salesforce-comFounded in 1999, Salesforce.com will celebrate its 15th solar birthday this year.  In Internet Years, Salesforce.com is much older, a veritable great-granddad – based on the convention that every five years represents one Internet generation.  Salesforce.com spent its first generation proving its cloud infrastructure based on Open Source Lamp stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and developing the core functionality for the Sales Cloud.  Generation 2 was spent creating the revolutionary Sforce development platform and the Service Cloud.  Generation 3 has focused on social networking (Chatter), mobile extensions (Salesforce1) and the Marketing Cloud.    My prediction is that the next generation will be all about Big Data – transforming Salesforce.com into the Data Cloud, which will serve as the data analytics workhorse for customer-facing functions.

The Data Cloud will create the pre-conditions for a step function increase in sales productivity.  Sales, service and marketing professionals will have an integrated data repository at their fingertips - in the office and on the road - containing all the important information related to the customer experience.

To build the Data Cloud, Salesforce.com will need to concentrate on two key technologies:  data integration and data cleansing.  It will be incumbent on Salesforce.com to provide tools (or work with AppExchange vendors that do) that will integration customer information automatically and seamlessly into its Sales, Service and Marketing Clouds.  These data integration apps will automatically import, sort, index, order, de-duplicate and cleanse email, voice, web site and social network data into each Salesforce.com standard and custom record so that a user will have real-time information at their fingers (and thumbs) about all customer interactions.  Pieces of the Generation 4 platform are starting to appear on the AppExchange.  Match My Email is pushing Salesforce automated email integration to its logical limits.  Shoretel is building apps that capture and transcribe voice conversations.  Woopra tracks web site behavior of leads and customers.  Although Fliptop has mysteriously withdrawn its wonderful social network syncing app, others are sure to follow. 

Looking at email sync, the generational evolution of the Salesforce.com platform can be mapped. 

Generation 1 involved cutting and pasting emails manually into Salesforce.com.  This was highly inefficient and did not result in much useful information in the Sales Cloud. 

Generation 2 featured manual bcc: tools like Connect for Outlook and Outlook for Salesforce.  These software plug-ins were an improvement on cut & paste but they still involved a lot of manual work, generally fell out of use after a honeymoon period and were a nuisance to upgrade with each new version of Outlook .  They also did not create a reliable record of email correspondence in Salesforce.com. 

Generation 3, the current generation, is all about ‘context’, i.e., bringing Salesforce information into the email client – whether it is Outlook for Salesforce or Linkpoint 360 or Cirrus Insight for Gmail -  so that it is easier for the sales rep to sync email to Salesforce.com.  But these ‘context’ tools still don’t solve the problem because they draw the users away from Salesforce and make them live inside the email system, instead of Salesforce.  In addition, they don’t create truly useful data in Salesforce because the email log is not 100% complete. Moreover, they require too much work on the part of the user, slowdown the email client too much importing the ‘context’ and don’t work if the user is traveling, sick or in the meeting. 

Generation 4 tools like Match My Email hold out the promise of super-charged productivity and reliable Big Data in Salesforce.com.  Match My Email’s technology is based on folder selection.  The user selects the email folders to be synced to Salesforce and then the system does the rest.  Based in the cloud, fourth generation email syncing is always on, up-to-date and working in background.  It creates a 100% complete – yet de-duped and cleansed – log of all the email correspondence – inbound and outbound – between the entire sales team and the external contacts at the account.  This Big Data can be mined to create dashboards and reports that let sales operations better monitor and manage the sales process.

As the Big Data concept spreads through the Salesforce platform to include as many types of customer interaction as possible – voice, email, web site and social networking – Salesforce.com adoption and usage will soar and SFDC will become an even more indispensible platform for managing a state-of-the-art customer focused enterprise.