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Salesforce.com adds sales collaboration functions to latest release

Sales collaboration software, like that released recently by both Salesforce.com and Oracle, require management to push the sales force to use it.

Salesforce.com's Spring '09 upgrade, released today, contains more than 50 functional enhancements, but the two functions the San Francisco-based company elected to highlight focus on sales collaboration, an area getting a lot more attention from CRM suite vendors recently.

Opportunity Genius connects opportunities with similar characteristics within a company's Salesforce.com application, allowing salespeople to connect with colleagues working on similar deals and share best practices.

"Most customers have hundreds of opportunities," said Al Falcione, senior director of product marketing with Salesforce.com. "Genius looks in and matches fields across them so a salesperson can find similar deals, they can see what content worked, what meetings worked and can contact that sales person. Genius is automated; there's no burden on the salesperson to enter information."

In addition, integration with Salesforce.com Content, the company's content management application, allows users to create, edit, deliver and share sales and marketing materials with customers and colleagues.

Salesforce.com has, somewhat self-servingly, dubbed the coming year "The Year of Cloud Computing for CRM" and is extending that message to both today's announcement around the Sales Cloud and last month's announcement of Service in the Cloud. Yet success with sales collaboration software demands that management create rewards and penalties to ensure that the sales force uses it.

For more on Salesforce.com and sales collaboration software
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"They're certainly leveraging the messaging around the cloud," said Rebecca Wetteman, analyst with Boston-based Nucleus Research. "There is value there, provided an enterprise can not just take the horse to water, but make them drink."

Salesforce.com is not the only on-demand vendor CRM to release sales collaboration tools as part of its suite. Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp. is releasing Sales Library, an application that functions similarly to Salesforce.com's new Content applications, and Sales Prospector similar to Opportunity Genius. Additionally, there are a host of vendors offering standalone applications geared specifically around sales collaboration.

There are some key differences, according to Falcione -- notably that Opportunity Genius comes as part of the Enterprise and Unlimited versions of the software. Also, customers who subscribe to the Content application get the new content-sharing capabilities immediately at no extra charge. Oracle's Sales Library and Deal Manager are standalone on-demand applications built to work with its CRM On Demand as well as its premise-based systems.

"One of the big differences between us and some of our competitors is everything runs on one platform," Falcione said. "You don't have to go through an integration process and you're not buying separate applications that don't work with CRM applications."

User adoption is key

The key to success with such applications, and any CRM application for that matter, is to get users to enter data and leverage the system, Wetteman noted. That can be more challenging in a sales department, often made up of competitive workers who are often reluctant to share information.

"For Sales, [they think] it's only interesting if it helps me close a deal and of the person I talk to can help me close a deal," Wetteman said. "There needs to be management involvement to ensure sales participates."

That's a sentiment echoed by Jim Dickie, co-founder of CSO Insights, which recently released its annual sales performance survey results. According to the survey of more than 1,800 sales managers, slightly more than 50% of companies that have deployed a CRM platform are adding sales collaboration systems, generally in the form of Web-based sales and product training courses. Another 12% are planning to add those tools this year. But when it comes to sales knowledge management -- software that helps with the sharing of datasheets, presentation materials and needs-analysis templates -- only 9% are currently using those tools, with another 11% planning to add them this year, according to the survey. Collaboration tools can extend beyond just sales, Dickie added.

"Its' really a benefit to all functional areas," Dickie said. "Sales knowledge is not just what Sales knows, it's the support guy who says, 'Here is a good use or bad use of the product.'"

Or, for example, someone in finance who routinely has to help sales associates with difficult terms or conditions within a complex contract and who may be eager to put that information into a knowledge management system and direct all future inquiries there.

For Intacct, an on-demand finance and accounting software company, all sales materials are put into the Salesforce.com Content system, and sales reps pull from slide decks when assembling their own presentations.

"That's one of the things I push here," said Chris Luvara, senior manager of sales operations. "I ask, 'Can you send that to me?' and every time someone publishes a presentation, we make sure they post it to Content."

Sometimes, however, ensuring sales participation may require more than the head of sales operations making a point to ask reps to put their materials into the system. Companies may need to adjust commission structures and incentives as well -- but that can lead to a big payoff.

"It becomes about compensation," Wetteman said, drawing an example from a chief competitor of Salesforce.com's. "Oracle compensates its ERP reps on selling CRM. If an organization is set up that way, this is a great way to set efficiencies."

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