Spinning a New Web

Customer relationship management software meets Web 2.0.

Sensing that the “software-as-
a-service” pitch is losing its zing, customer
relationship management (CRM) vendors have
discovered a new angle: Web 2.0.

The major CRM vendors, including Oracle,
SAP, Salesforce.com, and Microsoft, are adding
on a host of features designed to allow sales and
marketing people to work together in new ways
and to discover better ways to sell to Internet
users. In May, Oracle embarked on an aggressive
push in Asia with the launch of Oracle
Siebel CRM On Demand Release 15. The software
focuses on social networking and other
Web 2.0 features, which figure prominently in the
industry’s latest buzzword, “social CRM.”

Not to be outdone, Salesforce.com is touting
its own additions. “We were one of the pioneers
of Web 2.0,” says Doug Farber, vice president for
operations, Asia Pacific. “Our Web 2.0 capabilities
such as mash-ups and windowing have always been
the key to our success.” Salesforce has teamed up
with Google and launched an enhancement it calls
Salesforce for Google Apps.

It all sounds hopelessly techie, but behind the
jargon lies a set of powerful tools, say analysts. The
term “Web 2.0″ has various definitions, but at heart
it means using the unique features of the Internet to
collaborate, interact socially, and aggregate information
in new ways (think of social networking sites
such as MySpace and Facebook), as opposed to the
read-only characteristics of Web 1.0.

Blogs and Wikis

In theory, the new features allow CRM users to put
their thoughts in diary entries and hold a running
conversation with others within the CRM system
(blogs), and create marketing documents that other
CRM users can enrich with their own ideas and
experiences (wikis). Users can subscribe to online
news, podcasts, and other Internet resources (RSS),
combine them (mash-ups), and publish them across
the CRM network.

Web 2.0 tools also give marketers the information
they need to manage relationships with online
consumers, whose numbers are growing
daily. William Band, a vice president and
principal analyst at Forrester Research,
argues that there’s an opportunity for
companies to spread their message to
customers through blogs and social
networks like MySpace and Facebook.
For example, with RSS feeds CRM users
can track what influential bloggers are
saying about the company and its products.
They can respond and air the company’s
side, and use the comments to
fine-tune marketing campaigns. A datamining
program can trawl the Internet
for mentions of the company, providing
aggregated feedback for marketing and
sales drives.

First Steps

Among the major CRM vendors, Band
says Oracle and its Release 15 are in the
vanguard of social CRM, at least for now.
“I’ve talked to different vendors quite a
bit lately and most are just starting to
talk about it,” he says. “Oracle CRM On
Demand is the one application where the
vendor is taking steps to add social networking
capabilities to its offering.”

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