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Salesforce.com Business Software Evaluation

Founded in 1999 by former Oracle sales executive Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com has become the SaaS CRM software market leader. Salesforce.com is largely known for its flamboyant and media-induced leader who seems to be regarded either as a visionary or a blowhard depending upon whom you are speaking with. The company's use of guerilla marketing campaigns, near limitless marketing spend and frequent gifts for industry media and analysts have earned the company an interesting and mixed reputation - from being referred to as the next Google to being referred to as the SaaS industry bad boy.

After planting roots as a customer relationship management system, the larger than life company is moving aggressively in a new direction away from commercial business applications and toward platform applications - and as is traditional with Salesforce.com, the company has invented its own marketing term of "platform as a service" (PAAS) in order to create, define and own the business sector it seeks to serve. Whether Salesforce.com can use PAAS to raise itself to successfully take on companies such as Microsoft remains to be seen.

While the Salesforce.com CRM hosted business application may not be the strongest in the software as a service industry, the company downplays the limited value of commercial off the shelf business systems and instead attempts to expand the value proposition with a third party directory of integrated products called AppExchange and a proprietary programming environment called Force.com. The breadth of AppExchange has been impressive, however, the integration between AppExchange products and Salesforce.com seems limited, giving the appearance that the third party solutions are using AppExchange as just an additional online sales outlet. Force.com is a respectable development environment, however, getting the development community to part with open and industry standard development tools such as Java or .NET and adopt a proprietary development environment is of questionable motive and no easy task.

Salesforce.com segments its product suite among a few different editions. The Salesforce.com Team edition is a workgroup edition priced at USD $995.00 per year for five users. The Professional Edition is a scaled down version and is priced at USD $65.00 per user per month. Enterprise Edition seems to be the most popular and is priced at USD $125.00 per user per month. Finally, the Unlimited Edition is priced at USD $195.00 per user per month. Either of these last two editions are normally required if an AppExchange product is necessary.

While Salesforce.com's growth has exceeded all expectations, there have been some serious bumps in the road along the way. A series of frequent system interruptions and downtime have plagued the software's system uptime assurance, however, the company continues to make strides in more redundant data centers and improving upon historical performance. Salesforce.com was also hacked resulting in the breach of thousands of customers' personal information. Again, the company appears to have taken steps to curtail this type of event from repeating.

While Salesforce.com faces many hosted software competitors, the company's main competitors include NetSuite at the low end, Aplicor in the middle-market and SAP's Business ByDesign in the enterprise market. Salesforce.com's strengths include its sustained marketing push, strong brand recognition, reasonable ease of use, good online documentation and suite of programming tools to customize and integrate the CRM product.

Salesforce.com disadvantages include high recurring subscription costs, high total cost of ownership (TCO), mixed customer support reviews and a lack of feature sets and functionality that requires many users to pay extra for AppExchange products or pay for customization tools (and programmer fees) to accomplish what several other on-demand CRM systems deliver with their core products.