Chitter Chatter: Salesforce ups the Enterprise 2.0 Ante

Marc Benioff unveiled what he described as Salesforces’ “biggest breakthrough” – an enterprise social networking platform dubbed Chatter.

Here’s a video interview, courtesy of Dennis Howlett, that provides insight into the drivers, challenges and opportunities for moving to more open constructs in the workplace, as Salesforce sees it:

 

VentureBeat has a straightforward run down of the proposed feature list. Some other good commentary as well:

Jeremiah Owyang chimes in with what, I sense, is on the minds of many right now:

Trying to grapple with understanding Salesforce’s Chatter, is it something *new* or just a *me too*? #DF09

I’ve seen all of these Chatter features (at least in parts) from Jive, Telligent, Lithium(client), Socialtext(client), Yammer, #DF09

Dennis Howlett’s skeptical:

Salesforce.com may well be the poster child for hip and cool apps that bring the consumer experience to the enterprise but it will likely find CXO’s baulk at the idea of Chatter as a useful addition to their Salesforce.com environment. Only time will tell whether Salesforce.com marketers have judged this correctly.

And Michael Krigsman concludes:

Regardless of where Salesforce decides to take Chatter, the announcement demonstrates that social computing space is reaching a tipping point, which I think is great.

I’m baffled by the name of this service but on the whole, my sense is that this is a huge development for the enterprise software business, as well as a definitive stamp of validation for Enterprise 2.0 constructs and technologies. Assuming of course that Salesforce.com gets this to market as promised.

Context Built In

Chatter is different. Its got the one thing baked in that other applications don’t – context. Built in from the ground up.

Back in February of this year, I wrote about how social computing constructs can make a difference to enterprise sales organizations. Based on our work with sales and marketing organizations at leading enterprise and voice of customer (sales reps) interviews with over 900 sales reps, I laid out a simplistic illustration of what makes a sales rep tick:

  • Media watching is not a sport for sales reps. Feed them the good stuff and they’ll consume it.
  • Data/Intelligence extraction over collaboration. “Give to Get” doesn’t fly with most sales reps.
  • Good reps know exactly which 8.75 data types help them bust quotas. No more, no less.
  • In spite of the above, don’t expect them to dig for it. They’d rather use the time to cold call a lead.
  • Sales reps often ignore a lot of what marketing might offer or recommend.
  • They don’t personalize portals & intranets.
  • They rather search than browse; they want answers, not search results. (ok, who doesn’t!)
  • CRM apps often morph into reporting mechanisms that sales reps are mandated to use.
  • Pre-sales engineers (in the case of High Tech) often do most of labor intensive tasks in the sales cycle (assembling proposal components, finding SMEs and references, etc).

Super impose these characteristics on the features presented in the Chatter demo and I say we have a solid start. Chatter’s got context and intent built in for the sales organization given its close out of the box linkages to Salesforce.com’s flagship CRM application. Next, the activity stream/ feed metaphor was made for the sales rep: Why? Given how they prefer to work, it 1) enables them to pluck important nuggets out of the stream that support the sales process and 2) lets the best minds wrap around a task at hand (RFP, prospect inquiry, customer support issue and the like). It won’t all just happen out of the box but the application has the potential to make it a hell of a lot easier.

Process + Social

Last week I wrote a post called “Why Process Barfs on Social”. My central point was that unless we see a social + process in context, Enterprise 2.0 won’t realize its full potential. Whilst tools certainly won’t provide the solution alone, Chatter has the capability of being the first integrated showcase where social concepts are unleashed to enrichen discrete processes (in this case, closing and keeping customers) towards established performance goals.

There’s no question that some of the most important data that sales reps need reside outside of the confines of traditional CEM and sales applications. They sit in home grown contract registries, support agreement databases, 3rd part news and social media platforms, ERP systems and very important – the minds of known and unknown colleagues. Chatters’ platform capabilities enable access to these data sources and people. This, along with the ability to collaborate around an object ( a lead, a competitor, a customer, a topic) brings process + social closer than ever before.

