How One Company Uses Salesforce.com's Chatter

Ann All

Earlier this week I wrote a post about the growing momentum to embed collaborative features into enterprise software applications. Companies seem keen to find a collaborative middle ground by facilitating workflows somewhere between highly structured traditional enterprise applications and unstructured Web 2.0 applications. Rather than communicating via standalone Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis, colleagues want to be able to connect with each other from within apps.


One of the companies strongly pitching this idea is Salesforce.com, which earlier this year introduced Chatter, a service it promises will make enterprise software more like Facebook. Chatter users can follow colleagues or, more interestingly, "objects" such as sales deals. My initial reaction was lukewarm, as it sounded a little too much like Google Wave, a service that has underwhelmed me. And descriptions like "Yammer on crack," which I saw on Twitter, also made me think Chatter might be more of a distraction than anything else.


I no longer feel that way after my conversation with Jeremy Roche, CEO of FinancialForce.com, a startup that has integrated Chatter features into its accounting application, FinancialForce Accounting, and uses Chatter to satisfy its own internal collaboration needs. It just introduced a business collaboration application called Chatterbox that monitors activities on Salesforce's Force.com against a set of rules defined by users. When a rule is triggered, users linked to that rule are notified and a Salesforce Chatter stream is started. Chatterbox searches constantly for events that trigger those alerts and encourages collaboration in response to a situation.


Because he's a hands-in CEO, Roche follows all sales opportunities set to close in a month. If there's a problem, he can react proactively. Similarly, the company's VP of product monitors a Chatterbox focused on outstanding help desk calls so she can follow up on any that aren't resolved within a predetermined time frame. While we were talking, Roche mentioned several conversations occurring in FinancialForce's Chatter stream. A group of consultants was collaborating on designing a customer's chart of accounts, a task that traditionally would have been accomplished by e-mail. Product management was talking about the forthcoming release of a new version of software, an announcement that would have been posted on an intranet. One employee issued a call for help writing requirements for a customer enhancement, seeking colleagues with experience in renewals accounting.


Roche described Chatter as "a combination between Twitter, Facebook and Google Wave, focused on the enterprise." He said:

With Chatter, as you're having conversations, they're building up within the application and relating themselves to the people, the groups of people and the end object, whether it's a customer, a transaction, an opportunity. Rather than having to reinvent or repeat things, you do it once in the application and it's there.

Roche said Chatter has reduced e-mail volumes at FinancialForce, especially the long and fragmented message chains in which it's sometimes difficult to discern who started a conversation, who is involved in it, and what actions need to be taken. It lends a level of visibility into business activity that Roche said simply isn't possible to attain with more traditional tools such as management dashboards. He said:

I can see my lead flow and conversion rates for the month, those sorts of things. It's more of a rounded picture. I can derive from it very quickly what people are doing and what they are interested in.

It took roughly four hours for all 55 of FinancialForce's employees, who are scattered across two continents, to adopt Chatter. Enterasys Networks, a network and security subsidiary of Siemens that has been testing Chatter, enjoyed a similar experience, according to a Seattle Times story. The company's director of IT applications called it "very viral" and said Chatter has been quite popular among its executives.


Still, it sounded to me like all of those Chatter streams could get overwhelming. However, Roche compared Chatter to Twitter in that users tend to follow only the streams that are relevant to them. It's easy to drop out of a Chatter stream when your input is no longer required. Calling it a "new way of working," Roche said:

Although there's more information, it improves my ability to see things easily and respond to them. From my perspective, you can be more proactive in dealing with problems because you see them so much earlier on. I'd much rather be involved early than late.

Chatter will work natively with any application, like FinancialForce Accounting, that is built on Salesforce's Force.com development platform. Applications not built on Force.com, not so much. The proprietary nature of the cloud may be a pretty big sticking point for companies with lots of legacy applications and/or those who just don't like the idea of vendor lock-in.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 28, 2010 3:19 PM Ed Schlesinger Ed Schlesinger  says:

Salesforce.com and its forward thinking management, employees and partners whose efforts have sparked the revolution that is happening NOW;even as I type this response, should be lauded for its accomplishments.However, while having a 'great' idea;one that resonates with all of us and becomes just plain common sense should be celebrated, its the execution on that idea that is the true measure of a game changing technological, financial and sociological success that is the shift that benefits us all.That is the true accomplishment salesforce.com can beat its chest about - execution.

In order to reinforce that momentum and truly democratize the availability and use of powerful enterprise class SaaS, studentforce endeavors to place the platform in the hands of those who truly know how it can be used - students.Delivering on Don Tapscott's 1998 prognostication " that the most revolutionary force for change is the students themselves.Give children the tools they need and they will be the single most important source of guidance on how to make the schools relevant and effective" is a tall order made possible by the force.com platform;and, more recently, the introduction of Chatter - a secure medium by which students collaborate with one another;faculty do the same;and, each group shares with one another.Student Chatter + Faculty Chatter creates a dimension of conversation and collaboration never before available.

Recently published studies report that faculty (80%) use social medium;and, a growing number (30%) use collaboration tools, available as a service to communicate with their students incorporated into lesson plans.We already know that students (and others) have already enthusiastically embraced social medium and its growth is accelerating throughout the world.But there still exists a disconnect between faculty, students and staff on campus.As the further 'commercialization' (by no means a bad thing) of collaboration platforms evolve it seems to be at the expense of PRIVACY.That will inhibit the execution of a great idea.Ironically, security and privacy must be intact so that collaboration and sharing can occur.Think about it - strange;right?

