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Salesforce.com sets sights on the smallest businesses

In a bid for new sales, the on-demand CRM vendor is rolling out a low-cost edition of its application for up to two users

On-demand CRM (customer relationship management) vendor Salesforce.com on Tuesday will announce Contact Manager Edition, an application aimed at companies with just one or two employees.

The offering is priced at US$9 per user per month. Salesforce.com expects a ready audience for it, said Bruce Francis, vice-president of corporate strategy.

Many people, having lost their jobs during the recession, are “starting their professional lives over” by forming new businesses, he said. “They need the right product at the right price,” Francis said.

This emerging body of entrepreneurs will see the value in having their contact information stored in a single place and accessible through an Internet connection, he added.

Of course, Salesforce.com is also hoping that as startups grow, they will upgrade to fuller-featured and more expensive editions of its software.

Contact Manager includes some extras, such as integration with Google Apps, but omits the CRM capabilities found in other Salesforce.com editions, like lead management and setting up sales processes. “This is real clear-cut and simple,” said Sean Whiteley, senior director of SMB strategy.

Users can stock each of their contact pages with a variety of information, such as upcoming meetings, shared documents and connections to the contact’s Twitter feed and LinkedIn profile.

It is also possible to create custom fields and run a variety of prebuilt and customized reports, such as for “neglected accounts.”

For customer support, Salesforce.com has created a variety of do-it-yourself training tools and FAQs. Text materials are available in 14 languages, Whiteley said. A wizard tool is available for importing information from other systems.

There is also an accompanying support community, 24-7 chat access and 12-hour, five-day phone support, Whiteley said.

Whiteley declined to specify whether Salesforce.com will engage resellers for marketing the new edition, as it recently did for its Force.com development platform, but said, “as you can imagine, it does open a lot of doors for us in terms of channels.”

Salesforce.com may initially find it tough to reach target customers for Contact Manager, simply because they haven’t heard of the company, said 451 Group analyst China Martens.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Salesforce.com fiddles with Contact Manager pricing, particularly since it recently ran a promotional offer for Group Edition, previously its lowest-cost version, at $9 per user per month, she added. That deal expired Aug. 31, according to Salesforce.com’s Web site.