• June 10, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Big Red Gets Social

Amid the hubbub at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston today, Oracle, one of the world’s largest vendors of business applications, announced  a series of previews of Oracle Sales Prospector, a CRM application designed to increase the productivity of sales professionals. Sales Prospector is to be the first in a family of applications that leverage Web 2.0 technology and usability, and which Oracle is describing as "social CRM."

Sales Prospector acts as a recommendation engine for cross-sell and upsell, much like the popular and oft-referenced one used by Amazon.com, identifying what to sell to a given prospect based on buying patterns. The difference is that Sales Prospector faces the salesperson, not the customer. Sales Prospector mines and analyzes information across internal systems and public information sources to identify potential references and prospects (including projected revenue, close probability, and time to close for each deal), according to the company. 

"This industry has done a really good job in starting to understand CRM, especially in process-driven applications, but reporting-driven apps are very rigid," says Mark Woollen, vice president of CRM, Oracle. "It’s still a challenge to give value directly to the salesperson. Oracle Sales Prospector is highly consumable, with a contemporary look, not endless tabs and white noise."

Sales Prospector (and its intended subsequent siblings, Sales Campaigns and Sales Library) is built on native SOA and Fusion middleware, and delivered as software-as-a-service (SaaS). Each will be what Woollen calls "a loosely coupled app,"; available to users of Oracle CRM systems and competitive products alike.

Oracle Sales Prospector is a conceptual fusion of analytics and better visual delivery for the user. "It’s a good move, and it shows that Oracle is rethinking usability," says Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager for research firm Yankee Group. Nothing is exactly new, though; the previews are merely the latest development in Oracle’s attempts to use social media in business applications. "Oracle announced a lot of things regarding social CRM at Oracle Open World; now it’s moved from design into a beta stage in the customers’ hands," Kingstone says. "They’re previewing it because of the natural fit with Enterprise 2.0 now."
Sales Prospector (and the applications that will follow it) draw upon the technologies that underlie social media, but "calling it social CRM is stretching it a little," Kingstone says. "The development is oriented toward Web 2.0 and being more easily integrated with other applications," she adds. "Social is Oracle’s umbrella for widgets and gadgets that stand outside any particular application or platform—it used to call them mini-apps."

Will the good move hold? "Time will tell," Kingstone concludes. "The user has to judge the accuracy of the analytics—if the widget doesn’t prioritize the right opportunities, the way they’re delivered won’t matter."

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