Thanks to its professional positioning with the broader social media sector, LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD.DL) has a wealth of opportunities that aren't afforded its consumer-centric peers. While Facebook and Twitter rely on core advertising businesses for the bulk of sales, LinkedIn's marketing segment is a side business that also has incredible potential, complementing the core recruiting business.
Well, it turns out there's another potentially huge growth market LinkedIn can also tap: the customer relationship management, or CRM, market.
LinkedIn could, but should it?
Earlier this month, Infer CEO Vik Singh wrote an article for TechCrunch describing just how much potential LinkedIn has in the $30 billion CRM market. Infer specializes in predictive scoring, using data science to evaluate sales leads. Every LinkedIn investor should read it to get a deeper insight into how LinkedIn can disrupt the CRM market by pioneering social selling.
LinkedIn already has an expansive database, and data is one of the most useful tools in differentiated qualified leads compared to unqualified leads. The majority of leads in most databases today are "garbage," according to Singh.
One of LinkedIn's greatest strengths compared to other social networks is that its members are relatively indifferent to having their data sold to recruiters, since they might benefit in the form of a better job. People generally dislike having their data sold to entities just trying to sell them things. LinkedIn would have to balance these interests in the same way Facebook and Twitter currently do today.
It's also true that LinkedIn likely doesn't want to directly challenge salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) quite yet, since it would need to dedicate immense resources into entering a large market to challenge a dominant incumbent, but that doesn't mean it can't incrementally grow its position.
Slowly, but not surely
Indeed, that's precisely what LinkedIn is doing. In April 2013, LinkedIn released a seemingly innocuous Contacts app that allows members to consolidate and integrate all of their contact information with LinkedIn. Contacts also offers things existing CRM platforms lack, all at no cost.
Earlier this year, LinkedIn also revised its terms of service related to using its developer APIs to integrate with third-party CRM platforms, effectively shutting out all CRM vendors other than salesforce.com and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). That didn't sit too well with a wide range of smaller CRM players, such as Zoho, Nimble, and Nutshell, among others.
This summer, LinkedIn acquired Newsle, which lets members know when professional contacts are mentioned in the news. LinkedIn says the Newsle purchase is about bolstering the company's ability to deliver relevant content to members, but at the same time, it has some potential CRM applications. Newsle is just another recent piece of a possible CRM puzzle LinkedIn could build if it wanted to.
LinkedIn has long had a Sales Navigator product geared toward helping sales reps grow their businesses and manage leads. Sales Navigator was dramatically revamped a few months ago as a stand-alone product, offering a customized way for sales professionals to connect with qualified buyers. Along with the new versions comes a price increase, from $700 per seat per month to approximately $1,200 per seat per month. Newsle will be integrated into Sales Navigator as a way to provide information on how to best engage with sales prospects.
Sales Navigator revenue will be reported in the Premium Subscriptions segment, and management is extremely bullish on the new product, although revenue isn't expected to ramp until next year. LinkedIn's field sales channel is currently driving about a third of Sales Navigator revenue, but this proportion should increase as the business scales, and we all know how effective LinkedIn's field sales channel is.
LinkedIn just closed its first full quarter of Sales Navigator availability, and management says the early reception is very encouraging, as evidenced by high renewals and add-on rates. At about $100 per month, it's a small cost of business to the average sales professional that's well worth the investment.
One of these days
LinkedIn continues to build tools and applications that would typically be found within a CRM platform. Right now, LinkedIn is far from threatening the full-featured CRM platforms that dominate the market today, but it's conceivable that at some point in the future, the company will decide to officially enter the market as a social challenger.
Like other companies, LinkedIn uses a 70-20-10 rule, allocating 70% of development resources toward core products, 20% toward strategic projects, and 10% to experimental ideas. LinkedIn still isn't done disrupting the current talent acquisition market. Not by a long shot. It still has plenty of work to do in its core business, but eventually, it will want to expand its horizons, and the CRM market would be an excellent place to start.
Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Facebook and LinkedIn, and he has the following options: long January 2016 $150 calls on LinkedIn, short January 2016 $200 calls on LinkedIn, long January 2016 $125 puts on LinkedIn, and short January 2016 $140 puts on LinkedIn. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Twitter. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.