Salesforce is known as one of the first companies to offer customer relationship management (CRM) technology and helped make the concept known in the industry. Since then, Salesforce added to its impressive success by extending its offerings beyond CRM. The company’s core product, Salesforce Sales Cloud (starts at $25 per user per month), offers plenty of CRM capabilities, and the prices scale up according to each tier’s capabilities. Salesforce easily leads the market when it comes to cutting-edge CRM features and offers a deep suite of easily integrated Salesforce back-office apps and an impressive ecosystem of value-add partners, too. With these strong points, Salesforce earns an Editors’ Choice honor in our CRM roundup along with Apptivo CRM and Zoho CRM.
While the Sales Cloud is where the CRM product lives, we tested the version that costs $75 per user per month, which is called the Lightning Professional tier. This tier is deployed as a cloud service and includes Salesforce Lightning technology, which allows for deeper customization around each customer’s unique workflows. The Lightning Professional tier sports a streamlined sales pipeline, lead management features, instant alert and best practice recommendation pop-ups, and improved drag-and-drop dashboard functionality. The company’s Salesforce Einstein Analytics product uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automate time-consuming tasks that occupy sales teams, such as data entry, lead scoring, and forecasting. You can add Einstein to a Salesforce Lightning implementation for an additional monthly subscription cost.
All that makes for a great platform, but Zoho CRM, another top pick, offers many of the same customization options and even some of the advanced features at a far lower cost. If you don’t need all of the features Salesforce has, remember that the CRM space is large enough that it can pay to look around.
Salesforce started as a CRM company, but now has many different Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings, which can make it confusing to get started. For this review, we tested Sales Cloud, the Salesforce automation and CRM software. Service Cloud is a separate product intended for running a customer service desk. Marketing Cloud provides email marketing and campaign management, Community Cloud enables customer self-service, and Einstein Analytics offers business intelligence and analytics. The Salesforce Platform lets you build apps without coding expertise, Lightning Data cleans leads and contacts, and Pardot offers marketing automation. Finally, Chatter is the social network for the organization.
There are several tiers within Sales Cloud: Salesforce Essentials, Lightning Professional, Lightning Enterprise, and Lightning Unlimited. The Essentials plan ($25 per user per month billed annually) offers sales and marketing for up to 10 users. It comes with guided onboarding, account and contact management, opportunity monitoring, lead scoring and assignment, email and event tracking, customizable reports and dashboards, and mobile access. It’s relatively basic feature-wise, so you should consider cheaper and easier-to-use options such as PipelineDeals or Zoho CRM if this is all you need.
The Lightning Professional plan we reviewed ($75 per user per month with annual subscription) has no user limits and offers campaigns, customizable dashboards, products, quotes and orders, mass email, and role-based access for users. This plan is the one best suited for small businesses, and it has some advanced features, such as collaborative forecasts. Overall, however, it feels expensive compared with other software. Based on price alone, it’s still tempting to go with the $12 per user per month Zoho CRM, though once you dig in, you’ll find that there are some under-the-hood reasons that more than justify paying more for Salesforce.
The Lightning Enterprise plan ($150 per user per month with annual subscription) is the company’s most popular and shows why Salesforce is still at the top of the heap. Along with all of the features mentioned above, this level includes workflow and approval automation, report history tracking, enterprise territory management, profile pages, custom app development, and access to the web services API. The Enterprise plan also includes Salesforce Identity and Salesforce AppExchange. The former allows for single sign-on to all enterprise apps, and the latter is for creating a corporate app store.
The Lightning Unlimited plan ($300 per user per month with annual subscription) allows unlimited customizations, multiple sandboxes, custom apps, 24/7 toll-free support, and unlimited training. If you need Service Cloud, you can get it with the Unlimited edition.
Setup and User Experience
Salesforce offers a free 30-day trial of its software, which we think should be the industry standard. Sales processes can be complicated enough that you want sufficient time to step through all phases to be sure you are comfortable with how the software works. As with Insightly CRM, you don’t need a credit card to sign up for the trial; if you don’t buy a plan at trial’s end, make sure you export your data. Salesforce has a robust import/export tool to simplify this process. To cancel your account, you need to contact your account manager over the phone. The good thing is that there are no cancellation fees, and you get a refund of the unused portion.
