Social sales emerging as an opportunity within social CRM

Software to connect CRM to social networks and help sales reps conduct client research and hire has emerged in recent months. Yet, some of that can already be done with free tools.

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The explosive growth of social networks is extending into established CRM vendors' technology.

This summer has seen a steady stream of new releases geared toward leveraging the popularity of the intersection of social networking and CRM, often referred to as social CRM. Just a few of the features recently released include: integration between Twitter and CRM records from Salesforce.com, from RightNow Technologies and from Microsoft Dynamics CRM; Social CRM from Lithium Technologies to link online social communities and CRM; Social CRM from Zendesk and Get Satisfaction to unite help desk capabilities and Web 2.0; a a Social Sales application from Marketo and CoTweet, a Twitter collaboration start-up, allowing users to track marketing efforts across Twitter.

While the early social CRM efforts have focused on marketing, using social networks as an additional customer service channel or bringing networking and collaboration to CRM software itself the way Oracle has done with its Social CRM tools, there are also a number of tools that focus on sales specifically.

For example, Jellyvision Lab Inc., a maker of a rich media application that helps businesses with complicated products simulate sales conversations, uses software from InsideView Technologies Inc. to help with client research within its Salesforce.com application.

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"We don't have the budget to syndicate white papers, blogs, SEM," said Josh Braun, vice president of business development with the Chicago-based company. "We do spend a tremendous amount of time learning about companies, what they're writing about, what they're passionate about."

San Francisco-based InsideView aggregates conversations on social networks and the wider Internet and triggers alerts to salespeople when a prospect or client is discussing something relevant to Jellyvision.

For example, a CMO at one Fortune 500 company was blogging and tweeting about some demand generation ideas he was considering and that popped up in the InsideView application.

"We started a campaign, said 'hey we noticed you were working on these initiatives, here are some thoughts, and a taste of what we do,'" Braun said. "He wrote back immediately within 15 minutes. We're in the door so to speak."

Does social sales mean the end of the cold call?

In fact, some are calling social networks and online searches the death of the cold call.

"We call it warm calling now," Braun said. "I don't think we do what people traditionally perceive cold calls are but we still use the phone to tell a lot about a prospect. We're a lot smarter about how we use the phone now. We're armed with some intelligence."

Yet social networks and Internet search have not emerged as a viable method for pure prospecting, cautions Michael Dunne, analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

"I shy away from saying lead sourcing and prospecting but at least people are using it for some account research," Dunne said.

There are plenty of opportunities to conduct such research with free tools, a Google Alert for example. Additionally, social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter have their own search capabilities. But the recession and the subsequent tighter selling market has created more of an appetite for the emerging applications, Dunne said.

"In good times it was enough to look at Yahoo Finance or Google," he said. "Some might make more of an effort to get a Hoover's account or a Factiva subscription. I hate to say this but Factiva and OneSource -- they have these subscriptions but there's usually a shelfware subscriber ware for customers."

Social CRM or Social Sales is not necessarily a new idea, either, noted Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Stoughton, Mass.-based Beagle Research.

"I've actually believed for a long time that tools like that have more uses than they're being marketed for," he said. "These tools were originally called sales intelligence or marketing intelligence. For companies with large sales forces, large product lines, that are selling into the enterprise, a tool like InsideView makes a lot of sense. It can give you more than you can get or organize from a simple Google search. The productivity factor becomes very important."

Simply using the free tools available was an option, but not an attractive one for Jellyvision, according to Braun. With a sales and marketing department that consists of two people, running multiple searches was too time consuming.

"I had like 7,000 windows open," Braun said. "You can do it without InsideView but I don't know why you'd want to."

In addition to account research, social sales tools offer a couple of other uses, like, hiring, according to Dunne.

"Sales management typically treats HR as ineffective," he said. "They typically like to go and find salespeople in their own. Twitter and Facebook acts very much as an extension of 'who do you know that's a good sales guy?'"

Additionally, Pombriant suggested, the social sales and social media monitoring tools serve as effective methods for a company to do opposition research on themselves.

"In politics you hire firms to do opposition research on yourself," Pombriant said. "By the same token, we've seen a whole raft of new tools that fall under social media management, finding things like keywords associated with hiring practices. If you want to know what a competitor is doing in the R&D lab, the best way is to take a look at the job description that they're hiring for, for example."

So how does an organization get started down the path to social sales?

"We say definitely put it down to a pilot, internal or corporate hosted," Dunne said. "Use subscriptions for internal consumption or do a hosted project with specific clients so collaboration can happen. They really have to judge what the sales culture will accept."

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