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Salesforce1: Confusing, yes. But it's all about education.

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez May 22, 2014
Kendall Collins agrees that more needs to be done to explain the benefits of the new platform

At Dreamforce last year in San Francisco, Salesforce didn't do what vendors typically do at their big annual conferences and bombard journalists with a bunch of announcements and a huge slew of press releases. Instead it opted to focus on one big announcement – Salesforce1. However, after a few days and a number of meetings and briefings, a lot of journalists, customers and partners were still a bit confused about what exactly Salesforce1 is. Is it just a mobile app? Is it a platform? Does it incorporate all the existing Salesforce apps? Marketing jargon? I think it's fair to say the general consensus was that there wasn't a great deal of clarity.

So, when Salesforce hit the UK yesterday for the London leg of its world tour I was keen to find out some more detail. And from the keynote I got the impression that Salesforce had picked up on the confusion, as we were given a number of slides, definitions and use cases explaining exactly what Salesforce 1 is. From my understanding, it can be best described as the following:  a completely re-engineered platform for all Salesforce applications that is mobile first and takes advantage of flexible and open APIs and easy to use SDKs, which allow companies to easily develop and customise their own Salesforce1 mobile apps – with the aim of helping them to better run their business from their smartphone.

However, I also had a chance to sit down with the main man behind the platform and mobile app – Salesforce's Kendall Collins – to get his take on how Salesforce1 is maturing and what needs improving. My first question to him was about whether or not he thought the messaging around the platform and app was confused, to which he generally agreed. Collins said:

“I think that the name can be confusing. It is absolutely a challenge. I think anytime you roll out new technology you have an education curve, an education gap. You want to close that gap. You are going to close that gap with a range of customers over time, you are going to close the gap with the customers that are closest to you, that are most advanced in what they're doing, they're going to get it early. They provide the examples. 

“Also, we learn. We explain things to people one way and we recognise that people may not have entirely got it. The great thing is that we have instrumented the product very well, so I spend a lot of time every week looking at the data, looking at how people are using this, how many actions they are creating - that's given us an indication about where people are not educated enough yet. Today we have been more clear, we have tried to differentiate the app from the platform. I think at Dreamforce we spoke a lot about the platform and that confused people. 

“Even analysts that know us pretty well are confused and that's a branding thing.”

One particular group of people that needs focus is the developer community, according to Collins. He said that Salesforce1 has been created in a way that allows traditional web developers to easily look at business processes and morph them onto mobile apps, using the Salesforce1 SDK. He said: 

kendal collins

“Educating our customers and educating our broader developers community takes time and I think that for a lot of people who are developers may not think of themselves as mobile app developers, because they don't do this language or that language. With Salesforce1 we have made things so easy through the SDK so that someone who is a web developer, who has a business process that they'd like to create, can create it on a mobile app with Salesforce1. I think that was impossible before and I think that was a hard thing to explain.”

But things are on the up and people are beginning to get it, according to Collins. He said:

“But I see that the adoption is really going amazingly well now, we have hit a stride, our customers have hit a stride, I think our partners have hit a stride too. We haven't disclosed adoption numbers, but they have been really exciting. It has been pretty balanced globally, which I think is great.”

The use case

Having established that education is still needed around Salesforce1 and its benefits (and I do believe there are many, the examples I have seen look pretty impressive so far) I was keen to find out from Collins how customers are using the platform and the mobile app at the moment. His main two points were that companies that have established sales processes are using Salesforce1 to enhance their mobile capabilities (as Salesforce would hope) and that because of the flexible APIs and the SDK, developers are able to easily customise like they haven't been able to before.

“People with existing sales processes are trying to mobilise their Salesforce with Salesfoce1.They are also customising it in a different way, giving them the ability to create their own cards and different layouts, which lets people rethink what their sales people do on the road. They want them to do five things and they want to be more prescriptive about that. They don't want to try and give them everything on the desktop because that's a bad experience. I have seen people optimise, customise and extend a little bit too, because you now have things like geo-data and a camera. 

“I think our customers going back two years ago were probably as frustrated as our mobile team with our APIs. I think our customers wanted to build different things on our platform. We had APIs but they weren't mobile friendly and I think that's a very detailed and important nuance in this, which is when you're building a mobile app the APIs have to be fast, they have to be able to describe UI components well e.g. you might want to do a query and instead of bringing back 200 fields on an opportunity, only bring back 10 at a time, because I can only display 10 on a mobile device anyway. Customers have now built beautiful, amazing custom mobile apps.”

The back-office problem and drilling into reports 

However, there are still things that customers are struggling with when implementing Salesforce1 – one of which will hopefully be solved by an announcement made this week on an update to the mobile app. Collins said that he had attended focus groups of customers using Salesforce1 and when testing he had seen them trying to tap on their phones to drill down into dashboards to get more detail, but this wasn't possible on the previous release. Salesforce has recognised the importance of this action and introduced new capabilities.

“If you think about the way people work in Salesforce they use dashboards for everything, how your business is doing, what cases are important, what your pipeline is. You want to just click on them, so many people try to click on them on their phone. There's nothing more frustrating. People's ability to go from the highest level, to the report, to the record and then take an action is such a common

Dreamforce 2013
business flow – so we have greased the wheels on this.”

And finally, as we often hear when companies are expanding their use of cloud-based applications, the integration challenge with traditional on-premise applications begins to become more prominent. From what I can make out, Salesforce is largely leaving it up to its partners to solve this problem, with the likes of MuleSoft and Informatica creating handy middleware and connectors. Collins said:

“For a lot of field sales employees, a lot want to put that SAP data in their hands as well. And whether its order information, shipment information, inventory, there's a lot of use cases in the customer facing scenarios where the back-office data is hugely important. 

“Now that customers have this app one of the first things they are going to ask is what else can I put in it. I think you will see more on that.”


  • A really interesting interview that definitely provides more insight into where Salesforce is heading with this. I'm glad that Collins recognises the education problem and hopefully more will be done on that front – it's also worth highlighting that Salesforce1 was announced less than a year ago, so not a great deal of time has passed.
  • Customers and use cases – when we start to get more detail on these, this is when we will really begin to understand where the benefits and the problems are. I hope we can do more of this with customer coverage at Dreamforce later this year.
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