Why Salesforce.com Chatter Matters

Everybody knows that social networking sites are great for consumers and trend-followers.What's all this noise about Salesforce.com's Chatter for business?

By David Taber
Mon, April 12, 2010

CIO — CRM systems have large and intricate databases that describe customer interaction, and most of the effort goes into recording and managing the ongoing conversation between your firm and the customer. CRM systems have information about prospects, customers, e-mail/phone conversations, sales opportunities, and post-sale support. But look inside most CRM systems, and there's very little information about collaboration among your employees: just basic profile identification information and a dozen settings. In most CRM systems, it's difficult to see the totality of a user's activities: the system's focus is on the customer and the development of a deal, not about the conversations happening between users and their attempts to leverage information across your company.

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That customer-first focus in CRM is important, but it makes it difficult to optimize the business processes within your company. If landing big customers is a team sport, then a key element of sales effectiveness is the quality, depth, and speed of collaboration across marketing, pre-sales, sales, account management, and customer support. Collaboration is difficult to measure, and therefore difficult to fix. It's a "soft issue" that has to be dealt with by management.

The problem, of course, is that sales teams can be very competitive — with each other. And since collaboration is not something that sales is scored on very seriously, it's not at all a sure thing that management will focus on it.

Consequently, most large organizations are not very good at collaborating. Too often, valuable information about a customer doesn't make it out of marketing or support into sales. Intelligence gets lost, and opportunities to advance a deal are missed. Further, sales tactics that solve emerging market problems may not be shared. In addition, solutions to common customer problems may be known to a few people, but not easily shared across offices.

Historically, the problem of collaboration has been attacked with Knowledge Management systems and other initiatives. It could be solved with a Wiki. It can be covered in training sessions, internal emails, and team meetings. But these approaches are already in place and they clearly aren't working.

Meanwhile, a quarter-billion people are looking at Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter on a regular basis. All kinds of information is shared quickly and easily. If you want up-to-the-minute information on a topic, you wouldn't go to the New York Times. You'd look at a social networking site. So why would you go to a formal KM system for the latest competitive sales tactics or customer problem solutions?

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