It all sounds good when Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff is on stage like he was today, stirring the faithful with his rousing presence. If you ever get the chance, go see Benioff present. He has a style that's part P.T. Barnum, part passionate geek.
With Chatter, Salesforce.com is embracing the concept of the activity stream. And customers do seem to like the flow that comes with a river of news. Geeks have been shouting about this style of receiving news for years. RSS initiated many of us to the way data can flow into our aggregarors. We first heard Dave Winer talk about the concept. It has since become a foundation element in the user experience for a line of apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed.
We mentioned several companies in a previous post today that make activity streams a part of its core offering. Blogtronix, Jive Software and SAP Streamwork are a few others that have previously developed activity streams into its infrastructure.
So that leads to our question of the week: Is Salesforce.com Chatter Really That Unique? Does it Matter if it is not?
We can't expect too much objectivity from competitors. They've been doing their fair share of squawking today in reaction to the Chatter marketing juggernaut.
But it does help to see how they view a service like Chatter. Blogtronix Founder Vassil Mladjov says Salesforce.com is a good business microblogging service but points to its lack of robustness:
"....in terms of functionalities: - Profile - Chatter profiles are very basic and lack major privacy settings that others offer. I am not sure how you can customize the profiles in Chatter and set permissions for different fields like cell phones, emails, work history, etc. - Groups - you can only create public or private you can't even have hidden groups - You have a one-way integration for Twitter/Facebook, companies need two-way integration, so you can share internal information externally as well."
Bantam Live is not so kind, comparing Chatter to lipstick on a pig:
"Salesforce CRM has an interface that only the mother of a database technician could love. As a bolt-on, the glossy lipstick of Chatter may help as a overlaying concealer to the core CRM app, but the user experience is still like walking in mud. For small businesses, it seems Salesforce CRM will be easy to use when pigs fly in the cloud.
We're flattered that Salesforce's Chatter is following Bantam Live's lead in the small business sector by offering real-time activity streams, team collaboration tools, and social CRM features. And as a competitor, we're delighted that their makeover is but a fresh coat of paint applied to a vintage CRM system."
Peter Coffee of Salesforce.com has his own criticism of vendors in the space, which he provided as part of an eWeek interview:
"The problem with a lot of these collaboration tools is that they turn into Grandma's attic. There's tons and tons of interesting stuff up there, but it's got no organization. You end up having to pay a third-party consultant to continually come in and work with you to make it usable storage instead of just sharable storage."
CRM Outsiders smartly points out that most all enterprises are mostly consuming the data from the social Web. There is little interaction, which calls into question if customers really want social CRM:
"....but very few enable a company to transcend the firewall between the "customer" as an individual and the CRM system. Salesforce's Chatter is guilty of this gap. But so are most other B2B CRM systems.
Why is this? Perhaps our reliance on selling "seats" rather than total business value makes it hard to open the floodgates of customer activity into a CRM system. Maybe we haven't figured out security concerns.
Or, maybe the nature of B2B selling, and where social CRM is right now in terms of B2B, dictates that we do not need this type of transparency. Is it enough to have all of your employees on the same page, provide a consistent response to any customer inquiry, and consume data from social media rather than engage directly inside the networks where they are created?"
Analysts vary in their views but there seems to be some consensus that it's not the technology but the Salesforce.com presence and longevity that makes the difference.
As Sameer Patel posted on Twitter:
"....Also, unique doesn't always win. Enterprises don't buy unique or best, most buy good enough. So its all relative..."
So, what do you think? Is Salesforce.com really that unique?