The A to Z Guide to Salesforce

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The word “Salesforce” can elicit a wince from even the most experienced of businesses. This cloud computing behemoth may be the most successful provider of its kind, but learning how to master it is no simple task. The challenge lies in its sprawling scale.

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On the surface, Salesforce is a comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) system. Underneath, however, it’s a spidery network of apps, services, features, products, platforms and acquisitions. The Salesforce CRM brand is both where the company makes its money and what tech experts are talking about when they refer to the biggest cloud computing provider in the US.

Yet, it’s important to understand that the brand and its products are in a constant state of flux. Salesforce is an industry leader when it comes to acquisitions, so its line-up is growing all the time. With a rapidly changing roster of new names, editions and introductions, keeping track of the services can be tricky, particularly for new customers.

Our guide to some of the most popular Salesforce features and technologies will help you get to grips with this pioneering CRM system.

#1 Provider of Cloud-Based CRM

Despite its intimidating product lineup, Salesforce continues to be one of the most popular and valuable cloud computing companies in the US. In early 2016, it reported a market capitalization of $61 billion. This success lies, in part, with its unshakable reputation for innovation. It was one of the very first vendors to offer cloud-based CRM software solutions.

Over the years, it’s refined and developed its product, primarily through interactions with users. Salesforce CRM is committed to supporting businesses of all sizes and, specifically, helping them make easy work of customer service, sales and marketing. While it may be complex, the goal is to give users the tools they need to create a fully customized package.

In other words, it’s a matter of getting to know what’s available and figuring out which products, apps and features are worth integrating with your existing software solutions. As the majority of Salesforce products are cloud-based, they’re flexible, scalable and easily accessible. You’re in the driver’s seat, so it’s worth taking the time to gain a full understanding of this system.

Core Architecture and Systems

The core Salesforce architecture consists of its primary CRM service, which can be broken down into a number of broad categories. They include Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Sales Cloud, Analytics Cloud, Marketing Cloud, IoT Cloud, App Cloud and Community Cloud (incorporating Chatter). However, there’s a number of supporting systems as well.


The Salesforce1 platform brings together many of the core functionalities of the Salesforce CRM system, but it provides a mobile-first architecture. The aim is to give businesses a flexible interface for case and task management, as well as tools for directing and accelerating key events. The portal offers analytical tools, email alerts and contract management features.

Since 2013, Salesforce1 has relied on the Chatter function to operate its communications tools. The collaborative system is a mashup of popular social media services like Facebook and Twitter. It allows users (corporate teams, specifically) to interact and share ideas in a secure, dynamic environment.

The platform is a PaaS (platform as a service) that enables developers to construct multitenant add-on applications. They can be fully integrated with the primary Salesforce system, as the associated apps use the same basic infrastructure. All applications are created with the use of Apex (a programming language created by Salesforce).

Users can also create innovative, flexible interfaces via the VisualForce framework. It’s possible to produce complete custom pages, with the ability to override standard buttons, embed components, insert new dashboard functions and incorporate alternative menu items. In 2015, the Lightning framework was introduced as an alternative to VisualForce pages.

In 2011, Salesforce bought the social performance management platform Rypple. This was its first foray into the world of human capital management. Within a year, the system had been completely rebranded as, and it was integrated with the social sharing tool Chatter as well as Sales Cloud and Service Cloud.

Salesforce has built on the foundation created by Rypple and developed a system for long-term coaching, live feedback and fast-paced employee recognition. With, businesses are better able to monitor productivity using internal data, so that incentives and rewards go to the right people.

The system is a cloud-based tool designed to simplify the management of CRM records within Salesforce user accounts. It automates the process so that maintaining up-to-date and accurate databases is easier than ever before. The system is based on an older architecture called Jigsaw, which Salesforce acquired in 2010.

It’s connected to an online business directory, and the information is organically managed by the user community. The idea is that incomplete records become a thing of the past, even though company address, phone numbers and other details are constantly changing. Essentially, it provides a fully live digital ‘business card’ for over one million users.

The system used to be known as Assistly, before Salesforce bought the company in 2011. It kept most of the original features, but rebranded the customer support architecture. It continues to operate as a SaaS help desk and customer relationship management tool, which caters specifically to smaller enterprises. integrates smoothly with a number of Salesforce features, including the primary CRM platform and Salesforce IQ, as well as third-party providers like MailChimp. makes it easier to organize customer interactions, create actionable targets, formulate quick responses, access case histories, and track discussions on social media.


The AppExchange is one of the oldest offerings from Salesforce. It provides access to a wide selection of third-party applications which are operated via the system. Some are available at no cost, while others require a monthly or annual subscription. There are more than 2,600 individual applications featured on the AppExchange, so it’s a very extensive tool.

