There are many types and uses for sales portals, but the one we run into the most is the ‘sales content portal,’ the place where internal sales teams and external partner organizations manage their sales content–product sheets, sales presentations, FAQ’s, sales playbooks, videos and more–that fuels the sales process.
We’ve talked to hundreds of companies and what we’ve heard is remarkably consistent. If they have a sales portal, they hate it. If they don’t have a one, it’s because they are pretty sure they’re going to hate it. …and in most cases, for good reason.
Everyone knows that there must be a better answer…and it’s true. We live in a time when sales technology has gone through a revolution in effectiveness and design, making it incredibly easier to implement, manage and use a sales content management platform–the modern answer to yesterday’s sales portal.
A modern sales enablement platform connects sellers to the most effective content and makes sure that it is working hard to deliver the sales results you need. You can take advantage of the same techniques that Internet services use to connect millions of people to the information they want. The right solution also integrates with and enhances the tools your company already relies on – services that track your sales activities (like Salesforce), that manage your files (like Box), and that you use for Web conferencing (like join.me).
Why do traditional sales portals so consistently fail to deliver, even really expensive ones and what can be done to fix them?
So What’s the Problem?
Let start by examining the five reasons sales portals typically fail.
1. Users need more than a ‘web page for sales content’
A great sales portal has many features that are very expensive to build and maintain. For example:
- Rich support for many mobile devices.
- Integration with cloud file systems like Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and Google Drive. That’s where content is authored and updated, so it should be easy to publish and update from within those systems.
- Integration with sales applications, particularly CRM and email. When a sales rep looks at an opportunity in Salesforce, they should see the content they need for that opportunity right in their Salesforce tab.
- Automatic distribution of new versions of an item to the people who use it.
- Analytics that show publishers what is landing across the organization.
- Support for user collaboration. Sales reps have a culture of learning from each other. Your sales content solution should facilitate this learning of what works best through collaboration functionality.
- Ability for non-technical authors, publishers and managers to organize and manage content at any level of scale. Most sales portals require IT or some technical resource to make changes–which, frankly, is a broken process. If those responsibility for sales content quality and sales rep success have the power to organize, update and generally manage content, your sales portal will stay fresh and relevant.
Since it is hard to build all of those features, most custom sales portals don’t bother. They offer a poor experience that leads to low user adoption and engagement.
2. Portals are Static. Content organization needs to be Dynamic.
Distributed go-to-market teams often need their own “mini sales portals”. Maybe the sales team in Germany wants to mix official content (like the pricelist) with regional information. Or there’s a sales initiative to focus on health care deployments. The team wants a place to share guidelines, pitch decks, case studies, and deployment guides. Some of it is official sales content and some is custom tailored. All the official content on a mini-portal should automatically be updated whenever a new version is released. Custom sales portals usually make it difficult or impossible to build mini sales portals. Since teams often have very little access to IT resources, they need a solution they can create and manage on their own. So they cobble something together to get the job done, using whatever tools they can. The result is sales portal sprawl, with many small silos of information scattered across the company. These islands of content lurk mostly unseen, insecure and full of information that is often wildly out of date.
3. Frontier content never gets shared
There is official content that goes through a review process, and it’s crucial that employees can find it quickly and efficiently. But that isn’t the only valuable information in the organization – at the frontiers, people are constantly creating new content that they need to do their work. They send it in email, keep it on their machine, and share it in Dropbox .. content that is dynamic and alive, representing working knowledge that would be valuable for the whole organization. But it’s much too hard to get that frontier content onto the official sales portal. Would-be publishers have no idea how to get it approved, and probably wouldn’t bother even if they did. So it ends up living “off the books” where most people never see it .. and it never gets used to improve the official content so that everyone can benefit.
4. Custom sales portals are expensive to evolve, so they get frozen in time
When a sales portal is built, it reflects the needs of the organization at the time. Since it’s costly–time, money and resources–to change, mostly you leave it alone. But your business does change, constantly. Teams get reorganized and renamed, product lines evolve and change, competitors come and go, sales teams are adjusting to market dynamics on a weekly basis. The way you structure your information needs to keep up with the speed of change in the business. Sales portals that are hard to evolve tend not to evolve. So they get more and more out of date, making them less of an enabler and more of a sales productivity bottleneck.
