Salesforce.com Finally Finds the Contact Management Space

To say that Salesforce.com has scaled up in its 10 years as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM software provider is an understatement. At its inception, the company was mostly geared toward the small-to-midsize business (SMB) and toward sales force automation (SFA). Recently, however, with large customers such as Cisco Systems and Dell, the vendor has made more noise in the enterprise space. The recent launch of Salesforce Contact Manager -- a one- or two-seat solution for small-business owners and entrepreneurs that expands the number of Salesforce.com's CRM editions to five -- has some observers suggesting that Salesforce.com may be reaching back to its SMB roots.

"We usually design for specific personas," says Sean Whiteley, senior director of product marketing at Salesforce.com. "We walk in the shoes of a vice president of sales or an [information technology] executive. This time, we designed [a CRM solution] for anyone." By anyone, Whiteley means anyone who runs a small business or has the explicit need to manage networking and business contacts further than an email contact list or an old-fashioned Rolodex. "We focused heavily on someone coming to the [Salesforce.com] Web site who might not know what Salesforce.com or CRM is," he says.

At a price point of $9 per user per month and designed exclusively for the one- or two-man shop, Salesforce Contact Manager will be made readily available in October, Whiteley says. Before Contact Manager, the lowest end of the Salesforce.com stack was its Group Edition, regularly priced at $35 per user per month for up to five users. (A promotion for the Group Edition that allowed one-, three-, or five-user deployments at $9 per user per month ended Aug. 31.)

"Today's announcement covers a base that Salesforce.com intentionally left open while building itself up from an SFA-only application to a full CRM suite and, eventually, a cloud-computing platform provider," writes Beagle Research Principal and CRM magazine contributor Denis Pombriant in his destinationCRMblog.com blogpost about the launch

Salesforce Contact Manager offers the following capabilities:

  • Email integration: Users now have one-click access into email, whether they rely on Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or another service provider. Additionally, users can automatically generate a new Salesforce Contact Manager record when emailing by blind copying a unique Salesforce CRM email address. 
  • Google Apps: Users can add tabs to the Contact Manager interface for applications such as Google Docs and Google Calendar. A Google Maps mashup displays a contact's location without leaving the Contact Manager system.
  • Reporting: Easily accessible and customizable reports allow businesspeople to gain insight on their contacts and accounts. Salesforce.com contends that these reports make it easier, for example, for small businesses to manage (and, ideally, fix) accounts that generate bounced emails.
  • Customization: Whiteley says users can tailor Contact Manager to fit their needs. While he says that Salesforce.com currently has no plans to release a "pro" or more-sophisticated version of Contact Manager, users will be able to grow with the solution, adding more customization along the way.  

For those new to contact management -- a group that Whiteley contends could comprise a great deal of people -- Salesforce.com offers a "Getting Started" tutorial and also directs new customers to the Salesforce.com Small Business Community for additional support. "We often design for enterprises [that] have people who are dedicated to Salesforce CRM [support]," Whiteley says. "This 'Getting Started' page is to help people get up and running within minutes." Even though the solution is geared toward one or two users, he adds, the underlying software is built with security and infrastructure designed to scale to the largest of enterprises. 

Whiteley admits that Contact Manager offers only the most basic integration with social media, with a "Web Info" tab that enables users to pull in third-party information from sites such as Jigsaw or Twitter. He adds, however, that AppExchange add-ons may soon become available, as they did with Salesforce.com's other CRM editions. 

Pombriant points out that "the imposed limit of two seats conservatively guards against [the company] cannibalizing the existing Salesforce.com customer base." When small businesses outgrow the Contact Manger solution, Whiteley says, they can move up to the next edition -- likely Salesforce Group CRM -- with a mere click of an "Upgrade Now" button. Existing data will be transferred and users can then experience more full-fledged CRM capabilities such as lead management and lead routing, he says.

"Finally, at a single-digit dollar fee per seat per month...Salesforce.com has broken through a price barrier that had kept the contact management software niche relatively secure," Pombriant writes. That niche is hardly a dormant one: It's hard to talk about contact management without mentioning Sage and its Act! solution, the 2010 version of which just debuted. Pombriant notes that Act! provides its 2.8 million users with social and email integrations similar to those offered by Salesforce.com; Sage, however, claims to have gone beyond its small-business clientele to target divisions within large organizations. 

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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