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BackWeb Sales Accelerator brings KM to the sales chain

In most companies, the sales organization offers one of the best opportunities to leverage KM practices for competitive advantage. A sales and marketing force that is armed with knowledge is more effective in selling and in building better relationships with customers and partners.

But for companies in dynamic and highly competitive industries, getting timely, relevant information out to the sales force is a major challenge. And the pervasiveness of the Web and other knowledge sources creates a glut of information that can easily overwhelm and distract sales and marketing professionals.

Enter BackWeb Technologies' (www.backweb.com) Sales Accelerator 1.0, which is designed to address those issues. A specialized application for the standard BackWeb system, Sales Accelerator allows organizations to specify key information that the sales force needs to see, and delivers that information straight to the desktop via push channels.

Salespeople automatically receive timely information and important updates that help them do their job more effectively. Overall, we think BackWeb provides a helpful, innovative way to disseminate information that is particularly valuable for remote users such as sales and marketing personnel.

Getting information into the right hands

Unlike some KM solutions that ingest information into a central repository, the BackWeb system "channelizes" information and automatically sends it via push delivery to the users that need it. Administrators can create any number of information channels that provide users with specific information. For example, organizations might build channels for salespeople with current product specifications, up-to-date pricing and promotions that are in effect, or current news releases from key competitors.

Channels are usually defined by administrators, and they can include information from virtually any source, including corporate intranets, databases, the Internet, extranets and internal file servers. Administrators can automatically subscribe individual users or groups to specific channels, or give users the right to subscribe to channels on their own. BackWeb also comes with a number of predefined channels of news and information from a variety of Internet sources. Administrators can package a number of channels for a group of workers with similar job responsibilities or preferences.

The BackWeb Server Foundation monitors all information sites that feed its channels and delivers the channels to subscribers. The server's AutoFile Update Manager can monitor files, directories or directory trees, and replicate them in any specified destination on the user's computer or network. The server's Market Intelligence Manager is used to monitor Web sites, news feeds and other content located on the Internet or intranet.

Users access channels from a Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser, a preconfigured InfoCenter client application or a Microsoft Outlook-based InfoCenter client. Users can access information based on individual preferences.

Ideal for salespeople

Channel information can be presented in ways to ensure that certain information receives proper attention. For example, critical information (such as news about the merger of two competitors) can be delivered in the form of a "Flash," an interactive multimedia display, a ticker or a notification in the Windows status bar. Such mechanisms will be welcomed by salespeople who might not have the time to actively read through their channel content each day. For less critical information, users can open and search channels at their leisure, from their desktops.

For content distribution, we were particularly impressed with BackWeb's patented BackWeb Transfer Protocol (BWTP) and "Polite Agent" technology (HTTP and IP Multicast can also be used). BWTP is specially designed to optimize available bandwidth. The system delivers information only when bandwidth is above a predefined threshold, transfer speeds are automatically adjusted for bandwidth availability, and transfers can be readily suspended and resumed. For remote workers, that approach means that BackWeb information transfers will not compete with user work tasks, such as sending E-mail and accessing corporate networks.

The Sales Accelerator also includes the Automated Marketing Encyclopedia (AME), a specialized information repository that can be shared among users. Users with publishing rights can publish information directly to the AME, such as sales presentations they've used or important customer information that would be relevant to other sales representatives. Likewise, other sales reps can access the AME repository, allowing them to share the collective knowledge of their colleagues.

The BackWeb system also helps organizations gauge its usefulness. The system performs detailed transaction logging, tracking all downloads, interactions and "dismissals without interactions." Organizations can review the audit trail data to determine which channels are most popular, and whether sales representatives are taking the time to access specific information.

Room for improvement

Overall, we found the complete BackWeb system to be a compelling solution for gathering and distributing information throughout the distributed work environment--particularly the Sales Accelerator application, which offers key benefits for distributed sales organizations. However, we noted several areas in which the system could be improved.

For example, the "top-down" (administrator- or management-driven) approach to determining what information users can access will require that organizations constantly re-evaluate available information sources to filter the information appropriately, walking the fine line of providing employees with too much or too little information. In addition, we did not find the administrative process of creating channels and workgroups to be overly intuitive; administrators will need some training and expertise to do the job effectively (as will users, if they are given the rights to contribute content).

Finally, customizing BackWeb and integrating it with line-of-business or other third-party applications can be complex. Although BackWeb does provide an API and a number of optional tools for creating custom interfaces, the effort is likely to require considerable manual programming.

Those limitations notwithstanding, BackWeb seems to have found a place for push, taming it with its "polite" delivery protocol and providing a range of delivery and notification options. And the BackWeb Sales Accelerator presents a particularly strong value proposition to companies that want to target the delivery of time-sensitive, business-critical information to the extended sales chain.

BackWeb's business benefits are clear: proactive delivery of relevant information that will educate sales personnel and equip them to respond more quickly to market changes, build competitive advantage, solidify their customer relationships and ultimately increase revenues.

Spot check

Overview

The BackWeb Sales Accelerator is a strategic enterprise application that leverages the Internet to provide KM capabilities to an organization's sales chain--including customers, partners and resellers, as well as the sales and marketing force. Running on top of the BackWeb Foundation, BackWeb Sales Accelerator uses push technology to proactively deliver content from a variety of sources, including corporate intranets, databases, the Internet and extranets.

Platform support

The BackWeb server is a 32-bit system that runs on Windows NT or Sun Solaris (Unix); the client can run on a variety of platforms, such as Microsoft Windows, Macintosh or Sun Solaris. BackWeb Sales Accelerator also requires Microsoft IIS and a database platform of Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle. The system uses its own database to store system data.

Strategic value to organizations

The BackWeb Sales Accelerator addresses a key business problem: the need to deliver targeted information to all members of the extended sales chain in a timely fashion. A sales force that is well educated and equipped with the most current information available is in a much better position to address competitive scenarios, create a positive impression, build stronger relationships with customers, and ultimately shorten the sales cycle. In addition, BackWeb helps companies save money and time over distributing information via alternate means, such as on CD or in print.

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