Interesting reading. Worth checking this out. Some “real” posts coming soon.

Economist.com: Cloud Computing Debate

This year, I know a ton of people headed to Dreamforce. Sadly, I will not be among them due to scheduling. If you are going let me know and your interests and can match you with some of the people I know.

It has been clear for awhile that a major shift has been happening in enterprise computing. It has taken time to gain traction and momentum, but it looks like Software as a Service (SaaS) is nearly there.

Companies will look to adopt SaaS solutions for 2 major reasons:

  1. Lower costs
  2. Implement quickly

Cost structures are killing IT departments. The old enterprise paradigm just does not scale anymore. No huge capital investments. No new major hardware. No new major software. That also means that any SaaS purchase has to be “instant on.” No more hiring a Big 5 firm to take 6-12 months to roll out basic functionality.

Early adoption of SaaS has been in the CRM space, notably with Salesforce.com. There is a reason that Sales and Marketing were targeted first. These two organizations have the most dynamic processes in the company. They need to be able to react quickly. IT departments are not typically scaled to move so fast with fluid processes. A SaaS company comes in wiht a pitch of I can take this problem away from you and IT will likely bite. Just think about the personalities that are in Sales versus IT.

At the end of the day though, SaaS providers need expertise. Do not expect a company like Salesforce.com to build out an enormous services organization. They are more likely to partner with providers of process consulting, training and integration for particular verticals and foreign markets. Note that this is not technical consulting. The focus will be on the process and how to get there.

Finally, expect that Sales, Marketing and in general CRM will lead future innovation in SaaS. Simply, CRM got there first.

That’s my $0.02.

Recently I was asked about Sales Enablement providers. I knew of a couple but had mainly thought that the whole area was lipstick for sales/marketing content management systems (CMS). What I have since learned while doing some research for a project is that the capabilities of sales enablement have evolved to include market and competitive intelligence as well as insights from the field and subject matter experts.

Worthwhile blog on Sales Enablement @ http://salesenablement.wordpress.com/

Three main Sales Enablement players of interest:

Why this is important to CRM? It will drive user adoption.
Max’s CRM Rule #1: Give Sales a reason to use CRM.

A lot of recent conversations on CRM have revolved around using cloud based platforms for xRM and other CRM extensions. It is a smart way to go. Check Architecting a Commercial Application on Force.com for a solid read on the topic.

Salesforce.com has been unleashing a full-court press on the Force.com Sites platform with a Deep Dive webinar today. Sites was pushed heavily at the Cloudforce Seattle event last week and today offered a further look under the covers. The idea is fairly simple. Provide a platform to host websites that can easily integrate with your existing Salesforce.com applications: Workflow, rules, analytics etc.

The Sites development is done through VisualForce, which allows for anytime of user interface to be developed. This includes Flash and rich media down to vanilla HTML. Security is handled similarly to Salesforce.com and other cloud providers through a security profile per site. Sites offers some advance caching that goes beyond many dedicate web hosts. Overall, Sites is an impressive way to deliver web functionality through the Salesforce.com cloud. Google Analytics will be supported through the traditional JavaScript includes. I was expecting simplified configuration functionality as found in WordPress. Expect this in later versions.

Microsoft will have the ability to offer similar functionality through hosted Dynamics CRM and Azure. Windows Azure is slated for production later in the year and Force.com Sites live today. The cloud is going to look very different in 2010.

Finally getting back to Cloudforce Seattle and the tons of info learned last week. The message was clearly that Salesforce.com is not just applications. Cloudforce Seattle was all about the platform moving to the cloud. I have a notion that there will be several “clouds” in the future. Clearly, Salesforce.com aims to be the enterprise cloud.

Taking an educated guess, but if I was employed by Salesforce.com I would see the cloud(s) through the following lens:

  • Amazon AWS: Raw horsepower for the cloud. BTW, a partner.
  • Google Apps: Powering the desktop cloud. BTW, a partner.
  • Windows Azure: Microsoft Redux. Not serious for the enterprise. Find every hole and angle to exploit.
  • Facebook: Pure social play. Not a competitor until they are a revenue threat.
  • IBM & everyone else: Legacy vertical stacks. Too many holes to exploit. Focus on Salesforce.com advantage for each opportunity.

The Cloud Model will adhere to 3 themes: Multi-tenant, pay-as-you-go and elastic. The cloud is multi-tenant. Period. That is the only way to scale and offer the elasticity that the model requires. Without multi-tenant, it is merely remote hosting of previous application server provider (ASP) models. Pay-as-you-go is an interesting concept. Gone are the days of large outlays of capital and then turn-and-burn for the ROI. The Cloud allows for modest investment upfront. You can try a service easily. The main objection has been and will be “lock-in”. Prospects do not like the notion that you will host and somehow own their data. The industry media has not helped this notion. The elasticity is the value in the cloud for both parties. The relative cost of adding more capacity to the customer is cheap and the price the customer pays for added capacity is as well. Make not mistake though, the old days of huge margin for enterprise software providers is long gone. Smaller Cloud providers will find themselves up against increased barriers to entry.

