Software // Information Management
Commentary
11/6/2008
09:56 AM
Mark Smith
Mark Smith
Commentary
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Salesforce.com Customers Crave Application Leadership

Salesforce.com opened the second day of its annual conference with even more splash as it focused on its applications for business... What was interesting was talking to customer executives at the event who were looking for leadership on how to help them manage and operate sales, and gain easy access to information and data within applications - from reporting and analytics to understanding how to best interact and optimize customer relationships. This is where more clarity is needed...

Salesforce.com opened the second day of its annual conference with even more splash as it focused on its applications for business. Earlier this week I highlighted the energy that salesforce.com is bringing to cloud computing. Now let's examine the company's applications strategy. Salesforce.com's focus on managing business information, sharing applications and providing a platform for building applications was highlighted as the key emphasis. The challenge for the company is how much it can invest to lead customers with innovations in applications, as opposed to technology infrastructure in the platform. Salesforce.com asserted it is doubling down on CRM with R&D investments in 2008 compared to 2007, but now it will be up to customers to set their R&D priorities for their business.

The keynote highlighted the latest salesforce.com release called Winter '09 which is the 27th release in nine years, and they are excited about the technology accolades they are getting. But will business be as excited? In the marketing department, they have added Google adwords support, email templates, site landing pages, campaign hierarchy support and influence, and analytics snapshots. The demonstrations provided some insight to handling landing pages, which provide the Web analytics to then be able to manage influence across campaigns providing the basics of lead nurturing. Some of these capabilities are already being delivered by partners like Marketo and MarketBright, which automate other elements of this process and will need to compete against their partner as they advance their efforts.For the sales department, salesforce.com has added Apple iPhone support along with mobile reports and dashboards to view information and visualize specific metrics like quota and progress to targets. The company has also added opportunity splitting, where you can assign multiple sales people to an opportunity for quota credit and collaboration. In addition, it has built in scheduling capabilities to deliver reports and content. The company also brought forward content management for supporting CRM, which can provide the basics needs of sales organizations in accessing and sharing content. Salesforce.com has focused on the sales-to-prospect interaction and ease of sharing information required to help them understand how to do business together. Salesforce.com also brought forward the ability to link up companies to interact and support business-to-business collaboration around information. In the customer service area Salesforce.com recently acquired a company called Instranet, which gives salesforce.com knowledge to simplify the quick access to information needed by customers, including support for customer service teams. All of this will help improve the productivity of sales organizations for many tasks at the individual level.

Salesforce.com states it supports the complete front office business processes for CRM but it's unclear which organizations they are modeling after. What was interesting was talking to executives from many different customer organizations at the event who were looking for leadership on how to help them manage and operate sales, and gain easy access to information and data within applications - from reporting and analytics to understanding how to best interact and optimize customer relationships. This is where more clarity is needed, as many organizations need to address specific sales activities and processes, like forecasting, analytics, coaching, reporting, pipeline management, compensation, and rewards, all of which are supported across a broad spectrum of salesforce.com partners. For many organizations, the ultimate blueprint for sales management and sales operations is not clear, let alone the costs to bring it to a reality. Ventana Research recently built a blueprint for sales to ensure that it is clear and easy to understand what is needed to automate and drive sales effectiveness and eliminate older applications or spreadsheets that hamper efforts.

In the expanding and increasingly important real of analytics and business intelligence (BI) for CRM, salesforce.com is desperately working to catch up to efforts at Oracle and others. In the keynote, on the exhibit floor and at executive sessions with industry analysts, salesforce.com made it clear that they are focused on this piece of their business. Though this will encroach on partners like Business Objects an SAP company and PivotLink, who were at the event, customers were vocal in detailing their issues and offering their opinions at the conference. Salesforce.com will need to build credibility on analytics and BI as the efforts over the last three years have fallen short of customer's expectations and have increased skepticism.

Highlighting the alternative approach to Microsoft, Google and its enterprise leader Dave Girouard demonstrated Google electronic mail, documents, spreadsheet, instant messaging, calendaring and analytics, which are now deployed among 10 million business users, with 3,000 new customers per day and 5,000 shared salesforce.com customers. Google finally has improved their service level agreement and compliance with SAS 70 Type II certification, which is a first step to being an enterprise provider. It is amazing that they took this long to add this support, as information security and privacy is one of the largest concerns in engaging with Google.

Of course the core competition in CRM is Oracle and SAP, who are not making great inroads to delivering CRM or SFA in a software-as-a-service model or to participating successfully in the cloud computing efforts. Microsoft's recently announced Windows Azure and its Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online are not yet ready for primetime either, and Microsoft is not focused on working across the ecosystem of solution providers and Internet services. So for now, salesforce.com is seriously ahead with little competition in their platform and specific CRM applications that are available in an on-demand approach.

Michael Dell was the highlighted keynote at the conference and provided inspiration on a great American success story and significant technology innovations. Salesforce.com used Dell as the major customer reference to validate their efforts from sales operations to channel sales. It's a good thing they stopped there, as most small business know how difficult it is work with Dell after buying the technology. The company has a significant disconnect between its sales and billing systems. Hopefully, Dell will improve its systems to improve the customer experience and ensure that the company is not just another big technology supplier.

What does this all mean for you and what is needed to manage sales, customers and front office organizations? As I highlighted in my last post, advancements in areas like sales performance management and customer performance management are rapidly being adopted as blueprints to expand the needs of organizations. I did not see salesforce.com address this opportunity, but there is always next year. Salesforce.com is still innovating and bringing technology to improve productivity in many areas, but they have not yet addressed the business effectiveness and management needs across sales, call center, marketing and customer focused organizations. In this economic environment, the need for better business intelligence and supporting performance management will continue to be critical for organizations. Maybe the opinions of influential customers and closer examination of what organizations are doing internally will inspire salesforce.com to take its capabilities to the next level. Only time will tell.

Let me know your thoughts.Salesforce.com opened the second day of its annual conference with even more splash as it focused on its applications for business... What was interesting was talking to customer executives at the event who were looking for leadership on how to help them manage and operate sales, and gain easy access to information and data within applications - from reporting and analytics to understanding how to best interact and optimize customer relationships. This is where more clarity is needed...

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