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Cloud-based CRM enters new territory for Salesforce partners

Channel partners are pursuing increasingly sophisticated Salesforce implementation projects, helping customers integrate and optimize complex systems. Inc. has come a long way in the last 15 or so years. With a growing ecosystem of integrated applications and a platform as a service offering, the cloud-based CRM has become a stepping stone to larger, more complex projects that span entire organizations. As a result, companies are looking to service providers to help them through the process of choosing, implementing and optimizing their use of the application.

"The world of SaaS [software as a service] and the cloud is becoming as multifaceted and complicated as the traditional, on-premises environment," said Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director, THINKstrategies Inc. "As a result, solution providers must become adept at helping their customers select, configure, integrate and optimize various SaaS solutions offered by and its AppExchange partners into their customers' existing business operations."

Saideep Raj, global managing director for Accenture, said that Salesforce implementations have evolved. "When Salesforce started out, you could just turn it on," he said. A basic implementation for a small sales team could be achieved using standard processes. "The issue is, as companies start thinking more broadly -- now they want to use it across the entire sales organization and it doesn't matter what they're selling, they want to use it as a common platform -- [implementation becomes] more complicated because they have to think about the product hierarchy and how everything is presented in Salesforce," Raj said.

The challenge of Salesforce partners expands beyond implementation. "Because of's expanding solution portfolio and the proliferation of SaaS solutions that can work with Salesforce, the first requirement is to help [customers] select the right SaaS solutions to meet their specific business needs," Kaplan said. "Next, they need help configuring and integrating the SaaS solutions into their existing business operations. And, they need training to optimize their utilization of the SaaS solutions."

Because of this growing ecosystem, Raj said Salesforce is enabling clients to solve bigger business problems than they had in the past. "Salesforce is becoming an enabler for transformative engagement, and we're finding that's powerful for our clients. Some of the things they were trying to tackle in the past, they invested a lot of money in but were not getting a [Return on investment]. They are starting to pick them up again because they feel this model is more aligned with ROI and value creation."

As an example, Raj said Accenture is working with a global organization that has more than 50,000 employees who "touch" customers. The company wants to become more customer-centric as a means to drive growth. As part of a multiyear project, Accenture is delivering the Salesforce releases that solve some of the company's challenges but Raj said, "It's against the strategic agenda the customer is driving. We're tying our fees to the results. It's truly outcome driven. We are incented to make sure the client achieves the business case."

How Salesforce partners expand cloud-based CRM

Cloud Sherpas, based in Atlanta, also helps its clients expand their implementation and use of Salesforce's cloud-based CRM.

"Over the last couple years, there's been a demand to grow an advanced CRM past what Salesforce itself offers. We are advancing the investment that our customers made in CRM through things like [configure, price, quote software]," said Ray Young, vice president of U.S. strategic services for Cloud Sherpas.

Over the last couple years, there's been a demand to grow an advanced CRM past what Salesforce itself offers.
Ray Youngvice president of U.S. strategic services, Cloud Sherpas

Customers are looking for features and capabilities like employee/customer partner portals, field-service capabilities, advanced business intelligence and analytics, so Cloud Sherpas built up specialty practices for these areas. "That enables us to sell and deliver what customers are looking for after their initial investment in Salesforce," Young said.

Sometimes optimizing a Salesforce implementation requires building out new functionality. "When Salesforce doesn't have functionality to address a specific business requirement, we build that component out on," Raj said.

"Many projects have a Salesforce-driven approach to get the most out of the box, out of the solution itself. Most projects are an 80/20 blend." Raj explained that 80% of the project is the core Salesforce offering while the individual components built on make up 20%.

Salesforce implementation: working with the business side

As service providers expand their portfolio to coincide with their clients' growing Salesforce needs, they must also be prepared to sell to and work with various decision makers within the business.

"Solutions providers must recognize that corporate end-users and business unit managers are playing a greater role in the SaaS buying process. Many are unilaterally acquiring SaaS solutions to meet their day-to-day needs. Others are gaining greater authority in the corporate purchase decisions," Kaplan said.

Kaplan continued, "Therefore, solution providers must focus more of their selling efforts on meeting the needs of these new buyers and influencers. They must understand their business requirements and preferences. They must also be able to show how they can meet their specific industry standards."

Young agreed. "For these programs, there are often multiple stakeholders involved. Often, there are two executive sponsors -- the IT executive and the head of sales, who is the main beneficiary of whatever we're building … IT tends to be the constant over the course of that relationship with the customer, but that's not always the case. Sometimes we engage directly with the business -- and they are the ones signing our paycheck," he said.

This changes the way service providers engage with the customer. "Ultimately, every stakeholder is looking for something slightly different, and every IT organization is looking for something slightly different," Young said.

While some IT organizations are focused on cost and the service provider's methodology, others are more strategic and focus on the business value the stakeholders will receive. "Business stakeholders talk less about nuts and bolts, and at the end of the day want to know what are the business outcomes they are achieving ... There is not a single message depending on the stakeholder we're speaking with, and with multiple stakeholders you need different messages," Young said.

Next Steps

Read about Salesforce's plans to recruit more consultants and integrators

Learn about the pace of SaaS adoption

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