This post is part of an occasional series on the AppExchange as Salesforce.com celebrates the seventh anniversary of its launch. The series will focus on some of the most interesting AppExchange applications of the last year.
Contact management has always been a challenge. Before CRM tools, there were no software tools for the job and contact management amounted to juggling paper lists or Rolodex’s that quickly went out of date. Today, we are faced with a different problem — too many software tools from which to choose.
We have email, CRM tools and various social media products on which our contacts reveal important information. While each tool captures some information, there has not been a single tool for consolidating the information for future use until now. That’s where Contactually comes in. Contactually aggregates and synchronizes contact data from the most widely used communication media, including email, social networks and CRM tools, so that sales people can efficiently capture the “big picture.”
Sales is an activity that takes multiple touches and relationship building in order to reach a goal. However, sales people have a responsibility to bring new and valuable information to each customer encounter or risk alienating him or her. Naturally, keeping tabs on what customers are saying is an important part of adjusting overall messaging.
Contactually helps sales people manage the contact lifecycle, which includes capturing, sorting and communicating. Sales people capture contact information in their Contactually address book and synchronize it with other data sources including email, social network profiles and CRM tools like Salesforce. Users then segment contacts into appropriate “buckets,” or categories, like leads, hot leads, future interest, etc. Sales professionals can then strategize situations and set up action items, reminders and due dates that help them to organize their sales processes.
This is a far cry from managing this sensitive process with paper lists, but Contactually is not simply about automation. With automation comes faster and more accurate processes, which also make it possible to turn the solution towards different business problems. For example, it would be great if a sales person had the bandwidth to give attention to past customers who will buy more and others who may act as deal facilitators, but who may not be in an active purchase situation.
How often should a sales person contact someone who is not in an active sales process, but who may refer business from time to time? While social networks provide an easy way to socialize with individual prospects and maintain high value contacts, there are many situations where a sales person might wish to maintain a looser relationship with someone who will recommend or refer them, but is not a direct purchaser. However, it’s difficult to maintain a special bond with someone if potentially hundreds of other people receive the same social post; contacts need to be treated as special individuals.
Less than two years old, Contactually figured out the value to a company of these “soft sales” situations and leverages the AppExchange to deliver its solution to Salesforce CRM customers. The company’s sweet spot is in providing companies having fewer than twenty employees with greater reach into their markets. By bringing together information from so many sources, Contactually makes it possible for sales people to more effectively use their time and resources and focus on the most valuable prospects and opportunities.
Contactually entered to market with a freemium model and provides an escalation path to a paid subscription. So far, more than 20,000 individuals are connected to Contactually and there are about one thousand paid subscriptions. Contactually integrates beautifully with Salesforce CRM so that updates to Salesforce are quickly reflected in Contactually and vice versa, along with updates from other services such as email and social media.
This young company has multiple evolution options. In the future it could easily become an important fixture in specialized sales processes and methodologies. As the customer experience will inevitably remain a very hot issue, vendors will surely be looking for ways to be more intuitive about customers and maintaining relationships. Contactually will provide that ideal solution.
The AppExchange is undoubtedly a significant portion of what makes salesforce.com unique. Pre-integrated solutions dramatically reduce the cost to the customer to extend the capabilities of Salesforce and the fact that it has already gone through growing pains means it will take other providers years to mimic its capability and impact.
~Narinder Singh, co-founder and CSO, Appirio
Nine Years ago I wrote The New Garage. It was a thought piece that tried to peer into the future of Software as a Service (SaaS) and make some predictions from a business and economics perspective. Salesforce had recently started promoting its platform in the making (then called S-Force) and encouraging third parties to develop applications that complemented and extended the basic Salesforce CRM solution so there was reason to speculate about the impact this new approach would have.
But also, the history of business and industry is a long story of better, faster and cheaper and at that moment all three were all in the driver’s seat. Back office software had already demonstrated many business process improvements leveraging automation and the Internet, and I thought it was time to turn some of these techniques on software. SaaS was a good start but it had further to go, I thought.
Early impacts lead to tipping point
I saw S-Force as a tool and an economic system that could revolutionize software, making it possible to create and deploy it in a just in time fashion. At that time you almost had to be nuts to think that. After all, even after the initial success of SaaS, software was still something you installed and slaved over for a long time before you got it right, not something you could just plug in like an appliance. And integration? Don’t ask! What was I thinking?
“We’re at a tipping point,” that’s what I was thinking.
The cold, hard truth of the matter was that you couldn’t expect to sell software subscriptions for a few bucks a month and encumber yourself with all the overhead of a traditional software company because you’d go broke. Something had to give. Either software would forever be something you sculpted from a block of marble or you had to figure out how to stamp out perfect copies that plugged in and just ran — no excuses.
My bet was that we could do the stamping but it wasn’t based on any hard economic data. It was based only the conviction that commoditization would have to continue and that something like what’s now the AppExchange would be the result. In truth, there were predecessors to the AppExchange. Steve Jobs opened an online store at NeXT in 1997 and six years later in 2003 Apple set iTunes in motion and today you can buy tens of thousands of apps at the AppStore for all your Apple devices.
All in a name
It’s hardly remembered today but the AppStore (name and domain) were originally Salesforce properties and that CEO, Marc Benioff, gave them to Apple. According to a 2008 Benioff interview with Bloomberg, Jobs had met with Benioff and his team in 2003 to offer advice on the Salesforce online store and the gift was a gesture of gratitude by Benioff to Jobs.
A store for enterprises
But those were consumer sites; there had never been an online application store for enterprise grade software until salesforce.com launched the AppExchange in January 2006. This year marks the seventh anniversary for AppExchange an odd anniversary to celebrate perhaps, but a good chance to look at the AppExchange to see how well it is living up to the original vision. Here are some of my observations.
- The partners have built a long list of useful solutions including HR systems, field service, accounting systems, sales tools and marketing automation products. These are systems that enrich the Salesforce experience but at the same time represent application areas where Salesforce has decided not to concentrate its resources. Where Salesforce has stepped aside, the partners have stepped in.
- The AppExchange created the opportunity for a very long tail of credible business solutions. In the more than 1,700 applications you can find on the AppExchange, there is a host of small applications that just make life easier for the Salesforce customer; some are strategic and many are exceptional. They are applications that integrate with other applications, distribute incredibly fine-grained information and automate processes in unlikely ways that just happen to work well for populations of users who need those exact solutions.
- The AppExchange is a good place to do business for companies of any size, especially for SMB’s. Many AppExchange vendors tell me that they make their living building and servicing their apps to the point that the permutations of Salesforce CRM with partner applications is, if not infinite, then at least very large (roughly 1700! or 1700 factorial). I had predicted this in The New Garage but I had envisioned problems with revenue splits and single sign-on. Both challenges have been dealt with.
- Perhaps most importantly, enterprises go to the AppExchange to find and buy solutions. One of the constant refrains I hear from AppExchange CEOs is that enterprise buyers find them on the AppExchange and buy solutions through it.
So here we are after seven years and the AppExchange is by all measures a big success. This blog is the first in a short series of posts that report on the AppExchange’s growth and the success of some of its many partners from small boutiques to large businesses. This series pays particular attention to ten AppExchange partners that distinguished themselves last year including in no particular order: TaskRay, TOA Technologies, Contactually, The TAS Group, Tango Card, Zapier, Apttus, KnowWho, nCino and KXEN.