Salesforce sees a future in partnership

The on-demand CRM player is launching a 'partner relationship management' application aimed at the indirect sales market

In an effort to keep fuelling its ever-expanding business, the on-demand customer relationship management (CRM) software vendor Salesforce.com is now targeting what it calls partnership relationship management (PRM).

Partnerforce is effectively Salesforce's traditional CRM system, but specifically targeted at the partners of organisations that may use Salesforce CRM.

Salesforce's chief operating officer Phill Robinson explained: "If you look at an organisation like Mercedes Benz, they use our software to support their direct sales force, but they have thousands of dealers who may be using their own software on its own. Now they have Partnerforce, which can link them directly into Mercedes."

According to Robinson, the market for Partnerforce is "huge" and is one not addressed by on-demand vendors. "Our research shows that direct sales is only 30 percent of the total market," said Robinson. "We are very good at addressing that 30 percent, but this opens up the other 70 percent."

Partnerforce ties in with Salesforce's AppExchange, a market for on-demand applications that have been developed using the company's model and can then be distributed to other users.

It has been priced competitively at $125 (£68) per month for a five-user system, and 20MB of storage per user. Salesforce.com's standard pricing is $50 per user per month, and the company is hoping that the lower price will help promote it to companies such as small car dealerships that can link their sales team into a corporate IT structure at relatively little cost.

Analysts believe that Partnerforce could be a useful tool.

"The ability for companies to be able to analyse their sales and marketing pipelines and programmes across both direct and indirect channels is a critical component of any successful growth effort," said Tiffani Bova, research director at Gartner. "An integrated view delivers effectiveness to both sides of the channel."

"On-demand is seen as 'vanilla', and you can't customise it," Forrester analyst Liz Herbert told ZDNet UK sister site CNET News.com. "Salesforce.com has done a good job of changing that perception, of getting their message across that you customise beyond what's offered out of the box."

At the same time as it is rolling out a new application system, Salesforce has also been reorganising its main application servers — critical to the company's business.

Salesforce received much criticism over service outages at the turn of the year, mainly around its two main US servers. The company promised to address this at the time, and on 16 June, Salesforce's second North America server was split into three. Some problems did persist shortly after, but as of 21 June the company was reporting normal service.

"We are still the only company that publishes our service history regularly," Robinson pointed out.

CNET News.com's Candace Lombardi contributed to this report.

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