Boston-area Software Firms Hitch Their Wagons to Salesforce; Say Ride Can Be Rough But Profitable

1/14/09Follow @wroush

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the company started to sign up large enterprises as customers. “Our bigger accounts have all sorts of feature requests, for things they want to do that we can’t necessarily build ourselves,” says Clara Shih, Salesforce’s product line director for the AppExchange, whom I reached at the company’s headquarters earlier this week. “Starting four or five years ago, we began gradually exposing more and more of the platform we had used to build the CRM products, so that they could build their own features. And the amazing thing was that we started seeing customers not only using platform tools to customize CRM, but to build completely new non-CRM on-demand applications, in areas like recruiting, enterprise resource planning, supply chain management, and clinical trials management.”

That trend resulted in the creation of the AppExchange, where today Salesforce users can browse, test-drive, and install over 800 apps that have been certified by Salesforce to work seamlessly with the flagship CRM product. There have been some 300,000 test drives since the AppExchange opened in early 2006, and 65,000 installs, says Shih. Some of the AppExchange apps—like many Facebook or iPhone apps—are incredibly simple: for example, one AppExchange app adds a button to the Firefox browser that allows Salesforce users to copy information from a Google Gmail message directly into the relevant customer record in Salesforce. Others are little more than bridges to outside applications: Cisco’s WebEx conferencing division, for example, has published an AppExchange app that lets users schedule WebEx presentations for prospective customers from within Salesforce.

But many of the New England-area companies I contacted offer subtler and more interesting apps, providing functions that build upon, and add obvious value to, Salesforce’s core capabilities.

Force.com AppExchange LogoCuriously, for example, Salesforce doesn’t provide a built-in way for a sales representative to schedule an appointment with a prospect—say, for a meeting, phone call, or (as in the WebEx case) an online presentation. TimeTrade, in Bedford, MA, is working on a solution for that. The company has long been selling a Web-based system that allows subscribers to send out self-service meeting invitations via e-mail; the recipients of TimeTrade invitations can decide for themselves whether and when they’d like to meet with the sender, by following a link to a website and choosing from the times that the sender has set aside for appointments.

Early this year, TimeTrade will roll out software that lets sales reps send such invitations to their Salesforce contacts from within the Salesforce application. “The whole point of Salesforce is closing sales, but there is nothing in Salesforce to encourage an actual contact, appointment, or meeting with a customer,” says Ed Mallen, TimeTrade’s CEO. “We look at what we’re doing in Salesforce as ‘the last mile,’ where you funnel the interaction down and close a sale. We want to fold appointment invitations into a sales person’s bag of tricks without having to change the way they do things; we just add one extra button.”

Another company focused on helping sales reps close deals is Kadient. The Nashua, NH, startup specializes in “playbook” software that helps sales managers package up the information that sales reps need to cinch deals when they’re talking with prospects. The playbooks “profile what reps have done in winning sales situations in the past, what tools they called on, what objections they overcame, what things they did that really helped move the sale along,” explains Jeff Ernst, Kadient’s vice president of marketing. Kadient’s Salesforce app is a mashup that shows a Salesforce user’s “opportunity” screen (the fancy Rolodex card with a prospect’s contact details) at the top of the page, and the appropriate playbook for that opportunity at the bottom.

“The playbook allows you to align your coaching tips, sales collateral, and other content with the steps of the sales process in the context of Salesforce,” says Ernst. “There’s a familiar look and feel, so reps don’t feel like they’re jumping back and forth between two applications.” (In fact, they are, but that’s all hidden.) “We also track everything a rep does and push that data every hour into the Salesforce database, so sales execs get a lot of visibility into what’s happening in the field.”

For non-Salesforce users, Kadient also sells access to its own online repository for sales playbooks, but the playbooks “are meant to enhance a CRM system, and they deliver ten times more value in that context,” says Ernst—which is why the Salesforce app is, for now, one of its main products. “We don’t want to be totally dependent on … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://sellsellsell.salesnexus.com Craig Klein

    I’ve spoken with many App Exchange developers who say being listed there has been meaningful from a marketing credibility perspective but, few actual sales opportunities have come via Salesforce.com.

    The user is often left in the middle trying to make Salesforce.com and the App Exchange provided software work and both sides pointing at the other when problems arise.

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