Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Many companies have begun using specialized software to analyze what people are saying about their products and services on social media, and now SAP says it can help them match up individuals' social profiles with customer history data from CRM (customer relationship management) systems.
Dubbed Social Contact Intelligence, the application can help sales and marketing staff find better leads for sales as well as gain more knowledge about their actual customers' likes and dislikes, according to SAP.
Social Contact Intelligence is built on top of and dependent on HANA, SAP's in-memory database platform. It's now in "ramp-up," SAP's term for an initial release with a small set of customers, and also part of a broader suite called Customer Engagement Intelligence. Currently it's only offered on-premises, but SAP is considering cloud-based deployments for the future, according to a spokeswoman.
Core CRM software is "such a commodity it's almost relegated to a system of record," said Jamie Anderson, vice president of customer solution marketing. Thanks to the rise of social media and resulting changes to the way customers interact with companies and make buying decisions, "we've realized the CRM market is evolving faster than CRM products on their own."
SAP had already been reselling software from Netbase for social media analytics, but now the Contact Intelligence product brings internal customer data to the equation, he said.
The three other elements of SAP's Customer Intelligence Engagement suite are generally available, Anderson said. They include Audience Discovery and Targeting, for running segmented marketing campaigns; Customer Value Intelligence, which gives recommendations on ways to cross and up-sell products to clients; and Account Intelligence, a mobile application for sales representatives.
Tuesday's announcement comes after SAP's unveiling in November of yet another social CRM-themed product set called 360 Customer, which ties together HANA, CRM, social analytics from Netbase and the Jam social network.
Oracle, Salesforce.com and other vendors are also moving quickly to build out social software portfolios, seeing the market as a major opportunity to sell existing customers more software when they have little interest or need to expand their core CRM system.
Adobe, IBM lead digital marketing platform field: Ovum
Salesforce launches Social.com real-time advertising platform
Radian6 expands to include China, Russian social listening
How to command conversation: 3 social media command centres
The competitive climate can put customers at a disadvantage, according to a recent Forrester Research report.
"Decoding and navigating the crowded social technology vendor landscape isn't easy," wrote analysts Nate Elliott and Zach Hofer-Shall. "Most vendors offer a unique range of social technologies, but no single vendor covers the entire value chain. Meanwhile, buzzword-packed marketing materials make it difficult to differentiate the players and find the right fit."
The level of emphasis and investment that companies should place on social software investments depends on their size, according to another recent Forrester report.
Immature companies should start small, analysts Allison Smith and Carlton Doty wrote: "Track down a high-impact use case, find a listening platform partner who can guide you, and experiment. This is an iterative, test-and-learn kind of process."
Companies in a medium stage of growth should not "settle for 'good enough'" from a vendor and must avoid signing more than a one-year deal, they added. "With limited exceptions, social listening platforms are easy to replace -- and if yours is holding you back, get rid of it."
When no single best platform is targeted after soliciting bids from vendors, "many companies opt to create a Frankenstein's monster combination of multiple platforms," they wrote. "This approach is cumbersome and pricey, but a necessary evil unless such firms are willing to simplify some business requirements."
Meanwhile, mature companies should "prepare to listen on a larger scale," according to Smith and Doty. "Developing into a fully integrated social intelligence practice will give you the skills to take your listening to the next level -- outside of social," they wrote. "Your customers engage with you across channels and in unstructured, nonlinear ways. They also provide feedback in traditional channels like surveys, in the call center, and in web-based self-service functions."
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com