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SalesForce.com hits the F5 key

F5 Networks needed a new CRM system, having outgrown its old one. The global Internet traffic and content management company eventually chose Salesforce.com as its outsourced CRM provider.

F5 Networks had a problem.

The global Internet traffic and content management company outgrew its aging CRM system, a networked version of ACT combined with Excel spreadsheets. Outdated software, as well as frequent crashes, sunk productivity rates and employee morale.

A change was needed, and time was of the essence.

In the search for a new system, the company's top three criteria were: ease of use, scalability and usability across geographical regions.

Initially, the project team had a tough time deciding between a traditional license-based software approach and an ASP model. But features, functionality and cost considerations eventually led them to choose SalesForce.com. as its outsourced provider.

Dave Janssen, F5's regional inside sales manager, said SalesForce fit the bill for several reasons -- not the least of which was cost. Jansen said there was no up-front cost, only a monthly fee.

"It was a low-risk proposition, and a quick implementation was key," he said. "SalesForce demonstrated how they would be able to get us up and running quickly. We implemented in about half the time we thought we would."

SalesForce designated staffers to the F5 Networks implementation, converting the existing data to the new format.

One of Janssen's favorite features of the SalesForce system is the forecasting tool, which allows F5's sales force to record, track and report each sales opportunity they come across. Everyone, from local sales reps to management, has access to this data, enabling more cross-company and partner selling, Jansen said.

Having its data centralized in an easily accessible online database was appealing to an international company like F5. "It takes the global issue away from management, and standardizes how we manage leads and contacts," said Janssen. "From a global perspective, it allows us to look at things in a really common way."

F5 avoided another common obstacle in the CRM switch -- internal resistance. Since the old system frequently broke down, the new system was an easy sell for most employees, according to Jansen.

So how is it working?

Months after implementation, Janssen says the company is enjoying more fluid teamwork within its sales group, and has saved roughly 50% of the expected implementation cost. The new system doesn't require a great deal of support from the IT staff and eliminated the need for sales managers to train new employees, allowing the F5's sales force to spend its time focusing on existing and future customers, Janssen said.

The new SalesForce CRM system has also made it possible for F5 to transition to large enterprise type customers.

For example, with a customer like United Airlines, F5 has reps that work with local offices for those enterprise accounts as well as strategic account managers who are responsible for the relationships with those accounts.

Janssen's words of advice for others starting out on their own CRM projects: "Keep it simple." He also recommends getting input from all the departments before making a final decision.

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