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Crafting an effective sales intranet: A love story

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Several years back, AutoTrader.com had a problem. We had hundreds of sales reps all across the country, but we didn't have a good way to get them sales materials they needed to do their job. So we set up a company "shared drive" to distribute collateral, contracts and presentations.

The dream of the shared drive quickly turned into a nightmare. It was impossible to keep everything updated and organized. People would delete critical documents, alter presentations and then save them over the master documents.

Not having a way to get quality marketing assets to the field was a problem. Sales guys didn't want to go on an archeological dig through thousands of documents on a shared drive, so they built the assets themselves. We started seeing a lot of homegrown marketing materials coming in from the field. Now, I don't want to denigrate the graphic design skills of our sales reps, but I've never seen more Microsoft clip art used in my life.

Beyond the amateurish design, the content was all over the place. There were a hundred versions of the truth, and it was very common to see inaccurate and outdated stats.

It wasn't the sales reps' fault. It was our fault. We had quality marketing materials at corporate, but we didn't have an effective way to get them into the hands of the people who could actually use them.

So we shut down the shared drive and created a sales intranet site. In the early days, our sales intranet was, as our sales reps would say, “the place to get forms and contracts.” We thought it was pretty good, but our reps complained about it. “It's doesn't help me,” they said. “It's too hard to find anything. It's not useful.”

Ouch. As the business owner, I didn't want people talking about my sales intranet that way. But, behind the complaints, I saw there was a real need that we were failing to meet.

So we refocused on our sales intranet, trying to make it a place that sales reps wanted to go to, not a place they had to go to.

At the time, the name of the sales intranet was S.A.M., short for Sales Asset Manager. Not exactly the most inspiring name you could come up with. So we decided to change it. We wanted something that would create some excitement with the sales force.

The name we came up with was “Ignition.” We felt this was very appropriate because we saw the sales intranet as a resource that would ignite the sales process.

The next step was to overhaul the design. Our early version was functional, but it really didn't inspire the user. When we started to make improvements to the design, we actually saw usage increase. We also noticed that people were spending more time on the intranet, which led to the discovery of hidden gems that you wouldn't find if you were just grabbing a contract.

After we upgraded the design, we had to get the content right. In the past, we'd put some documents up on the intranet and think our job was done. But we learned that a sales intranet is not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of tool. You have to invest time and resources into it. So we went out and hired a person just to work on it. Having an experienced professional focus on Ignition really helped us put much more rigor behind the ongoing management and optimization of the site.

As we made improvements, we saw significant increases in all key metrics that we tracked. But the best part was that we started to see a clear correlation between our top performing sales reps and heavy users of Ignition. That more than anything showed us we were starting to make a difference.

Of course, we're not done yet. We still have a long way to go. But we're on the right track. So for those lucky souls out there managing a sales intranet, here's my parting advice. Turn your sales intranet into a brand. Don't be afraid to give it some style and personality. Focus on making it great with the right content and the right people to manage that content. Make sure you're always watching the metrics to make sure you're making a difference.

If you do it right and you give the sales intranet some love, it just might love you back.

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