The apps span a remarkable range of tasks, processes and actions. For instance, Salesforce Labs Apps are free, and include things like the mass editing of CRM data. DocuSign is a digital signature tool. Cirrus Insights syncs email inboxes with Salesforce accounts. Conga Composer is an app that constructs documents and spreadsheets out of Salesforce data. And these are just a few of the apps available.

Using Salesforce as a Cloud CRM Platform

Now, we return to explore the core Salesforce architecture and the eight CRM service categories in more detail. Just to jog your memory, they are as follows; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Sales Cloud, Analytics Cloud, Marketing Cloud, IoT Cloud, App Cloud, and Community Cloud (which includes Chatter).

In some circles, Health Cloud is also counted as part of the core architecture. So, we’ll take a closer look at this function as well. As with the rest of the Salesforce line-up, most of the cloud services listed have been expanded to include acquired companies at some point.

Commerce Cloud

The Salesforce Commerce Cloud used to be known as Demandware before it was redeveloped and rebranded. Like the rest of the CRM architecture, it’s a cloud-based service. The goal is to bring together customer interactions across several different channels and devices. It integrates with Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Sales Cloud.

With Commerce Cloud, businesses can create a smooth transition between in-store and online experiences, so that customers are always engaged with the brand. It provides cohesive solutions for point-of-sale, order management and commerce. Plus, it can help users build premium websites, develop eCommerce operations and assimilate partner technologies.

It achieves all of this by adhering to three important objectives. The first is to ensure that retailers can deliver a top quality brand experience, whether customers are physically in a store, browsing on their phones or making connections on social media. The second is to provide tools capable of turning business intelligence into actionable targets.

The Commerce Cloud uses predictive technologies to flesh out customer profiles, histories, preferences and purchasing habits. The final goal is to make customer service easy by using data to integrate online and offline events. So, for example, a store manager could deal with an in-store customer issue by giving the customer a coupon customized for that customer based on their online purchases.

Service Cloud

This is a cloud-based platform designed to facilitate customer service functions. Therefore, it’s similar to the Commerce Cloud, but the onus is on swift, automated responses. If used correctly, it can help businesses solve customer service problems quicker. The system monitors social media and alerts CRM teams whenever it detects a complaint or other issue.

As it’s integrated with the Salesforce Customer Success platform, it’s able to deliver not just a concise report on the problem, but also valuable information about the customer behind it. This is a great asset because it means that appropriate responses can be generated immediately. The Service Cloud automates service processes and streamlines workflows.

It provides sophisticated indexing tools so that CRM agents can access all of the information they need to help customers quickly. Plus, with an accompanying Service App (from AppExchange), all of these tasks can be managed from a mobile device. This mobile support offers live agent video chats, on screen assistance and screen sharing capabilities.

Sales Cloud

The Sales Cloud is a bit of a jewel in the crown for Salesforce. It provides several of the most popular CRM and communication tools. The system brings together customer data from multiple channels, including sales, lead generation, business analytics, marketing and customer service. It also offers access to thousands of apps through the AppExchange.

Salesforce is keen to encourage users to develop their own customized platforms. Consequently, it has no fewer than five versions of the Sales Cloud. These are Group, Professional, Unlimited, Performance and Enterprise. There are also three different tiers of support so that users can tailor their service experience.

The software is provided as both a SaaS browser-based tool and as a mobile application. It links up with the Community Cloud and Chatter in order to provide a secure network for internal communications. There’s actually a live social feed that CRM teams can use to stay updated with leads, case histories and marketing campaigns.

One of the most interesting features is the Einstein Analytics tool (formerly known as Wave Analytics). It’s an innovative business intelligence system with the power to construct personalized, dynamic data models. In other words, it uses artificial intelligence to intuitively track and extract insights from data by automatically identifying key variables.

Analytics Cloud

The Analytics Cloud furthers the capabilities of the Einstein tools because it’s built on the same Wave architecture. The primary objective is speed. The system is designed to gather actionable insights and do it in the most efficient way possible. While the terms ‘wave’ and ‘analytics’ are often used interchangeably, there’s an important difference between the two.

Where the Analytics Cloud is a Salesforce product, Wave provides its technical foundation. This is a valuable distinction, because it allows the provider to partner with third-party app developers and build increasingly new and sophisticated BI tools. The system allows users to bring together vast amounts of data from HR, marketing, IT, service and sales departments.

It’s possible to input data in three ways. It can be uploaded via a standard Salesforce connector. This is a handy technique, as it usually produces a high-quality GUI. You can also add information from CVS files and custom integrations if you have a workable middleware layer. All of these tasks are carried out with the help of a user-friendly dashboard interface.

Marketing Cloud

The Salesforce Marketing Cloud offers a comprehensive customer relationship management suite. It’s designed to cater to any and all needs associated with brand interactions. The featured tools cover everything from content creation and management to predictive analytics, social media promotion, web personalization and customer journey tracking.