5. Custom sales portals get worse as they grow
Modern Web services like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest apply advanced machine learning to understand what users care about and how they relate to each other. The service gets better and smarter every day as more content is put into it and more activity happens on it. That’s why those services are so compelling. If your home page never changed on Facebook, nobody would use it. Search works so well because it constantly gets better at figuring out what people are looking for. But custom sales portals virtually never work this way – it’s too difficult to implement. They ignore what users are doing, showing everybody the same thing all the time. Search never works well and gets worse and worse, not better, as you add more content.
So what’s the answer?
A sales enablement platform should deliver on these six essentials, to make sure that your sales team gets the maximum value from the content you work so hard to create.
1. Search That Works
What do you do when you need to find something on the Internet? You search for it, and you’ll probably find what you need, almost instantly. All of your employees do that dozens of times a day .. unless it is something they need at work. Then they glumly wade through piles of largely irrelevant content or send an email to their friends hoping somebody might know where it is. Let your content live in the modern age. Your sellers should be supported by the same kind of technology that they take for granted in their personal life. It should do the work to dig through all the content used by your company and find the most relevant results. It should know which content other people are finding the most interesting and useful, and rank it at the top. Then reps can spend their time at work doing their job, not sifting through useless content or recreating documents that already exist (somewhere).
2. Intelligent and Relevant Recommendations
The field seller who is pitching solutions in Korea doesn’t need the same content as an inside sales rep working the phones in Texas. The system should adapt to the needs of each user, intelligently recommending the best content based on their role. It should analyze and score how content is performing with other reps and with customers, so that every seller can find the information that will most effectively move deals forward.
3. Browsing and Filtering
Today, the document you need is probably out there…somewhere. But it takes too much time to hunt around for it. The system should provide powerful ways to browse and filter content and help sales reps pinpoint the most effective content for each situation. Reps can browse content using meaningful characteristics such as product line, customer segment, geography, or anything that makes sense for the business. Using these same meaningful characteristics, reps must be able to further refine using filters to narrow down results.
4. Easy to Analyze and Maintain Content Quality
Are there five versions of the pitch deck floating around in your company, and three of them are completely off message? Do your reps give up on wading through mountains of mostly useless files and just throw something together on their own? A great system should help you make sure that only the most recent, most effective content is available. It should let you update items so everyone has the latest and greatest version. It should help you track down content that is out of date, that is being ignored, or that is not resonating with customers, so you can fix it or get rid of it.
5. Evolve Without Requiring IT Support
Changing most sales portals requires costly and scarce IT resources, so they soon freeze in place and are left behind. The way you organize and share your content needs to keep up with the speed of your business. Do you sell exactly the same products you did in the past? Face competitors who never change their approach? As business conditions evolve, so must your content and the way it is organized. You can never keep up if you need to ask for IT support every time you want to update something. And it isn’t just one centralized sales portal that needs to move forward. Regional teams often need to remix and supplement the content. Maybe they have decks on local market conditions and documents in their own language – whatever is needed to drive the business. But regional teams usually have very limited access to IT resources .. so they are often forced to cobble together an alternative solution that takes the place of the centralized sales portal. Now you don’t have one bad sales portal, you have many of them. Prevent “sales portal sprawl” with a system that can be easily and quickly adapted by everyone in the business who needs to manage information.
6. Integrate With Essential Sales Tools
Keeping your files in a cloud file system is a great way for people to collaborate on creating the best possible content. A sales engagement platform should integrate with those systems, so you aren’t forced to maintain multiple silos of content. You should be able to publish or update files directly when they are ready for the rest of the world to see. Similarly, if you use Salesforce to track sales activity, reps should be able to get access to all the content they need right from the environment where they live.
You don’t have to settle for a sales portal that you hate. Use a sales enablement platform that supports these six essentials, and your sellers will be able to find what they need to close a deal…as quickly as they can find a great cat video.
To learn more about how sales enablement can turbocharge your business, check out the Definitive Guide to Sales Enablement.