Inside an Enterprise Salesforce Chatter Rollout

Take a look at lessons learned by Den-Mat's IT department as it moved from a 30-year-old legacy system to Salesforce.com's Chatter. This dental manufacturer slashed its employee turnover rate, eliminated antiquated processes and helped staff collaborate better.

In 2009, Den-Mat, a 450-employee dental equipment manufacturing company based in California, ran on severely outdated IT. Employees relied on a 30 year-old legacy AS400 ERP green screen system with antiquated applications. Communication between departments was nearly nonexistent and processes were paper-heavy, says Jonathan Green, VP of IT. On top of that, the business faced a 48 percent turnover rate for new employees, which was directly related to its old platform.

Green, who joined Den-Mat that year, knew something needed to change in order for the company to compete in the changing economy. "We needed communicate better, be better organized, be able to market our products well and needed some sort of CRM to track these campaigns and new opportunities," he says. "It was pretty clear we needed a big change."

A typical day for a salesperson at Den-Mat, Green says, consisted of a morning fax or phone call from a manager denoting the accounts that he needed to call. These sales calls would be tracked via an Excel spreadsheet or a handwritten list. If salespeople ran into problems during the day, Green says, they'd call the home office and read credit card numbers over the phone if accounts needed to be rectified.

"As you could imagine, there were tons of compliance and visibility issues," Green says.

On top of that, Green faced a company culture masked in frustration, stuck in its outdated ways and resistant to change.

"We had a lot of third-parties that were hired to do spreadsheet management," he says. "It was good in that it worked, but it required a lot of manpower and understanding in how to interpret results. On my first day on the job, for example, I was handed a stack of paper—no excel file, nothing. People were always arguing about what orders went where and which ones had been compensated. There was a lot of confusion, too," he says.

Goodbye Paper, Hello Cloud

In June 2009, Green got the OK to investigate options to bring Den-Mat up to speed. They looked at a few solutions from Deloitte, SAP and Oracle, but Salesforce won in the RFP process. Salesforce, he says, gave Den-Mat the opportunity to try a cloud technology, which was essential for reasons including the fact that their headquarters is located in a suburb where it's difficult to recruit an IT staff.

"The Salesforce option gave us more flexibility—we could bite off the pieces that we wanted," he says. Green went to Dreamforce, Salesforce's conference, that year when Chatter, Salesforce's microblogging and collaboration feature for the enterprise, was announced and he lobbied to be included in its beta testing group. Rolling out Chatter, he says, was more valuable later on than he could have imagined.

Green and his IT department began staggered rollouts of Salesforce and Chatter, 30 days apart, to the marketing department, then customer service and sales. The rollout was completed in less time and under budget, he says.

"I told managers to expect a 10 percent to 20 percent drop in productivity," Green says. "It's natural with anything new you're rolling out. What we actually saw was a 10 percent increase in productivity. No one expected that."

After the rollout, each department received online training via resources that Salesforce provided, and despite the company's resistance to change, Green says that not one person complained about it.

"Actually, a lot of the resistance we got from older staff members wasn't about Salesforce, it was the fact that they had to use computer mice now. Some people complained that they worked faster in the AS400 system," Greene says. "We heard grumblings from staff for two or three months, but since then, we've rarely heard any complaints."

Since the Salesforce deployment, Green says they've streamlined processes, cut expenses and slashed the employee turnover rate to just 7 percent.

Because teams were communicating and collaborating efficiently via Chatter, Den-Mat was able to close an underperforming sales office in Indiana. This arrangement worked so well that they later extended the work-at-home option to other employees as well.

"They could work as a team and communicate and collaborate together—it didn't matter that they weren't [where we are] in Santa Maria, Calif. It changed our dynamic and how we service our customers," Green says.

Upgrading from the AS400 ERP system also let Den-Mat cut costs by reorganizing the IT department. Before, IT workers dedicated 60 percent of their time to maintaining the outdated system. After the Salesforce and Chatter deployments, the IT department now dedicates about 20 percent to support, Green says. As a result, Den-Mat reorganized the department from 20 members to a leaner staff of 11 people.

Chatter also allowed Den-Mat to transition from an e-mail centric update process to Chatter updates. Before, when a production status changed, e-mails were sent to everyone, which cluttered inboxes, he says. Now when a project status changes, it's noted in Chatter feeds, reducing e-mail overload.

Because of Chatter's warm reception at Den-Mat, Green says they plan to roll it out to the entire company, eventually move their intranet to Salesforce and roll out FinancialForce, a related accounting platform.

Tips for a Smooth Deployment

Deploying a new platform to a workforce that relied on—and enjoyed—a 30-year-old legacy system was easier than Green anticipated. He attributes the smooth rollout to a few key actions.

First, he says, his team needed to address the fears head-on that executives or employees were harboring. "Everyone was afraid of what would happen—Sharepoint scared employees because they saw it as an uncontrolled environment. They felt the same way about Chatter—people could post whatever they wanted," Green says. "Ultimately, it boiled down to a technical insecurity challenge."

To quell this fear, Green says they had to show Den-Mat that Salesforce had controls in place to prevent or rectify a situation should something be done or said that shouldn't.

For example, when an employee posted a picture of herself in a bikini and someone expressed concern, they had the photo removed and addressed the situation by sending an e-mail to employees with high-level guidelines about what was and wasn't appropriate use of Salesforce and Chatter. "If you tell people to keep in professional, they get the idea," he says.

Another key to his success, Green says, was picking a few pain points to address at the start through the implementation. For Den-Mat, one of these pain points was collaboration.

"There was really just no communication happening," Green says. "After Chatter, we had staff talking to consumer groups and discussing customer issues, and we were chatting with third-party vendors around the country about customers, which hadn't happened before. From a customer support standpoint, it's been great."

Salesforce "Chatter" Mobile Collaboration Apps Now Available for BlackBerry, iOS

Salesforce.com Chatter Teaches Lessons About Social Networks

15 Free Enterprise Collaboration Tools

Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com.

Insider Resume Makeover: How (and When) to Break the Rules
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies