Perhaps the biggest CRM news from OpenWorld is that Oracle introduced its Social CRM applications. The company officially brought out products for sales prospecting, a sales library and marketing and loyalty and said it has plans for more. The applications do not replace conventional transaction oriented CRM as some people might think but they do add a new layer of support for the way people work and purchase today.
It is most important to acknowledge that there is nothing fundamentally new here. Anthony Lye, senior vice president of CRM at Oracle is candid about that. “I am not so much an innovator as I am a fast follower,” he says, though that seems a debatable point. By that he means the Social CRM applications that he has guided to market make use of well-articulated Web 2.0 concepts. Fair enough. You might also add that many of those concepts have found their way into social applications that ecosystem partners had been putting into new applications for a while now. So where’s the innovation?
Oracle and Lye’s innovative contribution may be in the way they have tightly integrated social concepts into business processes that make use of conventional CRM. While it is certainly true that many emerging and established companies have tried their hands at socializing CRM, those attempts have always been at a point solution level – ad hoc attempts to fix a weak spot in conventional CRM with a little bit of customer outreach rather than a fundamentally new approach.
Oracle has not fully crossed that Rubicon either, but they have come further than most, if not all, vendors is recognizing the realities of today’s marketplace and the ways that — especially young — people are leveraging technology to communicate and network. Lye’s insight is that these networking processes are largely off the radar of most vendors trying to engage (young) customers with the result that no one but the vendor (maybe) and the customer understands the nature of a sales process until it’s over.
How does a vendor compete in that world? What if everyone treated customers that way?
Social CRM’s answer is for a vendor to maintain communication with and between itself and its customers as well as between customers. The result has been discussed many times before and it is the co-creation of value that manifests itself in multiple ways. Customers are remarkably good at telling vendors what to build and how to sell it but only indirectly. Don’t expect a lot of cool new product ideas to come fully formed out of the conversations that these communities have but they will give you reams of data about their pains. Add analytics and some human insight to the mix and you would be surprised at what you can learn.
The Oracle insight has been to bring together social and transaction technologies and ideas. In the process I think they’ll change the definition of CRM – both the technology and the practices. The Social CRM applications debuted in San Francisco this week are really the down payment on the idea. They are the manifestation of ideas that many of others have had but, interestingly, it has been Oracle’s deep pockets and market reach that have enabled them to get this far. It will be fun to watch the industry adjust to this and I expect we are watching another disruption in the making. But who would have thought that it would be staid, dyed in the wool Oracle to be leading the charge?