If you have swiped your credit card in the last few days, you have almost certainly interacted with a company that has implemented Salesforce. The company’s featured list of success stories include too many major names to begin mentioning in this review (but you can find that impressive list here). With this kind of corporate acceptance, it is easy to see why it’s one of the most award-winning tech companies of the last ten years.
Some of those awards include lauds from Forbes Magazine as “the most innovative company in America,” as well as a six-year stay on Fortune Magazine’s “Top 100 companies to work for,” where Salesforce currently sits pretty in the #8 slot.
Salesforce has its roots in technology, beginning with former Oracle executive Marc Benioff. Working from his rented apartment, he gave Salesforce its mission statement: “The End of Software,” a visionary approach to developing and distributing software which is now reflected in the vanity phone number, 1-800-NO SOFTWARE.
While I could go on (and on) about their accolades, permit me instead to speak from personal experience. I do not buy into the notion that the biggest name is the best one, and as such, Salesforce had no positive bias with me as I began my evaluation. But as much as I dug, I could not exhume any reasons to slam them as an underserving corporate monster. I can safely say that Salesforce is big, possibly too big to properly fit the needs of small business. Yet, depending on your specific needs and scope, its gigantic footprint will certainly ensure that your business will never outgrow what Salesforce can offer. To find out if Salesforce is the best-fitting solution for you, read the full review.
Salesforce offers a free 14-day trial of their starter CRM, and 30-day trials for higher tiers, with no credit card required. In order to retain your data if you decide to subscribe, you must sign up for a paid membership before your trial expires. Pricing plans are as follows:
- SalesforceIQ Starter: $25/user/month, billed annually
- Up to 5 users, automatic data capture, task manager, personalized sales tracking, mobile app
- Professional: $65/user/month, billed annually
- Email integration, enhanced sales reporting, opportunity tracking, lead management, role permissions, quotes, etc
- Enterprise: $125 /user/month, billed annually
- Automations, advanced pipeline reporting, forecasting, unlimited integrations, API
- Unlimited: $250 /user/month, billed annually
- Sandbox mode, additional storage, priority support
The above packages are a part of their “Sales Cloud,” which appears to be the most closely related equivalent to a standard CRM. They also offer a “Service Cloud” and a “Marketing Cloud,” each with different pricing structures. For additional information on what features are included with each package, please visit their pricing website.
I also located their full edition comparison chart, in PDF format.
Hardware and Software Requirements:
- iOS: Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
- Android: 2.2 through 4.3 for Salesforce Classic and 4.4 and up for Salesforce1.
Specific Size of Business (or Company Size):
Salesforce can handle the needs of small teams, all the way up to Enterprise sized corporations. However, it’s are best suited for large businesses and sales departments.
Ease of Use:
Even if you already know you’re jumping on board with Salesforce, it’s still a great idea to accept the free trial. The trial begins with walkthroughs to familiarize you with the setup, which can be approached from the vantage of 4 different employee personas. I began with the Company Owner walkthrough, but there are also Sales Rep, Sales Manager, and IT Specialist options. I completed the walkthroughs of each persona to get a more complete familiarity.
The walkthroughs are excellent in concept. They are basic enough to be understood by anyone without being condescending, and they concisely point out the most commonly used features. They can be a little buggy, depending on your web browser. The two major web browsers, as of the date of this article, are Firefox and Chrome. My experience with Chrome was a little slower, and many of the walkthroughs encountered glitches, preventing me from finishing them. Firefox, while a bit faster and more reliable, was not entirely glitch free, yet it was a better experience while using Salesforce. In Chrome, following the walkthrough’s instructions would often not trigger the next step in the tutorial. Repeating the last action it asked me to do would usually cue up the walkthrough again.
The walkthroughs are almost awesome. I give them an A for concept, B- for execution. They are replete with typos, which may not affect their true functionality, but is a huge turn-off for me, especially in a company of this caliber.
After the walkthroughs are complete, it is easy to find the Training catalogue, which is chock-full of how-to videos. Employees should be able to answer most of their own questions on how to operate the software, hopefully limiting the need to spend time dealing with Customer Service.
