One of the best known online CRM platforms, Salesforce.com has regularly revised its platform over the years. The latest release adds AppExchange, a tool for managing and sharing application components, giving the service a tool for supporting vertical industry requirements from real estate to banking. Regular releases mean that the platform is updated at intervals throughout the year.
Salesforce.com focuses on three elements of customer relationships: customer support management, marketing automation, and sales force automation. As well as managing the sales cycle, collaboration tools make it possible to coordinate sales teams - showing just how they're performing. Search tools help explore your Salesforce.com data, with advanced search tools giving access to more complex data types.
Site navigation is convoluted in places with many different views for each tab, however a consistent look and feel makes sure that it doesn't take too long to get to grips with. Graphical dashboards will help your employees to visualise complex data quickly, and can be customised for different users.
The user interface at first looks rather basic. Each user logs into a dashboard home page that also shows tasks and calendar information. However once you start clicking around, you quickly realise there's plenty here in terms of depth of information. It's all organised by tabs, which allow users to switch pages quickly and easily. Each view then has a selection of default views, giving you all sorts of different ways of viewing your customer and account information.
You're not limited to web browsers either. The recent purchase of Sendia has given Salesforce.com a set of tools that extend the platform onto mobile devices, including the popular Blackberry. Called AppExchange Mobile, you can work with more than 60 different mobile applications.
While the standard Salesforce.com setup is sufficient for most CRM operations you can quickly create new pages and views using the built-in customisation tools. Users can customise their own pages, while administrators can build new applications, adding new pages and fields.
For those who want to build more complex applications, AppExchange provides access to a library of components. Some are free - the Google Maps tool and Skype integration, for instance - while others are commercial products from other businesses and ISVs. Salesforce.com supports three models of operation: the pure hosted model, the ability to consume information from web services and other web sites, and a set of web services that you can use to build Salesforce.com into your own desktop applications.
Salesforce.com also offers application developers and administrators access to a development sandbox. This gives them a complete duplicate of the live service that they can use to build and test new features without affecting live users. Applications can be quickly deployed from the sandbox into the live site, with all the tools necessary to develop, test and roll out new CRM applications.
If you want to give it a whirl there is a free trial available. Just log on to the site, and you can quickly set up an account, valid for thirty days. Five users can be given access, allowing a small team to get to grips with Salesforce.com while evaluating the service. Online help tools include access to technical support, and to a library of online training applications. You'll need to use these to get the most from Salesforce.com, and they're available to trial accounts.
Salesforce.com was the pioneer of the hosted CRM market, and it's still at the forefront of mobile CRM. While the website has evolved into a custom application development platform, its core CRM tools remain, and the development features make it possible to quickly build a vertical CRM solution suitable for your own industry segment. With AppExchange you can even take advantage of work from other companies - as well as sharing your own expertise.
The original, and still the best. Salesforce.com is now flexible and extensible in all the right ways
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