Kudos to iCentera for receiving a U.S. patent for its sales enablement portal platform. For years this pioneering company, with a tag line of “portals for mortals” has diligently worked to popularize the idea of easy to use portals that companies can use to communicate and collaborated with customers or any other audience. You can read the announcement coverage here http://yhoo.it/dqTcWI if you like.
A portal is simply a private web site that a vendor can deploy to develop an interactive customer communication channel and it can be very effective at providing very low cost and unobtrusive contact. iCentera’s portals have been used extensively by more than 170,000 subscribers and more than 10,000 portals have been delivered as a SaaS service by the company.
I think these numbers will look small in a couple of years for several reasons. First, the marketplace is changing and it is becoming increasingly friendly to the portal approach. As companies build ever larger customer bases and see the value in cross selling or up selling existing customers they will increasingly need sales channels that are inexpensive to maintain because the margins on cross sells are often much smaller than the original purchase.
But also, customers are becoming ever more sophisticated and are becoming less receptive to a constant barrage of calls from sales people. A portal puts more of the control in the relationship in the hands of the customer. Finally, as transportation costs increase companies will seek alternatives to putting expensive sales talent in front of customers if the same results can be gained through a portal.
For all these reasons, I think portals have a bright future. The U.S. Patent Office’s grant of a patent simply acknowledges the advance of the art of portal design and deployment and makes no case for its efficacy. That’s what analysts are for.
Using emerging technologies to foster more sustainable front office business processes.
Sustainability might be the next big thing in CRM. I’m betting it is and Beagle Research is initiating an award for sustainability in CRM. Today. Now.
Everywhere we look we see not just an industry but also a civilization straining under the demands of growth. Now, growth is generally a good thing for an economy but one of its hidden characteristics is that it periodically forces us to change the way we do things. What is affordable and practical one day can become expensive and cumbersome overnight. We’re living in one of those times. The solution to such challenges is to find ways to make what we do more sustainable, to substitute, change and innovate new and better ways of doing things. In business that means our processes and then some.
The things we take for granted in our business dealings are becoming less constant. Customers are tapped out, the new product engine has stalled and travel is becoming so expensive that it may soon squeeze margins and affect our ability to meet with people. Some of this is blowback from the recession but other aspects may be a long-term trend forming. Regardless of the causes, as business people we need to discover and develop solutions that mitigate these influences so that we can continue doing business.
We’ve given these issues considerable thought and in response, today, Beagle Research introduces a new award and report focusing on sustainability and the things that CRM can do to help every business to become more sustainable.
The award and report are called ThinkForwardä. We borrowed the idea of “think” from Thomas Watson, Sr. of IBM fame and from Steve Jobs each of whom asked us to think and then think differently at critical points in the evolution of our industry.
We believe it’s time to think again but this time we need to think ahead about a world that will be resource constrained in many dimensions. The conditions we watch and write about in the report show slower growth and rising transportation costs coupled with a customer-base that is growing less interested in absorbing more goods.
Just in time, we also see a market brimming with front office technologies that help vendors and customers to identify opportunities and satisfy them with maximum efficiency, using resources wisely. We think sustainability provides the organizing principle for the next phase of CRM, a phase filled with opportunity if we focus on crowdsourcing, social media and strategies for substituting intelligent technologies for travel.
We see numerous front office software companies bringing products to market that by themselves may not garner a great deal of attention from the mainstream market but we also see these solutions as keys to a more sustainable business environment.
The ThinkForward report identifies seven companies whose solutions typify the kinds of solutions that, in some cases, may not be core to CRM today but which will be essential in the future. In one way or another these companies evidence solutions that help vendors better understand and target opportunities, marshal resources and engage customers in new and more sustainable ways.
The award winners include Brainshark, Cloud9 Analytics, Communispace, iCentera, Kadient, Salesforce.com, Unisfair and Zuora. As our report documents, each of these vendors offers solutions that help their customers to do business in more sustainable ways either by treating customers more like renewable resources, reducing the travel and energy requirements of many front office processes, or by capturing and leveraging crowd wisdom to enable companies to better hone products and messages.
We salute these pioneers and encourage you to consider how making your businesses more sustainable can help drive new revenues and profits as the world continues to change around us.