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Software // Enterprise Applications
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5/24/2005
04:45 PM
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Salesforce.com Intros Latest Customization Features

Salesforce CEO Benioff claims all of the knowledge needed to customize the company's software is contained in a document the size of a playbill.

Shortly after taking the podium Tuesday at Salesforce.com Inc.'s latest product-launch event, president and CEO Marc Benioff exited stage left and returned with a stack of user manuals. He did this two more times, until he had stacked up a 3-foot-high pile of binders on a chair. Pointing to the stack, Benioff claimed this was the required reading needed to customize a competitor's customer-relationship-management application. Then he produced a pamphlet the size of a playbill and said all the information needed to customize Salesforce's offering was contained within.

It was a bit of showmanship, but it drove home the point Benioff was making about Customforce 2.0, the latest version of Salesforce's customization toolkit. Salespeople get paid to sell products and services, and when they consider how IT can help them, they don't want to grapple with a long and complicated learning process.

When Customforce 2.0 is delivered next month, along with Salesforce's Multiforce on-demand operating system, version 6.0 of its Sforce integration platform, and new versions of its Salesforce and Supportforce applications, the company says it will create a comprehensive and customizable environment for managing and sharing customer information.

The latest version of Customforce extends beyond its predecessor, which debuted six months ago, to include tools for adding data-analysis capabilities, spreadsheet-style mathematical formulas, business processes, forecasting models, and related list data to current Salesforce.com implementations. "When you couple the power of Customforce 2.0 with the ability to create customized applications, you can build agile applications," Benioff said at Tuesday's event in New York.

Application customization generally means higher IT costs, but Benioff claims that Salesforce's approach borrows from successful customization models pioneered by Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc. "The complexity on the back end is masked by an easy, instinctive user interface," says Phill Robinson, Salesforce's senior VP for global marketing.

Salesforce's technology lets First American Credco's 192 salespeople work from a unified customer repository. A year ago, salespeople from different divisions worked with different CRM tools or none at all, says Amit Saxena, product manager for sales-force automation for First American, which provides credit data to the mortgage-lending industry. "We could have gotten basic CRM benefits from any tool, but the [Salesforce] deployment was quicker and didn't require a lot of involvement from out IT staff," he says. Saxena expects the on-demand model to pay additional dividends in a few weeks when First American Credco brings the sales force from its most recent acquisition, Experian Real Estate Services, onto Salesforce.

The new formulas feature included in Customforce 2.0 will allow First American Credco to calculate pricing for its products and services in the Salesforce environment, rather than importing figures from a separate spreadsheet application, Saxena says. The all-encompassing nature of the upcoming release also means First American's sales staff can reach out to other applications through the Salesforce interface--retrieving compliance documents stored on a separate system, for instance.

But Saxena cautions that customization should be accompanied by a commensurate level of documentation. "It's easy to customize, but you have to keep an eye on this and log the changes you make," he says. For this reason, First American has created a help desk that tracks change requests and allows him to make application-customization decisions based on their value to the business.

Salesforce also proved Tuesday it can catch the big fish, revealing that Merrill Lynch has signed on for 5,000 subscriptions for its global private client division, making the brokerage firm Salesforce's largest customer. Accenture also said Tuesday that it has created a practice within the service provider that will focus on implementing Salesforce apps.

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