Chatter for One and All

Full of iPad giveaways, surprise guests, and the regulatory competitor bashing, the recent Cloudforce event in San Jose fell true to Salesforce.com style. Starting a few minutes late and with an introduction of the so-called "next phase of cloud computing," company chairman and chief executive officer Marc Benioff proclaimed to attendees: "I want to inspire you and show you what's possible in our industry." At the heart of the event was Salesforce.com's announcement of the general availability of Chatter, a social networking and collaborative application that weaves through all of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) pioneer's clouds and platforms.

"We think we've got a killer app on our hands with Chatter," said Vice President of Product Marketing Kraig Swensrud, as he walked through demonstrations of how Chatter works with Salesforce Sales Cloud. With a run rate of $1.5 billion in annual revenue, a year-over-year jump of 24 percent, Salesforce.com now has 77,300 customers -- up by nearly 5,000 since April. "We are really doing well," says Al Falcione, the company's senior director of product marketing, with perhaps a touch of understatement. 

Salesforce.com chatted about Chatter at its annual Dreamforce conference last year in San Francisco. "We've been eclipsed by the consumer," Benioff said atthe event, just prior to announcing the company's fourth cloud. Eager to ride the momentum powering "the Facebook imperative," Benioff also announced what he called Salesforce.com's "biggest breakthrough ever," an enterprisewide collaboration platform called Chatter.

This spring, Salesforce.com brought 5,000 beta customers onto Chatter. In an exclusive interview with CRM and destinationCRM, Falcione characterizes the feedback as tremendous: "I've never seen anything like this before in our [other] enterprise applications," he says. According to Salesforce.com-conducted research, 90 percent of surveyed beta customers indicated they would recommend Chatter to others. Those same customers also reported a 27 percent increase in collaboration and a 22 percent improvement in productivity with Chatter. Today, all users of Salesforce can access Chatter for no additional cost.

With the goal of driving use of Chatter across the enterprise, Salesforce.com is also opening up the application for employees not engaged in CRM. For $15 per user per month, any employee can use Chatter and collaborate with colleagues. "This moves us outside of CRM," Falcione says. "And it breaks down the barriers in a company."

"Collaboration like Salesforce.com's Chatter might be something that actually works more effectively within smaller organizations," states China Martens, senior analyst with The 451 Group. "If that's the case, will users want to live more in something like Chatter rather than their CRM?" she wonders. The answer to that may not yet be clear, but Salesforce.com's desire to have all of its applications and partner programs to be "chattering" with each other.

New demonstrations of Chatter this time around included integrations of online crowdsourced data product Jigsaw. Salesforce.com acquired Jigsaw for a hefty $142 million in April and elements of Jigsaw can already be seen in an enabled Chatter stream. "I find the idea of Salesforce CRM plus Jigsaw plus Chatter rather powerful," Martens says. The idea that a sales rep can be alerted the moment a contact or lead leaves a job, gets promoted, or changes profile data can provide a lot of real-time value, she adds. "It's one integrated system," Swensrud said. Not only do Salesforce users follow fellow employees, but they follow documents, data, and, thanks to the Jigsaw integration, customers and competitors.

Now when Salesforce users log in, they'll see a Chatter stream of relevant activity on their home pages. "We looked at Cloud 2–type applications like Facebook where the insights flow to you," Falcione says. "You pick the information you want to see, you filter the information you want, and the right information shows up in your feed."

Within Chatter, Salesforce.com has introduced "Groups," which bear a striking resemblance to Facebook Pages. Groups enable teams to collaborate on projects, share information and documents, and control the privacy so information is only shown to appropriate team members. Other core features of Chatter include:

  • Profiles
  • Status Updates
  • Real-Time Feeds
  • Content and File-Sharing
  • Ideas
  • Read-only Access to Accounts and Contacts
  • Limited Access to the Force.com Enterprise Cloud-Computing Platform

To show how content is shared and sent around to colleagues for collaboration and review, the Salesforce.com team conducted a demonstration on an iPad, the new tablet device from Apple — and Apple developer Michael Tchao later joined Benioff on stage. Parker Harris, Salesforce.com's cofounder and executive vice president of technology, told attendees that, before such an application, there was "nothing connecting employees." Email is inefficient, he said, and too weak to handle large files and presentations. He then demonstrated capabilities for building and sharing slideshow presentations. On the iPad, Harris showed that with advanced touchscreen-gesturing technology, individual PowerPoint slides could be accessed from a thumbnail collection of all the slides.

As announced at April's Cloudforce event in New York, Chatter-specific applications will have a home called ChatterExchange within Salesforce.com's AppExchange 2. ISV partners can build, as Falcione says, a "new breed of social apps" using Chatter. Thirty brand new ChatterExchange applications are now live. Four of them took the stage in a Benioff-hosted rendition of The Dating Game. One particular application, ServiceMax, holds promise for customer service people:

ServiceMax Suite and ServiceMax Chatter Volume: The company offers monitoring and tracking of field service activities. Essentially the ServiceMax technology alerts companies and users of when products have issues to be resolved. Now, with Chatter Volume delivered over the iPad or iPhone, users are notified via Google Maps where the Chatter clusters are most active. "We have products Chatter to us," said the ServiceMax representative demonstrating the product. 

When asked how Salesforce.com plans to support the more than 77,000 now live on the Chatter application, Falcione was unfazed: "People get it," he said, though he adds that the the product's landing page includes a link to "Get Started" pages chock-full of Chatter best practices. Users can always holler for support. "Tweet it, call us, email, log a case on the Web site," he said. "We will give support."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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