Salesforce.com reveals a Chatter-based social CRM plan

Salesforce.com gave Chatter the official nod by creating a social enterprise strategy with this collaboration tool as its centerpiece.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Salesforce.com put the meat on the bones of its social enterprise strategy yesterday at its annual Dreamforce user conference as it positioned Chatter, once considered by many as little more than an internal Facebook-like tool, as the centerpiece of its plan.  

The Chatter news was part of a two-plus-hour product line update presented by Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff at his keynote address to more than 40,000 attendees. The company also announced mobile support for its sales automation software as well as enhancements to its database and application development platforms.

Salesforce has been building up Chatter’s role for months by highlighting it at a recent series of one-day customer events and showcasing a Chatter-based product network created at Toyota that links the automobile company, customers, dealerships and cars in a network called Toyota Friend.

Also, Salesforce.com changed its pricing model to give its social enterprise strategy more appeal. The company introduced the social enterprise licensing plan, an about-face to its hard-core per-user pricing philosophy. With this licensing agreement option, companies can negotiate an up-front fee to use an unlimited number of Salesforce.com products for a set period of time. The company said this will appeal to large organizations as they adopt social strategies and find tracking usage, particularly when customers become involved in their Chatter networks, nearly impossible.

With a series of enhancements, most of which will be available at the end of 2011 or early next year, Chatter will be extended into a core social platform intended to help customers conduct business over social channels. 

For example, it will enable companies to create groups that include customers, allow users to perform approval processes while in the Chatter feed and instant message anyone within the Chatter network.

As part of the Chatter makeover, Salesforce revealed its plans for Data.com, a customer data source to create customer social profiles. Data.com is the result of a recent agreement with Dun & Bradstreet Corp., a provider of corporate contact information combined with technology Salesforce picked up from its acquisition of Jigsaw.

In addition, Salesforce said it would add a Chatter component to its Service Cloud, enabling companies to handle customer service questions through a Chatter-based network.

The Chatter details were welcome news to some Salesforce customers.

“One of the main reasons I am here is to see how we can get to the next level with Chatter,” said Dreamforce attendee Clark Clement, senior manager of client relations at The CMI Group in Carrollton, Texas. “We are not using it now, but I am turning it on as soon as we get back. We wanted to hold off until we got back from the conference.”

Salesforce.com’s Benioff said the credit for the new social enterprise license plan goes to The Coca-Cola Co., which told Salesforce it would not agree to per-user pricing. Salesforce signed up the marquee client with this new pricing plan and decided it may appeal to others as well.

The plan is catching the attention of some industry analysts.

“The social enterprise license agreement is the polar opposite of a SaaS [Software as a Service] licensing scheme, which of course has always been subscription-based,” said Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group. “While ironic, it’s not stupid. This is a big, big win for Salesforce with Coca Cola signing the first one. I think the irony is delicious, and not a bad move to at all."

The new Chatter functions rolled out at Dreamforce:

  • Chatter Now, an instant-messaging tool scheduled for release late this year. A screen-sharing feature will begin shipping in 2012 at an additional charge. The company has not yet released the feature.
  • Chatter Customer Groups, which will allow companies to set up groups that include external customers, will be offered for free and begin shipping late this year.
  • Chatter Approvals, another free offering, will ship by year’s end and will give users a function to complete approvals of such processes as hiring from within the Chatter feed.
  • Chatter Service will start shipping next year, and pricing for this Service cloud component will be made available then.

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