What is Salesforce? Here’s what to know about the CRM

Many have heard about Salesforce, but what exactly does it do? And what is Salesforce mainly used for?
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It’s difficult to be a qualified marketer, salesperson, or someone addicted to day-trading and to not at least have some understanding as to what Salesforce is all about. This is true now more than ever, given Salesforce made news for acquiring the popular chat tool Slack at the end of 2020.

I’m a Certified Salesforce Marketing Specialist and have a great deal of experience with much of what Salesforce has to offer and generally answering what Salesforce is. But given the complexity of Salesforce and its applications, I had George Liang, a Certified Salesforce Admin, review this article for authenticity.

Hopefully, the below edifies those new to CRMs while still offering fresh insight for the seasoned pro.

Here’s what Salesforce is … in 5 minutes.

What does Salesforce CRM mean?

CRM stands for customer relationship management. Customer Relationship Management Systems manage the relationship between you and your sales prospects. CRM is an abbreviation most associated with Salesforce for two main reasons:

  1. They were the first company to present a cloud-based customer relationship management software for managing sales prospects in a “sales cloud” (more on this below).
  2. Less important but still worth mentioning: Salesforce is a publicly held company with the stock symbol CRM on the New York Stock Exchange and in the Dow Jones

What is Sales Cloud?

When people say they are using “Salesforce” this is almost always short for Sales Cloud, which is Salesforce CRM product. It’s Sales Cloud that has allowed Salesforce to build countless tools (i.e. software) to funnel in higher quality leads and improve how those leads function within a single ecosystem.

The Sales Cloud stands out as it exists, well, in the cloud. Many CRM’s (see below) still operate on-premise (i.e. are installed locally on your computer). While Salesforce is sometimes scrutinized for buying up companies seemingly left and right, these acquisitions often allow the Sales Cloud to become updated with newer and better tools. Being a cloud-based CRM keeps nearly every one of your data points to be siloed under one roof, which can be updated dynamically with constant improvements and enhancements.

Who are the competitors?

A shot of the Salesforce Tower with clouds moving in.
Great shot of the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

This is a tough question as “competitor” is a somewhat subjective based on need. For research purposes, here are the main competitors that try to support the same functionality as Salesforce CRM. I don’t have a great deal of experience with these but they exist.

  • Microsoft Dynamics
  • Adobe Marketing Cloud
  • Marketo
  • Hubspot Saleshub
  • Oracle Netsuite
  • SAP CRM

Learning how to use it

Learning how to use Salesforce through its Trailhead App.

Salesforce has an almost infinite amount of customizations to be made on the back-end. So if you’re just starting out with the Sales Cloud it might help to start small and pick a lane. If you’re in sales and want to keep track of leads, you need to understand the terms account, lead, and opportunity, as well as organizing tasks. From there, creating a salesforce report is a nice next step to learn.

When you purchase Salesforce CRM Sales Cloud, you aren’t just buying software, you’re buying into a philosophy: Be as present as possible.

If you’re a marketer, you might be better off learning more about Salesforce Marketing tools like Pardot or Marketing Cloud than becoming a Sales Cloud master. These tools will teach you how to work with some of the primary functions within Sales Cloud, such as custom fields, campaigns, and attributing lead sources.

What makes Salesforce different

While I haven’t used every CRM software on the market, I can say that Salesforce has two things going for it that most CRM competitors do not.

  1. Accessibility:
    Salesforce has found a way to make sales tools seem approachable, and dare I say (almost) fun. They don’t have boring tutorials or documentation — they have a “Trailhead,” a gamified approach to building your salesforce skills. It adds up to a rather seamless codification of nearly every ounce of important customer and sales data under one roof, without feeling too overwhelming.
  2. Applications:
    Salesforce was arguably the first company to have a dedicated app store. Not Apple. Salesforce AppExchance has countless tools, ranging from DocuSign Integrations to map plug-ins for tracking where your leads are located across the country. This not only gives Salesforce the opportunity to make a lot of cheese and for sales teams to run up tremendous bills for accounts payable, but it further customizes your CRM experience with a couple of clicks. If you’ve installed a WordPress plug-in onto your site, the process is not dissimilar.

What is Salesforce used for?

A nice look at what a salesforce profile is and some of the features it will list.
A look at how to use a Salesforce customer (account) profile. Notice the name of the company affiliated with the account, as well as things like the company’s revenue and employees. Photo courtesy Duggan Jon, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It can’t be understated how valuable Salesforce CRM can be when properly utilized. In a world where Salesforce DOESN’T exist, more often than not, various departments across a company are following up with prospects using excel spreadsheets. At the same time, another department might be using an email messaging software that no one realizes is actually firing. Salesforce allows the left hand to know what the right hand is doing, with tools to guide your leads and accounts along their customer journey.

As a more detailed example, a Salesforce account or lead profile could show the following important information:

  • Where the lead came from (the source)
  • When was the last time the lead engaged with the sales team and vice-versa (activity)
  • Have they opted out of emails?
  • Their mailing address, phone number, email addresses
  • The member of the sales organization assigned to them
  • Custom fields for any other information you want to create (do they have a second home? A premium credit card? Are they bilingual?)


So what is Salesforce used for in a sentence? Salesforce is a one-stop-shop to view the engagement behavior, history, activity, and “buying status” of a lead or current customer.

Final Minute

The most prominent building Salesforce sponsors is the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. The tower is the second tallest building west of the Mississippi and it comes with a reported sponsorship price tag of $110 million. This is just one of the buildings in which Salesforce spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to have its name on around the world.

The point is, when you purchase Salesforce CRM Sales Cloud, you aren’t just buying a subscription to cloud-based software, you’re buying into a philosophy:

Be as present as possible.

Salesforce does this by surrounding you with as many tools as you want to pay for, to ensure that every possible lead on the planet ends up on your radar. Once they end up in your database, they make sure that no one becomes forgotten.

…that you remain present with them until they tell you to leave them alone.

Salesforce can sometimes feel a bit too large and a tad too complicated for its own good. This can become most evident when Salesforce users don’t go through proper training or develop a complete understanding as to why their company is using Salesforce. As George mentions, people who purchase a Salesforce subscription are buying a Cadillac but often use the tools like it’s an Electric Bike. But if you go in with a specific and organized mission, Sales Cloud can be an incredible sales tool for tracking every customer activity, as well as analyzing how they got there in the first place.

This article was written by:

George Liang is a 16x Certified Salesforce Solutions Architect. He is the Founder and Principal Consultant of SalesXGroup and is vastly familiar with implementing business process and solutions on the Salesforce platform. He can be contacted through his site here.

Paul is the Founder & Editor of in5minutes.com. He is a Certified Salesforce Marketer, FAA Drone Pilot, HSK Chinese Speaker, Ham Radio Operator, NASM Personal Trainer, and Certified Canon operator amongst other things. He hosted and produced the first original programs for Hulu and Twitch and helped launch a pilot program for teaching soft skills to incarcerated students. He currently runs content marketing for an aerospace company in Los Angeles. If you'd like to request a consultation, contact Paul here.

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