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Salesforce brings social ambition to enterprise

August 15, 2012 No Comments

SOURCE: MarketWatch

–New offering extends Chatter to partners, customers

–GE Capital began testing service in October

–Service aimed at turning social sites into sales channel

Salesforce.com Inc. CRM +0.84% is offering businesses a tool to chat up their customers and suppliers with an eye toward increasing sales.

San Francisco-based Salesforce is launching a collaboration service called Salesforce Communities that extends features of its Chatter collaboration service outside company walls to include partners and customers. The online service allows companies to create communities around a product or service where they can address problems and pursue leads.

“With Communities we’re bringing a social front office to the process,” said Doug Bewsher, vice president of marketing for Salesforce’s Chatter service. The goal is to create interactive groups of clients and suppliers where the corporate hosts “can be seen as partners, not just salespeople,” Mr. Bewsher said.

Companies are increasingly concerned with what is said and shared about their products on the Web. Chat rooms and blogs have helped shape public perceptions of companies and brands, and Salesforce Communities helps businesses enter or even host the conversation.

Since launching Chatter two years ago, Salesforce’s quarterly revenue has climbed more than 70% and its share price has risen about 65%. Chatter and related cloud-based social software now contribute 36% of the share price, according to Treffis.com.

Salesforce shares fell 1.8% to $142.56 Tuesday.

Salesforce Communities, which goes into limited pilot release this week with general availability planned for mid-2013, takes social media a step further into commerce.

General Electric Co. GE -0.10% has been testing the service since October 2011. The conglomerate’s GE Capital division, which extends financing to businesses world-wide, now is running 50 active communities to reach out to middle-market customers, defined as customers with sales of $10 million to $1 billion.

“We’ve always gone to market with the idea that we provide more than money,” said GE Capital spokesman Russell Wilkerson. “This expands on that approach.”

AccessGE, as the company has branded its communities, allows customers to interact with or without participation from a GE salesman, set up video chats with GE experts and discuss problems with peers. GE archives conversations and mines the information for sales leads, but deals are negotiated directly between customers and salesmen. North American results have been promising enough to roll out the service world-wide, beginning in Australia, Mr. Wilkerson said.

The introduction of Salesforce Communities now has more to do with businesses’ willingness to test external communities than with technology, said Rob DeSisto, an analyst with Gartner Inc. The success GE Capital has had creating and running its communities “taps into the way people communicate and create groups around common interests,” Mr. DeSisto said.

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