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7/13/2010
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iCentera Adds Cloud Portals For B2B Sales

Business-to-business companies can create custom portals for direct and indirect channel sales that present secure views while providing usage analytics.

To help B2B companies' direct and indirect channel sales forces improve their productivity and effectiveness, iCentera Inc. announced the general availability of its iCentera for Sales Channel Enablement an on-demand service, based on its iCentera Enterprise Edition 7.0 sales enablement SaaS platform.

A sales portal, unlike a general web sales presence, can include sensitive information, like pricing, competitive information, and other information not intended to be available to the general public, like training, and internal blogging and forums, according to Craig Nelson, CEO, iCentera.

iCentera for Sales Channel Enablement includes content templates for building channel-ready content; usage reporting and analytics for tracking partner utilization; and a deployment project plan. A portal can combine documents on company content management systems and on the iCentera platform, along with calendar information, internal 2.0 social network tools, and more. "We are an aggregator, not looking to replace what you're doing," says Nelson.

"If you have portals in front of your channel partners, this lets you make changes to your information, products, company name, and the like within minutes," says Nelson. "We focus on companies doing business-to-business selling, where products tend to change on a rapid basis, and tend to be relatively sophisticated, so there isn't just a data sheet but also white papers and other information."

Additionally, because each user logs in, each portal generates analytics. "You can see what products they're looking at, and you can make it easier for each channel or customer, like 'Here's the five to ten products you're likely to be most interested in, from the thousands of products we sell,'" says Nelson. "And you can use it to search for a brochure, view it, email it, et cetera."

For SMBs, says Nelson, benefits of the platform and the custom portals include reducing the time and effort needed to do administration, allowing sales staff to spend more time selling, and reducing the cost of sales, by providing information in digital format instead physical.

"We see iCentera for Sales Channel Enablement as becoming the destination workspace for a sales representative, a single place to work from," says Susan Donahue, a spokesperson for iCentera.

iCentera for Sales Channel Enablement is intended for small-to-midsized businesses as well as enterprises. "We focus on companies who have direct sales and also channels," says Nelson. "Especially channel partners who support lots of manufacturers and are always learning."

"Many SaaS vendors are improving the overall feature set on an on-going basis, and offering increased analytics, which can be subtle, but is important," says notes Jeffrey Kaplan, Managing Director, of THINKstrategies, Inc., an on-demand strategic consulting services firm. "I've been using their portal for our own SaaS and Managed Services showplaces' Best Practices, because of its ease of use, its features, and the analytics it offered even then. SaaS vendors recognize it's important to embed full-featured analytics into their primary application to make it as powerful and valuable as possible."

Using the new cloud-based iCentera tool to build and maintain custom portals like these should cost half or less that of using an in-house platform like Microsoft SharePoint, according to Nelson. "You can deploy this without any intervention from IT."

Pricing depends on the number of users, and features; a typical small business might expect to spend around $2,000 per month. iCentera says that between improvements in sales staff productivity, by reducing administrative and other non-sales time, and reducing channel support costs; according to the company, iCentera for Sales Channel Enablement has a projected ROI of 125% within one year of deployment.

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