As my last post for 2006, I thought I'd spend some time talking about Sales Portals. I do a lot of work closing the loop between marketing and sales. It still amazes me the blank responses I get when I start talking about the usefulness of a good sales portal.
Part of that may be the word "portal" itself.
A portal is an online interface that delivers information and interactions that help accomplish a goal. So, a sales portal should increase sales effectiveness through delivering actionable information and tools that help salespeople close deals. It should also be an internal collaborative community for the organization.
Realistically, every department in the company has some kind of role in Sales. Since sales is the end-goal of a company, then everyone from HR to Finance to R&D to support & service has a role in the sales process. The context may vary, but everyone plays a part in either getting customers or keeping them.
The sales portal should inform, educate, nurture and connect the employees of a company to help them engage with each other in productive activities that increase the company's overall success at achieving strategic objectives. Yes, all based around the customer. Existing customers, future customers and perhaps most importantly, lost customers.
Participation should be encouraged and enabled. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you know what each person's specialty or expertise is at your company?
- Do you know who's working on what projects in what capacity?
- Do you know all the initiatives underway at your company?
- Do you know what's coming down the pike for new product launches?
- Do you know the best uses your customers have found for your products?
- Do you know why you lost customer X last year?
Suffice it to say that you can "do you know" yourself to death and probably come up with the "No" answer more than the "Yes" answer. Streamlining processes and creating transparency between departments that improves customer experiences dramatically is the goal of the sales portal.
Okay - I know some of you are rolling your eyes, thinking, "No - a sales portal is for salespeople."
I will agree that there are some tools that should be specifically for authorized/permissioned salespeople - like quote and proposal tools and such, but think about this for a second. Shouldn't everyone at your company know what values your products/solutions/services deliver? Shouldn't your front-line service and support staff know what customers are being promised so they can deliver on those promises?
Insight should be available about what leads have been exposed to, what they've pulled to them and used and what they've participated in with your company. From the lead nurturing process to the sales process, marketing's efforts should seamlessly transition to sales processes and be available to see on the portal.
If Sally finds out her neighbor's company is looking for a solution you offer, shouldn't Sally be able to enter a lead and submit it to the sales process? If Evan finds out why a lead is looking at a competing vendor, wouldn't it be helpful if he could log that information and alert the sales rep working on that lead? Yes, some structure and process is needed here, but this is a blog post...
If you enable the participation of all employees in relevant ways, your company is building a knowledgebase that will evolve as it is used. An actionable knowledge system that organically grows with each addition and provides insights to customers and about the workings of the company that many of your employees may not currently have.
It never ceases to amaze me that many companies still operate on a "need-to-know basis." Is that an illusion of grandeur or just over-controlling at it's finest? The more horizontal your company can become, the more in-tune it will be with creating and sustaining valuable customer experiences.
Finally, consider how much email could be cut out and how much knowledge reused if the sales portal is built for and encourages participation. How much knowledge is floating around your company being shared between a few individuals and lost to the company as a whole? How much could customer experiences be improved and how would the sales process be impacted by creating an actionable sales knowledge system, AKA a Sales Portal?
What activities will your company take next year to build better customer experiences?