Oracle is taking a significant leap outside its comfort zone with new software offerings that tap into two important trends: software as a service and social networking. The new "Social CRM" software services, announced Tuesday, will be delivered via a monthly subscription to both internal sales teams and salespeople who sign up independently via the Web.
The first service, called Oracle Sales Prospector, will be available by the end of August and is designed to let salespeople identify prospects by using internal and external data sources, and use historical data to run analytics against those prospects to make some basic predictions, such as the likelihood a deal will close and how long it will take to close it. Oracle will preview the service at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston on Wednesday.
Oracle intends for sales teams or individual salespeople to build networks of any size within Sales Prospector for sharing information that helps lead to deal closings. That could be a salesperson on the West Coast that recently closed a deal sharing information with an East Coast colleague hoping to close a deal with a similar-type prospect, or salespeople between partnering businesses, such as a manufacturing company and a consulting firm, teaming up to pursue deals.
The service integrates with Oracle's CRM applications and its Oracle CRM On Demand service, which competes with Salesforce.com. Unlike those apps and services, the intent of Social CRM isn't to run business processes and create sales reports for use by company management. "Sales managers really like those apps, but salespeople are indifferent to them on a good day," said Mark Woollen, VP of CRM development at Oracle. With the new offerings, instead of a "top-down hierarchal model," information is shared via a social networking platform, including the ability to create tags and add ratings and commentary to contributions.
Within the next year, Oracle plans to offer a service for developing and sharing information on sales and marketing campaigns, and another service for creating libraries of sales-related content for sharing. Both will also have analytic capabilities; the campaigns system will track, for example, how often a shared campaign format has been used and the rate of its success. Business can subscribe to these services for their sales teams, but individuals can also sign up for a subscription independently at Oracle's Web site. "It's about realizing I don't need to go to my manager to leverage tools that make me better at my job," Woollen said.
All services will be offered in a multi-tenant model with standard subscription pricing and there are no plans to make them available as on-site licensed software. That's significant, since Oracle has largely resisted the multi-tenant SaaS model across its broad portfolio of software offerings, limiting it as an option for Oracle CRM On Demand.
The new family of Social CRM offerings demonstrate Oracle's hopes to be more competitive with Salesforce.com, not only by matching its SaaS model but adding new types of unique services. Oracle last month said it's spending an initial $285 million to build a data center in Utah that will deliver software services by 2010.
But will salespeople want to share information about prospects and successful campaigns? Woollen said Oracle thought hard about that in development of the services and designed them to address that issue. "There are times when salespeople will want to share and will have to share, but there are contacts they're going to want to hold back, too," he acknowledged. With Sales Prospector, users can create social networks that are public or private or even secret, as well as those that last a very short time, such as the lifecycle of a deal. When a user joins the service, they'll be presented with the option to join social networks that best fit their profiles.
Oracle is taking a risky step with its Social CRM services, since the whole "viral" concept rests on salespeople's willingness to create those networks, rather than a top-down dictate by management to use the software. Without that initiative by salespeople, the concept will fail.
Yet if salespeople buy into the idea, Oracle Social CRM will be a proven example of how social networking can move beyond the consumer world and have a significant impact in the business world.
Editor's Note: This story was updated June 11 to correct when Oracle Sales Prospector will be available.