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Kimberly-Clark improves 'customer touch' with Force.com

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The consumer products giant, maker of Huggies and Kleenex brands, was able to create new workflows and processes for its SAP enterprise software.

Last week, Salesforce.com reported what my colleague ZDNet editorial director Larry Dignan described as a "monster card."  What was especially interesting to me in that earnings report was the number of enterprise deals that the company is reporting for its cloud services. Hewlett-Packard, for example, signed a deal with Salesforce.com in the fourth quarter to use its Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Chatter and Force.com services.

Earlier last week, I chatted with another big company -- consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark (the maker of Huggies and Kleenex brand among others) -- about its decision to use Force.com to transform its existing enterprise software deployment, which happens to be built upon SAP software. This example is really interesting because it represents what I believe will be a more common future: one in which businesses use various social software and analytics applications to pull more value out of their legacy software. So, for example, teams can pull materials and pricing information out of the main enterprise resource planning modules when scenarios presented in Force.com require that they gather that information.

I spoke with Kim Kirkconnell, Kimberly-Clark's IT manager for strategic planning, about the whys and wherefores of the company's strategy to use Force.com as a way of creating a much better system for what she described as "customer touch" management. This was not a decision taken lightly: the Kimberly-Clark IT team actually struggled to implement another application for months before opting to get creative with Force.com. The resulting integration is meant to help employees manage sales opportunities and support scenarios and "touch customers the way they want to be touched."

The hallmark of the Salesforce.com platform was its flexibility, which enabled Kimberly-Clark to more closely meet the regional needs and expectations of its different operating divisions, Kirkconnell said. "Each region can see core data but also would get the different points they needed," she said.

As I was chatting with Kirkconnell, several other factors also resonated with me.

  1. The integration was easy to prototype for business-side buy-in: With a mere two days of training, the Kimberly-Clark IT was able to work with Salesforce.com on some working proofs of concept that is was able to show business teams. Eventually, the business teams were able to participate in live prototyping sessions, enabling them to see how the interface would work really early on.
  2. It was quick: The integration took less than six months to implement during the initial stages, and it was able to get subsequent regions up far more rapidly than anticipated by the internal teams. (The first deployment went live in August 2011.) What's more, the team was able to add mobile applications within six to eight weeks after they were requested. There are now almost 10 applications that can be used by the sales team for customer engagement, Kirkconnell said.
  3. It didn't take a lot of new infrastructure: Kimberly-Clark pays on a per-user model to include employees. It now has about 2,000 people in the system.
  4. The team didn't have to rely on oodles of outside consultants: The IT team used the IBM Web Sphere Cast Iron integration tool to integrate its on-premise software with the Force.com cloud platform. While Kimberly-Clark worked closely with a Salesforce.com programmer to get expert advice, its goal was to ensure knowledge transfer within six to nine months. Mission accomplished on that front.
  5. Future changes are easy to make: It is relatively easy to add new modules and features, so Kimberly-Clark put a governance team in place to guide and decide when changes are relevant and warranted.

Kimberly-Clark doesn't have specific figures on its return on investment, because it didn't really create a baseline against which to measure, but Kirkconnell said that the integration has improved customer retention, offered better visibility for Kimberly-Clark teams, reduced its technology costs and improved the ability of managers to measure employee productivity.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure