Gotta Get It Now!

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It's a scenario all too familiar to the growing company: sales reps in the field trying to sift through hundreds--perhaps thousands--of online product documents in an attempt to find just the right piece of information to close the sale.

There's little doubt the information exists. For the sales rep, however, it's just a matter of hitting on the right keyword or text phrase that will bring the document to the forefront of the search. Frustrating? You bet--especially when the document was probably created by an office-bound marketing or research professional who may be using an entirely different language from the field force.

At the end of this process, the sales rep usually ends up calling company support for one-on-one help in how to find the necessary information--an undesirable outcome that adds even more unproductive time and money to the search process.

Ending that frustration is the aim of the new ShortCycles Sales and Marketing Information Exchange. The software solution, released in May by California-based start-up ShortCycles, uses patent-pending Context-Maps technology to organize information in several ways to make it accessible to all distribution channels.

Speaking the same language
"With ShortCycles, the key benefit is to be able to make sure the right sales information is at the fingertips of sales representatives, distribution channel partners and key business partners," says Ed Mueller, president and CEO of ShortCycles. "ShortCycles puts that information at their fingertips when they need it in order to be able to close the sale."

Rather than relying on "hierarchical trees" to store information, ShortCycles uses a multidimensional approach. This approach provides a framework for categorizing documents by document type, product line and target market, for instance. Further, ShortCycles uses resource description framework technology to give semantic meaning to XML, thus allowing users to unearth information through the vocabulary they use everyday.

"With the way the maps are designed, the names of the categories themselves are words and vocabulary that match how the users view the world, how they sell their products, who they sell to, what markets they sell to," Mueller says.

ShortCycles doesn't stop with the list-based information typically managed by CRM and eCRM systems, either. The system incorporates even unstructured information such as sales presentations, customer references, competitive analysis and audio/visual materials. Information from AMR Research indicates that up to 80 percent of the information accessed daily by sales reps is the unstructured information typically lacking in CRM systems, Mueller says.

"In today's world of information overload, it's really hard for the sales professional and distribution professional to locate what they're looking for," he says. "The current solutions have failed. If you talk to the sales people at the companies we do business with, 85 to 90 percent of the people are really unhappy with the current system."

Better yet, Mueller says, the ShortCycles solution goes to work with one or two clicks of the mouse. Mueller says sales representatives and channel partners will enter--at most--one or two words into a keyword search and will use maybe two to three mouse clicks before giving up and calling the company for help. "When you're trying to scale distribution, that doesn't work," he says. ShortCycles, in contrast, is designed to provide information with a maximum of two clicks.

Bringing it together
The ShortCycles solution works with a number of key modules. ShortCycles Sales module provides round-the-clock access to sales information. Modules include MyShortCycles, which provides news feeds, market and competitive briefs on companies and issues; ShortCycles Sales Wizard, which easily and clearly offers staff best-practice procedures; and ShortCycles Virtual Team, which allows for the creation of virtual selling teams to bring sales, pre-sales and marketing staff together to discuss and share information.

ShortCycles Marketing modules include ShortCycles Feedback, which establishes a closed-loop feedback system between sales and marketing that lets content providers review comments and suggestions and improve content when needed; ShortCycles Net-Net, which delivers online, easily understandable views of critical info in brief bullet points; and ShortCycles Content Manager, which ensures that content is accurate and up-to-date.

The ShortCycles Business Partners module provides features designed for business partners such as distribution channels, alliance partners and resellers. ShortCycles Profiler profiles channel partners and delivers information that matches their individual needs while still protecting proprietary and confidential information, while ShortCycles Alerts offers speedy notification of key information changes.

In the Real World
Hewlett-Packard (HP) saw the need for this type of solution years ago and was so anxious to see it developed that the company gave $1 million to support ShortCycles' creation.

Almost six years ago, HP developed its own Web-based application to help its sales force and channel partners navigate the reams of product documentation created every month. But it soon became obvious that system wasn't working, says Steve Baker, HP's worldwide sales communications manager for enterprise commercial business. "One clear theme started to emerge (from the field force who used the system)," Baker says, "and that was there's too much stuff here for me to be able to find easily what I'm looking for."

HP knew there had to be an easier way--especially as the online documentation users had to sort through grew from 2,000 in 1994 to the roughly 65,000 items available today.

HP began beta-testing ShortCycles about four months ago, Baker says. Now, with roughly 5,000 HP salespeople and another 10,000 channel partners using ShortCycles, the feedback has been largely positive, he says.

"When we did the preliminary testing, a lot of the people who used it said, 'Give this to me right now. I don't want to wait'," Baker says. "That was a good, positive sign for us."

The beauty of the ShortCycles system is its multidimensionality, Baker says. "It's a lot more visual for the reps," he says. "It guides them through a (search) narrowing process where it holds you by the hand."

And the return on investment is high. Baker estimates the solution will save $25 million annually by cutting down on the length of time it takes for sales personnel to find information.

"If I can save a sales rep two hours a week looking for information and transfer that time into having them in front of and talking directly to a customer," he says, "the numbers get very high."

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