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Salesforce is the 800-pound gorilla of customer relationship management (CRM). Not only is it one of the best CRM apps, it was also one of the first in the current wave of software-as-a-service sold on subscription basis, which is how nearly all the players in this space now do business.
Salesforce first launched in early 2000 as an online CRM where you and your sales team could keep track of information about contacts and potential sales with them. Because it was a web app (common now, but rare in those days), sales teams flocked to it because they could access crucial information to close deals from anywhere they had an internet connection. It was designed to be simple with no fluff, similar to Amazon.com at the time. Additionally, it was one of the first online applications with an API, so you could send information to Salesforce from any other app.
Today, Salesforce is more than just a CRM app. It's really more of a platform comprising several applications. For example, the Salesforce1 Platform is a CRM-centric online database that you can use to power custom apps you build yourself. If you choose not to build your own apps, you can instead use Salesforce's default apps, which are powered by the same platform. One of these default apps, Sales Cloud, is a customizable CRM with contact-tracking, reports, email integration, and other features you'd expect to find in any CRM software. Another default app is the Service Cloud, which helps you provide better support to your customers by giving you important information about their history.
Other apps include Marketing cloud, Desk.com for simple email support, Chatter for team chat, SalesforceIQ (formerly RelateIQ) for simple email CRM, and Heroku for hosting your own web apps. Many of these apps are sold via stand-alone subscriptions.
Still, Salesforce's primary goal is to give and your team tools and information that help you keep a positive relationships with your clients, customers, and potential future clients and customers. The apps are built on the same online database system, and you can customize each one to get the features your team needs. Thanks to API integrations and its inclusion in the Zapier network of apps, Salesforce can be your central storage point for all your data even if you use other apps and services to run your business.
Detailed analytics and customizable reports are included, too, along with forecasting tools that help you plan for the future, based on recent sales and growth. There are customizable permissions and workflows, marketing automation to help you pick out the best leads automatically, and special consoles and dashboards for each of the different parts of your team so everyone can work the way that makes the most sense to them.
While Salesforce takes time to learn and customize, it has a lot of potential for big return on investment in both time and money. If you need a powerful sales CRM app suite and database, Salesforce should be a top consideration, especially for large and growing organizations, as it is expensive for small businesses compared with other options. (Our list of the best free CRM apps has some excellent alternatives for micro-businesses.) That said, Salesforce does offer an approachable basic plan that can introduce a team to the Salesforce system, and you can always upgrade when you need more features.