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Salesforce: The CRM solution for start-ups and SMEs

With a customer relationship management system like Salesforce, you can manage all your customers' important information in one place. What are the advantages of using a customer relationship management solution - CRM for short - and what should you look out for?

Foto: Sunrise UPC GmbH

Customer Relationship Management is a central pillar of every company today. It organises the information about every company's most valuable asset: its customers' data. Which products a customer has bought, which parts he has exchanged or how often he has contacted support - such data is more important today than ever before. Those who know a lot about their customers respond better to their needs, bind them more strongly to the company - and ultimately make more profit.


CRM systems: central for marketing, sales and service

This knowledge about the customer is made available in customer relationship management systems, or CRM systems for short. CRM systems, such as the one from Salesforce, take on an important function, especially in medium-sized companies, because customer information is often not collected centrally in one place here. The CRM system collects all customer information centrally and makes the data available to the employees in bundled form.


In this way, work processes can be optimised, automated and customers can be looked after individually: For example, the CRM system opens the correct data directly to a sales employee for incoming customer calls or e-mails on the basis of the sender ID. The employee immediately has all customer information and interactions at his or her fingertips. A clear contact history shows all points of interaction with the customer, including notes. Thus, he is perfectly informed and can attend to the customer individually.


That is why CRM systems are considered an important tool in the areas of marketing, sales and customer service. According to Bruno Schenk, Head of Digital Transformation at UPC Switzerland, the Salesforce solution enables the company to model individual customer interactions and implement them within a very short time.

He gives an example: "We use Salesforce marketing automation for our customer surveys. This way we can interactively track and measure the customer journey - and we can interact at any time."


What is Salesforce?

Whoever says CRM today often means Salesforce. Salesforce is considered the leading provider of CRM systems. The US company stands out from its dozens of competitors primarily because of its consistent cloud orientation. Salesforce offers its CRM system as cloud-based software as a service. The customer no longer runs Salesforce in his own data centre, but rents the CRM platform as a service from Salesforce for a monthly fee. The CRM system can be operated and maintained via the user's web browser over the internet.


All businesses with no or a small IT organisation benefit from this service: they no longer have to buy software or provide hardware. There are no costs for maintenance and servicing; both are handled completely by Salesforce and are included in the flat rate for the licences. Personnel for implementation and maintenance are no longer necessary.


Another advantage is that service staff can also call up or add relevant customer data via smartphone or tablet while on the road, without having to enter information in the office. The hardware used plays an important role here. "In many IT projects, one deals with the question of the right hardware solution as well as its operation," says Bruno Schenk. "Here, too, the Salesforce solution is suitable for companies without large IT organisations. The Salesforce price model already includes the costs for hardware and server operation."


How can Salesforce be used?

In principle, there are no limits to the areas in which Salesforce can be used. The CRM software can be used in mechanical engineering as well as in the automotive industry and in retail. There are also no restrictions in terms of company size, because the modular structure of the Salesforce products allows scalability from start-ups to large companies.

Salesforce offers several products, the three most important are:

  • Sales Cloud: The actual CRM system - provides a comprehensive overview of all customer-relevant information

  • Service Cloud: Connects all services, ideal for teams that want to manage service cases properly

  • Marketing Cloud: Suitable for marketing teams focusing on email and social media marketing

According to Bruno Schenk, Salesforce also offers added value in terms of the functions provided, and not only for UPC: "Salesforce has a simple product range and thus enables every company to put a CRM into operation within a very short time. The modularity of Salesforce with the App Exchange allows the user to find a suitable solution for every use case."


What does Salesforce cost?

Each Salesforce Cloud product is offered in four editions, which differ in price and functionality:

  • Salesforce Essentials, 25 euros per user and month

  • Lightning Professional, 75 euros per user and month

  • Lightning Enterprise, 150 euros per user and month

  • Lightning Unlimited 300 euros per user and month

The most cost-effective package Salesforce Essentials is a ready-made system with basic CRM functions for a maximum of 10 concurrent company users. Salesforce Essentials is particularly suitable for start-ups and very small companies with few differentiated requirements and a low budget.


A fully-fledged CRM system is only offered with the Lightning Professional edition from 75 euros per user and month. From this price package, mobile apps for iOS and Android as well as useful functions in terms of lead nurturing and marketing automation are added. According to Bruno Schenk, the comparison between SaaS and OnPremise licences is not always easy. "SaaS solutions are always more expensive in a direct comparison because the price includes server and hardware costs as well as software operation and further software development."


What about data security?

Users do not have to worry much about data security. As part of the operation and construction of its data centres, Salesforce relies on high security standards.


Nevertheless, not all that glitters is gold. Users must be aware that with Salesforce, basically all applications and data are stored in the cloud. Companies can never be sure on which servers in which geographical locations their data is stored. Salesforce operates data centres in Europe and Germany, but not in Switzerland. "Data security is a big issue in the cloud," says Bruno Schenk, "to increase security, there are two different approaches that can basically be taken in Salesforce: first, encryption and second, local database integration."


Even if the data is stored in the cloud, Salesforce users should make regular backups. The US provider recommends "definitely also backing up your own data so you can fall back on it in case of operational errors." Restoring data is also possible by commissioning Salesforce.com, but the company sees this approach only as a last - and also very expensive - option.


Another shortcoming is that exiting Salesforce and switching to another system can be difficult. It is not always possible to make a complete switch with the Salesforce applications and data to a new system without major effort.


Alternatives to Salesforce


1. Commercial CRM systems

  • Hubspot

  • Abacus

  • Combit

  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM

  • Sage CRM

  • SAP CRM

  • SugarCRM

2. Free open source systems

  • 1CRM

  • EspoCRM

  • SuiteCRM

  • vtigerCRM

The Salesforce.com platform enables a company to act agilely on the market. This is given by the modularity, countless app integrations (such as DocSign) and own application development on Heroku by Salesforce.

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