Every successful for-profit and non-profit enterprise knows how critical a good CRM (customer relationship management) system is to success. A powerful CRM platform can not only help organizations find new customers, but also help to retain them by creating deeper and richer relationships. Over the past few years businesses and non-profits have begun to understand the immense potential of transforming themselves into these social enterprises. This new identity engages customers/donors in a deeper and more meaningful way.

At the top of the list of companies that provide cloud-based CRM solutions is Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com is perhaps the largest and most well known CRM (customer relationship management) service on the web. It has offered its services to the business community for over a decade and continues to refine its product line and approach. Here is a short description of the company and the CRM products found on its website:

Salesforce.com is the enterprise cloud computing company that is leading the shift to the Social Enterprise. Our trusted cloud platform and apps – including our flagship CRM solution – help employees collaborate easily and connect with customers like never before.

CRM solutions help ensure that your sales, marketing, and support efforts are all working toward a common goal, so you can take your business success to a whole new level. Streamlined and automated business processes, give everyone in your company a complete view of the customer, provide deeper analysis and insight into critical sales and customer metrics, and keep everyone focused on getting new customers while keeping the ones you already have happy.

The social enterprise takes cloud computing to the next level. While cloud computing brought CRM online, the social enterprise delivers CRM solutions to companies in a new way, and service to consumers in unique ways. It elevates communication internally among employees and externally between a company and its customers. How? It starts with a customer social profile, in which a company can learn about a customer’s likes and dislikes through online social interaction. It bridges the gap between customers who are social and companies that are not. It lets companies engage with customers and CRM solutions like never before. The social enterprise provides a platform for companies to move away from email and have all employees interact through a private social network. Employees at every level can ask each other for help with projects and easily share information. The social enterprise also lets employees in customer service learn about customers’ issues and needs through new channels such as social sites including Twitter and Facebook. Companies can reach out to their customers to provide tailored service every time.

Salesforce.com offers two distinct, and fully customizable platforms called – Sales Cloud and Service Cloud. The Sales Cloud offers businesses and non-profits a way to manage the entire “sales” process in the cloud by categorizing and tracking information and providing access to timely metrics. The Service cloud offers a platform to organizations that allows them to provide faster and more responsive customer service across a variety of channels. Both of these services can help create deeper and more rewarding customer/donor relationships.

Salesforce for Non-Profits

In recent years, Salesforce.com set up a foundation which was designed to provide the non-profit community with access to its popular solutions at a deeply reduced cost. In fact, Salesforce.com now provides the first 10 enterprise edition licenses free of charge to qualified non-profit organizations. Currently, there are more than 12,000 non-profits which use Salesforce’s CRM solution. Some of the key features of the enterprise edition for non-profits are: constituent/donor management, donation/grant management, program management, campaign marketing, team collaboration, and real-time analytics. Additionally, discounts are offered, through the Salesforce foundation, on other products and services including – service cloud, API access, social media monitoring, data.com, and database.com.

The process of securing the 10 free enterprise edition licenses is actually quite easy:

1)    Check to make sure your organization is eligible
2)    Watch the required video overview
3)    Select the appropriate configuration – enterprise edition or non-profit starter pack
4)    Sign up for a free trial
5)    Submit an application

Typically, once the application is submitted, a representative will contact you within 1-3 business days with a decision or a request for more information. The link to begin the application process can be found at - http://www.salesforcefoundation.org/products/donation.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Personally, our organization has been using the Salesforce.com non-profit starter pack CRM system for about two years now. It has been a truly fantastic tool to manage the relationships with our current donors and provide opportunities to invite them to deeper levels of interaction. From our experience here are a few of the strengths and weaknesses we have encountered while using the platform:

Strengths – 

1)    Robust platform - Easily capture and track key information related to donor/constituent management.
2)    Fully customizable – Salesforce.com is completely customizable, meaning you can create user defined fields and reports. Additionally, you can hide or disable certain features which are not useful to your organization.
3)    Reporting – You have access to great metrics, reports, and analytics for a variety of programs and marketing campaigns.
4)    Team collaboration – Salesforce.com provides a service called “Chatter” which enables teams to collaborate in real time within the CRM platform.  
5)    Custom support – You are assigned a dedicated Salesforce representative who can help you with a variety of needs including implementation and ongoing customer support.

Weaknesses – 

1)    Ease of use – Because it is an incredibly powerful platform, the learning curve for Salesforce.com can be somewhat steep. To help with this, I would strongly encourage your team to take advantage of the free training provided by the Salesforce staff.
2)    Security – Although this may not be an issue for most, you will be accessing private client data in the cloud, which means that you need to make sure that you take appropriate steps to ensure the data security of your information. In the past, there were some issues with client data on Salesforce.com being breached.

Overall, we have been very happy with the CRM provided by Salesforce.com. What are your thoughts? Has your organization had an experience working with a CRM solution? Do you use Salesforce.com or a comparable service? In your opinion, how can a non-profit successfully harness these tools to enrich donor/constituent relationships? We would love to hear from you.