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ChannelNet

Sales channels are never easily tamed, but they prove to be a perfect challenge for ChannelNet.

Sales channels are never an easily tamed beast–they’re complex, involve numerous people, and bring technology together with traditional efforts. That sounded like an excellent challenge for Paula Tompkins, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based ChannelNet.

How did ChannelNet get started?

During my early career selling complex products and services for 3M and General Electric, I was struck with an idea. Why doesn’t someone apply the emerging personal computer technology to creating an innovative new selling medium? Combining my field sales background with my participation in the birth of the PC in Silicon Valley, I decided to meet the challenge by starting ChannelNet.

What got you personally interested in doing this work?

At that time the personal computer had limited functionality. Most people used it as a word processor, a few daring individuals used simple flat file database programs to organize their customer mailing lists, and the “killer app” of the day calculated numbers within an electronic spreadsheet.

Being sales- and marketing-minded, I envisioned the PC as a tool for delivering information and reducing the complex interactions involved in conventional selling processes. I was sure this new technology could help shorten the sales cycle by streamlining a customer’s decision-making and buying process. I conducted research to see if anyone else was thinking along the same lines and/or creating software for this purpose. When nobody appeared on the radar screen, I made the leap and formed ChannelNet.

Why do you feel there’s a need for what you provide?

Our company was an anomaly during the dotcom heyday when e-commerce was promoted as the biggest revolution in the world of business. Pundits predicted that the Web would eliminate the “brick-and-mortar” buying experience. However, we always believed that a company’s traditional sales channels would continue to play a significant role in the buying and selling of complex products and services. We viewed the Internet as complement to, not a replacement for, existing sales channels.

What makes your company unique?

The majority of companies looking to build multichannel solutions don’t buy technology solutions. Instead they have their ad agency or their consulting firm or their own internal IT department custom code the solution. A custom coded solution is expensive, requires a long development cycle–a significant solution could typically take nine months to two years in development–and has extremely high maintenance costs. As a result, our biggest challenge is to educate prospects that there is a software product called ChannelNet SiteBuilder that can help them reduce the costs and amount of maintenance, improve the productivity, and gain speed to market compared to what building multichannel solutions usually require.

Where do you want to build the company from here?

Our primary goal over the next 24 months is to continue to build and broaden our relationship with our existing customers. We are not a classic software product company. A typical software product company hands off the complexity of system integration, end user education and other essential elements of the program to consultants or internal IT departments right after the deal is closed. The client ends up spending many years and many millions of dollars, but is left with an unusable solution. We have a different mode of operation. We work with our clients to rapidly deliver an effective turnkey solution, and then build and expand our working relationship over time to advance their multichannel offerings.

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