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Tag Archives: Salesforce.com Inc.
If your business needs to use encrypted e-mail or provide legal proof of delivery or electronic signatures, you may already be familiar with RPost, the company that invented registered e-mail. Not only has RPost recently upgraded its electronic signature service with court-admissible document, contract, and multi-party signoff tools that plug into Salesforce.com, Outlook, Lotus, web-mail and other applications, it also just launched a cloud service.
Cloud-based file storage service Box.net already has 6 million users storing 300 million files. And its free personal account offers up to 5 gigs of storage–more than twice what DropBox offers. The company just upped the ante big-time against hugely popular Microsoft SharePoint by integrating its service with Google Documents and Spreadsheets.
eBay has acquired Magento, a company that makes a PHP-based online shopping cart, and announced the creation of X.Commerce, and open source platform group that Magento will be merged into. The intent is for eBay to provide a cloud-based retail service that will help merchants create online stores that are more customizable and offer many more options than the current “stores” within eBay. The company is also creating an online app store where developers are invited to submit apps for merchants to use.
Microsoft has announced their new cloud offering in CRM, called Dynamics CRM. New competition for Salesforce.com is a good thing, and Dynamics presents a consistent interface similar to Outlook. But can they compete in the cloud? PC Magazine has the final word: “Microsoft is not being subtle in its attempts to snatch market share away from Salesforce.com and Oracle. Customers of either those services that switch to Microsoft Dynamics CRM between now and June 30, 2011 qualify for the Cloud CRM for Less offer. Customers will receive up to $200 per user, applicable to services much as migrating data or customizing the solution.” Microsoft Dynamics CRM Poised for Cloud Battle [PC Magazine]
When financial planner Spencer Hill was considering moving his customer relations management (CRM) into the cloud, he test drove Redtail, a Web-based solution for financial advisors. In fact, confesses Hill, he “sneaked and used two free trial periods.” The trials convinced Hill that Redtail works well for his Kingstree, S.C., asset management company. Marjorie R. Asturias, president of Blue Volcano Media, a three-person digital marketing, content and SEO firm based in Dallas, has gradually turned much of her business operations over to cloud applications. But before she takes the plunge, Asturias takes advantage of free trial periods to evaluate cloud services. While cloud computing offers your small business the opportunity to leverage computing resources you might not otherwise have the expertise or wherewithal to employ, it can be intimidating to move critical operations out of your own hands. That’s where free trials come in. A number of cloud computing vendors offer free test runs that let you figure out how their services would meld with your current operations. For instance, you can try Google Apps Premier Edition, which costs $50 per user account per year, for a 30-day free trial period. Salesforce, the CRM cloud-based tool, offers a 30-day free trial with access to all features. Healy Jones, head of marketing for OfficeDrop, says his cloud-based digital filing company designed a 60-day free trial based on experiences gained by trying other cloud service trials. Make a trial work for you To get the most out of a free trial takes some planning and effort. “Many of our potential new users who start a trial account give it a very cursory look,” says Tom Greenhaw, founder of Cashier Live, which offers Web-based point-of-sale software. “Surprisingly, few actually give it a test drive. To get the most out of a free trial, you need to actually use the product for its intended purpose.” Cloud providers and small business users offer these guidelines for getting full value out of a trial period: Start small and go slowly. Migrate a non-critical system first, and consider evaluating a cloud service that won’t impact your clientele in any significant way. Consider using a test group. When one of business consultant Louis Rosas-Guyon’s customers decided to move e-mail and a few other services to Google Apps, the company began by migrating a subsidiary first. “The subsidiary only has five employees so it would not cause a major upheaval,” says Rosas-Guyon, president of R-Squared Computing. Look for a long trial. It takes time to evaluate how you’ll use a cloud service and how well it fits with your business. Remember that there are some functions your company may only need on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis and consider whether you can test for those needs during the trial, says David Rocamora, a senior consultant at Control Group, a technology services firm. “The worst thing you want to do is to migrate to another system, it’s going to be so much better and the next month you