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TMC Labs
February 2005

Salesforce.com Winter ‘05 Edition


The Landmark @ One Market
Ste. 300
San Francisco, CA 94105
Ph: 415-901-7000; Fax: 415-901-7040
Web: www.salesforce.com
Price: $1,500 per year per agent. Free trial is available.

Installation: 5
Documentation: N/A
Features: 4.5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A

Editor’s note: For the purpose of differentiating the company and the product, Salesforce.com uses a capital letter to begin the name of the company, and a lower-case spelling for the product, salesforce.com.

Hosted CRM solutions aim to reduce the complexity of running CRM software. The on-demand CRM market has, as of late, acquired several competitors, but Salesforce.com is still considered the market leader with 195,000 subscribers in a combination of small, medium and large enterprises. Salesforce.com told us: “We are democratizing CRM. Anybody can use our system at any time, and it doesn’t matter what the complexity is. It can be used by a small company with complex needs or a large company with simple needs, or vice versa. Everyone is going to be running on the same system.”

TMC Labs had the opportunity to take a look at the company’s recently launched Winter ‘05 edition. Most of us know hosted CRM has faced criticism that its applications are difficult for customers to customize. Salesforce.com heard these cries and launched a customization application called Customforce.com. This tool allows users to extend salesforce.com’s applications without any programming. Customforce.com is available to salesforce.com customers at no additional charge. Customers can modify user interfaces, workflows, tabs and fields to suit their personal preferences; adding tabs and hiding tabs were remarkably easy to do, considering we have seen competing packages that make it extremely difficult to perform these tasks. Additionally, Salesforce.com recently introduced Supportforce.com, an on-demand customer service and support application perfectly suited for help desk environments.

We asked Salesforce.com about some of their differentiators, and they told us that their key differentiator is the architecture: “Our founders looked at a couple of options. We could have set up individual databases on separate hardware for each customer, but you’d quickly run out of co-location real estate. We didn’t want to be supporting 1,000 or 2,000 servers.

Some of the competition have done that. Instead, our architecture is one system, one database — our intellectual property is all in this architecture with the database and metadata. Everybody is on the same system, whether it’s a huge company or a mom-and-pop shop.” They also informed us that they utilize very high-end Sun boxes, along with clustering technology for the database, and that the processing is performed on a single server. Amazingly, Salesforce.com doesn’t use multiple servers for offloading the host processing, yet their hosted CRM service is still very scalable with exceptionally fast performance, which we saw for ourselves when we tested the system.

We asked Salesforce.com to describe some of the driving factors for hosted CRM, and why customers would want to use their system. Their response: “One of the major reasons for the failure of CRM systems is that they were too expensive. No one was using them. They took a couple of years to implement, and were a philosophical change from being individual producers. When a vendor came in and said, ‘You are doing it THIS way! You have to work with our system,’ there was a rejection. The users’ rejection was the result of a few different factors — the software didn’t work; it wasn’t easy to use; users couldn’t take it on the road; it didn’t work with their mobile devices; and the people who championed it in the first place were CIOs, on 18-month tenures, who were no longer with the company.”

salesforce.com has some nifty VoIP integration with Cisco IP phones. For example, you can get screen-pops on your Cisco IP phone, and you can view the actual salesforce.com application within the Cisco IP phone’s browser. When you end the call, salesforce.com will automatically log the incoming call to the record.

Navigating the salesforce.com Web interface to add leads (Figure 1) and contacts was very easy to do, as the company seems to have spent a lot of time optimizing the layout of the interface. Customizing salesforce.com was a quick process. Adding custom tabs was very easy, and capturing data from external sources, such as a Web site lead-capture form, was also very simple to do.

One important item of note is that salesforce.com has its own framework for its reporting engine rather than use third-party reporting solutions such as Crystal Reports; this results in a powerful, real-time dashboard (Figure 2) for viewing important stats from within the browser without having to export to Crystal Reports.

The dashboard offers a quick glance at some charts. You can easily customize it to display the information you want to see. These charts have complete drill-down capability: If you click on one of the dashboard charts, you can drill down and run the reporting engine to generate a real-time report, which also has complete drill-down to view individual accounts or opportunities. If you want to do some customized reporting, you can use the Office Edition option to pull information into an Excel pivot table. Pivot tables are popular with many companies, as is creating reports and customized charts in Excel, so we certainly liked this option.

An interesting feature is salesforce.com’s ability to monitor adoption while still keeping the subscriber’s actual data confidential. salesforce.com can monitor logons, and it can keep track of which features its subscribers are using — information that helps the company improve the product and educate its customers.

Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are another of salesforce.com’s differentiators. These CSMs can monitor a subscriber’s adoption rate, and if it drops below a threshold, the CSMs will immediately contact the subscriber to say, “We noticed your adoption rate is only 79 percent. How can we help?”

Another example of the product’s adoption monitoring: If a subscriber is not using a particular feature, salesforce.com’s CSMs can check up on the customer and tell him or her, “We see that you’re using the majority of our features, but you should really consider using the forecasting feature.” With automatic adoption monitoring and proactive CSMs, Salesforce.com says it helps drive its adoption rate, which the company claims is 95 percent.

salesforce.com has a translation engine in the system that can convert everything in the interface (except the actual data) to the language of your choice, making it a powerful solution for global corporations. The Winter ‘05 release also adds forecasting (Figure 3), as well as a pricebook feature, which Salesforce.com told us many competitive CRM on-demand solutions do not have. Similarly, the product also features an asset-tracking capability. Another useful feature is its ability to display an Outlook calendar within the salesforce.com interface via its Outlook synchronization product.

Room For Improvement
There is no native support for linking two accounts or records with a “relationship type,” which then provides users with the ability to simply click on the relationship link to bring up the “linked” record. For example, suppose Acme Corp. has a public relations firm called PR Masters, Inc. It would be nice to have a relationship tab that allows users to view linked records, then bring up those linked records by simply clicking on them. We should point out that you can simply add a note or use a field to state the relationship, but we like the idea of a relationship link to make the whole process easier.

We were impressed with the new features of the Winter ‘05 release, its innovative dashboard feature and its overall scalable architecture, as well as its ease of use. Even with competitors nipping at the heels of Salesforce.com, salesforce.com is still considered the de facto standard when it comes to online on-demand CRM.

[ Return To The February 2005 Table Of Contents ]

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