One Part Offence, Two Parts Defense

Despite the very convincing assault on Microsoft SharePoint by Marc, my sense is that this is more defense than offence on Salesforces.com’s part. Taking on the installed base of SharePoint may be a longer term goal but for now SalesForce needs to make its existing applications useful to sales reps and move away from being a glorified reporting application for operational bean counters or (as Scott Schnaars suggests), a contact management system. Not to mention the rising interest in so-called “social CRM” services. Chatter gives reps a reason to stay within Salesforce.com a little while longer and amps up the sustained utility of the service.

Distribution

Whilst this is validation around the concept of social computing in the enterprise and pureplay vendors will see a rising tide effect, there’s a downside as well. Its tempting to say that pureplay vendors had these capabilities for a while and can hold their own. The reality is that feature shoot outs play but one role in enterprise purchase decision making. Salesforce brings its powerful distribution channel, out of the box process integration, and a now social marketplace in AppExchange – together providing a very compelling reason for enterprises to consider this as a company-wide social networking platform.

Customer Centricity

This, in my opinion, was the biggest lost opportunity in the launch of this service.

One of the reasons for Bloomberg LPs ungodly success is that every single employee’s bonus is tied to new sales and renewals. IT, Product, Marketing, Support, everyone. That means everyone prioritizes their work around revenue. That’s extremely difficult to do especially since only a chosen few at most companies have any control or even insight into the sales process. Now, with Chatter being seeded in the nucleus of managing customer relationships in the enterprise (i.e. CRM), there’s the opportunity, for the first time, to provide a universal lens into the process of courting, converting and servicing a customer. Everyone can see the sales and support process live and chime in with expertise, helping cradle the process to revenue and customer satisfaction. The big value proposition of the enterprise social web is improved customer centricity and there’s a unique opportunity for Chatter to make this a reality. I wish Salesforce had seized this opportunity to present a model that can transform how organizations and their partner ecosystems can be structured around the customer.

$50 bucks a user per month? Ouch!

Yes it’s a lot. But what strikes me as odd was that Salesforce did not offer some sort of basic/read-only access to Chatter for non Salesforce users at a given customer. What better way for others to see where their input is crucial to an ongoing project, RFP, discussion etc and make the case for purchasing that additional seat? That’s free marketing and a straight forward conversion strategy for Salesforce to move laterally, out side of sales and marketing. It’s still early so I won’t be surprised to see something similar to this.

Closing Thoughts

All up, this is excellent news for the Enterprise 2.0 space and I’m thrilled that a process facilitator such as Salesforce has dipped its toes in the social computing arena. Its about time Enterprise 2.0 grew up and started talking business. And Salesforce is one of the few companies that can lead that charge. It’s a separate post but pure plays will gain more than they will loose with increased awareness of the business association of social computing concepts. Good for the entire ecosystem.

For a detailed look at Chatter, see Marc Benioffs (very long) interview at TechCrunch’s Realtime Crunch Up Event.

I’m bullish.

Update: Great analysis on the infrastructure view point by Esteban Kolsky.

 

 

 

 

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Anna
Anna

As an extension to Salesforce Chatter in the PIM world, the Chatter provider is now available for Outlook users. Via the Outlook Social Connector, Salesforce.com users can now pull info strings from Salesforce Chatter and view activity updates in Outlook. For details on the Chatter provider, please visit http://www.invisiblecrm.com/outlookchatter/.

