Salesforce.com Review—An Independent Assessment
By Chuck Schaeffer
Salesforce.com is both the pioneer and poster child for the SaaS CRM movement. Founded in 1999 in a small San Francisco apartment, the company has become the category leader that other on-demand CRM providers seek to challenge. Because of its current size, it no longer leads the industry in terms of revenue growth, however, in absolute terms of SaaS CRM revenues, customer acquisitions and user subscriptions the company is a market share leader.
Salesforce.com has steadily been transitioning from a best of breed sales force automation (SFA) software as a service (SaaS) provider to an application development platform as a service (PaaS) company. The company's strategy is to continue its core SFA and CRM software growth while at the same time acquire non-CRM software users with complimentary solutions such as social CRM tools (Chatter, Radian6 and BuddyMedia), platform development tools (Force.com, Heruko, Database.com) and an online ecosystem of integrated third party solutions (AppExchange).
Salesforce.com CRM Products
Salesforce.com groups its products into cloud suites, including Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Data Cloud, Chatter Cloud, Force.com, RemedyForce and Heroku. Ironically, none of the Salesforce.com clouds are actually clouds (as traditionally understood in the cloud computing sense) but instead are SaaS applications and PaaS services.
This cloud most notably includes the sales force automation (SFA) module—the company's namesake solution which was its first product introduction and continues to represent the highest revenue contribution. SFA functionality is not materially different than other SaaS CRM products. In fact, in many areas it has fewer feature sets than several competitors. However, what makes this solution competitive and gives it differentiation in a crowded market is its simple and rewarding user experience. The application user interface (UI) is uncomplicated, intuitive and leverages consumer technologies. This is an innovative UI that was designed to satisfy users, and not data management goals. Several CRM competitors are steadily mimicking the Salesforce.com user experience in their own CRM applications, however, nobody has matched the original at this point.
Sales includes traditional account/contact/activity/opportunity management along with basic marketing campaign management. Unfortunately, marketing is limited to basic subsets of SFA. Marketing includes simple campaign capabilities such as account segmentation, target list generation, lead source tracking and packaged reports. Salesforce.com marketing is competitively weak in the SaaS CRM industry. To achieve lead management or marketing software capabilities such as digital prospect tracking, lead scoring, progressive profiling, nurture campaigns or rich marketing analytics requires a separate product acquisition. Many Salesforce.com customers revert to third party marketing automation software products from vendors such as Aprimo, Eloqua, Marketo or Pardot.
Sales Cloud also includes basic Partner Relationship Management (PRM). This application sync's communication between brand owners and indirect channels and gives brand management performance visibility into both direct and indirect channels. PRM includes routine process support for lead distribution, deal registration, content sharing, partner attribute data tracking and partner portals. Unfortunately, more advanced PRM functions such as partner capacity planning, lead routing based on partner scoring, approval processing for special pricing requests, automated partner approved discount thresholds, co-op or MDF (Marketing Development Funds) financial management, partner reimbursement for approved expenditures, configure/price/quote (CPQ), partner sales order processing and the like are not available.
While PRM delivers process consistency, automation and information in largest part for brand owners, actual implementation is a double edged sword. Delivering PRM through the cloud removes the need for partners of varying sophistication and resources to deploy hardware, software and staffing simply to communicate with their brand providers. Nonetheless, getting partners to actually use the brand owners PRM system, particularly when they already have their own CRM system, is a significant cultural challenge that often trumps good intentions. Salesforce.com PRM is therefore ideally suited for partners who already use Salesforce.com.
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Salesforce has become the category leader that other on-demand CRM providers seek to challenge. The company has been markedly successful in both strategy and execution for over a decade.