Just back from Dreamforce ’11, Salesforce.com’s (SFDC) annual multimedia bacchanalia of announcements and buzz — fueled by Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff’s charisma and energy. For any of us who attended the first CRM trade shows (where vendors like Trilogy and Siebel could fill New York’s Javits Center and were giving away BMWs as booth prizes), you can’t help but be impressed by how this event has grown – with just a single vendor! The fact that there were 45,000 people in attendance (downtown San Francisco was overrun by blue-lanyard-wearing attendees) is testimony to the force that SFDC has become. Now that I’ve returned to reality (and the clean-up from Hurricane Irene), I wanted to share some thoughts on the event, the buzz, the product announcements and what it all means for the world of B2B sales and marketing.

Marc Benioff Knows How to Throw a Party

You know you’ve made it when your good friend, Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, writes your event theme song; another good friend, Neil Young, is there to discuss how he used your solutions to produce his last movie; and Metallica is the house band. Aside from Apple’s Steve Jobs, Marc Benioff is that rare CEO who has the charisma, energy and chutzpah to create an event like Dreamforce, where thousands of folks hang (and blog) on his every word. The big news was what SFDC is calling the “social enterprise” — essentially using SFDC as a firewall-protected social media platform to allow for both internal and external collaboration. According to Benioff, we’re in the midst of a “revolution” where the world of buying and selling will forever be changed due to the dynamics of social collaboration. Indeed, many of the product announcements focused on using SFDC tools such as Chatter (its social media platform) to enable the social enterprise — connecting buyers and sellers like never before.

Back to Reality

I had plenty of time to think about both the announcements and pronouncements as I raked my hurricane-ravaged yard for hours this weekend. I also had the chance to discuss Dreamforce with a number of SiriusDecisions clients who attended, to get their perspective. I think we all had the same reaction — “very cool” — but what does it all mean for B2B marketing and sales? Many of the SFDC client stories (Burberry, Toyota, Gatorade) shared during the two keynote addresses were mainly B2C related (it could be argued that the NBC Universal case study of deploying Chatter is a B2B example, but I’d argue that selling media time is not traditional B2B), leaving us wondering what today’s B2B social enterprise looks like. To help, let’s look at some of the major product announcements and offer our take on the impact for B2B:

  • Enhancements to Chatter. There were a number of enhancements announced for Chatter, but we’ll highlight two key ones: Chatter Customer Group and Chatter Approvals. The former allows marketing and sales teams to invite customers into their Chatter environment (through a secured firewall, and setting limitations on what buyers can view). Previously, Chatter was designed to be used for internal collaboration only. Chatter Approvals facilitates workflow and approval processes within Chatter, allowing a VP of sales, for example, to approve pricing within a Chatter discussion attached to an opportunity record, with documentation. To date, Chatter has been a tool in search of a use. Many of our marketing and sales clients have turned Chatter on hoping it would be adopted virally, only to shut it off due to lack of use. As with any tool, Chatter requires that users receive guidance and training to optimize its potential value. We see Chatter Approvals as providing terrific benefit to a sales organization, reducing time wasted with back-and-forth emails not linked to an opportunity record. But reps, managers and sales leaders will need training on how to connect Chatter with an opportunity and how to use Chatter Approvals. As for Chatter Customer Group, most of the clients I spoke with would be reluctant to allow buyers within their Chatter walls without giving reps clear guidelines on what can and cannot be shared with buyers through social media, as well as training on how to converse with clients virtually (e.g. “r u rdy for our propsl J” may not be acceptable customer-speak).
  • Social customer profile. The big news here is the ability for a rep to see what a prospect/customer contact is doing in the social media world when they view their contact record. For example, while entering a prospect I met at Dreamforce (using the basic contact info from their business card), I can also choose to collect publicly available information from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook (including profile photos). Through SFDC’s app Radian6, reps can also import any mentions the contact has made about their company, competitors and industry (based on the search parameters set) on social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. What does the rep do with this info? Using publicly available info frivolously (e.g. “I noticed on Facebook you love to macramé blankets with kitty motifs. Me too.”) will obviously turn buyers off. If reps see customers complaining about their service, what should they do? Again, guiding them on the right way to utilize socially available information is essential.
  • Touch.salesforce.com. SFDC demonstrated its application running within a tablet environment that leverages touch-screen capabilities. This certainly settles the argument on the utility of iPads and other tablet devices for a field force (making them more than just slick presentation devices). CIOs will just have to accept the fact that their sales organizations will be increasingly clamoring for these devices. Caveat: touch.salesforce.com won’t be available until at least early 2012 (but you may want to omit that “minor detail” from your pitch to your CIO).
  • Data.com. Data.com is the rebranded Jigsaw, which allows marketing and sales organizations to import contacts directly into SFDC. The contact data comes from the crowd-sourcing model; essentially you need to share contacts to get contacts. The big news at Dreamforce was the announcement of being able to integrate and augment key company information using D&B data. Frankly, the issue we’ve heard from clients has been on the accuracy of data.com’s (Jigsaw’s) crowd-sourced data. It will be interesting to see if adding D&B data to these records will improve accuracy and data quality or simply amplify the data quality issues.