Enterprise apps get social

Combining social media with ERP and other business software is a great mix

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Better sales results

About two years ago, the Nebraska Book Co., a Lincoln, Neb., company that buys used textbooks from college students and resells them to college bookstores, began using SAP's Customer on Demand, a cloud-based offering that integrates a social media-type application with ERP and CRM.

Nebraska Book wanted to increase collaboration among its sales representatives, so they could more quickly and easily find information about customers, says Michael Kelly, senior vice president.

In addition to the SAP enterprise apps, Nebraska Book uses a BI application from SAS running in a Windows environment and mobile BI software from Microstrategy, and is making those available to the sales team via Customer on Demand, Kelly says.

What it all brings, he says, is "the look and feel of a Facebook-like user interface for communications and access to the data provided by the statistical and BI applications."

   Michael Kelly
Nebraska Book's revenues are up in a shrinking market, says Michael Kelly, senior vice president. "I don't credit all of that to the technology, but most of it," he says.

"The goal was to take all that information ... and give it to [employees] as soon as they log onto an iPad," Kelly says. "To use a Facebook term, it's all posted on their wall." Before, sales reps needed to go to four different places to get the information they needed, he explains.

Sales reps can now visit a customer and quickly get a single-screen view of all the business Nebraska Book has done with that customer, as well as customer preferences, issues that have come up in the past and other information.

Becoming more agile about gathering and sharing customer information has become crucial in a market that's been transformed over the past few years, Kelly says. "This industry used to be really simple; people would buy and sell textbooks" via traditional retailers either at bookstores or online, he says.

Then Amazon.com gave students the ability to sell books among themselves, and "our market went down considerably," Kelly says. Four years ago, traditional book suppliers such as Nebraska Book had about 78% of the market, Kelly says. Then Amazon began to take market share away and the traditional industry now owns only about 46% of the market, he says.

To compete, Kelly says, "we had to get better at giving bookstores information to help them get better" at serving their own customers.

With the new apps, Kelly's sales reps have more information about trends, "so we can help bookstores provide more choices at lower prices for their student base. We are trying to help bookstores compete in this changing market."

Social media

The plan seems to be working. For the past two years Nebraska Book has had record revenue. "I don't credit all of that to the technology, but most of it," Kelly says.

Performance of the sales team has improved considerably, Kelly says. Two years ago the company gave out sales awards -- based on growth within sales territory -- to three people. "This past year 28 of 28 reps qualified for the award," Kelly says.

In addition, Kelly can better keep track of how reps are doing. "I friend [within the Customer on Demand environment] our top 20 accounts, so if anyone says anything about those accounts I can see that on my iPad," he says. "I can set up different types of tags so I can view region by region and look at the top prospects."

The only significant challenge the company faced with implementing social technology was getting some people to embrace the change. "We have people who have been with the company for 25 years in the same job, and the challenge was getting them to understand the benefits" of social networking, Kelly says. "So we implemented it slowly, and I said, 'everyone has to use this.'"

Those who were resistant at first were more willing to use the technology when they saw the success others were having, Kelly says.

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