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Salesforce.com preps new Customforce tool, inks 5,000-seat deal

With a new release of its customization tool and its biggest deal yet, Salesforce.com is out to prove critics wrong -- Customforce can work in the enterprise.

Despite a pair of recent reports suggesting Salesforce.com's enterprise customer base is more hype than reality,...

the San Francisco-based company yesterday announced a major sales win as it previewed the latest version of its customization tool.

At a presentation in New York in front of customers, press and industry analysts, Salesforce.com's CEO Marc Benioff announced that his company had signed Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., a New York-based financial services firm, to a 5,000-seat deal. The deal is Salesforce.com's largest to date.

According to a recent report from Gartner Inc., large companies with complex sales processes need more than what Salesforce.com can offer. Additionally, Wellesley, Mass.-based Nucleus Research Inc. issued a report this week based on data gathered from Salesforce.com reference customers. The report couldn't find evidence that the company could support enterprises with more than 2,000 users.

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The company's Customforce development tool allows users to customize the Salesforce.com application to their needs without complex coding, according to Salesforce.com. This ability to adapt the tool without extensive maintenance and support costs is attracting large enterprises.

"If you can type, you can do it on your own," Benioff said. "We've found that usage and adoption go way up when users are able to customize."

Additionally, Accenture Ltd., a technology consulting firm in Bermuda, has developed a Salesforce.com practice group to assist companies with implementing Salesforce.com.

"If you're a small company with five users, you're not bringing in Accenture, but if you're deploying 5,000 seats, no matter how simple the tool is, that's going to come with a lot of complexity on the process side," said Tien Tzuo, chief marketing officer at Salesforce.com. "You're gonna want help from a firm like Accenture."

Version 2.0 of Customforce, which will be released next month with the Summer '05 release of Salesforce.com, includes a slew of new features. Customforce analytics allows users to create their own dashboards and reports. The new Customforce Formulas feature offers spreadsheet-style formulas and calculations similar to Microsoft Excel. It will come with 20 to 30 prebuilt formulas in areas such as lead scoring and lead generation, Tzuo said.

"Customers are used to Excel-like functionality," Tzuo said. "We put that into our application so you can now create fields whether it's a simple commission or more complex functions."

Customforce 2.0 will also come with 100 business processes that can be used anywhere in the Salesforce.com application, a forecasting tool and Customforce Standard Related Lists. A frequent request from customers, the related lists function enables users to customize and Salesforce.com lists to show relevant data for accounts, contacts, opportunities and cases, Tzuo said.

Customforce has already proven popular with customers, Tzuo said. Since it was launched, customers have already created 7 million customizations. Those customizations will automatically carry over from version 1.0 to 2.0 when it is released this summer.

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