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Look alert--WebEx is watching

The Web-conferencing leader will release a product for sales calls that watches clients to see whether they pay attention.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
covers games and gadgets.
David Becker
2 min read
So much for playing solitaire during those endless vendor meetings.

Web-conferencing leader WebEx is set to release a new service Monday tailored for sales professionals, including a tool to make sure that the client is paying attention during a remote presentation.

The "attention indicator" is built into the Sales Center version of WebEx's service, primarily used for presenting PowerPoint slides over the Internet in conjunction with an audio conference call. Start goofing off during a virtual sales call, and the presenter will know it and respond by spicing up the presentation, said Sanjay Dalal, director of market development for WebEx.

"The WebEx client is continually monitoring whether it's in the foreground," he said. "If they're writing an e-mail on the side or something else, the sales team finds out, and they know you're not paying attention. The idea is to keep your customers fully engaged in the actual sales call."

WebEx is the perennial leader in the Web conferencing market, which has boomed in the past few years, as tight corporate travel budgets and proliferating broadband connections have spurred interest in conducting meetings over the Internet. The company accounts for 67 percent of all Web-conferencing revenue, according to the latest survey by market researcher Frost & Sullivan, but is facing fresh competition from entrants such as Microsoft's Live Meeting.

Part of WebEx's strategy is to offer specialized services tailored for specific tasks. The company already has products for training, support and running large online seminars. Sales Center completes the package, Dalal said.

"You can use WebEx to cultivate potential customers and support the customers you have," he said. "The gap we're filling here is: 'What do you do with the prospects to make them customers? How do you engage the customers throughout the sales cycle, and how do you shorten that cycle?'"

Sales-specific tools in the new product include support for integrating with customer relationship management (CRM) systems such as Salesforce.com's, the ability to create portals with easy access to sales material and options that allow sales team members to communicate privately with each other. Management tools streamline the recording and presentation of sales data, and allow sales managers to listen in on any presentation. "The manger has complete visibility into all the activities of the sales team, either in an invisible fashion or in a direct way," Dalal said.

Sales Center can also be used to maintain a database of sales team members and in-house experts to ensure that the right people are included in a sales presentation and that the prospective client doesn't keep hearing, "I'll get back to you on that."

"It lets you do your sales calls more efficiently," Dalal said. "You know who the experts are, and you can schedule them for your sales call beforehand or have them available on-demand."

WebEx Sales Center will be available Monday, through monthly subscriptions priced at $250 per seat or pay-as-you-go plans priced at 30 cents a minute or less, depending on volume.