Salesforce.com Unveils CRM Update

Highlights of the latest release include support for WebSphere and Lotus notes, improved sales lead management, and improved calendaring from the hosted CRM vendor.

With the release last week of Spring ’04, its fourth upgrade in the last 12 months, CRM application service provider Salesforce.com is setting a torrid pace.

It’s a pace that will likely continue, says Kaiser Mulla-Feroze, director of product management with Salesforce.com, as the CRM-as-a-service pioneer has more or less committed to a thrice-yearly updating of its core CRM applications. “Three times a year, Salesforce.com comes out with a major product release, [and] Spring ’04 was one of the three,” he comments.

This, he claims, is one of the major advantages of the CRM-as-a-service model. “When we do these major upgrades to our products, all of our customers … every single user automatically gets the next upgrade of Salesforce.com,” Mulla-Feroze says. “That is a fundamental shift for enterprise applications, where typically when vendors release a new product, it takes typically years, some customers upgrade in two to three years.”

So what features and capabilities is Salesforce.com delivering in its trimester-ly updates? In the Winter ’04 edition of Salesforce.com, announced in November of 2003, the CRM ASP announced integrated dashboards, workflow automation, real-time alerts, and contract management—along with a version 2.0 release of Salesforce.com’s sforce application server.

Now in Spring ’04, Mulla-Feroze says that Salesforce.com has delivered additional customization support, support for IBM Corp.’s WebSphere application server and Lotus Notes, and a version 3.0 release of sforce.

The upshot, says Mulla-Feroze, is that Winter ’04 delivers on the promise of truly customizable hosted CRM. “The myth around on-demand applications is that you can’t really customize these applications”—he maintains that Salesforce.com has always been customizable—“but [with Spring ‘04] not only can they add their own business rules, they can create their own custom applications within salesforce.com, they can create their own custom tabs.”

The result, Mulla-Feroze says, is that customers can create custom application tabs, objects, and relationships with “zero programming. A business administrator can go into Salesforce.com [Studio] and with point-and-click ease create custom tabs, custom objects, custom reports for his own business environment.”

Elsewhere, users can easily customize many of Salesforce.com’s default features, such as tabs, to reflect the usage conventions of their own environments. “We’re delivering the capability for our customers to not only create their own tabs but rename existing tabs. So if we use a term that’s different from yours—if you’re a hospital and you want to change ‘customers’ to ‘patients’—you can go and one click change that,” Mulla-Feroze explains.

Winter ’04 also features a New Products Tab (which allows customers to build a centralized catalogue or product master) and a Contracts Tab (an extension of contract management functionality that Salesforce.com delivered in Winter ’04). “We had it available on a pilot basis with our Winter release. Now it’s generally available to all customers,” Mulla-Feroze confirms.

The new release features a new lead search and module capability that allows customers to manage sales leads that come in over a variety of different channels, along with enhanced calendaring capabilities. “We have shared calendaring and team calendaring, so I can actually have immediate access to my field sales reps calendars. While I’m on the phone, I can also set up a follow-up meeting [with them] based on their availability,” he says.

Salesforce.com has for some time provided an offline edition that lets users cache application data on their laptops, and with Spring ’04, the CRM ASP extends this feature to PDAs and Blackberry wireless devices.

In late February, Salesforce.com announced new sforce support for WebSphere. (http://www.tdwi.org/research/display.asp?id=7000&t=y) In Spring ’04, it’s also delivering a new Lotus Notes Edition that allows customers to build bridges between Salesforce.com’s CRM applications and Big Blue’s popular groupware platform.

Finally, Mulla-Feroze acknowledges that rival Siebel Systems Inc. has fielded what appears to be a relatively competitive hosted CRM solution—CRM On Demand—but dismisses the Siebel entry. “It’s truly a first-generation solution, and just as with anything else that Siebel or any other software company does, the first generation, it’s not completely built out; it’s not completely robust,” he argues, claiming that Spring ‘04 is the 15th generation of Salesforce.com’s hosted CRM offering.

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About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.