Closing the Sales Loop at Nortel Networks

Nortel Networks enforces accountability in its lead management program, proving that the old maxim of "measuring to improve" certainly applies to the sales process.


Headquartered in Brampton, Ontario, Nortel Networks is a provider of communications technology and infrastructure that enable IP data, voice and multimedia services spanning wireless, networks, wireline and optical networks.

In late 2001, Nortel Networks began to hear from its channel partners that they wanted to see more from the company in the way of lead generation. As a result, Nortel Networks took a hard look at its lead management processes within its North American Enterprise Division, which sells customer-premises equipment to end clients through channel partners. The company's conclusion: Changes were in order.

Disparate Processes, Open Loops

The issues were several, according to Mark Pierret, senior channel marketing manager with Nortel Networks. First, the company, its dealers and its value-added resellers (VARs) were using a variety of disparate processes to handle sales leads, and most of those processes involved an outdated mechanism with the staggered handoff of leads.

In addition, the company found that its "push" approach to handling leads was producing a fairly high rate of "secondary assignments." That is, Nortel Networks would assign a lead to a particular reseller but would later learn the reseller had not contacted the prospect. Nortel Networks then would pass the lead to another salesperson but, in the meantime, the prospect might have already gone with a competing product or had a change of heart.

Finally, Nortel Networks concluded that it simply was not getting the feedback from sales reps that the company needed to manage its leads effectively. Without a "closed-loop" process for providing timely feedback on leads, Nortel Networks found it difficult to ensure that its lead-generation programs produced optimal results, since by the time the feedback did roll back up the chain of command, it was quite possibly too late to effect any change of course.

From "Push" to "Pull"

To address these issues, Nortel Networks realized that it would need to create a uniform enterprise-wide process for managing its leads across its different product lines. The process had to be straightforward enough that the salespeople would adopt it quickly and actually use it to provide the feedback that the company needed. And the process had to be streamlined enough that it solved the problem of staggered handoffs.

For an underlying technology backbone for the lead management process, Nortel Networks looked at various partner relationship management (PRM) and sales force automation (SFA) solutions available on the market. The company's requirements for the technology conformed to its goals for its unified process: simplicity and accessibility. Nortel Networks' other requirements for the solution included support for the company's indirect sales model, a moderate initial investment with the ability to scale up over time, and a short implementation time.

Ultimately, Nortel Networks opted to go with BlueRoads, a provider specializing in solutions for indirect channel management. Implementation began immediately after Nortel Networks allocated the funding for the project and wound up taking just four weeks. Here's how the system works: Sales reps at the channel partners are able to log into the Web-based solution using their unique user ID and then pull leads out of the available lead pool within the system. The salesperson then becomes accountable for providing feedback on each lead he or she pulls; if the rep does not provide feedback on a lead within a certain amount of time, that lead "expires" and goes back into the available lead pool.

The system facilitates the feedback loop through such features as an "auto-introduction e-mail." When a rep picks a lead, the system generates three e-mails: one to the system noting who took which lead; another to the rep noting that he or she picked a certain lead and reminding the rep to provide feedback within, say, 30 days; and a third e-mail to the prospect letting them know that a Nortel Networks business partner will shortly be in contact with them.

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