An ERM Upgrade for Pro Services--More Sales 'Whack-a-Mole'?
Enterprise relationship management (ERM) vendor Contact Networks today released ContactNet 5.0, the latest version of its business social networking software. In addition to improved search functionality and added data sources, Contact Networks has tailored its social networking tool specifically to professional services organizations. This is a significant step in the advancement of social networking as a business tool, according to analysts; the vertical focuses service firms and enhancing CRM through relationship networking.
"CRM systems are effective at managing information about customers, but not so helpful when you're trying to find out if any of your colleagues have relationships with a prospect," says Mike Gotta, principal analyst at Burton Group. "Social networking has to be contextual, and a lot of attempts have failed because they were marketed as general infrastructure improvements for all businesses. The culture and needs are different in law firms or venture capitalists than in professional services."
"Any professional services firm acknowledges that the strength of their relationships are the heart of the business," says Dan Keldsen, senior analyst and CTO with Delphi Group, a Perot Systems company. "The venture capital community is also a great target [for Contact Networks]. All it takes is a couple of deals you'd never have gotten, or would have taken two to six months to get in touch with the right person, and the solution pays for itself."
According to the company, ContactNet 5 achieves better results by adding analysis of additional data sources, including many CRM systems; Contact Networks names Microsoft, NetSuite, Sage SalesLogix, and Siebel as some of the suites it ties into. Users can access ContactNet directly from their firm's intranet, from CRM and SFA systems, or via a BlackBerry and other handheld devices.
ContactNet also includes geographic search, allowing users to search for contacts in proximity to a particular location or across several states. This helps with event marketing and opens up meeting possibilities when on business trips. Advanced privacy configuration let companies restrict and control access by individuals, groups, and departments.
Using ERM as leverage on CRM is the winning business case, according to Keldsen. "Social networking on top of CRM has a high capability to drive more revenue, which is more compelling than cutting costs," Keldsen says. "Within five years we should see many more companies that have tied social networking into sales and especially marketing." He adds that because of how CRM is often sold and implemented, there is a very small chance that everybody in the company will use and update it in a timely manner, especially the sales team. "They don't put info into the system until late in the game, when they have to," Keldsen says. Making ERM an integrated part of CRM puts the focus on improving business, and not on managing data.
"Many of the announcements are just refinements, and any vendor can improve its search function or add more data sources," Gotta says. "What's more interesting is when vendors says they understand a particular industry or vertical, and design a solution to its needs. Social networking as a boost to sales has been done to death; we keep getting beaten over the head with it, like a game of Whack-a-Mole. The smart areas to focus on are legal, financial services, other professional service models, even pharma and life sciences."
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