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how salesforce.com uses customer development

January 24, 2010

salesforce.com is one of the great enterprise software companies of our time. It’s one of my favorite companies – I love the product, the philosophy, and the philanthropy model.

Because I was so impressed with the company, I ordered Behind the Cloud as soon as I could.

I eagerly tore the book out of the Amazon box and devoured it, reading all of Marc Benioff‘s 111 business plays.  It’s consistently great advice from one of great Founder/CEOs of our time.

As with most start-ups, salesforce.com started with a vision – a web-based CRM application, available inexpensively.

As with most successful start-ups, salesforce.com also modified their vision according to customer feedback – both qualitative – gathered by talking to their customers, and quantitative – from web analytics on all salesforce.com accounts.

How salesforce.com Iterates on Customer Feedback

-Get a product out there and get people using it.

-Gather qualitative feedback from individual customers and quantitative feedback from the wisdom of crowds

-If you’re trying to move up/down market, spend time with the customers you want to understand your needs.

-Iterate on your service, being careful to add the minimal amount of features possible.

Marc Benioff on Customer Development

From ‘Behind the Cloud’

From the very beginning, we initiated a dialogue with these users about what was missing in the Sales Force Automation (SFA) application.  Salespeople routinely asked prospects about features they wanted and relayed their feedback to the product managers.  We queried prospects on why they decided not to go with us, and we spent time with large enterprises – customers that we weren’t initially able to serve – to learn what additionally functionality was required to make them consider our service.  We heard about missing features, such as the ability to track multiple products or a way to manage price lists.  We might have thought of these on our own, or we might not have, but we certainly wouldn’t have known which were in the greatest demand.

Thanks to our “no software” model, we have another way to listen to customer response.  The on-demand architecture offers us the opportunity to “watch” how users use the application.  We don’t do this in a Big Brother way, where we can see data or information about a company.  Rather, the system simply counts broad patterns anonymously and notifies us if there are issues.  These insights into how users are using our service allow us to learn about what they use and what they don’t.

As we evolved our service in response to customer’s needs, we faced the risk of changing our service too much – and making it so specific that it couldn’t commonly serve all customers.  If we wanted to continue to have mass appeal, we needed to apply changes with a broad brush.

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Do you use the wisdom of crowds or interviews for customer development?  Which one works better?  Leave a comment…

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