Salesforce.com has expanded the capabilities of its customer information system, adding programs designed to let companies keep tabs on customer contracts and product catalogues.
The company introduced the new features on Monday in San Francisco as part of a new release of its software, called Spring '04. It then followed up with a European launch in London on Wednesday, where existing customers talked about their experiences with Salesforce.com.
The additional functionality in Spring '04 lets companies browse and modify their product catalogues online, Salesforce said. They also let businesses review, approve and renew contracts over the Web and offer online customer self-service, the company said.
Customers can also change the headings of Web pages to reflect their business. For example, a retailer can change Salesforce's "accounts" page to read "stores".
Salesforce is in a new wave of application service providers (ASPs) that offer their wares for a monthly or annual subscription. The company runs the software at its own datacentres on behalf of its customers, who access the systems over the Web.
A lingering concern about the Salesforce model is whether customers can customise the software, which most businesses are keen to do. Last year Salesforce launched a campaign aimed at letting customers modify its programs. Monday's news again addressed the issue.
According to Ariel F. Luedi, senior vice president of sales, EMEA, for Salesforce.com, customers need to find a balance between the rich features they're used to with existing CRM applications such as Siebel, and the ease of use and rapid deployment associated with ASP solutions such as Salesforce.com.
"It's a trade-off. If they insist in having all the customisation and features they had in Siebel, then they also have the same problems, and nothing's changed," said Luedi.
According to Leudi, Salesforce.com has about 1,800 customers in Europe, and about half of these are in the UK. The service is available in 11 languages.
Several customers at the London launch were clearly impressed by the relative ease of use of Salesforce.com's existing application.
Anna McGrath, marketing executive with Wire-e Ltd in Coventry, was able to trial and deploy the Salesforce.com solution despite confessing, "I'm not technical at all." She said the system was also much easier to use than the Lotus-based sales management application it replaced.
Microstrategy country manager Miguel Estaban also praised the application's ease of use.
"We've tried using other packaged applications but the deployments have always failed. The users were uncomfortable, there was never enough training. We've been using Salesforce.com for four years now, and compliance is fantastically high. It's the only tool I use for forecasting our revenues in Spain," said Estaban.
Part of Saleforce.com's pitch is the ease of use associated with a hosted application that requires no local technical support, and Estaban clearly shared this vision.
"I need the service. I don't need to own the software. I don't care about having people to manage the system," he said.
Salesforce.com is a conspicuous success among the hundreds of start-ups that have tried to make the ASP model work commercially. Salesforce.com's Luedi said that he imagines the company will expand the range of tasks and applications it can do over time.
"Internally at Salesforce.com we use it for managing contracts, invoices, and orders. Support for contract management is available in the Spring 'O4 release; support for invoices and orders will follow," he said.