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        An old boys network of 0s and 1s?

      By Alorie Gilbert
      Staff Writer, CNET
      April 17, 2003, 2:05 PM PT

      Let's say you're a salesperson trying to land a big account. Wouldn't
it be nice to know if the prospective customer was, by chance, an office
mate's tennis partner or neighbor?
      Sussing out such social and professional connections among employees
to help clinch a sale is the mission of Spoke Software. The Palo Alto,
Calif., start-up recently closed a $5 million round of venture capital
financing, bringing the total it has raised since opening its doors in July
to $9.2 million. Lead investors include US Venture Partners, Sierra Ventures
and Partech International.

      Spoke plans to release the first version of its product this fall,
joining numerous software companies, including big names like Siebel Systems
and SAP, in the business of selling applications designed to make
salespeople more productive.

      The Spoke software "discovers" relationships that could come in handy
in a sales situation, according to Spoke cofounder Chris Tolles. A key
feature is that although the system requires very little effort on the part
of employees entering data, it's able to gather detailed information about
how well people know each other and in what context, Tolles said.

      "There is a huge amount of social capital that is not utilized by
businesses," Tolles said.

      Tolles said the software is designed to protect workers' privacy by
allowing them to opt out of being part of the system. It also lets employees
control information related to their relationships, though Tolles would not
elaborate on exactly how. The company is keeping further details of the
technology and how it works under wraps until it launches in the fall.

      But what can be gained from exploiting the random social connections
of employees? Does it really help, for instance, if the son of the human
resources director and the son of an executive at a prospective client play
on the same soccer team? According to Tolles, it does. Being able to drop a
name, make a personal connection or just pick the brain of someone
in-the-know in preparation for a sales pitch translates to higher sales and
a faster sales cycle, said Tolles. In other words, it's like tapping an old
boys network programmed in 0s and 1s.

      Although demand for so-called customer relationship management (CRM)
software has waned over the past two years, Tolles is optimistic. Five
Fortune 500 companies, which Tolles declined to name, are already testing
the software, and the company has a patent pending on its technology. Spoke
management also plans to tap the CRM industry expertise of one of its
investors and board members, Tim Guleri. The general partner of venture
capital firm Sierra Ventures was a cofounder of Octane Software (acquired by
Epiphany) and a former executive at Epiphany and Scopus Technology (acquired
by Siebel).

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        Related News
        a.. Why CRM is at a fateful crossroads March 13, 2003
        b.. CRM software or CRM shelfware? March 3, 2003
        c.. CRM: The fine line between success and failure January 18, 2003
        d.. Who's managing this relationship? April 17, 2002
        e.. Get this story's "Big Picture"


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