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Ventaso Site Helps Craft Better Sales Presentation

October 11, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Good marketing materials, pitch letters and presentations can clinch a sale. And the more specific they are to the particular needs of your customers, the more effective they are.

Ventaso offers a system that helps salespeople develop customer-specific product materials and presentations. The San Francisco company's sales and marketing tools can be found at http://www.ventaso.com.

Here's how they work:

A company's marketing department develops templates, or sample presentations, that cover competitive analysis, success stories, needs analysis and descriptions and advantages of each product or service. These are broken down into what Ventaso calls "gems," small pieces of information that can be combined to help provide a complete description of the product. This information resides on a Web server that is accessible to anyone on the sales staff.

When a salesperson needs to put together a proposal or a set of collateral materials, he or she logs onto a private area of the Ventaso site and fills out an online questionnaire. After the salesperson answers some basic questions about specific needs of the prospect, the Ventaso Web site generates the necessary materials.

To see for myself, I asked a Ventaso executive to set me up as a salesperson in a fictitious company so I could develop some of my own materials. They allowed me to log on to the site as though I were a salesperson at "Softwerks," a make-believe company that publishes e-mail software for business.

I was selling to a fictitious customer who needed an e-mail solution for a global network of employees. I began by typing in the name of my prospect, indicating the type of business and name and title of my contact at that company. I then picked out the key points of concern that, as a salesperson, I would know from having talked with the customer. The checklist of options depends on the product or service that you're selling. For each item, options include "not required," "desired" and "key." Checking off each item, I was quickly able to build a custom sales presentation based on the critical issues for this particular customer.

For example, one option for the e-mail program I was trying to sell asked whether the customer wants PDA (hand-held mobile devices) support. If not, why bother pitching it in a sales presentation? By saying it wasn't needed, my presentation was shorter, which is usually a good thing.

When I was done with the process, I instructed the site to build my sales materials, which consisted of a PowerPoint Presentation, an executive pitch letter and a competitive analysis. Each document was fairly extensive but limited primarily to the criteria I selected from the site.

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A few minutes later I had all of the materials. I examined them by opening them in Microsoft Office and, sure enough, they were complete proposals. Because they are standard Microsoft Office documents, they could easily be enhanced or edited by the salesperson. At this point I could either mail or e-mail the documents to my customer or make an appointment for a face-to-face presentation.

While the process is relatively easy for the salesperson, the system calls for some heavy lifting by the marketing department. Someone had to design all those elements of information that were used to create the proposal. For that to happen, someone not only needs to know how to use the Ventaso development tools, but also must be able to anticipate the needs of customers and the concerns that a salesperson would have when creating the material.

The service is priced on a "per seat" basis, typically about $250 per user per month, though lower prices are available for larger customers, according to a Ventaso spokesperson. The nice thing about the per-seat pricing model is that companies don't face a large up-front expense. And, because it's a Web site rather than shrink-wrapped software, there is no need to install software or make sure your equipment is powerful enough to run the software. Ventaso maintains the software and the server; all your sales and marketing staff need are PCs. You can even use it from a laptop in a hotel room.

Ventaso doesn't allow salespeople to create customized Web pages to support their sales. It seems to me that it would be a nice touch if Ventaso were to enable a salesperson to quickly create a Web page with their presentation so they could simply direct their client to that page during the sales process.

Of course, there are other tools that salespeople can use to create customized Web pages, but the whole idea of this type of service is to make their lives easier, especially for salespeople who don't have the time, inclination or technical know-how to develop their own Web-based tools. PowerPoint, by the way, can be used to automatically generate Web pages from any presentation, but the salesperson would still need to have access to a Web server along with the tools and training to upload a presentation.

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