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WebEx Mixes Meetings With Sales Force Automation

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Posted September 20, 2004 By Dan Muse     Feedback

A great sales presentation is meaningless if you don't get the order. With that in mind, real-time collaboration application provider WebEx today announced WebEx Sales Center.

WebEx Communications is one of the pioneers of real-time collaboration applications. In fact, to many companies the name WebEx is synonymous with online meetings. To date, Web-based meetings have been viewed mainly as a way to reduce travel expenses. However, the technology hasn't been proven as a tool to help generate revenue.

In a move designed to close the gap between a sales presentation and getting the order, the San Jose, Calif.-based ASP today announced WebEx Sales Center, which is designed specifically to enhance team selling. The service also promises to keep prospects engaged throughout the sales cycle and to provide sales managers with the capability to monitor and measure Web-based sales operations.

The new software-as-a-service offering is billed as a way to overcome the challenges of a distributed work force. "Today, not only do companies have a distributed sales team, but their prospects are also distributed," said Sanjay Dalal, director of WebEx Sales Center. "When all the decision-makers aren't under one roof, how do you move forward?" WebEx' answer to get everyone who has a say in the decision in one virtual meeting.

One of the ways WebEx hopes to make online meeting more productive from a sales perspective is to take advantage of real-time collaboration technology to build an instantly available team of experts that a salesperson can call on during a meeting.

WebEx Sales Center users can set up a database of experts by subject matter. This, according to Dalal, allows a sales team to deal with any issues or questions from the prospect while the meeting is still in progress. The sales person can invite available experts to join the meeting. These expert teams can include in-house resources such as engineers or external resources such partners or resellers.

Team members can also exchange private messages and chat among themselves during the sales call, allowing the experts to remain hidden from the prospect, for example.

One of the challenges presented by online meetings is that you can't tell whether the person on the other side is paying attention. It's difficult to know when it's time to move to another topic or to start wrapping up the meeting, Dalal said. "How do you read body language when you can't see the prospect? He could be checking e-mail."

To help salespeople know when a prospect's attention is drifting, an automatic alert notifies sales team members when an attendee opens an application over the presentation. The Sales Center attention indicator features puts an exclamation point next to the prospect if he or she engages is in another application during the sales call. However, it can't tell which application is being used.

WebEx Sales Center also attempts to keep customers engaged during the sales cycle through branded online portals. The portals are designed to provide a secure data repository where the prospect and sales team can share information, schedule calls and view recorded sales meetings. The salesperson is notified when a customer or potential customer visits the site or downloads collateral material, for example.

For sales managers, WebEx Sales Center offers a set of monitoring and analytics tools. For example, managers can observe sales presentations to see what reps are really doing, Dalal said. This allows a manager to view an online sales meeting without appearing as an attendee. "Managers can jump into sales calls silently," Dalal said.

Managers can also get real-time reports on sales pipelines and portal activity across sales teams as well reports on the activities of individual sales reps and customers.

Dalal said the WebEx Sales Center is designed to integrate with CRM and sales force automation software from leading independent vendors. For example, he said, WebEx is working directly with Web-based application providers such as as well as with Siebel, SAP and Saleslogix to tie into client-server CRM software.

While WebEx is working directly with specific partners, Dalal said the company has also published an API, which will allow any software vendor, system integrator or in-house development team to provide application integration.

Pricing for WebEx Sales Center is $250 a month per port. The number of ports needed translates into the number of concurrent users that need to attend a meeting. Customers can also purchase pools of minutes. "You could buy, say, a 1,000 minutes and divide those up among users," Dalal said. The third option is to use the service on an on-demand basis with pricing of 33 cents a minute."

Dan Muse is executive editor of's Small Business Channel and EarthWeb's Networking & Communications Channel.

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