Allows information to flow freely. Social apps are the transparency engines of the modern enterprise. That’s why apps like Chatter matter.
The real threat might come from below, as Benioff knows well. Upstarts Yammer and Jive Software are selling similar social networking tools for businesses. In only two years Yammer has lined up 1.5 million members, entirely by word of mouth. That’s three-quarters as many people as Salesforce has using its software, though there’s one, big difference: Anyone with a corporate e-mail address can sign up for Yammer, free, and connect with others in the same company. But if your IT or legal departments are concerned about having to archive those communications or beef up security, Yammer charges up to $5 a month per member; only 15% pay. But they include big names such as Pitney Bowes, Nationwide and AMD. "Salesforce will be a tab inside Yammer," boasts cofounder David Sacks.
Salesforce customers seem divided. "Chatter lets me see the whole, unvarnished picture," says Michael Dell. "It has dramatically increased my knowledge of what’s going on here." One big Salesforce customer is more hesitant. "Does every CEO really want to give every one of his employees that much visibility inside?" he asks. "It could backfire. There’s a fear of that rogue employee who uses the system to embarrass the company."
Benioff, of course, doesn’t view the world that way. "Salesforce is a culture of no secrets, and that includes me," he says. He believes transparency keeps his company in synch with customers and is one way to constantly poke the status quo. Using Chatter, he publishes his professional goals each quarter and expects others to do the same. Compensation is in part based on reaching those goals. He recently asked his nearly 5,000 Facebook friends to vote on two competing Salesforce advertisement mock-ups; theirs was the final call. Before Dreamforce, his big annual conference in December, Benioff spends weeks laboring over his speech, but the real test is when he has ten or so customers come in to critique a rehearsal over pizza and soda.
"Nothing is sacred," says Parker Harris, his buddy, cofounder and head of Salesforce technology. Case in point: The two clashed over Chatter, with Harris insisting it was merely a feature to tuck inside the core sales offering. On a flight back from a sales event in Las Vegas last year Harris showed Benioff an early version of the app. Benioff said it wasn’t enough, and Harris explained that other projects, including forecasting and calendar tools already in the works, would suffer. Benioff’s response: "Everything can’t be important."