Starbucks taps Salesforce's Sites technology for campaign

Nascent Force.com Sites service will power Starbucks' "I'm in" campaign, though Salesforce has yet to announce a firm date for Sites' general release

Salesforce's Force.com Sites service has landed a marquee customer as it works through a developer preview stage.

The nascent service, used to build Web sites with the on-demand CRM vendor's technology, is running under the hood of the new "I'm in" campaign by the Starbucks coffee chain. People who pledge to volunteer five hours on a community-service project get a free coffee through the marketing drive, which began Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

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Along with Salesforce partner Appirio, Starbucks built the campaign's Web site in just four weeks, said Chris Bruzzo, vice president of digital strategy and content for Starbucks. The company also simultaneously launched a Facebook application for the campaign.

The decision to go with Force.com Sites made sense partly because of Starbucks' existing relationship with Salesforce, both for its CRM software and Force.com Ideas, the company's platform for building online communities for customers. The latter powers the My Starbucks Idea site.

Starbucks is hoping to attract at least 1 million hours in pledges for the "I'm in" campaign.

After hatching the idea some weeks back, the company "knew [it] needed a solution that would build quickly and scale infinitely," Bruzzo said.

Appirio's team built out the bulk of the site from an architectural standpoint, while Bruzzo's team designed the user interface elements and also assisted with some coding, he said.

Overall the process went smoothly, although Starbucks' designers had to work nights and weekends to finish the job, he said.

Starbucks probably wouldn't take over all the programming chores should it create another site with the service, according to Bruzzo.

"If I have another idea next month, with Appirio we can quickly assemble their team and get something built. It allows us to focus on the rest of our online strategy," he said.

This approach is also much more economical than having a dedicated internal development team sitting idle, waiting for the next job, he added.

With Force.com Sites, Salesforce's main goal is to "wean some users away from their reliance on Microsoft's SharePoint as their sales portal provider, along with other portal players," such as IBM's WebSphere, said 451 Group analyst China Martens via e-mail.

It's also part of the company's move to "externalize CRM if you will, outside of the four walls of a company -- in some cases through the creation of microsites," she added.

Salesforce has not named a firm date for Force.com Sites' general release, saying only that it will be sometime this year. It first announced the offering in November.

Meanwhile, the Starbucks "I'm In" site has logged more than 500,000 pledge hours and appeared to be in working order throughout the day Thursday.

But Salesforce, which constantly trumpets the power and reliability of its systems, recently dealt with a spate of media attention when it suffered a temporary service outage.

The outage did not particularly faze Bruzzo.

"It is sort of a fact of doing business on the Internet," he said of such mishaps. "I'm sort of realistic about it. It had very little effect on our business."

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