LinkedIn steps closer to CRM as it gives Sales Navigator an enterprise boost

LinkedIn, the social network for the working world that is now owned by Microsoft, is quietly adding more features to fill out some of its bigger ambitions to provide more services to enterprises, tapping into its user base of more than 465 million professionals. And in the process, it’s also playing on one of the big themes not just behind that Microsoft acquisition, but also pointing to why Salesforce was also interested in buying it. In the growing game of ‘social sales’, who will control the virtual Rolodex.

Today, the company is adding a series of updates to its Sales Navigator product — a subscription-only service that lets salespeople tap LinkedIn for customer leads for so-called “social selling”. They include adding an “enterprise” tier to sell the product to much larger groups of users; it’s integrating PointDrive (a tool it acquired last year to help salespeople share documents and presentations with clients); and its adding CRM sync functionality to write back to whichever CRM database your company uses whatever selling you have done via LinkedIn.

Sales Navigator has never been LinkedIn’s biggest revenue generator. LinkedIn is no longer reporting individual business areas as it did when it was an independent company. But in its last earnings before the Microsoft deal closed, while it noted that Sales Navigator was its strongest premium subscription product, premium subs accounted for just $162 million of LinkedIn’s $960 million in revenues that quarter.

Meanwhile, Talent Solutions (which includes the recruitment business) generated $623 million.

But to counterbalance its relatively lightweight place on LinkedIn’s balance sheet, it’s also one area with a lot of potential.

It was highlighted as a key area for synergies with Microsoft when the software giant announced its acquisition of the social network. And well before Microsoft ever came into the picture, people pointed to Sales Navigator as the lever for how LinkedIn could start to pry the lid off Salesforce, a giant in the CRM world, a point that appeared to be emphasized by LinkedIn itself as it launched enhancements to the product, like a standalone app.

LinkedIn’s Doug Camplejohn, the head of product for LinkedIn’s sales solutions, said that these updates are not about trying to compete with Salesforce, and that if anything they are more about trying to reinforce the primary place that LinkedIn occupies in the ecosystem for sales, and specifically social selling where you use networks like LinkedIn to tap contacts for leads.

In that regard, he’s pointing to what Microsoft saw as one of LinkedIn’s most valuable assets: its database of business users and the connective links between them, useful not just for Microsoft but for other CRM businesses (like Salesforce).

“We’re not competing at all with Salesforce,” he said. “We like the position that we are in. Ours is about the connections and activities that are happening. For us, the best play is to be a complement to all CRM systems so that we can exist in that world.”

He said that as part of that strategy, LinkedIn has “leaned into” Salesforce, including an integration that already existed (along with integrations with Oracle, SAP, Sugar, HubSpot and NetSuite).

In fact, the ability to write activities back into the CRM database that is launching today — CRM Sync — which will let you write back data from InMails, Messages and Notes. This is launching only with Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics (naturally), although he said that other CRM databases will be added into the mix soon.

This integration also includes new CRM Widgets, which lets you view LinkedIn Sales Navigator profile details, like photos, work history, job titles and TeamLink shared connections within CRMs like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. Widget integration will also be coming from other partners like Oracle, SAP Hybris, NetSuite, SugarCRM, HubSpot and Zoho later this year.

One big way that LinkedIn hopes to grow uptake of Sales Navigator now is to expand to serve much larger businesses.

The new enterprise tier that is launching today starts at $1,600 per seat, per year, and the purpose is to sell it to large businesses that are too outsized for the existing Professional edition (for individuals) and Team edition (for groups). A typical example, Camplejohn told me, was EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young), which has 250,000 employees globally, is taking 30,000 subscriptions to Sales Navigator.

With the outsized numbers come more outsized features.

Users can send 50 InMails (LinkedIn’s direct emailing service) each month, a stronger set of security features with Single Sign-On for companies that choose to use it; and a new feature that it’s calling TeamLink Extend, which is a variation on the company’s existing Team referral and contact pooling structure that lets employees from across a whole company opt in to pool their LinkedIn contacts for the sales team to use for “warm” calls.

(I wondered about how motivated people would be to share their LinkedIn contact lists, and Camplejohn hinted that there will be more updates coming soon to help provide gamification and other incentives to do just that.)

The PointDrive integration, meanwhile, will be coming in two areas: LinkedIn will add it to both the Team and Enterprise tiers of Sales Navigator, with Team getting 10 PointDrive presentations per month, and Enterprise getting an unlimited amount. Professional edition — perhaps as a way of encouraging people to pay for the pricier Team tier — will be getting none.