Sales Resource Portals Take Off

The idea of the corporate portal has superceded what we used to call the intranet. But rather than one enterprise system, successful portal deployments usually target specific business functions. Sales departments are especially fertile ground for portal applications, and a new category of sales resource portal has begun to emerge.

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.

For sales organizations, this enables 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
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 sales people 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 sales person 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 sales people 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, sales people know what's available, and they can put together a presentation that's personalized for their client.

Getting started
How does a company get started with this approach to improving sales effectiveness? For many, the solution is to have the sales resource portal hosted by an outsourced service provider. 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. With a hosted service, you 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, used a hosted sales portal solution to create a system for making marketing materials, especially images of products and parts, available to all constituencies: employees, sales reps, distributors, national hardware retail chains, small independent retailers, and plumbers/installers.

An inventory was taken of all product photography and an electronic catalog was created to house the high-resolution files. Now, reps in the field can 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 Effectiveness
Applications such as American standard's represent the next step 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 affect 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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