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Salesforce.com Goes Social and Reduces E-mail 40%

13 December 2010

For all the talk about how social media will transform the way we sell, I have seen few examples of sales-department–wide adoption and even fewer that can point to measurable results. Some really smart veteran sales experts have confided that they just don’t “get” social. That’s why I was looking forward to the presentation, “Changing Our Own Game: How Salesforce.com Uses Chatter,” at last week’s Dreamforce conference, where I was a blogger attendee.

Borrowing from Apple’s commercials, if you are a Facebook or Twitter user, you already know how to use Chatter. As with Facebook, in Chatter you get started by uploading your photo and writing something interesting about yourself. Then you post updates, ask questions, or write on other people’s “walls.” Like in Twitter, you “follow” other Chatter users or groups, which gives you access to their updates. You can also “unfollow” if someone repeatedly posts drivel or too many photos of their pet lizard. What’s different about Chatter is that this so-called social behavior happens within the application where Sales 2.0 reps and managers live: CRM. Because of this, the product could transform the way sales and other teams work.

How Salesforce.com is Using Chatter

Sales: Deal Collaboration, Sales Support

Enterprise sales rep Chris Cranis described Chatter as a central place to post a presentation for an important customer meeting that included a cross-functional selling team of technical sales engineers, product specialists and sales professionals. He also uses Chatter to find customer references and ask customer questions. Before, this would have required mass e-mails or tracking down a sales engineer. Chris recently came to the aid of Chief Customer Officer Jim Steele, who posted a question on his mobile phone posed by a customer’s CIO he was visiting. Within four minutes, Chris provided the answer. Still an e-mail-centric worker, Chris set the application to inform him about updates via e-mail.

Events: Linking Attendees

Dreamforce attendees could communicate with each other before and during the conference via the Dreamforce Chatter application (including mobile versions for iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry). I joined the Sales and Marketing 2.0, Social Media and Small Business special-interest groups — as well as a popular group called “The List,” which catalogued and discussed all the parties — to find people with similar interests.

Surveys: Crowd-Sourced Feedback

Teams can easily weigh in with their opinions on logos, marketing programs, website changes, etc. Scott Holden, senior director of product marketing, used Chatter to get feedback on signage for the Dreamforce event.

Competitive Analysis

Matt Bennetti, senior director of competitive intelligence, uses Chatter to gather information when someone joins the company from a competitive company. He then uses the application to disseminate content to sales and marketing and the executive team. Followers, organized in groups according to competitor, can add to the information to make it even more complete. Before Chatter, Matt would put files in a content library, hoping somebody would download it. He would also be a roadblock when someone had an urgent question. With Chatter, a whole group of experts can provide answers.

Salesforce.com’s Results

Salesforce says they have reduced e-mail by 40% with Chatter and have driven productivity and sales growth. I imagine this is because conversations are easier to follow and find, which makes volumes of e-mail follow-ups less necessary. Communications are consolidated and typically personalized to the interests of a pre-defined group.

I’ll be interested to hear more specific sales-growth metrics and details of how salesforce.com is measuring the 40% e-mail reduction. Has the company merely moved the traffic from one communications vehicle (e-mail) to another (Chatter)? And what additional metrics should we attempt to measure when evaluating or rolling out our sales team’s use of social media: Content relevance? Timeliness? Employee/Customer Experience?

Encouraging Adoption

Salesforce.com claims they had 100% adoption in two weeks. How? It doesn’t hurt that CEO Marc Benioff is a prominent user and is known to “follow” people at all levels of the company. The company also tracks use metrics and rewards the most active on the application. The “Chatterati” (top 25 contributors) are rewarded with special perks such as good seats at the keynote President Bill Clinton gave at the Dreamforce conference and inclusion in company management meetings at tony resorts. This is not only a treat for the Chatter super-users; it is also a great way for management to get insight on product usage that can be used to help customers.

Could special recognition and rewards — or simply the “fun” aspects of social media — increase system use in an otherwise reluctant sales force? Scott Holden claims he didn’t use Salesforce.com much before Chatter was released, but now he looks forward to logging in. Yes, he’s in marketing not sales, but couldn’t this work for sales reps, too? Presumably, you could use similar incentive-based approaches to stimulate adoption of any social media — or other Sales 2.0 practices and technology.

If you’re curious about Chatter and how it could increase sales productivity for your organization, you can give it a try yourself. One of the big announcements at Dreamforce: You can now get your whole company on Chatter for free.

Will you try Chatter or another social collaboration platform? What are your objectives, concerns and challenges?