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Getting marketing and sales in sync

A new service released today aims to fill what one analyst sees as a gap in marketing automation.

Can CRM applications and marketing automation software benefit from new collaboration tools?

Certainly, according to Mary Wardley, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. She said that, when it comes to marketing automation, "there's a lot of automation that can be achieved that goes 'unautomated.'"

One company hopes to fill the gap. ShareMethods LLC, a South Orange, N.J., company, today announced a hosted service for sales and marketing collaboration.

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ShareMethods CEO Eric Hoffert said he has seen two key business problems in the Fortune 500 that the new service aims to address: getting sales and marketing messages to a distributed sales and marketing team, sales channel and partners, and allowing those groups or individuals to offer feedback.

"In many companies, that feedback loop is broken," Hoffert said. "Marketing is supposed to be serving sales, but very often what's being put out there isn't what the sales team needs. Document management allows any user to tag a document as being related to a specific account or opportunity. That's how we build the bridge."

ShareMethods acts as a centralized communications hub for sales and marketing, Hoffert said. The tool allows users to provide feedback to one another through documents or to vote on a particular campaign's effectiveness.

The service, which sells for between $35 and $55 per user per month, is loosely based on the user rating system offered by online movie rental site Netflix and on Amazon.com's user product reviews, Hoffert said.

The service offers a customizable user interface and can share documents, images and presentations, as well as Web and video content. Different users, such as sales agents, partners and resellers, can get different levels of access. ShareMethods' tool integrates with Salesforce.com's hosted software and is also available on its own. Its open source architecture will lead to more CRM integration deals, Hoffert said.

In the short term, specialty marketing automation is heading in the direction of smaller, best-of-breed companies partnering with full CRM providers, Wardley said.

"How much broader can CRM applications get?" she said. "The early activity is going to be from standalone products like ShareMethods that uncover untapped possibilities and hone the process a little bit."

Traditionally, it's been tough to get users -- particularly a sales force -- to use new technologies. Wardley said that the advent of the "cowboy" salesperson acting on his own is rapidly disappearing, especially as companies tie sales commissions to software use and make corporate transparency a priority.

Hoffert argues that ease of use will foster adoption, a sentiment backed up by one beta user. Kris Skrinak, a partner with CapTech Venture Partners in Oakland, Calif., has worked with ShareMethods for several weeks and is impressed with its usability.

"There's nothing to it in terms of how do you get information up and get it back," Skrinak said. "It saves space on your desktop. I don't need every version of every material."

Managing digital assets is a central requirement for a venture capital assistance firm, Skrinak said. The biggest competition to ShareMethods might be e-mail, since employees are accustomed to having copies of all materials in their inboxes.

"It only takes not having the materials once to end that," Skrinak said.

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