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Salesforce.com Launches Online App Marketplace

Following Microsoft's lead with its Windows Marketplace, on-demand CRM and applications provider Salesforce.com opened sforce, an online marketplace where customers can browse through a range of third-party add-ons and enhancements to its own software.

"It's not just about the on-demand applications we provide," said Adam Gross, salesforce.com director of product marketing. "We provide a platform that can address a whole range of solutions. But we can't provide any application anyone wants, and we're not expert at everything ourselves."

The availability of third-party software, he said, makes the core product more valuable and therefore more attractive to more customers.

Salesforce.com began five years ago by offering a Web-based application for customer relationship management (CRM). Customers pay a monthly subscription for accessing applications, which now include Supportforce.com, a customer service tool launched in September. Offerings also include sforce, a series of APIs that let customers and third-party developers extend salesforce.com applications.

With the introduction of sforce in September, salesforce.com became a development platform, Gross said. "It's becoming much more common that people think about services not as Web sites, but as platforms for software and new services. That's exactly what we're up to."

Listings in the marketplace are free, and any software provider can list products. They also can become certified by being vetted by salesforce.com engineers and providing three customer references. Gross said that online auction king eBay was the inspiration for the marketplace. To that effect, marketplace customers can post feedback on the products.

Salesforce.com also launched a customer-centric Web site, CRMSuccess.com, where users can post war stories and trade advice and information.

At its quarterly users' conference, the San Francisco, Calif.-based company also introduced Customforce.com, an on-demand, Web-based toolkit that lets customers re-work and extend the Salesforce.com and Supportforce.com applications to their needs. The kit lets them customize the user interface, business logic and data model from within Salesforce.com and Supportforce.com.

The announcements came with scheduled quarterly product upgrades to the CRM and customer service applications, which include more than 50 new features, according to the company. Salesforce.com promises that enhancements or changes customers make to the software will not be affected by the product upgrades, which are delivered automatically at no charge to all customers.

The sforce Web services API, on which Customforce.com is built, also was updated to version 5.0. It includes a telephony API toolkit to be used by businesses that want to integrate Supportforce.com with telephony software. Applications from Alcatel, Aspect, Avaya, Cisco and Genesys are among those supported.

Salesforce partner Responsys, a vendor of on-demand applications for e-mail marketing, announced the Responsys Interact Connecter, which lets business users launch and manage e-mail marketing campaigns from within salesforce.com.

"With Responsys in the salesforce.com connector, we can actually send out messages on behalf of salesforce to their contacts at the right part of the process," said Responsys chief marketing officer Scott Olrich.

He said that the marketing partnership benefits both companies. Responsys gets additional distribution, and salesforce.com can offer the enterprise-class e-mail marketing software as a lure to larger customers.

"As Salesforce.com is trying to move to larger customers, we've become an even more important fit," he said. "It helps them, because they can provide a more compete solution, and it helps us, because they have a wider network of salespeople."

Another partner, WebEx Communications , announced that its remote technical support product, WebEx Support Center, was integrated into Supportforce.com. WebEx makes on-demand Web meeting applications, and Support Center lets technical support personnel remotely fix problems.

With the tight integration provided, "if a customer uses Supportforce.com, when one of their customers calls, not only can you take the information, you can actually -- within the application -- click a button [leading to WebEx Support Center] and have the integrated experience," said WebEx spokesperson Praful Shah.

Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone said that because the third-party products are based on Web services, they tend to be very easy to integrate. "A lot of them have built in a call, so they're very easy to add to the basic salesforce.com."

Kingstone added that providing tools that let other companies extend salesforce.com's offerings is a great direction.

"It's very much like Microsoft," she said. "They're not going to come out and create all the functionality for verticals. They're trying to empower end users and the marketplace to provide that functionality." By creating a marketplace, she said, "If you need [some functionality], it's there. But you don't build in a lot of over-complex solutions into your product to meet the needs of a few."