As for the mobile apps, there may be a little bit of confusion about which version to use. Avoid SF Classic: it is outdated and no longer supported. However, while SF Dashboards is also outdated, it has a nice Apple-esque coverflow version of all your dashboards. If you have occasion to show off your legitimacy to your clients, this app may be worth keeping around. However, Salesforce1 is the most recent version of the app, and the only one with ongoing development. It is not a substitute for your browser-based dashboard, but I found it to be a viable tool while on the go.
And one final note on web browsers: Every major web browser today will automatically block pop ups. If you go with Salesforce as your CRM, you will absolutely have to permit the Salesforce website to use pop ups. Salesforce will send alerts and notifications via pop up window; leaving them disabled will cripple some functionality. I mention this here because without these pop-ups, Salesforce will be crippled, hampering your user experience. Have your IT department alter your browser settings to accommodate the Salesforce.com pop ups.
As one of the industry leaders, Salesforce offers a full suite of features. Anything your last CRM could do is likely to be a standard feature in Salesforce. I have listed only the most unique and noteworthy features below.
- AppExchange: Worth mentioning as a full-fledged feature. Browse add-ons created by the community, all vetted by Salesforce, and rated by fellow users. See the Integrations section in this article for more information.
- Chatter: Collaboration tool, following the structure of social media. Chatter feels much like Facebook and Twitter, enabling you to ‘follow’ important clients and trends in your field. Instantly communicate with groups and individuals in a ‘status update thread’ format.
- Sales Engage. This tool simplifies the process of sending customers personalized campaigns, complete with interaction metrics and marketing email templates.
- Customizability: Fully customizable dashboards, including equally customizable reports, giving each user exactly the information that they need with just a few clicks. Set up sales territories, assign accounts and tasks to a specific sales rep, use filters to see specific info in your pipeline, etc.
- Walkthroughs: Trial software comes with hands-on training, for a variety of employee types. Short walkthroughs can introduce the IT department, the sales team, or the business owner to the basic operations that they will use most. These demo personas can be cycled through, giving each user the ability to experience a more comprehensive overview.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
The AppExchange is a very nice way to approach API development. Unlike some other, albeit add-on friendly, CRMs out there, Salesforce has taken the techno-speak out of the equation and handed you a polished and navigable resource to find what you need. Browse popular apps, see a list of apps recommended to you, or filter your search by category. If you’re at all familiar with browsing for plugins for your web browser, the AppExchange will be a cinch. All apps are verified by the Salesforce team, and include user ratings. Thousands of apps are available, or you can search for trusted developers to tailor-make new plugins that will meet your unique needs.
A quick browse through the most popular apps revealed a lot of familiar names: MailChimp, Evernote, DocuSign, Box, Gmail, LinkedIn, and Quickbooks, to name only a few.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
Support modes and promptness depend on your membership status, with higher paying memberships receiving perks like instant online chat support. Lower memberships are relegated to a Case manager, and response times will vary depending on your membership level, as well as how “urgent” your case is deemed to be. The initial modes of communication are listed below.
- Hours of operation: 6:00 am to 6:00 pm (PT), Monday through Friday
- Phone support: 1-800 NO SOFTWARE, or 1-800 667-6389; 1(415) 901-7000; 1(415) 901-7010
- Prospective Customer support webpage.
- Once registered, this page has additional resources.
- Salesforce also has a dedicated Resource page with demos, webinars, white pages and other useful tools.
My own soirée with customer service was satisfactory. The response time was surprisingly good, given my status as “trial user” and not a paying member. I was contacted by an associate to assist in my evaluation of the software, and also by Customer Service when I submitted a query. Both agents were prompt and able to answer my questions. This is an excerpt copied directly from an email from Customer Service:
“Initial response time for new cases for Standard support customers is 2 business days. Initial response time for Premier Success customers will range from 1 hour to 8 hours, depending on the agreement in effect and the severity level of the case.”
