Sales & Marketing -- Marketing Documents Go Online

Dec. 21, 2004
Web-based "pull-as-needed" approach slashes sales-communications costs

Most manufacturers will relate to the dual challenge of getting timely and accurate sales and marketing information to the field and making sure the information gets absorbed and used by field salespeople. "In today's economy, with its short product life-cycles, Internet-paced competition, and quickly changing market strategies, keeping the sales team informed often makes the difference between closing and losing a sale," says Cupertino, Calif.-based Bob Crum, sales communication program manager for Hewlett-Packard Co. At HP the communication challenge was particularly serious. Just a few years ago, the computer manufacturer's various marketing organizations were sending a foot-high stack of sales and marketing literature each month to its field sales representatives. With some 50 manufacturing or product-generation units (PGUs) and their respective marketing organizations generating product literature and fighting for a share of mind of the field salesperson, not much was getting through to customers. Salespeople managed by using what they could and ignoring the rest of the information that was being pushed out to them. "We were shocked by the amount of material that was getting thrown away," says Crum, estimating that only 10% to 15% of the documents intended for customers ever reached them. And when sales reps or channel partners did decide later that they needed a particular bit of information, it often took days to track it down and obtain a copy. Information technology offered an obvious solution, and HP was quick to adopt it -- shifting responsibility for getting communications to salespeople, channel partners, and customers from the PGUs to Crum's newly created sales-communication organization. The new group coordinates and serves as an online repository for communications of any sort going from the various manufacturing and marketing organizations to the field. At the same time, HP devised a "pull-as-needed" rather than a push approach to communication that leaves salespeople in charge of sales and marketing information rather than at its mercy. In its first year of operation, the new sales-communication organization saved HP $25 million in North America alone, largely by eliminating the unnecessary printing of documents. The online, documents-on-demand approach reduced research and sales-preparation time, and increased salespeople's responsiveness to customers. The functionality and efficiency of the sales-communication organization keeps growing, providing more benefits to the field force, including:

  • Documents are available in a more timely fashion. Crum estimates 95% of the content submitted to his unit is available to salespeople and channel partners through the Web site within six hours after it is generated.
  • HP virtual teams can work together as a community by setting up a separate document storage area accessible to team members only.
  • A "Win-Ref" database has been added, which holds roughly 4,000 deal profiles (details of HP sales wins) and identification of customers who are willing to serve as references for HP products and systems.
Today, the sales-communication unit stores more than 60,000 electronic documents and processes about 2,000 additions, deletions, and revisions per month. Shifting the system this year to an online hosted-application service operated by ShortCycles Inc. of San Bruno, Calif., will give salespeople advanced storage and search capabilities and allow them to add their own documents to the system -- combining structured information such as sales reports and market analyses with unstructured documents including e-mails, faxes, and notes. By the end of the year Crum expects to see the system integrated with HP's sales-automation software so that the sales-communications program knows each salesperson's accounts and the projects he or she is working on. Then the salesperson can be alerted immediately to any new content appropriate to the projects. William Keenan Jr. is editorial director for Alexander Communications Group, New York, editor of Sales Rep's Advisor newsletter, and the former editor of Selling magazine.

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