Salesforce.com updates hosted CRM
Winter ’04 edition builds strong workflow automation and alerting features into flexible offering
Long the leader among hosted SFA/CRM solutions, Salesforce.com continues to raise the bar for competitors. With the Winter ’04 release, SFDC (Salesforce.com) packs improvements that truly put the “automation” into SFA. In addition to improvements in reporting, customization, and contract management, the new edition extends rules-based workflow and task routing throughout the application, helping to jump-start sales efforts by placing leads, opportunities, and customer service issues in the right hands at the right time.
Solid pipeline management tools, which make it easy to create leads from campaigns, convert them into opportunities, and turn opportunities into contracted customers, are backed by real-time alerts and a graphical dashboard that instantly shows the status of any customer process. SFDC also provides tools for forecasting and tracking quota levels, and post-contract retention tools including case management, customer service knowledgebase, and automated contract renewal.
I was impressed by the application’s ability to bend workflow to mirror existing processes, rather than forcing staff to learn its way of doing things. On the downside, at no time did I forget that I was working in a Web browser; this might be an instance where a thin-client interface could further enrich the user’s experience.
Tools of the Trade
SFDC provides each member of your sales team with a personalized home page, which serves as a jumping-off point for all activities. Users can view appointments and tasks, and access information based on their position or role. I easily tailored employee log-on pages to give support managers access to customer service issues and contract details, and sales reps access to their leads and pending opportunities, for example.
SFDC’s tabbed interface offered quick access to information. The intuitive interface also eased the conversion of my qualified leads to full-fledged customer accounts, building a complete record set with contact, account data, and opportunity details as well as launching next-step tasks. The clean layout showed all key milestones associated with an account, such as pending meetings, contact logs (e-mail, phone calls, etc.), and external support documents, which I was able to attach to any record.
A new dashboard feature allows you to turn any report metric into an easily digested graphic or chart. Dashboards can incorporate elements from across the spectrum of sales and service tasks. A quick inspection of pipeline status (from lead to close), pending support cases, or the status of key accounts can provide staff with a real-time snapshot of what’s hot and what’s not.
In most cases, but not all, I was able to drill through graphics to underlying data elements for closer inspection. It would be useful if SFDC extended this drill-down capability to data throughout the application. Also helpful would be the ability to include dashboards and other custom elements in users’ log-on pages.
Administering SFDC is a snap. I easily imported leads and contacts generated by external sources such as a direct marketing campaign or Act!. Building new forms and work screens was as easy as dragging and dropping fields into place. The highly customizable interface presented granular control over every aspect of the user’s experience, down to which page and data elements were displayed. And, although I was unable to import an external user list during initial setup, SFDC facilitated access control by auto-generating passwords and e-mailing new users their log-on credentials.
Go With the Flow