With Chatter layered within the force.com architecture, we now have a platform that is secure;private where necessary;and, holds the promise of exponentially increasing the transfer of ideas .so the execution of those ideas can occur.Chatter also " brings the data alive" by automating the notification of important events as they occur and delivering them specifically relevant to the tasks they are associated with.And its MOBILE;available on my Blackberry, iPhone, iPad and yeah - future mobile devices.

What better audience is there to take a wonderful idea (SaaS + Collaboration + Mobile);effectively executed for businesses, non profits and individuals than those who have grown up using these tools?And, by giving students " the tools they need" a generation of productive, knowledge seeking students will be able to execute on the ideas that have not yet been thought of as they become citizens participating in business, teaching and life long learning.

studentforce.com LLC 2010

Suggested Chatter Use Cases

Here are a few possible use cases for Chatter in the Higher Ed space off the top of my head.There are probably many, many more that I have not thought of or have not yet been even considered until Chatter has been deployed among students, faculty and university admins.

     .     Admissions/student recruiting would be able to identify the 'right' fit applicant for the school and engage them through the process. Reply

May 28, 2010 3:19 PM Ed Schlesinger Ed Schlesinger  says:
Instead of marketing "TO" the student the school is "ENGAGING" the student applicant through Chatter - all branded with the Universities' materials

     .     The boarding process for new admitted students can be accomplished through single sign on and documents, workflow, etc.can be accomplished through an appealing interface with drag and drop (think eSignatures, etc.).There would be a significant return on investment once this is implemented including, but not limited to:postage savings, printed materials, labor to print and send documents from varied departments at the university, reduction in duplication of effort, significant reduction of errors

     .     Even if Chatter was limited ONLY to engaging students from time to time in an efficient manner retention will be dramatically increased

     .     Documents, links, events, other information can be shared among user;or, IT designated GROUPS facilitating the transfer of documents, video ('Lectures On Demand) information securely

     .     Faculty can distribute assignments to students in their classes and students can submit completed assignments securely;same with grades or any other information between secure groups.This is a DRAMATIC increase from Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Blackboard.There is a significant ROI for this application as universities will NO LONGER be captive to expensive maintenance contracts from Client Server based systems.With that said universities that have signed long term contracts with these providers can still improve their users' experience and increase the return on investment of those systems by front ending them with studentforce equipped with Chatter

     .     Career services will be able to notify students of specific internship opportunities based upon their interests, major, skills, specific qualifications etc.and students will be able to apply to university partners with drag and drop capabilities.Similarly, companies that hire from Universities through specific programs can have access to the PROFILE available in Chatter through Portal or S2S deployment - again;in a secure manner

     .     Study Abroad processes will be vastly improved whether it be the student application process where numerous documents are required to be exchanged between students, the home school Study Abroad Office, Scholarship Vendors, Student Loan Vendors, and the Study Abroad school's admissions, registrar and bursar departments

     .     Documents, events, can be shared among students who are Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors;students who share a major;share an association with a specific school (IT, Arts &Sciences, etc.) and the combinations of those.Therefore ALL Juniors in IT;or ALL Seniors in Arts &Sciences.

     .     References and recommendations required by hiring companies or graduate schools can be transferred through Chatter

     .     Financial Aid and other government required documents that require secure transmission (completed tax forms of students that are required by Financial Aid offices; Reply

May 28, 2010 3:19 PM Ed Schlesinger Ed Schlesinger  says:
signed Master Agreements for Loans required by banks and government entities, etc.)

     .     Emergency Notification and unified communication across campus

Aug 15, 2010 12:51 PM Juan Manuel Garrido Juan Manuel Garrido  says:

This is want I think about Salesforce.Com Chatter:

"Cool. Fun. Easy. Useful. Flexible. Cumbersome. Collaborative. Accessible. Straightforward. Convenient.Revolutionary."

Please vote for my ideas for Chatter in the Salesforce CRM Community!:

- sites.force.com/ideaexchange/ideaView?id=08730000000IOwQAAW

- sites.force.com/ideaexchange/ideaView?id=08730000000IKeNAAW

Dec 30, 2010 5:45 PM Pixelgigs Pixelgigs  says: in response to Juan Manuel Garrido

That is truly some exciting stuff! Cloud computing is definitely the future. There is another new exciting cloud computing software out right now. It is called PixelGigs SmartSuite and includes a suite of software programs very similar to:



Constant Contact




Carbonite Pro


You get all these programs for only $50/month with no contract! This is a huge savings as it would normally cost over $350/mo for all these programs. I hope you'll check it out!

Mar 1, 2011 7:56 PM grant grant  says:

Chatter sounds like an interesting concept. Combining twitter, facebook, and google wave seems like too much put together. Specializing may be better.

Aug 10, 2011 7:38 PM Megan Haley Megan Haley  says:

In keeping with the goal of 'finding a collaborative middle ground by facilitating workflows somewhere between highly structured traditional enterprise applications and unstructured Web 2.0 applications,' I found this great article on Unbounce about how you can track your original source keywords with Salesforce, so you know exactly where your leads are coming from.



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