The business value proposition will be around 3 themes as well: No capital expense, modest operating expense and scales with your business. No capital expense has been, is and will be a huge selling point. Companies finance departments may not understand this concept. Capital budgets are different from operating budgets. How much operating budget is based on usage and a lot of customers will have difficulty with this pay-as-you-go concept. They want to plan usage and that in the past has been done on a capital outlay. Cloud customers will need to get better at capacity planning their cloud usage. Salesforce.com and other cloud providers will need to spend the time to educate that usage is the new pricing.

This does next to zero for the sales cycle though. It is still as long and laborious. I speak from experience.

Immediately post-Cloudforce Seattle, I had identified 5 highlights:

  • Visual Force, Model–view–controller (MVC) framework for custom user interfaces
  • Mobile Lite, Free (for most) Salesforce.com mobile application
  • Force.com Sites and Free Edition
  • Integrated Content Library
  • Genius, Think iTunes Genius for Salesforce collaboration

Visual Force provides an MVC framework for custom user interfaces as a service. MVC (Model, view, controller) is a standard framework for development. Since most user interface development is done through this type of framework, it is an advantage. Less re-tooling for development staff, less hurdles to clear from IT. The MVC framework carries over to Force.com Sites and will allow for a rich visual experience. Smart move.

Mobile Lite and the Mobile product has a mantra: “Write once, run anywhere” to iPhone, Blackberry and Windows Mobile. I have not been able to look into this further, but I know first-hand the difficulties of going cross-platform in the mobile space. “It ain’t easy.” Mobile Lite is a free for most versions of Salesforce.com and provides a lot of bang for Sales. It can take call logs from the phone and update Salesforce. What Sales would not want to have to make sure that his or her activity was logged? The mobile development angle on Force.com is intriguing and I will dive into that deeper.

Force.com Site and Free Edition were the stars of the event. If there was one point they wanted you to leave with it was Force.com Sites. From the impressive Starbucks/Appirio demo to the equally impressive GameCraze demo site by EDL Consulting, Salesforce.com wants to provide the world with the capability of customer facing systems on the same platform. Free Edition is a call to developers to an application vendors to test the waters of the enterprise cloud. The barrier to entry cannot get much lower than free. I would expect to see some interesting startups come from this.

The Integrated Content Library was just plain cool. It allows tagging, ratings, comments and search capabilities of market-facing content. Sales no longer needs to search for the best deck through hundreds of e-mail threads. A user can then assemble a custom deck for the opportunity. The real coolness is in the tracking of the sent content to the prospect. Sales can generate a custom e-mail through Salesforce.com to include a link to the newly created custom content. Tracking based in the e-mail and link will tell Sales, if the email and link have been opened. For Sales, this is pure gold.

Additionally there is a Genius feature that can best be described as iTunes Genius for Salesforce.com. It allows Sales to find experts within the company who have closed similar deals through matching criteria. Deal size, product or owner you name it. To work well, Sales must be disciplined which is difficult to at best. It will be interesting to see what customers Salesforce.com offers as “Super Geniuses”.

There has been a lot of press about this event being in Microsoft and Amazon’s backyard. This tour did not start and will not end in Seattle. Seattle was chosen for effect, no doubt. Salesforce.com means to be the enterprise cloud. Period. If I am right, hire me. If I am wrong, then I will be down to one reader — which will still not be my wife.

Happy Monday.

At Cloudforce Seattle yesterday, Salesforce.com gave the best explanation of why you need to monitor social media for CRM, especially in Support/Services.

Your customers have already moved there.

Do they go to Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn first to find answers? If so, how do you monitor and answer those questions? Are you able to create and reuse content? Being a Salesforce.com event, they demonstrated some impressive ways to monitor Twitter and create self-help content for use by CSRs and customers. If your customers are already there, you need to be there too. As the rapid rise of Twitter shows, you will have to be more nimble and react quicker in the future.

Attended Cloudforce Seattle today. Tons of great information and still processing it all. Usual Microsoft jabs by Marc Benioff, but nothing you likely have not muttered yourself. Lots of love for Starbucks and Amazon AWS from the Salesforce CEO.

Some highlights:

  • Visual Force, Model–view–controller (MVC) framework for custom user interfaces
  • Mobile Lite, Free (for most) Salesforce.com mobile application
  • Force.com Sites and Free Edition
  • Integrated Content Library
  • Genius, Think iTunes Genius for Salesforce collaboration

I will dive into these and other topics when I catch my breath.

Time after time in discussing potential CRM technologies with clients, the issue of customer loyalty is brought forth. Clients want to make sure that their customers keep coming back. Depending on the type of relationship, one bad transaction can lose a customer.  When the process of  sales and service is discussed, ask how many layers of onion are between you and your customer. How does it taste?

The good news is that today there are more technologies than ever to get closer to the customer. These range from traditional customer care to social media. Depending on the product or service you could easily and cheaply implement: Video,  Twitter, User Comments, Photos, Slideshare Presentations, Facebook/LinkedIn, etc. Check out My Starbucks Idea built on the Salesforce.com Force Platform. They have received more than 60,000 unsolicited customer posts! Some great ideas have come from their own customers like the “Splash Stick”. They encourage ideas, feedback and even criticism! Plus, it has generated outside press and awesome word of mouth. You cannot ask for better customer loyalty.

Now maybe your business is not on every corner and might not be all that “sexy”. You still have customers, you still have relationships, they still have ideas, they still provide feedback, and they still provide criticism. The trick is to find the right medium to get you close to the customer. Then loyalty will grow.