Salesforce.com ramps up plans for CRM data integration

Salesforce.com has big plans for social customer profiles, but it might take a whiole for this concept of CRM data integration to fully translate into reality.

Salesforce.com will add a second key piece to its customer social profile concept early next month when it ships Social Contacts, a feature designed to boost CRM data integration by allowing users to view to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn data from within customer records.

Social Contacts quickly follows the announcement of Data.com, the first piece in the customer social profile plan, which Salesforce.com debuted at Dreamforce, its annual user conference, late last month.Data.com includes a crowd-sourced contact database based on Jigsaw, a product Salesforce.com picked up n a 2010 acquisition.

Social Contacts will ship as part of the Sales Cloud Winter 12 release Oct. 7.

The rapid deployment of the customer social profile components could be a bit of an overkill, as some customers are just getting basic customer profiles in place. 

“I think it is an area of interest, but we haven’t done a whole lot with that yet,” said Brian Adam, director of marketing operations at Saba Software Inc.

Saba Software, based in Redwood Shores, Calif., installed Data.com three months ago, and Adam said it is having initial success using its contact data to fill in basic customer profiles.

The customer social profile concept is a central component of the company’s social enterprise strategy. Ultimately, the customer social profiles are intended to give users a single snapshot of a customer using contact and company information, social identities and posts and any relevant market and general news information.

At least one industry analyst suggested the picture Salesforce.com painted of such rich CRM data integration and detailed customer profiles at Dreamforce isn’t ready for prime time.

“There is a ‘cool’ factor going on here, but most folks are still challenged to make use of the internal, much less the external data,” said Rob Karel, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. “I think this is a ‘walk before you run’ situation.”

Multiple data sources will populate customer profiles
Using Data.com and the Social Contacts feature, Salesforce.com customers will be able to construct customer profiles that reside within the CRM application. A user can populate the profile with contact information from Data.com and view social data from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, according to Tricia Gellman, a senior product director at Salesforce.com. The customer records are stored within the CRM database.

The Jigsaw contact database is itself a social instrument. Users can access and change contact data like email addresses or phone numbers in an effort to maintain data quality.

But the other social data component of these customer social profiles -- linking to the vast amount of social information -- could pose some prickly issues concerning a customer’s privacy and raise questions about data quality.

Forrester’s Karel said a big issue for users will likely be associating the correct social data with customers.

“The concept of matching is more art than science now,” Karel said. “To get a correct match requires a certain amount of information and to be able to make sure with high confidence that this is right. The worst thing that could happen would be if you had the incorrect identity.”

Brett Queener, Salesforce’s executive vice president and general manager of Data.com, said the company is assessing how to best address these data quality issues.

“[Customers] want us to solve this on behalf of the privacy perspective,” Queener said. “If you associate a Twitter handle, how do you make sure it is the proper business identity? We are working on this.”

Another key issue for users will be to figure out what social data is even needed in the social profile. Some personal information, such as family news or favorite sports teams, can be helpful when engaging customers. But companies will need tools and procedures to weed out social data that isn’t important.

“We want to make sure they are doing it in a way that is appropriate and then [determining] how much is too much information or too little,” Queener said.

Forrester’s Karel said that while Salesforce.com may provide additional tools to help with data quality, it is ultimately the customer’s job to handle data governance.

“From a governance standpoint, it is still up to the end user to govern which data they allow in it,” Karel said. “The end user will have to define policy.”

Additional Salesforce.com partnerships are in the works 
The plan is to build the CRM data integration by bringing in additional business and social data sources through a series of partnerships, Queener said.

The first partnership was announced with Dun & Bradstreet to provide its database on millions of companies through Data.com.

The D&B data will be available later this year and it will replace company information that had previously been available through Jigsaw.

The D&B data will initially be static, unlike the contact data, which is open to individual users editing information. “Right out of the gate, it won’t be open to crowd sourcing, but in a subsequent release it will,” Queener added. “The D&B data will have weekly updates.”

Queener said the company plans to announce partnerships with other data providers for Data.com so customers can add other types of information and create more complete social customer profiles.

“D&B is first and there will be more,” Queener said.

The executive indicated announcements would be made in vertical markets and “there is probably something on the social side.”

Queener said news feeds could be another likely addition to the profiles. “Today, the first thing people do is search Google or they have alerts,” Queener said. “We are working through how to bring it together in an integrated fashion.”

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