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.