After signing up for the trial, a prompt asks what your role in the organization is: sales representative, company owner, IT professional, sales manager, and so on. Answering this question helps Salesforce customize the product tour to show applicable features, which is a simple but powerful way to get users started. On the left-hand side of the screen is a tray marked Walkthrough, which lists tasks you should perform. These helpful pathways for new users include creating a custom dashboard, integrating with other apps, and managing your pipeline. The Getting Started tab also takes you to a video tutorial and a PDF of the user guide, as well as the links to download the mobile app from the App Store or Google Play.
The Lightning dashboard is well organized, with menu options at the top in a tabbed interface. The Home tab displays the news feed, with updates and notes from other users as well as lists of tasks and scheduled activities. The bottom half of the screen shows a dashboard that you can customize via drag-and-drop. By default, you can see graphs showing your pipeline, number of open activities, and closed sales.
The bottom section of the page shows your tasks and calendar with scheduled events. You can customize this page completely, and move objects or add widgets to create a self-contained sales experience. The interface makes Salesforce easier to navigate and puts every aspect of the contact, lead, sales, and deal process in one place for business users.
The rest of the menu is fairly standard: Contacts, Accounts, Leads, Opportunities, Reports, Dashboards, Chatter, Files, Products, and Forecasts. You can create new tabs to bubble up specific tasks to the top level, which is helpful if there are pages you go to regularly. A universal search bar is at the top of the screen. It’s unobtrusive, so it doesn’t feel like it’s taking up valuable real estate.
Users and Contacts
As the administrator, you create new users under Setup. To do so, you need to provide the name, an email address, a username, and the user’s role. Salesforce makes it easy to track the number of users you are allowed to have under your license. Admins can create users who use only Chatter and don’t count toward the number of paid Salesforce users, which is an excellent cost-saving detail—you can have non-sales and marketing personnel using Chatter without driving up licensing costs. A bulk edit page is handy for creating multiple users at once with basic information.
The new user’s page notes whether the user can access data offline, use mobile devices, or have access to forecasts. The Color-Blind Palette on Charts checkbox is particularly clever—this is a company thinking about the best way to get data to all its users. You can define roles to restrict what kind of data each user can see and the sort of tasks he or she can perform. The admin also has a simple way to send a mass email to all the users, a useful feature if you need to, say, notify all employees of downtime.
If you integrate your account with Google G Suite or Microsoft Exchange, you will see all your contacts listed under the Contacts tab. There is a simple New Contact button if you want to create a new one manually, or you can import data from other sources via a comma-delimited file.
Salesforce Sales Dashboard
You can see contacts belonging to everyone across the organization in All Contacts, or look at your own list under My Contacts. You can easily click on users and add them to new opportunities. When you click on a contact to view the record, you see the contact information, all open activities, activity history, saved emails, and files attached to the record. The status update box for the news feed can also be used to add notes about the contact.
You don’t have to scroll to the bottom to see all the open activities; rather, you can hover over the quick links at the top of the record. Like the dashboard and everything else on this platform, this page’s look is customizable. SugarCRM is the only other CRM software we’ve tested with this level of customization, although Zoho CRM comes close.
A big focus for Salesforce is its Einstein AI platform, which includes Einstein Activity Capture, Einstein Email Insights, Einstein Lead Scoring, Einstein Opportunity Scoring, and Einstein Forecasting. Activity Capture automatically pulls customer interactions from a user’s email and calendar so entries are up to date. It also has a calendar manager for easy scheduling without switching between software. Email Insights uses natural language processing to surface emails, recommend responses, and bring reps to “inbox zero” much faster. Likewise, the Lead and Opportunity Scoring tools use machine learning to prioritize the user’s time. Finally, Forecasting mines your Salesforce data to help your company see what’s on the horizon.
You can track accounts, leads, and opportunities under each tab. Salesforce provides a consistent interface for creating accounts, leads, and opportunities, making it easy to use the platform after the initial learning curve. Each tab points you to detailed reports so you can see status at a glance, which is a nice touch.
Salesforce also offers quality lead management. Creating a lead generates a task by default, but you can create other tasks and activities. You can also automate your workflow so that it always assigns certain leads to the same user or automatically creates tasks when you add new opportunities.
Sales and Lead Generation are two separate apps, although the UI is, as mentioned before, similar enough to make it easy to switch from one to the other. You also have access to the same data—the listing of leads, accounts, and so forth in the Sales app will be reflected in the Lead Generation app. The difference is in some of the tabbed features that are available. For example, the Sales app includes tabs for Notes, Tasks, and other activities, while the more narrowly focused Lead Generation app has one for Campaigns.
