Salesforce.com just revamped its two-year-old chat tool, Chatter, to give users what they really want—the ability to talk to people outside of the company.
The tool has been wildly successful for Salesforce, Doug Bewsher, senior vice president of Chatter marketing, told Business Insider. Bewsher left Microsoft's Skype division this summer to join Salesforce.com.
Chatter now has 150,000 "active networks," Bewsher said, which means paying users of the tool, not just those in trials.
The new feature will make it even more popular. It's a tool called Salesforce Communities. It lets users open up their Chatter stream to anyone outside the company.
But it's not just about chat. The tool also integrates actual business processes into the Chatter stream. So, for instance, a company can invite their retail partners into a network. While the sales rep is chatting with a retailer answering questions, the rep can place an order, or credit an account from within the tool.
Salesforce Communities is only launching its limited pilot today and won't be generally available until 2013. But it is announcing a big alpha user: GE Capital. Salesforce Communities is at the heart of GE's new community tool, and 50 other custom communities.
One thing the tool doesn't do, at least yet, is connect back to public social-media campaigns. Salesforce.com just acquired Buddy Media for $689 million in June for that kind of technology. We'll see if the final Communities tool next year does this, but seems like an obvious fit.
As Bewsher well knows, this is what Microsoft will be chasing when it eventually integrates Yammer into its products like SharePoint, Office and, maybe, Microsoft Dynamics. Dynamics is Microsoft's CRM app that competes with Salesforce. Meanwhile, Salesforce.com is miles ahead.
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