Salesforce.com Refreshes CRM Solution Stack

Riding high on a slew of prominent enterprise deployments, Salesforce.com hopes Summer ’05 will add to its momentum

As expected, Salesforce.com last month announced the availability of its Summer ’05 CRM software stack.

As in its previous seasonal updates, Salesforce.com’s Summer ’05 release boasts dozens of new features, in this case distributed across an expansive solutions portfolio that now includes its bread-and-butter sales force automation service, along with its Supportforce customer service application, its Customforce toolset, and its now-mature sforce integration kit.

On top of these solutions, Salesforce.com recently unveiled Multiforce—its integrated data platform (complete with a single interface for all Salesforce.com-related applications).

Summer ’05 is a milestone release of sorts for Salesforce.com, says Ian Jacobs, principal CRM analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc. “[T]he company has delivered on its pledge of three major upgrades per year, made solid strides in the customer support department, and, with its new Multiforce environment, opened a new front in its battle to transform all elements of the traditional application stack into hosted services,” he points out.

More to the point, says Jacobs, Summer ’05 caps a year of impressive achievements for the CRM-as-a-service pioneer. “Salesforce.com has come a long way in just the past year. Twelve months ago, the company had 9,800 customers with 147,000 subscribers; one year later, those figures are 15,500 customers and 267,000 subscribers. The company also now counts numerous companies with more than 1,000 seats among its rank of customers.”

Salesforce.com isn’t resting on its laurels, either. Take its Supportforce customer service application, which Jacobs says incorporates three new features. “Primary among these—and likely the foremost feature of the entire Summer ’05 upgrade—is the new e-mail-to-case e-mail management tool,” says Jacobs. E-mail-to-case lets a company’s customers e-mail designated addresses—e.g., mailto:brochureme@foogadgets.com—that are actually routed into Supportforce itself, which constructs a support case.

In this manner, says Jacobs, all subsequent interactions with customers can be tracked and associated with the proper e-mails. “This feature marks the first exceptionally mature step in the customer support arena, and it bodes well for the overall direction of the Supportforce offering,” he comments.

“Supportforce also sports new options for case escalation, which was previously only automatically done based on when the case was created. Now, support managers can also decide to escalate cases based on the last time a case was modified, or to disable the escalation after an agent has modified a case. Salesforce.com has also added a stout style editor for self-service portals.”

None of these are major leaps forward, Jacobs concedes, but they’re consistent with Salesforce.com’s steady-as-she-goes strategy, which—thanks to its hosted CRM model—lets it quickly introduce new CRM features and functionality in a piecemeal fashion (i.e., on a thrice-yearly basis)—and rapidly build out the capabilities of its solution stack.

“[T]he company can take small steps, see how customers receive those steps, and then plan accordingly for the next release. This is a very powerful methodology. It might take Salesforce.com three or four releases to build out functionality fully in a single area, but when it is done, it will have features that customers actually use on a regular basis,” he writes. “In addition, because of its rapid release schedule, the company may have only taken a year or so to get to that point. Traditional enterprise applications might not see major updates for several years, and then they might be saddled with a lengthy laundry list of new features, many of which will go unused by most users.”

Of course, Salesforce.com still has its work cut out for it, says Jacobs, citing (for example) what he calls the “convoluted” deployment requirements of Supportforce’s e-mail-to-case functionality. “Additionally, Salesforce.com clearly sees the value of hosted contact centers; the company gave prominent placement at its launch event to a partner that offers just such a service. This is probably an area where Salesforce.com should be offering its own service as a premium offering to its customers—the sooner the better,” he comments.

Nevertheless, Jacobs concludes, Salesforce.com has a lot of momentum going into this summer’s release. “Its slew of enterprise deals (Merrill-Lynch, Nextel, Business Objects, and ADP all have 2,000 or more seats, for example) have given legitimacy to the hosted application model and have made Salesforce.com a clear rival for the Siebels and Oracles of the world.”

About the Author

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