Want a clear return on investment for social collaboration? Just show how it can boost sales. But even as many salespeople gain exposure to the technology via Salesforce.com's Chatter, a sad proportion are wasting the opportunity to do something significant with it.
"The idea that you can just turn it on and people will naturally gravitate to it does not work," said Joe Galvin, a sales strategies and technologies analyst with Miller Heiman Inc., one of the authorities I turned to as part of the research for my forthcoming Social Collaboration For Dummies book. "Probably 95% of companies just turn it on and expect it to find its way," he said. Many of those he has spoken with eventually turned it off or de-emphasized it because "Chatter very quickly became clutter," he said.
The story of social collaboration for sales is not just about Chatter, although it's the most obvious example, joined at the hip with the Salesforce CRM cloud software. Many organizations report making their sales organizations more efficient using another product, such as Jive or NewsGator, particularly in business-to-business sales environments where it's important to support collaboration with other parts of the business, not just within the sales team. The logic of pairing social collaboration with sales was also part of Microsoft's motivation for acquiring Yammer, which now integrates with Dynamics CRM.
Yet the best success story I found for driving sales with social collaboration is a story about Chatter.
OpenTable senior VP of sales Mike Dodson said his firm, a longtime Salesforce.com customer, was headed down the same dead-end path as those who have been unsuccessful with Chatter initially. Because he perceived the product as a "Facebook for the enterprise," Chatter was initially "probably more about fun and games, right down to the photos," he said. Employees were as likely to post photos of their dogs as they were to share anything work-related, he said.
It wasn't until after a briefing with the Chatter product team that Dodson recognized the tools had a potential to be more than that. If Chatter could help him cut down on email and tangled message threads, he was interested.
"Once I made the decision this was something we had to get serious about, I decided we've got to take all the fun and games out of it," Dodson said. He also told his field sales team he didn't want to see any more email from them -- their reports of their successes, frustrations, observations and questions needed to be reported in over Chatter where everyone could see them.
With email, people would tend to write to a small circle of people they knew, which often wouldn't include everyone who needed to know that information or who might have an answer to a question.
Dodson particularly wanted to improve communication and collaboration among the members of his field sales team, most of whom work from home offices around the world, and between them and headquarters. These are the people who sell OpenTable's online reservation service to restaurants.
Collaborating on a proposal in Chatter.
I happened to speak with Dodson on the day after the discount deals website Groupon announced its own Groupon Reserve service, based on an acquisition it had made the year before of a restaurant reservation startup called Savored. That is exactly the sort of the news that prompts a lot of questions from the field, meaning that OpenTable's marketing department needed to arm field sales reps with at least a few bullet points on competitive positioning. That information could have been distributed over email, giving the sales force the marketing department's perspective. By doing it over Chatter instead, they also got the advantage of seeing each others' thoughts about this development, including intelligence about what the representatives had been hearing back from restaurants who had been contacted by this new competitor.
"Rather than being in a panic mode for 24 hours as we tried to disseminate the information, everyone could see 'my peers see this as a non-issue for the following reasons' -- that's how we get information out to the field very fast," Dodson said.
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