Social media's influence apparent as brands turn to CRM collaboration tools

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Salesforce.com’s Chatter platform helps brands build collaboration and strengthen customer support
Salesforce.com’s Chatter platform helps brands build collaboration and strengthen customer support

Marketers are tapping into Facebook-like collaboration tools to improve their lead generation, CRM and internal communications performance. Salesforce.com, Yammer and 
Constant Contact are among the service providers operating Web-based collaboration tools, and SAP plans to join them soon. Vocera Communications, a maker of wireless communications technologies for the healthcare industry, has used Salesforce's Chatter to bolster its customer support. 


"Our goal is to use it with our tech support team and our customers to be able to follow customer support cases live and in real-time," says Diana 
Harman, sales administrator and sales lead manager at Vocera. 


Meanwhile, long-time Salesforce.com customer Kelly Services rolled out Salesforce's Chatter tool to its staff of 8,000 last November. The temporary staffing company has found it useful for discussing sales leads and prospective customers. "The most compelling use for us within the sales organization is that it has enabled us to bring in a lot more talent and expertise," says Joe Drouin, SVP and chief information officer at Kelly Services. He adds that sales people can post information about potential new customers and receive tips about them from other team members across the country.


Although large companies such as Salesforce.com currently lead the CRM industry in general, the collaborative space has given smaller and lesser known firms the chance to shine. Other service providers such as Lithium, Jive and Constant Contact also operate platforms for internal and external collaboration. 


Document scanning and digital filing service company OfficeDrop.com uses Yammer at its offices in Brazil and its Cambridge, Mass., headquarters to help managers stay on top 
of projects, says Healy Jones, VP of marketing at OfficeDrop. Employees can better collaborate on their work after posting messages similar to social media status updates, she adds. "We can share information that people can absorb when they have time so it's much less interruptive than e-mail or Skype," says Jones. 


Software giant SAP is planning to release its Sales OnDemand service in the second quarter this year. The service will run as an independent system or 
application for the company's enterprise resource planning customers, says Vinay Iyer, VP of enterprise marketing and CRM solutions at SAP. He declined to discuss pricing or whether SAP will launch a free offering like Salesforce.com and Yammer, but said, "Our plan is to 
offer trials to both existing and 
new customers." 


More collaboration products will hit the market soon, as large vendors build or acquire CRM technologies from startups, says Zach Hofer-Shall, analyst at Forrester Research. "There are tons of these tools out there that act like and look like Yammer and Chatter, but these are smaller, free 
startups," he says. 


However, Joshua Greenbaum, analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, cautions that social CRM is a next-generation technology in a 
nascent marketplace. Therefore, many employees will not immediately know how to use the platforms to improve their CRM, project management or lead generation initiatives.


"Vendors have begun to recognize the need for good collaboration tools, but the problem with all of these offerings is the assumption that if we give someone a tool, they will know how to collaborate," he says. "If you give nine people a bat and ball, that doesn't mean they will be able to recreate the game of baseball."

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