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Event & Sales CRM Round Up: Part 3 – Salesforce.com

Last week, I started a series of blog posts (Intro Here, Highrise review here)

on the topic of finding the right CRM for your seminar or information sales business. So, continuing the series, I wanted to jump from one end of the spectrum – Highrise – to the other – Salesforce.com. Salesforce is perhaps best known in the CRM world for moving things to “the cloud” – or in more technical geek terms running your CRM as SaaS –Software as a Service. Just like Highrise – and actually all of the CRM solutions that I'll personally recommend or review – you don't install the software on your computer desktop. You log in to a website, and your solution lives online.

Salesforce LogoSo, what does Salesforce.com provide? Depending on which edition you've purchased, pretty much everything and the kitchen sink. SF is a fully loaded sales CRM solution, with an emphasis on B2B sales. Let me start by breaking down the editions a little bit. Salesforce.com comes in many flavors, from Contact Manager to Professional to Enterprise and beyond. Obviously, as you step from one edition in to the next you add more features, but you also can jump radically in price in the process. SF charges on a “per user” basis – which makes a lot of sense for its core business model. As a sales CRM, it's definitely worthwhile to pay $125/month per sales user, assuming that your sales agents are generating thousands or millions of dollars of revenues for your business. Of course, for small companies, even 3-4 employees large (like many of the seminar industry businesses tend to be) – those costs can be mighty prohibitive. $500/month for CRM software = $6,000 a year… Or, at least enough money to make the average owner to stop and pause. So, to that extent, from a pricing standpoint, it's good to know what features & services you will need early on and plan out how to justify the costs over the long run. Internally, Salesforce has built a very predictable CRM model that will be familiar to most B2B sales agents instantly. The challenge, while talking about the seminar & events business, is to identify how to use the platform for the event / B2C (business to consumer) side of the equation. In the simplest terms, Salesforce breaks “contact” down in to a couple of places. First off, you have a ton of functionality in “Leads”, which are the people who you've had some sort of interaction with, but you haven't really had a conversation. To this end, it's fairly straightforward to setup a website landing form to capture lead data, or import leads lists from Excel spreadsheets. Once your salespeople have touched base with a lead, and consider them a potential prospect for revenues, then that lead is “converted” to the following: An Account, a Contact, and (optionally) an Opportunity. That's the standard CRM framework, and as I walk through some other CRM's you'll see that same L=>A+C+O model again. Again, realize that Salesforce is built for B2B sales, and you'll see this makes perfect sense. The Account is the company that the person works for or represents. The Contact is the actual human being. The Opportunity is the business / revenue opportunity that is being pursued. With that framework in mind, the model makes great sense. Accounts can have many Contacts within them. And many Opportunities may arise. You might be able to sell widget X one month, and then Widget R the next. And you may know the president, purchasing agent, and operations manager all at the same company. So, does this model work for seminar & event sales management (primarily a Business to Consumer transaction)? It can, but to a certain extent it requires changing the way you use the software. The easiest method to exploit the L=ACO model is to simply have the “Account” be the person's name, and leave the contact as an irrelevant side-effect of the process. The Opportunity can be defined with a product (that's one of the advanced settings you'd need to configure – your product offering sheet) so that all the agents in your company can know what business opportunity you're working on. When used in it's simplest way, Salesforce can definitely be a useful tool. The task method and reporting is absolutely a great asset for analytical business managers, because you can rapidly snapshot your entire business & sales pipeline and see how things are progressing. Let me break down what I perceive as the pro's for running your seminar business on Salesforce.com:

  • Highly expandable platform – You can basically make Salesforce in to whatever you need it to be. You can customize virtually every view and screen, create specialized reports, and add custom fields to use all throughout your application.
  • Excellent Customer service, training, and support community – I say “community” because Salesforce is big enough, and has been around long enough to foster an entire cottage industry of training and education, as well as a powerful 3rd party developer community. You have a sales rep you can call, you can tap in to technical support, and that giant dev community is constantly building new applications that you can add on to your platform – further expanding its value.
  • Excellent resource for Sales-Floor management – This is really the rub: If you're running a structure sales floor with reps hitting the phones and/or going to customer sites, this is probably as close to the de facto industry standard as you'll find. Experienced salespeople will be comfortable with the platform and can immediately start hitting their leads. However, if you're like most seminar events firms, sales is just one facet of your customer relationship management activities.

Which leads us in to some of our cons against Salesforce, especially from a seminar events standpoint:

  • Probably too much – Salesforce has a significant learning curve, a lot of features, and a lot of things to pay attention to. Again, if you've got a dedicated sales manager and sales is your business, then Salesforce may be the right tool for you. But for most seminar events companies the software can require too much training time, too much management time, and not enough results for small businesses.
  • Requires Attentive Users – When you're a sales manager or business owner making decisions based on the reports that you're pulling from your sales CRM, about the last thing you need is to second-guess your own data. But, if your sales agents & users aren't paying attention to how to properly use the system, then you'll end up spending more time checking your data than using the information at hand to make smart decisions. If you do adopt Salesforce, be very clear to your sales people how you expect them to use the system, and show them the various fields that are critical.
  • Can get expensive – If you're running a 3-4 personal seminar company, bearing the cost of $2-3k quarterly bills for CRM software can hurt. One of the challenges of Salesforce is that you can't have different employees with different degrees of usage. It's all or nothing. So if you have 2 sales people who want the advanced features of the next best edition, all 5 of your employees have to come along for the ride.

All told, I'm a huge fan of Salesforce.com (you might not have caught that in this article, but it's true). However, for this particular industry space, and for our average client size, and for the purposes of managing complex events and simple sales transactions – is SF right for you? My general guess is no. Seminar businesses need a B2C oriented platform, lower pricing, and an easier way to integrate with marketing & promotional activities. Stay tuned for more updates on this series of articles, as well as some new topics that we'll be

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