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Toyota's Got a Friend in Salesforce.com

By Erika Morphy
May 24, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Salesforce.com is participating in a social media project with Toyota Motor, in what could launch the CRM company into an entirely new industry -- telematics. Or not.

Toyota's Got a Friend in Salesforce.com

The agreement between Salesforce.com and Toyota to collaborate on this offering, called "Toyota Friend," is still very much in its early days, Robin Daniels, director of product marketing for Salesforce.com, told CRM Buyer.

"Those are all good questions," he said in response to queries about precisely how the service will work and Salesforce.com's future direction, "but right now we are just in the beginning stages."

Still, the concept the two companies outlined is intriguing, and it follows Ford Motor's announcement earlier this month that it will employ Google Analytics to optimize driving routes for users of its electric vehicles, among other use cases.

In short, it appears the automotive industry and the CRM industry are taking steps to more closely intertwine their respective technologies.

Tweeting Your Dealer

This is what Salesforce.com and Toyota have in mind, in broad strokes. They want to build a private social network -- but one with the ability to make public posts on Facebook and Twitter -- that is powered by Salesforce.com's Chatter. It will first be deployed in Toyota's electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles that are coming out in 2012.

There are a number of uses they envision for this network, the most fundamental being to alert drivers with updates about maintenance, or news from dealers or offers via Chatter. Conversely, drivers will be able to communicate with their dealers.

"Our vision is to offer much more interactivity than the standard dashboard or GPS," Daniels said.

The companies also see the private network as acting as a social network of sorts for Toyota drivers.

Theoretically, the service is open to all Toyota drivers, wherever they may be in the world -- but obviously, such a firehose of contacts and data would be overwhelming. Chatter, therefore, will recommend contacts for the network, Daniels said.

"It may be that your neighbor two doors down owns a Prius and you didn't realize that. "What we want to do is create a sense of community but not overload the driver with information or too many contacts."

A Tweet From Bob's Car

One intriguing use -- at least from Toyota's perspective -- is the ability for people to post on Facebook and Twitter via the service. Will those posts be signed, as they are in mobile messages, "sent to you from so-and-so's car via Toyota Friend"? Too early to say, Daniels said.

Mobile and Microsoft

Microsoft is also participating in the venture, building out its back end. Microsoft, Salesforce.com and Toyota have each kicked in varying dollar amounts to develop the technology.

One certainty that Daniels did provide: The service will be accessible via mobile devices. "One thing we do know is that the future is mobile."


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