Allegiance's my enfo…Keeps Reps Informed

Edition: November 2001 - Vol 9 Number 11
Article#: 1093
Author: Repertoire

What started out as a way to keep Allegiance reps on top of the confusing, fast-changing world of e-commerce has grown into what one rep calls a ''table of contents for anything I need access to on the web.'' Allegiance calls the system – my enfo – the sales rep's ''personal command center.''


Recognizing that e-business ''would be a strategic imperative'' for its future, Allegiance put together an e-business team in January 2000 to coordinate its strategy, says Dale Brown, vice president of marketing, e-business. The team was instructed to get the company's three main constituents on board – the field sales force, customers and suppliers.


''We knew our 2,000 customer-facing employees were a key strategic asset for us,'' says Brown. ''We felt it was imperative that they become competent and confident in the power of e-business. If they understood the tools, they could persuade their customers of its power, and help drive its adoption.''


The first version of the system – called enfo – was rolled out in September 2000 at a national meeting attended by Allegiance sales reps. ''Everyone at the time was trying to understand e-business,'' says Brown. ''Through the site, we made it simple for the field to get information about it and to dialogue with the corporate office.''


Specifically, enfo helped reps answer several key questions:


•How will e-business affect Allegiance and its customers?


•What is Allegiance's stance on e-commerce and how does it differ with those of its competitors and dot-coms?


•How can Allegiance customers actually take advantage of e-business?


In addition, reps could chat back and forth about e-business, dialogue with the Allegiance e-business team, and skim news updates about the dot-com world.


Broader Scope


Allegiance asked its sales force about their e-business needs. ''We started to hear, 'There are so many tools, so much content, that we want to be able to go to one spot for all our sales information, not just e-business information,''' recalls Brown.


At that time, the sales force had a variety of tools at their fingertips, not the least of which was cardinal.com, the website of Allegiance's parent company, Cardinal Health. An integral part of cardinal.com was (and remains) entelligencesm, an online database from which reps can gather data about their accounts, including purchase history, online order status and accounts payable information. (Customers can access the same information from entelligence as well.)


But given the size of Allegiance's sales force, the company elected to offer a customized website/home page for each of them, rather than adopt a ''one-size-fits-all'' approach. The customized page is called my enfo. In addition to the resources that appeared on enfo, Allegiance reps can now access information about the company credit union and their own 401(k) plans. They can call up expense report forms and set up customized phone books and website links.


Just as Allegiance markets to its customers, so too is it marketing my enfo to its own sales force, sending out information to them to encourage its use. The strategy appears to be working. Usage has climbed to close to 1,000 visits a day, with an average length of stay of 9.5 minutes, says Brown. Ninety percent of the reps have my enfo and use it, he adds.


Roberta Menten, a distribution sales rep in Portland, OR, says she is a frequent my enfo user. ''Every day, you get requests from customers about products, pricing and order status,'' she says. ''My enfo makes it that much quicker to get to that kind of information.''


''I like the announcements and the information about what's new,'' she adds. ''I don't have to search for all that. And if I'm sitting here at night wondering where I stand in comparison to my peers, I can find out.''


''I've been with the company 20 years, so I would be able to find a lot of this information on my own,'' adds Menten. ''But if I were a new rep, this would be a life-saver.''


Training


An important part of my enfo is distance training, that is, the ability of reps to log on to their computers from their own homes and take part in a live training program with reps and instructors from around the country.


This ability proved invaluable in the weeks following the


Sept. 11 attack, when Allegiance was forced to postpone its national sales meeting but still wanted to train its reps on the newest version of cardinal.com. The company walked 369 of its people through training on cardinal.com 2.0 in one week, says Vice President of Sales/E-Business Mike Orscheln.


As with enfo itself, Allegiance's on-line training started out as a way to train reps and others about e-business. ''Our focus was to teach them about what was going on in the industry, with cardinal.com as well as our competitors,'' says Orscheln. Partnering with Lexington, MA-based Centra Software, Allegiance trained more than 900 of its reps on e-business last November and December. In a series of 90-minute-long sessions, reps sat at their home computers, listened to instructors, viewed slides and screens, and worked on exercises to sharpen their e-business knowledge.


''We told our reps that our culture would change, and that e-business would become a differentiator for them in the field,'' says Orscheln. ''They gained confidence, and their customers did too, because customers want their [supplier] partners to help them pave a path into the future.''


Not only did the sales force respond well to the on-line training, but Allegiance saved literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process, because the company didn't have to bring them in for face-to-face training.


''E-learning is still in its infancy,'' says Orscheln, ''but it will continue to explode.'' No one expects e-learning to replace face-to-face education, he says. ''But if we can take just one day off a planned five-day meeting, think of the productivity gains.''