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Andrew Yates - CEO Artesian
Andrew Yates - CEO Artesian

I couldn't agree less with these comments - particularly this list - let me elaborate why!* Media watching is not a sport for sales reps. Feed them the good stuff and they’ll consume it. - True to say they won't feel inclined to spend time *watching* but an automated process of gathering news based business events which are matched to sales triggers fixes this espeically is you can find simple, compelling and timnely ways to deliver.* Data/Intelligence extraction over collaboration. “Give to Get” doesn’t fly with most sales reps - I don't agree as I see the paradigm is alive and kicking today predominatly in the corporate email train complete with attached links and comments which are currently lost to the one to many medium - chatter and collaboration engines like it will provide a searchable instant messaging medium with the externally derived intelligence as its core as the threas which binds the coversation. We call it a social gesture. * Good reps know exactly which 8.75 data types help them bust quotas. No more, no less - I disagree - my experience (having run large sales organsations) is in a typical sales organisation with 10 reps - 3 will understand this, 3 will get there somehow and 3 will fail. Surely the focus is to make your worst performer as good as your best by instituting best practise? * In spite of the above, don’t expect them to dig for it. They’d rather use the time to cold call a lead - this sound slike cold calling fro teh sake of it - so how about being fore-armed with the data as to what to cold call about? Better to relate a product or service in context than fire bullets at the wall. Benioff shares an intereesting perspective on P.92 of his book when he talks about connecting the dots and the cold being dead! * Sales reps often ignore a lot of what marketing might offer or recommend - this I agree with but we dont give up here - the key is to make it personal to them - give them intelligence in the format they can easilly consume on the device of their choosing, delivered inside their CRM and outside, consumed by them when they want it - servicing their 3 basic needs - routine, satisfying boredom and urgency. * They don’t personalize portals & intranets - agreed - so deliver the insight inside the portal they use (in this instance Salesforce.com) but personalise it to them. Make it damn simple too. * They rather search than browse; they want answers, not search results. (ok, who doesn’t!) - I agree! But consider a scenario of wanting to know what your top 3 prospects in the northern region are doing about renewable energy. How do you search for that when the web knows nothing about the context around the question you are asking? And what if there are 80 business things you would want to know as a matter of course for every account you are tracking? * CRM apps often morph into reporting mechanisms that sales reps are mandated to use - I agree - Sales guys hate CRM - they generally regard it as a system for someone elses benefit (namely senior management). The key is to build *intelligence-flows* which are initially delivered outside the CRM medium (an email to your blackberry neatly summarised with developments) but which connect the rep back to make CRM more sticky. * Pre-sales engineers (in the case of High Tech) often do most of labor intensive tasks in the sales cycle (assembling proposal components, finding SMEs and references, etc) - true but why wouldn't the rep want to be professionally informed and have the information first so he / she feels like the midfield general they are? I believe that the web is one great big sales opportunity waiting to be tapped and news based events and the insights from social media are one of the best stimulations for that initial sales call or to help a deal along - all that remains to do is to effectively automate the search for intelligence from online resources (without the salesguy having to ask each time) and being able to contextualise the result-set to make it personal to the user and unique to the subscribing companyChatter is the first industry recognition that social-computing can be applied to the Corporate Enterprise - we have been delivering against this vision for over a year and have a 1000 user reference to show for itMakes for an interesting debate and time will tell whether this is inspired genius or 4 years too earlyI too remain encouraged but maybe for different reasons!

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Sameer
Sameer

Andrew thanks for taking the time to pen an elaborate comment. You and I are actually in agreement for the most part. Your comments provide solutions for what I state as characteristics. Ill tackle a few for size:For instance, the first point re: media watching - yes, if its got the correct business filters to provide the right stuff - then thats valuable and not media watching (e.g.a twitter stream). I'm simply stating their default behavior to illustrate a starting point for solutions.Re: Sales good reps know what data helps them sell. > Fair point but I intentionally used the word "good" to highlight those that have a nose for finding and exploiting useful data types. Not an average capability across the network.Search vs. Browse: I'm not implying that they don't search. I'm again referring to how they prefer to work and that any collaborative framework needs to respond to their behavior as much as possible (as opposed to changing it)Thanks again for commenting. The next phase we're embarking on is about to get very very exciting.

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