Problem with 'Social' CRM: Salespeople Want Commissions, not 'Community'

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CRM seems like a enterprise application practically crying out for elements of Web 2.0. After all, sales and marketing are among the most "social" functions at any company.


So it seems logical for Oracle to roll out a set of so-called Social CRM services, as we noted in an IT Business Edge blog yesterday. The first service, Sales Prospector, will debut later this summer and is meant to help sales teams or individual sales reps build information-sharing networks that, in theory, will help them close more deals.


Sounds cool, right? Yet at least one publication, Network World, noted that competitive salespeople -- are there any other kind? -- could erode the potential of such networks if they resist sharing data with colleagues. And it's not just salespeople. If they're honest, most folks will admit they like communities where they get more than they give.


Robert Bois, an AMR Research analyst, made a similar point in discussing AMR's findings that an average of 25 percent of CRM licenses go unused. He said:

Much of the software on the market today helps automate process, but doesn't necessarily provide incremental value back to the user. Sales people often complain that CRM or SFA is just an administrative burden, and does little more than prove to their boss that they are doing their job. So adoption wanes, and users go back to using familiar tools like spreadsheets, databases or even just Rolodexes. This is not as much of an issue with back-office applications, where there are no alternatives. For example, an order entry operator must enter orders in the system they are given whether they like it or not.

Oracle bets that users will like its new service because the emphasis is on making sales rather than generating reports for managers. Sales Prospector allows participants to make networks public, private or even secret (?), according to InformationWeek. They can also create networks that remain active for very short periods, such as the time it takes to close a deal.


Oracle isn't the only vendor adding Web 2.0 features to its software. According to internetnews.com, Salesforce.com's latest upgrade includes Salesforce Ideas, which allows customers, partners or employees to post, discuss and vote on ideas, and Salesforce Content, a content management tool which incorporates features like tagging and rating of documents. Says Al Falcion, senior director of product marketing for Salesforce:

CRM is no longer about sharing information internally, it's about extending data with partners and customers. That's what content and ideas apps do.

Another notable feature of the upgrade is the addition of Visualforce, which allows developers to create custom interfaces that will run on any device including smartphones or other handhelds, to every edition of Salesforce. This seems like another vote of confidence -- albeit one from a vendor -- in mobile CRM.


Yet for all of the apparent interest in CRM infused with Web 2.0, few vendors appear ready to make a major commitment, says Maggie Fox, a principal with Social Media Group, in a CRM Buyer article.


Ranking vendors on the basis of Web 2.0 adoption across the enterprise, integration in the product suite, and metrics including unofficial employee engagement, Fox placed most in the lower 50 percentile. The highest-ranking company, placing in the top 20 percentile, is IBM. Among its Web 2.0 initiatives: Lotus Connections, Lotus Quickr, Lotus Sametime and WebSphere Portal.


More important than IBM's flurry of products, says Fox, is its "holistic approach" to Web 2.0, exemplified by its heavy employee usage of such technologies and its participation in industry collaborative projects. Until more tangible benchmarks come along, says Fox, these are the factors that prospective customers will have to consider.


The lack of such benchmarks remains one of the single biggest sticking points with Web 2.0. IT Business Edge's Carl Weinschenk wrote about the lack of concrete payoffs with Web 2.0 technologies last June. His smart message still stands. He wrote:

Web 2.0 apps often don't replace anything, and their benefits are more speculative. It probably isn't easy to make a presentation to ROI-obsessed senior management based on the potential promise of applications that, to date, are largely the province of kids. The lesson isn't, however, that people championing these new approaches must dream up ways to prove their ROI in order to satisfy some antiquated requirements. Rather, smart upper managers must take a chance and implement innovative elements that may prove themselves -- but only in the long term and only in subtle ways.