Salesforce.com, Cisco partner on SMB call-center tech

The on-demand CRM vendor also announced a "five-minute upgrade" option for its Service Cloud

Salesforce.com and Cisco Systems on Monday announced an offering for small and medium-size companies that integrates Salesforce.com's on-demand, customer-service software with Cisco's unified communications technology.

The Customer Interaction Cloud is aimed at businesses with between 30 and 300 sales representatives or call-center agents.

The offering, which ties Salesforce.com's Service Cloud 2 to Cisco's VoIP-based Unified Contact Center, will be generally available in the first quarter of 2010 and sold by both companies, according to a statement. Pricing wasn't immediately available.

Salesforce used a lunchtime event in New York on Monday to unveil the Cisco partnership and highlight the 2.0 version of its Service Cloud, a set of technologies that allow companies to tap a variety of sources beyond the traditional call center -- such as social networks and online customer communities -- to meet customer-service needs.

Alex Dayon, Salesforce.com's senior vice president of CRM applications, said SMB customers have been petitioning the company for some time to help them integrate their CRM system with telecommunications functionality, which is "an expensive proposition" for smaller companies, he said.

A representative from one Salesforce.com customer, American Century Investments, that is already using the Customer Interaction Cloud said its sales staff especially likes the "click-to-dial" feature of the integration of the Cisco and Salesforce.com technologies.

"It's one less app on the desktop," Cory Cochran, director of technology strategy for American Century Investments, said of the new offering, which streamlines the user experience for busy salespeople who already use a lot of applications.

Salesforce.com also on Monday revealed that the Knowledge Base aspect of Service Cloud 2 will be available in early November. Knowledge Base combines features from Salesforce.com's Force.com development platform and technology from its 2008 acquisition of InStranet to provide a database of information and tips for salespeople commonly found in knowledge bases through multiple channels.

The partnership is just the latest move by Salesforce.com to expand its technological footprint through partnerships, rather than internal development. Last week, it joined with Unit 4 Agresso to form FinancialForce.com, a new SaaS (software as a service) financials software company.

Also Monday, Salesforce.com announced an upcoming "five-minute upgrade" option for the Service Cloud. Customers will receive read-only access to the application during scheduled maintenance windows, save for a five-minute "cut-over time," according to a statement. This is made possible by Salesforce.com's mirrored data centers, the company said.

The option will "set a new standard" for on-demand software, Salesforce.com claimed. The company is about to begin a pilot of the service with select customers, it said at Monday's event.

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