Being able to filter your view to prioritize leads is essential. You can also see your list of leads either as a traditional list table or as a Kanban table, making it easy to move leads along your pipeline.
A significant source of analytics is Sales Cloud Einstein Lead Scoring, which uses the Salesforce Einstein Analytics Platform to score each lead. It uses historical data from your company to discern success patterns. (To use Lead Scoring, you need to be using Sales Cloud Lightning.) Salesforce recommends that, in order for lead scoring to work, the company should have had at least 1,000 leads created in the past six months, with a minimum of 120 conversions. Sales Cadences let businesses create customized activity sequences to guide reps through the prospecting process.
Lead scoring is especially useful for large operations, which can have higher-scoring leads (indicating a higher likelihood of conversion) sent automatically to more experienced salespeople. Smaller organizations can use the ratings to sort their lists of leads (available as part of Sales Cloud) and decide whom to contact first.
Similarly, Einstein Opportunity Scoring keeps sales reps on top of low-performing opportunities. Einstein Opportunity Insights gives reps a close look at successful and at-risk opportunities.
Reporting and Third-Party Integration
Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional lets you have multiple dashboards, each assigned to its own data set. The Sales Executive dashboard can display the current pipeline by product family, recent sales activity, the biggest deals on the board right now, and neglected accounts. The Marketing Executive dashboard can focus on unspent marketing dollars and the current pipeline by account type. Users can sort the top three marketing channels by total value opportunities for each and leads driven in by campaign for the current quarter. Here you can create custom reports as summaries, tables, or matrices.
In comparison, Pipedrive CRM offers a workflow-based dashboard geared specifically at the sales pipeline, showing a straightforward way to track deals and activities but without as many built-in features or reporting. Zoho CRM also does a good job of customizing the dashboard to display data analytics, but not to the scale that Salesforce does.
Salesforce Pipeline Board
Salesforce has one of the largest third-party app marketplaces. You will likely be able to integrate the CRM with every business app you use, including QuickBooks, RightSignature, and Zendesk. Launched in 2006, the Salesforce AppExchange now offers more than 5,000 available apps and, according to Salesforce, has facilitated more than 6.5 million business app deployments.
At the Professional, Enterprise, and Unlimited tiers, there is also a wealth of add-ons available to layer additional functionality atop the business CRM experience. The SalesforceIQ Inbox gives users a suite of mobile and desktop productivity apps, including email and calendar integrations with smart reminders of pressing deals and leads. Einstein Analytics adds more business intelligence (BI) to the sales process with natively integrated dashboards showing quarterly and year-over-year performance, risk indicators, and forecast metrics through its pipeline trending functionality.
Another useful add-on is called Salesforce CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote), an automated quote-to-cash engine for configuring products and pricing for cross-sells, up-sells, contract and proposal generation, and billing processing of invoices and payments. Salesforce Billing enables seamless subscription renewals, contract renewals, and flexible invoicing.
The list of add-ons goes on and on, and they all cost somewhere between $25 and $75 each for the basic functionality. These costs can add up quickly on top of the premium you’re already paying for Salesforce, but for specific use cases, the add-ons can make a valuable addition to your CRM capabilities.
For social media, Salesforce has Chatter, its social networking platform. Chatter lets you set up a profile and update your colleagues on your status; a Share button sits at the top right side of the main page. You use Chatter to update project status or give other users notes on a lead, opportunity, or account.
Nearly everything you can do on the website can be done on Salesforce’s mobile apps for iOS and Android, which puts it head and shoulders above the competition. Insightly, for example, only lets you look up contact details on its mobile app.
Salesforce’s support options are stellar as well. You can fill out a form on the site, call the toll-free phone number, or look at the help tips dispersed throughout the software. You also have the option to log into Salesforce Success, a support portal that gives you access to training videos, webcasts, knowledgebase articles, and user forums.
Powerful for Small Teams
Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional may be more expensive than most other CRMs, but it creates a productive, collaborative CRM environment. Because it is so flexible, businesses can modify Salesforce to suit their needs and workflows, instead of having to adjust to an existing interface. Operating the service feels remarkably smooth, given the massive amount of power beneath the surface. It’s not as modern-looking as some of its smaller competitors, but its top-notch features prove why Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional remains an Editors’ Choice. If the price tag is holding you back, however, consider our other Editors’ Choice, Zoho CRM, which offers many of the same features at a lower price.