchase equipment or software; they buy services, not infrastructure. Few companies need to build the system and create the content and the portal front-end, but through a hosted service, it can be up and running quickly without having to make any capital investment and essentially without risk. In addition, since most sales support information is complex and unstructured (such as multimedia files that are not typically resident in a database), the hosted model makes sense because the service provider can help assess the information and put in place a proven process for collecting, storing and managing it. A hosted portal provides experts with in-depth knowledge in all those areas. Through a hosted service, companies can gain access to best-of-breed solutions without a significant upfront investment in hardware, software, people and infrastructure.

American standard, the world's largest supplier of bathroom fixtures, is one company whose portal experience has been a rewarding one. The company has many constituencies: employees, sales reps, distributors, national hardware retail chains, small independent retailers and plumbers/installers. The goal was to create a system for making images of hundreds of separate fixture items and the marketing materials that support them available to all their constituencies.

An inventory was taken of all product photography and an electronic catalog created to house the high-resolution files and make them available to the field in digital format. In fairly short order, the field was able to browse, view and download the digital assets, and put together custom materials for selling. In addition, through dynamic templates sales reps can create customized proposals and presentations. In the past, reps would present the product line using a printed catalog. A "customized" piece might mean cutting photos from the catalog and pasting them into a proposal. Field people today make more of these customized pieces simply because it's easy to do, and it has had a direct effect on sales. Sales reps are telling American standard, "We won this deal because we had this resource (the portal). The customer recognized that we really understood what they were looking for and were able to respond with a customized proposal."

"Sales reps are telling American standard,"We won this deal because we had this resource (the portal). The customer recognized that we really understood what they were looking for and were able to respond with a customized proposal."

Five steps You Can Take Today
The first step is to recognize digital media files as assets of the company. Logos, graphics, photos and other artwork have real economic value within the organization. When properly stored, managed and leveraged for new opportunities, that value appreciates exponentially.

Think in terms of templates when planning new marketing initiatives. When planning, don't think of the deliverable (such as a printed brochure), think of variable templates that can be dynamically populated with assets on the fly and output on demand to facilitate true 1:1 marketing.

Establish a dedicated communication and support channel directly to the sales organization. The corporate intranet was well intended, but lacks structure and organization. The Internet must be embraced to form a direct connection between front line sales tactics and headquarters marketing strategy-resulting in optimization on both fronts.

Seek out alignment/integration opportunities among service providers in the sales and marketing value chain. The Web must be engaged to link agencies, fulfillment facilities, printers and other value chain providers, leading to the maximization of expertise at each junction.

start evangelizing to senior management. Progressive thinking needs champions to become reality.

Sales Effectiveness
This focus is the next stage in technology-enabled selling. First there was contact management, then sales force automation, and now there's a sales resource portal that comes in at the moment of truth in the sales process-when the salesperson has the best opportunity to influence the customer's decision to buy.

In today's world of seemingly limitless options, it's no longer enough to have the best product at the best price. To win, companies must connect with their customers and speak to them in a way that they see themselves. This means engaging customers at every touch point with flexible, personalized sales tools. By aggregating diverse and complex information through a single point of access, the sales resource portal provides maximum flexibility at each point of contact, while enabling corporate marketing teams to control branding strategy and messages-the best of both worlds.

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