The link provided is a PDF on their webpage, detailing services offered to each level of Customer service: Standard, Premier, and Premier+.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
The user reviews included below pertain to the mobile app, available on the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Many of the reviews expressed the same concern: the app isn’t user friendly. For many, it’s difficult to navigate, at times painfully slow, and takes time to learn. Even with these issues, most reviewers give the app at least a 3 out of 5 stars and seem optimistic despite the app’s shortcomings. The averages are listed here, with actual customer responses below:
- Google Play Store: Salesforce Classic: 3 of 5 stars with over 1200 total reviews
- Google Play Store: Salesforce1: 3.7 of 5 stars with over 6400 total reviews
- iTunes: Salesforce1: 4 of 5 stars based on over 1700 total reviews
- iTunes: Salesforce Classic 2.5 of 5 stars based on over 6800 total reviews
The app can be slow, buggy, or not work at all.
“Does the job for basic work but buggy and slow.”
“Could potentially be awesome, but right now it’s slow and lags on a Note 5 with a 100 mb/s connection.”
“App crashes all the time, I’m not sure if it’s due to my company’s servers or the app. But I have to drag my laptop out for salesforce a majority of the time. But when it does work it’s great.”
The app needs additional features.
“Excellent app for working with SFDC, particularly for general account / opportunity edits and contact lookups. Needs two things to earn the last two stars, in my mind:
1. Ability to edit “Activity History” (e.g. Log a Call) from within the app. If I use the app to find a contact’s name and number, then call them, I want to log my notes immediately using the Activity History section.
2. Ability to search for specific reports. I can look for dashboards, but I can only access a report if it’s part of a dashboard and I drill from said dashboard. Open up the flexibility, please!”
“Lacking features. A bit cumbersome. I have high hopes for this application, but it is not there yet. The biggest problem is that so much is not supported on the iOS version. You have to go back to a laptop or desktop to do any real work. Please provide the ability to do everything on iOS that you could do in windows or OS X”
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Most of the positive reviews carried additional feedback for the Salesforce app. Users are optimistic, but believe the app still needs work. Below are some of the four star reviews I found for the mobile app.
“Could be smoother. Great app. Just needs a few tweaks to iron out sync issues.”
“Salesforce app. Adding tasks to the home page would greatly assist me in ensuring my visits are being closed out. Pretty frequently, I complete reports and the screen shows report completed, but I pull up the salesforce website latest in the week, and sometimes (4 or 5 per month) the store visits didn’t actually close or report any of my notes.”
“Awesome. Its bit difficult to get the UI Customization all at one place but yes its good.”
“More intuitive, easy to use but needs offline functionality Nice upgrades. I like the Today app. I love having access to my reports from the app.”
“Solid. This is a solid app that has evolved nicely over the last two years. It allows you to do most of what you need with salesforce, however it is still my backup choice.“
In 2007, Salesforce was the victim of a successful phishing attack, and the personal information of many of its customers was stolen. This information was then used to send more highly targeted phishing attacks to those customers. This high-profile breach was a turning point in the CRM industry, prompting developers to utilize better security techniques. Since then, Salesforce has reported no further loss of private data.
With a name like “Salesforce,” it’s hard to miss the industry bias. This is a service which is set up almost exclusively for larger sales teams. Almost. A smaller team, or one that is not comprised solely of sales-related operations, can still make great use of the software with a little adaptation. However, this may be like hammering a nail with a sledgehammer. A smaller CRM company may be a better fit in this case, but Salesforce can certainly get the job done.
Implementing Salesforce will mean a major commitment. It will be best to start a fresh sales team on this software from the beginning, rather than trying to shoehorn it into your team’s existing workflow. But however you get into it, Salesforce will be a huge time saver and efficiency booster once using it becomes second nature.
The foremost downside to using Salesforce is the price point. There are features which may be on your must-have list that are only offered at higher memberships (mass-emailing, for instance, is only offered at their mid-level membership.) If your team is small, this may be a deal-breaker. I dislike being coerced to buy more than I need, just to ensure that I have the one or two things I can’t live without. Each jump in price is more than double the previous membership cost.
All in all, Salesforce meets with my approval. I found no major red flags in my exhaustive trial of the service, and any glitches that I encountered were somewhat easily overcome. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect excellence; this is something that Salesforce can deliver. If it is within your budget, I recommend putting Salesforce at the top of your list of CRM candidates.