Salesforce.com is more than a successful software company with the cryptic slogan of "No Software." It's a savvy marketing machine that is on a continuous campaign to promote itself, introducing new features and services every few months as a way to keep the story alive and customers. The field marshal, company CEO Marc Benioff, is a relentless evangelist. It's unclear whether the relentless marketing plan drives product delivery schedules or the other way around.
Today, Salesforce announced (preannounced) a "preview" of new features coming in the next release--the 21st in the last seven years by the company's count--due later this year, which includes an AJAX-flavored user interface, a more fully customizable desktop console and components, computer-telephony integration with call centers, a revamped calendar and integration with Lotus Notes. Not a breakthrough set of features, but it's the consistent drumbeat of improvements, creating an expectation among users of persistent, incremental advancements, without painful upgrades cycles.
As part of its community development efforts, salesforce.com launched a new site that allows customers to comment and vote on new features, dialog with company product managers who participate in the discussion forums and soon suggest features. Benioff calls it an "IdeaExchange," an "entirely new way to listen to customers on how to build great enterprise software, and satisfy their needs." What's entirely new about a blog-like site with comments and voting is somewhat of a mystery, but salesforce.com should be given credit for its direct user-engagement approach, depending on how the comments are filtered.
The site is powered by CrispyNews, which also has the capability for users to submit stories for posting on the site, but salesforce.com has not enabled that feature, which would be useful as a recommendation engine for what members of the community should be reading related. Users can submit that kind of information in comments, but it's one level down. Of course, the issue of how you filter content generated by the community in a site that is basically meant to promote a product or service and create a gentle (non-antagonistic) feedback loop is not easily managed.