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Six Degrees

Can who your employees know make a difference in your sales?

Entrepreneurs know the importance of networking. Sometimes it is all about who you know. And now, with some new software technology that's on the market, it's all about who you and your employees know. You can call it relationship mining, but relationship capital management is more accurate. Three leading companies in this area are start-ups Spoke Software Inc. (www.spoke.com), Visible Path Corp. (www.visiblepath.com) and ZeroDegrees Inc. (www.zerodegrees.com).

Essentially, the software maps out networks of who everyone in your organization knows, partly by hooking up with a CRM company like SalesForce.com Inc. Antony Brydon, president and co-founder of Visible Path, says, "We're helping people capitalize on their relationships on an individual level and on a corporate level." The intent is to arm your salespeople with quality personal introductions to potential customers, generate sales leads and accelerate the sales process.

The snake in the grass is the privacy issue. Few people are willing to open their contact lists to all comers. Visible Path deals with this by keeping participants' identity and information confidential until, or if, they decide to share it on a case-by-case basis. Bonus incentives are built in for those who decide to join. Strength indicators show how strong relationships between two people are in order to point users toward the highest-quality introductions. Not every growing business will want to invest in this software, but if you're aggressively seeking new sales leads, it could be for you. Before implementing it, however, be sure to address privacy issues with your employees.

The concepts may be old, but the social network algorithms that mine through centrally located contact data and power this kind of relationship management software are fairly new. Brydon sees a future where the software is used everywhere from HR to building partnerships.

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This article was originally published in the January 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Six Degrees.

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