Salesforce.com reaches out to users

At its annual user conference the hosted CRM vendor unveiled plans to expand its services to users.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Looking for a way to reach out to its growing user community, Salesforce.com found it -- on Yahoo.

On the last day of its second annual Dreamforce user conference, Salesforce.com discussed the expansion and continuation of user services, including the development of local pilot user groups, nationwide educational tours and -- creating the most buzz among users -- an online user community.

The online community is not the brainchild of anyone at Salesforce.com, but was incorporated from a Salesforce.com Yahoo group started by Pete Fife, a senior business analyst at security vendor Fortinet Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Ron Hess, a support executive at San Jose-based Neoforma Inc. and a Salesforce.com "power user," didn't believe he would find much use in the online community.

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"I would come across some interesting stuff as I was browsing the messages, but I didn't think I would be able to use any of it," Hess said. "Then someone walked into my office asking for new functionality and I found myself searching for that solution I had read about."

Julie Eckman, a CRM project manager for Seko Global Logistics Network headquartered in Itasca, Ill., believes being a part of the user community will be an asset in her job.

"I am looking forward to seeing what other users are up to, learning from other users can really keep us from going down the wrong path," she said.

Along with the online community, Clarence So, vice president of strategic marketing at Salesforce.com, described another initiative called Customer Success Managers, Salesforce.com employees dedicated to best practices research and sharing their knowledge with users.

Salesforce.com also hopes to start user groups to help foster local Salesforce.com user communities. It also plans to continue the practice of hosting the Salesforce.com Success Tour, city-by-city events in which they invite local users to get together in a social environment.

Meanwhile, SupportForce.com and the CRMsuccess.com online user community could create an interesting phenomenon in the coming year -- the use of Salesforce.com to manage something other than a sales force. Through the use of cases in SupportForce.com, users are beginning to create custom fields and data types to manage everything from recruiting to bug tracking and internal help desk orders.

"Having a very distributed workforce, it made sense for us to leverage that functionality for other uses," said Bill Edstrom Jr., the manager of research and development at Waterford, Wis.-based Edstrom Industries. "Thanks to some smart coding we've come up with some pretty innovative uses," he said.

Edstrom had developed a non-conformance tracking system they use to track defects in the high-tech plumbing products they produce.

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