Oracle Joins the Conversation

SAN FRANCISCO — By the end of this year's five-day Oracle OpenWorld conference here, attendees at all interested in CRM tracks and sessions were sure to have been given a glimpse of Oracle's Social CRM efforts. Anthony Lye, senior vice president of Oracle CRM, presented his views of Social CRM to a standing-room-only group of attendees early in the week, then later at an "unplugged" session.  

"We believe that there is a fundamental disruption in customer relationships," Lye told the crowd during the "unplugged" session. "That disruption is simple: It's a disruption dictating that customers no longer want to engage with vendors in the way they had." He went on to say that customers "want to have relationships with people like them and care more about influence and relevance. The fundamental thing they want to do is converse." Lye added that, with the advent of what Oracle and many other vendors and analysts are calling Social CRM, the conversational integration can complement traditional CRM. He suggested that the industry is entering a new realm of opportunity in which the conversation is the basis of appeal. Several of the Oracle Social CRM Applications are available for purchase as add-ons to Oracle CRM; others are still in development and were previewed at the conference.

But even as the tools reach the marketplace, the market itself still has a distance to travel, Lye said. "CRM doesn't have a clue what a conversation is," he told attendees. "Social networks have no idea what enterprise data is." Social CRM is an attempt to bridge the two, but the tools -- nad the mindset underpinning them -- represents such a departure for Oracle and other CRM vendors that Lye himself was moved to remark that the Social CRM tools are decidedly "un-Oracle."

The current state of CRM is to blame, he said. "Let's be honest: How many people in a CRM-facing job have any insight of what was sold yesterday?" he asked. "Everyone's connected to CRM, but I could be sitting next to [a salesperson] and have no idea what [he or she] did."

The three parts to the social applications include:

  • Oracle Sales Prospector: Enables sales reps to gain insight about what to sell and who to sell to based on analysis and line patterns of customers with similar attributes. With mashups of data from external and internal sources, Prospector acts as a landing page, presenting and recommending deals to pursue. In addition, it allows the user/sales person to compare customers against all the companies the customer sold to. Thanks to social networking capabilities, the user can choose to message or directly contact employees who have worked with the customer in the past. The data analysis also offers the revenue potential and the estimated time-to-close. Tools available in Oracle Sales Prospector link a user to other employees and allow for visibility about projects in the organization. 
  • Oracle Sales Campaigns: Once a campaign is chosen, the user can take contacts from any particular source -- whether from CRM, Microsoft Outlook, or contacts saved in another email account -- and combine them directly in a "target recipient group." Additionally, the campaigns can pull contacts from networking sites such as LinkedIn and integrate those with proprietary contacts.
  • Oracle Sales Library: Have a sales presentation that works? Share the wealth. In a format similar to Yahoo!'s Flickr consumer photo-sharing site, Sales Library is a collection of shared content that users can rate, tag, and comment on -- and it allows users to create templates to reuse and pull together content that has worked for colleagues.

Lye himself was quick to note the resemblance between Sales Library and Flickr. "I'm a 'fast follower.' I'm not afraid to copy what works," Lye said. "[Oracle has] tried to take what's been well received on the consumer-based Internet and leverage those technologies in the context of a relationship."

Christopher Carfi, author of the blog, The Social Customer Manifesto, writes that although Oracle has made strides in the social media arena, the focus still seems to be on vendors and salespeople. Oracle has yet to completely relinquish control to the consumer. "Technically, the tools are in place, or soon will be," he writes. "The real challenge is not a technical one. It's a social challenge. It's a humbling, or perhaps a realization, of the marketers and salespeople in large companies that, no, they really are not in control of the 'message,' whatever that is."   

On that note, a recent Gartner Research report, "The Business Impact of Social Computing, 2008," authored by Adam Sarner, Nikos Drakos, and Stephen Prentice, underlines the importance of integration between social media and business processes. The authors write, "As businesses increasingly seek to strengthen their level of engagement with prospects and customers, understanding the power of communities, the multiple personas of their members, their expectations, their aspirations, and how to interact with them will become essential skills for business in the 21st century. Stronger customer relationships increase loyalty and brand recognition, and ultimately drive enhanced revenue."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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