Salesforce Invites End-Customers Into Its Social Media Groups: Great News for CABs!

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Salesforce.com has been touting its enterprise social media strategy for some time. Now there’s a new and very important enhancement: the ability to invite customers into Private Chatter Groups for cross-company collaboration around customers’ issues. Salesforce Chatter is a B2B equivalent of Facebook (that also integrates well with Twitter, Facebook, et al). You can see a good, current demo given to Rackspace’s Robert Scoble in late August, 2011 here. (Thanks, Robert!)

Salesforce’s enterprise social media strategy is simple and seductive:

1) Give employees social media tools that are integrated with the enterprise applications they already use as well as with external social media tools like Facebook and Twitter.

2) Ensure that your employees have visibility into their clients’ companies’ and individuals’ social media activity so they’ll know what’s going on with their clients’ companies and with their individual customers.

3) NEW: Enable employees to invite customers into private social groups for customer interactions. These can be customer-account-specific groups to work collaboratively and in an ad hoc manner on customers’ issues or proposals. They can also be private groups of customers who are working on a common project with your subject matter experts. This is the kind of collaborative support that’s perfect for supporting the ongoing work of Customer Advisory Boards and Customer Innovation Teams.

What I like about the new version of Chatter is that you can create private groups of employees + customers from MULTIPLE customer accounts. Think about a customer advisory board or a group of customer co-designers who are providing input and feedback to your strategy and your product directions. All you need is your customers’ email addresses in order to invite them. They can accept the invitation whether or not Salesforce.com Chatter is used within their own organizations. You’ll be able to share files and do real-time screen sharing and collaboration with the members of the group. Everyone from your company who joins in the conversations will KNOW that this is a group that includes customers. So they’ll engage in appropriate behavior. But the interactions will be more casual, more ad hoc, more free-flowing, and they can be tagged with keywords that will make it easy for members to follow (or subscribe to) the conversation threads they’re interested in.

Salesforce.com has also made Chatter part of its Force.com platform with an open API (REST), using its Heroku (Ruby on Rails) integration. So third-party developers will be able to write applications that build on the Chatter foundation.

Will Inviting Customers into Chatter Turn the Salesforce.com Ecosystem into a Customer Ecosystem?
We’ve been longtime fans of Salesforce.com’s fantastic ecosystem of applications, developers, partners, and consultants—known as Force.com—and its AppExchange (which pre-dated Apple’s App Store). What’s been missing for us is the fact that the Salesforce ecosystem has been designed to be ABOUT end-customers, not FOR end-customers. Most of the applications in the Salesforce.com ecosystem help companies manage their relationships with customers. There are few offerings that help END-CUSTOMERS manage their relationships with their suppliers.

Now, customers get to participate, too! We like the friction-free support for cross-company collaboration that Salesforce now offers with the new version of Chatter. This may be the way that customers gain more visibility into the conversations, interactions, and workflows that impact them! Chatter will benefit customers in many ways. It can be used to streamline approval workflows and to add visibility into that process for customers (e.g., approve a discount for a pending deal; approve a credit to a customer that impacts the customer, the reseller, and his distributor). Chatter can be used to resolve a thorny technical problem with multiple experts adding their advice (e.g., get real-time help from company experts, partner experts, and peer experts for a real-time customer problem). All of these typical collaborative brainstorming and/or problem-solving activities can be visible to customers. This is the kind of transparency that most customers are seeking!

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