The predictive tools are particularly useful, as they help businesses identify the optimal channel for marketing messages. For example, Marketing Cloud can determine whether a piece of content is likely to attract more attention on Facebook or Twitter. The Journey Builder function uses customer data to personalize campaigns and deliver a targeted promotion.

In addition, Marketing Cloud can send alerts when specific actions are taken. For instance, if a customer signs up for a loyalty program or mailing list, an automated response may be sent out. Perhaps most importantly, the Marketing Cloud monitors all scheduled communications to make sure that customers don’t receive overlapping content from different teams and departments.

IoT (Internet of Things) Cloud

At this point, every business is (or should be) aware of the Internet of Things. It’s still a fairly new phenomenon with a lot to learn, but there are big advantages to be enjoyed right now. To gain these advantages, however, you need the right tools, because processing IoT data can be a heavy-duty task. Fortunately, Salesforce IoT Cloud has a lot of practical solutions.

It’s powered by an event processing engine called Thunder. Salesforce has referred to it as “one of the biggest scalable real-time engines” in existence. It’s capable of processing and storing vast amounts of information from apps, sensors, websites, and devices of all kinds. Once again, speed and efficiency are paramount here, so the IoT Cloud operates in real time.

One example of how IoT data might work is to imagine wind turbines outfitted with meteorology sensors. If this information were to be made accessible to, say, commercial airlines, they would know very quickly when conditions become unsuitable for flying. In fact, they could cancel or reschedule connecting flights for passengers before they touched down.

If you apply these capabilities to a corporate context, you have data from a billion different events being processed every day. With the IoT Cloud, it’s possible to take this data and extract valuable insights related to customer behavior in specific situations. If you can identify the patterns that lead to purchases, you can focus your marketing efforts on these key areas.

Community Cloud

As already mentioned, the Community Cloud is primarily based on Chatter, Salesforce’s social sharing tool. However, it should be noted that Chatter is an integrated social framework. It features, to some degree, in most of the Salesforce line-up. The Community Cloud counts it as a feature as well, but it also includes access to other functions.

They include the ability to construct branded websites that link customers, employees and partners to real-time information and live service agents. The Community Cloud can also be used for human resource management, help desk interactions and troubleshooting. It’s handy for geographically distant teams that need to be able to collaborate efficiently.

While the Chatter social CRM framework doesn’t have to be enabled, it’s highly recommended. This is a great way to share data and images in a secure environment. You can even turn the system into a tool for customer indexing and communication. Plus, it takes just a few simple steps to add a ‘Buy Now’ button for e-commerce transactions.

One of the newer features of Community Cloud is Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt is built on the older Lightning architecture that allows businesses to construct multitenant add-on applications. The difference is that with the Bolt expansion, these customized portal templates are more advanced. They offer business-specific logic and workflows; recommendation engines; and case management.

App Cloud

App Cloud is a broad selection of development tools designed to support the construction of Salesforce-compatible apps. As the cloud-based system operates via native integration, there’s no need for complicated software. The aim is to make the development process as accessible and efficient as possible, so that users can get maximum value out of the toolset.

From a CRM perspective, businesses have everything they need to create apps that recognize and process customer data. This is a great way to tailor brand experiences and provide consistently engaging purchasing interactions. App Cloud is also handy for automating business processes and enhancing APIs for stronger, faster security. Some of the most popular tools include the AppExchange, which we talked about earlier. The App Exchange was actually the first app director of its kind to be launched.

Heroku is another commonly used tool. It’s a PaaS feature that supports app developments across a broad selection of languages, such as Python, Java and Ruby on Rails. Heroku is the best way to build apps right on top of the core Salesforce platform. As discussed, Thunder is a very powerful event processing engine, and it’s also available through the App Cloud.

Health Cloud

Though the Salesforce Health Cloud is a lot more specific than many of the other CRM tools, it’s still worth a mention here. It relates specifically to health care providers, but many of the core Salesforce functionalities have been drawn together to create it. For instance, Health Cloud processes and stores data on patient demographics and histories in order to inform quick responses.

It’s fully compatible with healthcare apps and electronic health record (EHR) systems. As with commercial enterprises, providers are able to offer cohesive, integrated customer experiences because key tasks are automated or directed by predictive analytics. It becomes easier to help patients when key decisions are made using data in conjunction with real-time events.

Taking the First Step Towards Superior CRM

There’s no doubt that Salesforce, particularly as a complete and comprehensive system, can be an intimidating product. It covers a remarkable selection of tasks, actions and processes, so the best way to approach it is in small steps. Don’t forget that this CRM innovator is designed to be fully customizable.

You have the option to add or jettison apps and features depending on the needs of your business. Smaller enterprises will likely find that they don’t need to use every tool available, but the important thing is that you can access them at any time. This level of availability that, combined with its scalability, is invaluable. This saves you money, time and resources, which is something we can all get behind.

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