Salesforce.com automates sales process for SMBs

Salesforce for Google AdWords is a turning point: a business process mashup that delivers real business value

The acquisition of Kieden and subsequent launch of Salesforce for Google AdWords marks a crucial turning point for Salesforce.com. Until now, the vendor's own applications have slavishly mirrored the application categories of conventional enterprise software vendors — salesforce automation, contact management, customer relationship management, marketing automation, partner relationship management ... you name an established customer-facing application category, Salesforce.com has had an offering.

Salesforce for Google AdWords is something different, though. It creates an end-to-end process that you won't find in today's enterprise product suites. It links the prospect tracking of conventional salesforce automation software with the convention-busting online marketing of Google's keyword advertising service.

In a few short years, Google AdWords has become a primary means of reaching prospects for many businesses. It's already a huge part of the sales and marketing process in those organizations. The new Salesforce.com add-on (see screenshot below) turns that into a joined-up automated process, whose effectiveness they can track right through the close — "even if that's nine months later on a golf course," as Adam Gross, VP of developer marketing for Salesforce.com, told internetnews.com yesterday.

Salesforce for Google AdWords Dashboard 

This, then, is an enterprise mashup of two separate online applications and is perhaps the first solid example of the kind of mashup SAP evangelist Jeff Nolan may have been thinking of when he wrote recently: "Consumer mashups are essentially data integration in nature ... Enterprise mashups are process in nature."

What's more, it delivers a process that actually matches a business need, as AMR analyst Rob Bois told BusinessWeek: "Until now, I haven't seen a lot of business value in mashups," says analyst Rob Bois of AMR Research. "This is a real business value you couldn't achieve without it."

It's a turning point because it marks the beginning of Salesforce.com casting off the old legacy application categories and reshaping itself to meet the process automation needs of businesses as they exist today. The end result will be a completely new set of application pillars whose shape we can barely predict at present. Will Salesforce.com have transformed itself into one of those pillars? Its introduction of AppExchange has created a huge mashup pot that allows it to witness the evolution of innovative new composite processes at first hand. Occasionally, it's going to reach in and grab attractive recipes that extend its process automation in interesting new directions. COO Phill Robinson told me yesterday that Salesforce had found tiny Kieden, with just a handful of employees, an irresistible target:

"The Kieden application, we just believe there's an enormous opportunity that Salesforce can exploit better than Kieden could on its own."

The acquisition adds to Salesforce.com's appeal to the SMB sector — many are already heavy users of Google AdWords — and usefully demonstrates a commitment to providing business process automation that's relevant to their needs. "We're trying to make this appealing and attractive not only to large companies but also to the smallest customers," Robinson told me.

But is the process it's now offering complete enough? Rival Netsuite was quick to assert its own capabilities, pointing out that its newly launched add-on links to Yahoo!'s keyword ads as well as to Google's — and of course highlighted its ownership of transaction processes as well, allowing it to extend the process beyond the close, all the way to shipment of the order. But it spoilt its pitch, to my mind, by adding a put-down that, although aimed at Salesforce.com, also casts aspersions against the mashup principle:

"Ultimately code that is tightly integrated with a product will always work more efficiently than kludged together software from multiple sources."

I got a different perspective in an email from WebSideStory. I asked the web analytics vendor to comment because its Bid product, launched last year, allows marketeers to track and manage their keyword ad purchases using traffic analysis data. WebSideStory customers can link other applications into its platform via an API, enabling them to track the prospect funnel from other digital marketing channels too, such as e-mails, newsletters, banner campaigns, affiliates and so on. "Online marketers need to be able to compare all of their online marketing campaigns to determine the most effective mix," it concluded in reply to my enquiry. [Disclosure: I was a speaker at the company's user conference in April. It paid my hotel and all air fares for the trip].

WebSideStory is proud of this 'enterprise mashup' capability, which brings a richer set of capabilities than it could deliver alone. NetSuite also has its NetFlex API for the express purpose of connecting up to other applications and services, so it really shouldn't come down so hard on the principle.

The fact is that Salesforce.com's current offering has shortcomings in both directions: it doesn't have the wealth of digital marketing analysis that WebSideStory offers, but then neither of these solutions have the transactional data that NetSuite includes. What Salesforce does have, though, is its AppExchange platform to aid customers and partners who want to forge links to those other capabilities, following in the footsteps of Kieden.

I think the last world should go to Kraig Swensrud, founder and CEO of Kieden, because he evidently understands the true value of what his company built (quoted in the internetnews.com coverage):

"It's a business process mashup between Google business practices and Salesforce.com business practices."

The challenge for Salesforce.com and its rivals is to find more of those business process mashups, linking up best-of-breed practices to meet the most pressing automation needs of SMBs and enterprises today and in the future.

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