When you talk about Salesforce, the most widely used customer relationship management (CRM) solution in the world, you are talking about a software behemoth. Recently, Salesforce chairman and CEO Marc Benioff told analysts, “As many of you are predicting, Salesforce will be indeed be the fourth largest enterprise software company in the world next year, behind only Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP.” (cited at). Of course, Salesforce, is more than just a CRM – it is a vast ecosystem of products and apps for the enterprise. But the core CRM is what most business people think off when they think Salesforce. Even though it is globally popular and widely adopted, does that mean it is an effective EPSS – an electronic performance support system?
In the recent Float white paper, The Rise of Work-based Performance Support Systems in the Digital Age, performance support pioneer Gloria Gery defines an EPSS as “an integrated electronic environment that is available to and easily accessible by each employee and is structured to provide immediate, individualised on-line access to the full range of information, software, guidance, advice and assistance, data, images, tools, and assessment and monitoring systems to permit job performance with minimal support and intervention by others.” That is a mouthful, and although it does seem to describe a solution that is a digital Swiss Army knife, there is a lot of truth in the definition. And, it is amazing that she wrote that definition in 1991.
Let’s apply some of the keywords in the definition to a checklist of Salesforce and see how we can evaluate it, or any enterprise mobility solution, as an effective performance support tool.
Keeping It All Together
The first key word to focus on is “integrated.” This term could apply to several components, but consider the integration of content.
If you are developing a mobile or wearables application, look for ways to leverage existing silos of information that may enhance your effort. If it is a sales support tool, can you build an effective way to link to your CRM? That onboarding application could link to an available repository of HR documents.
To say that Salesforce has some integrated content may be an understatement. Real-time connection to Dun & Bradstreet info, integration with Pardot Marketing Information, linkage to Outlook, and the Salesforce AppExchange has nearly 3,000 apps that provide additional capabilities. In fact, there are so many options, there is the danger of “feature bloat,” so it is important to have a clear understanding of your essential business goals for usage of the app. Of course, the end user can tailor Salesforce to provide just the information important to them and their team so if there is a dearth of options that becomes hard to navigate, it may be time to reevaluate the CRM priorities.
What You Need, When You Need It
Our next key word is “immediate.” In Float’s CHAMPIONS framework, an important affordance of performance support using today’s technologies is “High Speed computing.” Users of mobile devices are accustomed to getting the information they need in a rapid response, not only in a timely way, but also getting the right information. You don’t want your performance support tool to actually slow the user down.
With regard to technology performance, it must be noted that Salesforce is a “cloud only” solution. It does not offer on-premises options like you would find with Oracle or SAP. In fact, Salesforce makes you reside in their cloud and alternatives like Amazon EC2 or Rackspace are not supported. This could be a factor depending on your deployment requirements so make sure you know the complete context of your users.
The other aspect of “immediate” is to get to the right information when you need it. If you are trying to answer a question about a particular customer, how easily is it to get to that nugget? Data retrieval can be somewhat click-happy in Salesforce. It is not uncommon to be 4-6 clicks away to get to what you want to move forward with your task at hand. Even the mobile app can take you in a drill-down spiral. This is a common issue with an application that includes a large volume of information.
Let’s go back to Gery’s definition and choose another key word: “individualized.” It only makes sense that individualized content would be a priority for a CRM. A salesperson is going to want to know specifically about his or her leads, opportunities, and reports. Since you have to log in to Salesforce, that individualization is taken care of. The app knows who you are and all of the information that is linked to you.
But is there anything beyond username and password entry that provides effective and even innovative individualization? Because a user is constantly inputting data, they are revealing their usage habits and also indicating potential links between different sets of data within the app. Leveraging these user traits, if the application utilized anticipatory design techniques, inputting data could be quicker and more productive.
For instance, if a particular company is included in a majority of opportunities for a specific salesperson, why not have that company show up automatically in the company field? In that same opportunity input, there could be links given on a sidebar that have matching properties such as all opportunities in the last year with the specific contact name. Or, on the smartphone, the geolocation of the device could automatically open the file of a contact once you pull into the parking lot of that contact. Salesforce does not include much of this anticipatory design that I am aware of. With each new input, you tend to need to fill in each required field every time. If you have a different experience, share it in the comments section.
Sidelined By Its Own Design?
Is Salesforce a good EPSS? Yes, it’s good, but not great. It suffers from trying to provide anything and everything a user might need, and an experienced user/administrator must tailor it to your specific needs. The interface of the desktop/laptop version is easy enough to use but you can get lost in some drill-down rabbit trails. And the smartphone interface will have you guessing if there will be a bottom nav popup menu or an upper left hamburger menu or just a touch of a button. It has to be quite a UI challenge to try and present all of the choices on any given screen in the app.
Also keep in mind that Salesforce is the most expensive product of its kind, so that may have a bearing on your choice as well. But because it is so widely used, that means there is a large user base with forums that can help you solve problems, the company is strong in R&D, and they will be around in the future – that’s important for your key customer information.
What are your experiences with Salesforce or any other CRM? Is your CRM integrated, immediate and individualized? Share your thoughts in the comments section, and don’t forget to download Float’s latest white paper which will tell you more about performance support systems.
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