realize, ‘Oh, we run this report each month, and now we can’t do it,’” he says. Consider what you get. There’s nothing more annoying than signing up for a free trial and finding some features are available only to paying users, says Jones of OfficeDrop. You want as full an experience as possible. And use the trial to evaluate the service level agreement, says Pat O’Day, co-founder and CTO of BlueLock, a cloud hosting and managed IT services provider. Look for a comprehensive plan that outlines penalties “in line with the level of pain you’ll experience if there’s a problem,” says O’Day. Take time to review the cloud provider’s security policy. Hold onto that credit card. Some free trials require a credit card number during registration. Be cautious about handing over your number, and respect deadlines if you do, says Asturias of Blue Volcano Media. “I’ve had to pay for services I ultimately decided I didn’t need just because I forgot to cancel before the trial period ended.” Jones says OfficeDrop lost valuable time dealing with a free trial that kept billing the company credit card. Evaluate customer service. “Test hold times, responsiveness, and availability of customer service,” says Yehuda Cagen, director of marketing, business development division for Xvand’s IsUtility, a cloud computing IT provider. “Your employees will have to lean on these people for technical assistance. No customer service line is a huge red flag.” Involve stakeholders. Have a broad cross section of users try the service. “Having buy-in from users is incredibly important,” says Rocamora. “Get them involved early in the process so you can truly understand what they need.” Know what you want from a trial before you embark on the test drive, says Tim Bangert, founder of Catalyst Technology Solutions, which offers IT support for small businesses. “One simple way to evaluate the success of a trial is to answer the question, ‘Can I do what I need to do easier, faster or better than I already do it?’” says Bangert. “And don’t forget to consider ‘less expensive.’ A well-thought-out plan to maximize that free trial period to its fullest will pay off many times over as your business continues to grow.”
Over the past 12-18 months, major customer relationship management (CRM) players like Salesforce.com, Sage, SAP and others have been adding “social” abilities to traditional CRM applications — like viewing social profile information from Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, newer services such as BatchBook, BantamLive, and others are creating CRM applications on a social foundation aimed at the small and mid-sized business market. And with every passing day, social technologies are merging with traditional CRM functionality, giving companies more efficient ways of transforming clicks into valuable customer relationships. A little over two years ago I wrote about the Three A’s of Social CRM. Back then most people were focused on social media, but not so much on its impact on customer relationship management tools and strategies. Even a year ago when I compared traditional CRM with Social CRM the interest was pretty much limited to industry insiders. That’s not the case today, as the topic of Social CRM has become the focus of many in business. Having focused on CRM for almost two decades — as an application developer, early Salesforce.com certified implementation partner, and finally as an industry watcher — this may be the most important development I’ve seen. I say this because technology has amplified the voice of the customer, and given them greater control over who they engage with, when they do, and how they do so. This in turn is forcing those charged with engaging them to change their approach: in order to connect with customers who Tweet to thousands of followers, watch videos on mobile phones, and form their own online communities. This also is forcing CRM vendors to provide services that do more than just store customer information and track activities. But there’s one company that looks to be creating a platform small businesses can use to turn a variety of online interactions into stronger customer relationships — and it’s not even a CRM company, in the traditional sense. Keeping with the AAA theme from a couple of years back, below are a few reasons why Google is becoming the onramp to Social CRM success for small and mid-sized businesses. Apps — Internal Even with Facebook hitting the 500 million member mark — with billions of interactions taking place weekly — the majority of people in business-to-business (B2B) organizations I’ve come across say no more than 15-20 percent of their total interactions on Facebook are business related. Conversely, about 80-90 percent of e-mail interactions these same folks have are business related, and with much higher frequency. And in many cases, the e-mail exchanges are more intimate in nature, from a business perspective. This may be because the conversations are more direct and focused, and the people engaged in the conversations are more focused on each other — not the overall community — during these interaction. So