VAI Gets Social with New Release of S2K Sales Force
August 16, 2011 Alex Woodie
VAI recently issued a new release of S2K Sales Force, a WebSphere Portal-based solution that augments the company’s core IBM i-based ERP and CRM offerings. With the update to S2K Sales Force, the company has added a blogging capability, which is the first of several social media features the company plans to add. The new version also brings email-related enhancements and new analytic dashboards.
S2K Sales Force is a relatively new addition to VAI’s enterprise lineup that was added in late 2010. The software provides a management system that tracks and records every stage in the sales process, from initial contact with a prospect to final disposition. It gives sales personnel the capability to manage their contacts, create to-do lists, schedule events, and review leads. It also has tools to help convert leads to prospects, and prospects to customers.
While the software runs on Windows or Linux (or a Linux partition on a System i server), it integrates with the S2K ERP system and its underlying DB2/400 database, which gives it an advantage over third-party sales force automation (SFA) tools, such as Sales Force.com, says VAI vice president of sales Joe Scioscia.
“A year ago, we saw a wave of activity in customers inquiring about Sales Force.com,” Scioscia tells IT Jungle. “So we designed S2K Sales Force as a tool that they can use that’s very similar to Sales Force.com, where they can have content management, email, and calendar capabilities. But the strength of the application really comes in the ability to link directly to S2K’s ERP data.”
This direct integration with the ERP’s database gives users real-time access to the product catalog, order status and history, price lists, and real-time inventory. “It’s much more than an online sales tool,” he says. “It really is a true enterprise-type system where they can utilize and leverage back-office data.”
The new release of S2K Sales Force, which doesn’t have a version or release number associated with it, brings a number of new features, including a new built-in blogging capability designed to encourage collaboration among sales personnel. This social media enhancement, which shows up as another tab on their Web-based screens, will make it easier for salespeople to communicate among themselves in a semi-public and centrally recorded manner, just as groups of friends on Facebook communicate.
Scioscia sees several ways the new S2K Sales Force blogging capability could be utilized. “Say a sales rep is going after an opportunity, and they run into a competitor that they don’t know much about,” he says. “They could post a topic in the sales blog, to see if anybody has ever competed against this company. Or maybe the sales rep is having a customer issue, or there’s a return or recall on product. That was one of the things customers were asking for, to be able to collaborate on topics.”
VAI plans to add more social media-like functions in S2K Sales Force in the future. “We’re looking at LinkedIn for import and export of contact information, and for ways enable customers to communicate with their LinkedIn contact base,” Scioscia says. “Following that, we’re going to look at Facebook and Twitter as some other options to add to S2K Sales Force as well.”
Importing lists of business prospects into S2K Sales Force is also easier with version 2 thanks to a new automated list import function. Many of S2K’s customers in the manufacturing and distribution spaces utilize list services from companies such as Dun and Bradstreet and Hoovers. Lists of tradeshow attendees are also commonly loaded into SFA tools such as S2K Sales Force.
Better integration with desktop email systems is another feature of the updated S2K Sales Force. While VAI’s software comes with its own email and calendaring system, many of VAI’s customers have their own Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes desktop email systems. Emails and calendar invites are now shared more easily across the two systems.
Another email enhancement comes in the form of automated email marketing campaigns and sending out email blasts. “The capability to do email blast campaigns is a new feature in S2K Sales Force that really allows the sales rep to stay in front of opportunities and also let customers know new product offerings or new prices on certain products,” Scioscia says.
The new release also brings better analytics via an enhancement in VAI’s S2K Analytics, which is another separately priced module augmenting the core ERP system. Previously, VAI offered S2K Sales Force customers just a couple of dashboards in S2K Analytics that they could use. Now, S2K Sales Force users can choose from eight dashboards that depict things such as customer behavior and profit margins. S2K Analytics is based on IBM Cognos technology.
S2K Sales Force is based on WebSphere Portal, and requires S2K CRM. The software is sold in 20-user packs (like WebSphere Portal). Perpetual licenses start at $12,600 for the first 20-user pack. For more information, see the company’s website at www.vai.net.