Collaboration, Stickiness, and why Chatter is Stupid…

I am supposed to be finishing up a slide deck for a conference speech I am giving (which was due on Friday) and also extending invites to customers for SugarCon (maybe if some of you readers register I can kill at least two birds here – please?). But in my usual scatterbrained manner I was checking out my blog reader and came across a few things that got me sidetracked.

The first was the fact that has made its Chatter beta available – only three months after it was announced at Dreamforce. (Does anyone ever actually debut software or devices the day people can actually get them?  I mean, does anyone have an iPad yet?) The tools are part of what the company calls its “Collaboration Cloud.” Cute.

I get the concept, and I like it. But I think Salesforce misses the mark here. For one, all CRM apps are collaboration tools. It is just that as Facebook and other platforms have proven, there are more simple ways to collaborate in the 2.0 world. Chatter has most of what is needed to do this – feeds, profiles, etc.

But what is the benefit of making an enterprise wide collaboration tool embedded into your CRM system? How can this span departments when only sales people use the CRM? How can this internal and expensive tool be pushed to customers to enable that fable mix of enterprise 2.0 and social CRM?

The answer?  I don’t know. Or at least, I don’t know how a customer could do it without being really overcharged for their CRM deployment. Yes, Chatter and other “cool” tools make a CRM sticky. But it also seems ridiculous to spend a significant amount of money to merge 2.0 collaboration tools with your CRM system for an additional fee (or a fee for the non-CRM users that want to be part of cross-departmental collaboration). What I mean is – collaboration is boundary-less, and traditional CRM systems are all about boundaries: from user-level security, team hierarchies, and simply being based on relational databases – boundaries rule CRM. Next generation social and enterprise 2.0 tools should be the opposite.

There are a lot of platforms and tools out there doing stuff like Chatter: Jive, Lithium and even cool tools to analyze the interactions happening in, around and about your company or brand such as Radian 6.  These products are dedicated to collaboration, engagement and measurement of your internal and external interactions, and can be integrated where needed with a CRM.

To boot, there are also some very cool Chatter-like tools coming out that can even be access and trialed for free, such as CubeTree (just checked it out and it is very cool and very easy to use).

Look, I get the need for application stickiness (I should note that SugarCRM has pretty much the same tools that Chatter offers and has had them for a year – Sugar feeds, myPortal Dashlets, Cloud Connectors etc. – but we don’t charge for them). But when driving cool factor and driving adoption becomes more of a cash squeeze than a user enablement and success tool, I have to cry foul.

Unless your collaboration and social media tools become a way of enhancing CRM processes in a meaningful way and not simply a method to “sell more seats,” then we won’t see much progress in melding traditional and social CRM any time soon.

10 thoughts on “Collaboration, Stickiness, and why Chatter is Stupid…

  1. Martin,

    I’m going to have to ponder your post for a bit because I agree and disagree with your opinion.

    Agreement side – Yep, if a company is only using CRM for sales automation and not company-wide, then Chatter will have limited value as a collaboration tool.

    Disagreement side – I haven’t seen Chatter except in demo version. That said, though, Chatter is based on the spiffy GroupSwim engine — which means Chatter will be a spiffy collaboration tool for business.

    So the issue for Salesforce is likely to be how to market Chatter (position and pricing) so it gains the stickiness you refer to.

  2. Online collaborating and teaching can work, If you have trust and the right tools.
    I recently tried – good app for uploading documents and working on them in real-time.
    Most file types are supported and it needs no installation. – andy

    • Very cool…yeah, the openness of Google (in comparison) makes it a much cooler model…It’s about bridging gaps here, not creating even more walled gardens!

  3. Speaking as the admin for a company that uses Salesforce merely for sales automation, this application is so much white noise. I’m disappointed that Salesforce seems to be investing so much energy and development resources this.

    While I can see how some companies that integrate their customer support functions could find this more useful, but from what I can see, it takes an extra effort to post the twit/chatter feeds. I have enough trouble getting my users to log their activities and emails, much less getting them to update one more field everyday. It seems like someone at SF got enamored with Twitter and tried to duplicate its (lack of) functionality into Salesforce. I’d rather not have Chatter and have Google Maps cleanly integrated into our reports, or enable Forecasting to integrate Opportunity probabilities or any of the other basic functions we’ve wanted for a year.

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  6. I use salesforce, my whole office does, it has streamlined our business and created a more collaborative sales environment. That being said, if I have to keep getting Chatter shoved down my throat every time I go to the log-on page of SF I am going to puke.
    First of all, the name. It seems like the name a person who is very out-of-touch with the world of social media would give to something they thought was cool. The name is cheesier than cheesy; in fact, they should reconsider and re-brand as Cheddar — it would be more fitting. Not to mention the Chatter logo looks like the label on a Fischer Price Toy.
    Second, why? All of the examples listed on the site are trite and can be done much better with other applications.
    Third, the price. Any product that was at first pay-to-play and is now offered free seems to me sub par. This is supported by the fact that SF not only signed us all up for free, but also now hits me with an email a day by default. This email shows me my Chatter activity, which I did not ask for and do not care (one example is that it tells me when I change a lead or add a name, who cares? my team does this dozens of times per day as we call through leads).
    SO NOW I have to learn Chatter not to make my business more efficient, but to turn off all the defaults of the now free, poorly named, seemingly useless APP.
    Thanks SalesForce. You have left the door ajar for a competitor who does not like to add childish facebook-ish apps to my sales team to have to ponder over daily.

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