even today, a large percentage of customer relationship building takes place in our inboxes. Just as Microsoft Outlook was (and still is) key to increasing CRM user adoption over the past decade, Gmail is looking to be that key in the Social Age. More small companies are using Google’s low-cost e-mail hosting services — making Gmail the fastest growing of the big online e-mail providers, closing in on 180 million accounts. But the choice to use Gmail goes well beyond price. Google has turned the inbox into a relationship-building platform enabling multiple points of contact, and increased opportunities for meaningful interactions. When you exchange e-mails with other Gmail users, Google can (based on your security settings) connect you with them if you both use Google Reader — giving you the ability to see what kind of information they are interested in, and start feeding them more of it. And when you go to YouTube, Google lists the YouTube channels of those you interact with via Gmail at the top of the page — giving you a chance to subscribe to them. So Google is building an interaction-based platform on the bedrock of Gmail. And as you exchange emails, you can grow the relationship wider by engaging across apps like Reader and Youtube. You can also deepen the engagement with real-time collaborative interactions via Google Docs, Sheets and Sites. Apps – External Not only has Google created a business interaction-based platform with their dizzying array of applications, but they’ve invited third-party application developers to extend that foundation through the Google Apps Marketplace. And according to a recent post on the Official Google Apps blog, the top search term for installable apps in the marketplace is CRM. Of the thirteen CRM apps in the marketplace, five of them are under the Social CRM umbrella, including Gist, BatchBook, and BantamLive. Vendors like Zoho and Tactile add more traditional CRM functionality to Google’s interaction platform. These and a growing group of application developers will continue building the CRM functionality Google doesn’t build itself. Android While everyone has been captivated by the developments surrounding the iPhone4 release, worldwide sales of phones with Google’s Android operating system crossed over the five million unit mark, according to Gartner. Google recently announced that 160,000 Android units get activated every day, and it expects Android to eventually be a $10 billion business. No doubt the same apps being used on Web browsers are also driving up Android activations, as people are able to work from wherever they need to. But Android tablet devices haven’t even hit the market yet. And with multiple vendors like Cisco, LG, and others committing to running Android on their upcoming tablets, Google will effectively be extending their business interaction platform to new areas. Cisco’s tablet — The Cius — is a key piece in the company’s push to enable the social enterprise. The device will be optimized for collaboration via video chat, Webex meetings, and conference calls. So the device will be optimized for video interactions, while other vendors may optimize their devices for different kinds of interactions. But the bottom line is Android will be extended to cover more ground, while still offering Apps people can run across vendor-specific tablet devices. Analytics Google Analytics has become of staple of many businesses to track their Web traffic. And Google’s ability to turn text into context to serve up ads when we do searches and read emails has driven targeted traffic via Google Adwords. And with this ability to analyze text for ads, Google should also be able to analyze text for sentiment. Just imagine if Google (or a third party developer) could analyze the interactions we’ve had with someone across all the Google channels we engage them over so we can know what’s on their mind, and also what is their state of mind — and how they feel about us. Or even being able to take a group of people we communicate with on Google channels, say VP’s of marketing in the retail industry, to find out what those interactions can reveal. This could lead to more targeted, efficient and meaningful interactions with those we’re trying to create relationships with — based on a business interaction lifecycle taking place across Google’s services. Social CRM is about meaningful interaction as well as information management. And while business interactions are taking place all over, Google — with search, e-mail, Web traffic, and collaborations via Docs, Sheets, etc. — has created an inexpensive platform for building relationships with customers in the Social Age. Through Apps (including third party apps), Android, and Analytics, Google is as much a Social CRM player as anyone else. And for small businesses it may be the most important player. Brent Leary is a small-business technology analyst, adviser, and award-winning blogger. He is the co-author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business. His blog can be found at http://brentleary.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brentleary .