Arkus Blog

The official Arkus blog provides your weekly dose for all thing Salesforce. Stay on top of the latest, most relevant Salesforce features, applications, and best practices.

Streamline your proposal process with Salesforce.com and Conga Composer

This is how we at Arkus streamlined our proposal process using Salesforce.com and Conga Composer.
Streamline your proposal process with Salesforce.com and Conga Composer

Proposal creation in less then a 2 hour movie!

Let me start off by saying that until I became the consultant, I had never realized how much of a pain it is to create a services proposal.  As an employee in financial services, it was very common to see consultants take two to three weeks if not longer to turn around a proposal regardless of the complexity of the project.  It was mindboggling to me and now being the consultant, I see why.

Problem Proposal Paradox

For starters, consulting services require an explanation which becomes very manual when writing a proposal. You cannot give a client a proposal without detailing what it is you plan to do.  Listing line items like project management, configuration and integration mean nothing unless you can break them down and relate them to the requirements given during discovery.

Second, to estimate the amount of effort it takes to deliver a services project requires expertise and experience. Without it, you will either lose business or lose money and both are a shame. We use the discovery calls and meetings as a way to pull out enough information to estimate correctly.

Lastly, we need to put something together that is professional looking, detailed but not overbearing and on the mark. It needs give enough detail to satisfy the client.

At Arkus, we struggled with all of the work and complexity at the start but knew there had to be a better way!  

Salesforce.com and "The Conga Guys" to the rescue!

After going through our own process, we knew we needed two things to make this process better.

The first was a tool that could store all this information and relate it all to our sales process. We need to capture data which we could then report on and begin to use when we created more proposals in the future. The second was something that could easily pull this data together in a format that was professional and met the clients needs. 

The first one was easy, Salesforce.com.  By using the Opportunites and the Products objects, we where able to create a proposal process that was simple to use and with all the data we wanted to capture. We standardized our services into categories which became products using price books to break out different pricing models. All of those products relate back to the opportunity and rollup to the account showing true transparency.  This reduced manual entry and now set us up for the metrics we were looking to report on.

Configuring Salesforce.com was the easy part but to get all that data into the proposal document was a bigger challenge until we met The Conga Guys.  With some configuration we were able to take what we built in Salesforce.com and create a proposal document that was not only professional looking and detailed but was generated with a click of button.  To make delivery easier, we use Salesforce.com's email templates which generates the proposal in a personalized email ready to go out the door.

Conga-lusion

Thanks to Salesforce.com and Conga Composer our proposal process is a well-oiled machine. There is nothing worse then work that is going unpaid and we save ourselves a ton of time getting those proposals, written, approved and sent off.

If any of this hit home and you would like to know more about it, please reach out to us.  We would love to give you a proposal!

We can be reached at info@arkusinc.com or twitter.com/salvatoriello.

To read more about Salesforce.com and Conga Composer:

Salesforce

www.salesforce.com

AppExtremes

http://home.appextremes.com/conga/ 

Out of My Data - Episode #9 of CloudFocus Weekly

Twitter gets a new look and feel, Google gets healthy, pings Me and fires an employee for peeking. We end with our healthy app picks of the week.
Out of My Data - Episode #9 of CloudFocus Weekly

Out of My Data - Episode #9

13 Features I'm Excited About in the Salesforce.com Winter '11 Release

These are my 13 favorite features that are coming out in the Winter '11 Saleforce.com release. Obviously there are tons of features but these are my favorites.
13 Features I'm Excited About in the Salesforce.com Winter '11 Release

The Salesforce.com Winter '11 Release Logo

13 is usually considered an unlucky number but I'm going to go with it anyway. As most of you who read this blog regularly already know Salesforce.com generally releases 3 new versions of their service every year. They name the releases after the season and the year in which they are being released. Winter '11 is the newest release which will be available October 1st or October 8th depending on which instance of Salesforce you are on. Get started by checking out their Winter '11 Release Preview or if you are really into it you can read the entire Winter '11 Release Notes which I personally look forward to every few months. Salesforce also records 2 hour long webinars where Salesforce employees go over some of the main features coming out in Winter '11.

I'd like to highlight my favorite new features that are going to be available by functional area:

Chatter

Chatter is finally beginning to feel like a close to finished product. All the features that have been demoed to us over the last year or so are starting to come to fruition.

  • Chatter Central - a homepage for all your Chatter - this makes it so much easier to get through all of the Chatter going on within your Organization
  • Chatter Filters - yet another feature to help filter through the Chatter - use filters on your Chatter Central page to filter through Chatter based on people, specific records (Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, etc..), or even Chatter directed at you
  • Chatter Search - finally a way to search through all that Chatter from one unified search box at the top of the screen
  • Chatter Topics - much like Twitter you will be able to put a hashtag (#) to create a link to that topic such as #Arkus
  • Chatter Files - this one may be a little confusing to end users but it seems like there will be a Files tab which will house all the documents used within Chatter - also any document posted to a Chatter feed on a record will automatically show up in the Notes and Attachments section of that record

Email/Outlook

Outlook integration is a main focus of this release. No more clunky Outlook Plug-in to integrate Outlook and Salesforce. From now on a little app will run in the Windows System tray in the background and sync things automatically.

 

  • Administration in the Cloud - finally all the Salesforce Admins can control the configuration of user's Outlook Integration from the Salesforce interface instead of having to worry about software installed on the users's Outlook client. Just create different settings for different users and you are all set
  • Sync Data - with Salesforce for Outlook data syncs in the background automatically
  • Adding Emails - with only 1 click emails are added to Salesforce for tracking

Activities

 

Activities are getting a boost in this release do in part to the above Salesforce for Outlook product but also some minor tweaks that make Activites even easier to use. These are subtle changes but for any hardcore Sales users out there they will make all the difference in the world.

  • Attachments - yes, finally you will be able to add attachments to your activity records. I always wanted to upload a document to an event so I know what we talked about or have to talk about - now you can
  • Subject Line Limits - Subject Lines are now allowed to be up to 255 characters, up from 80 in previous years

 

Analytics:

 

The big thing here is the release of the new drag and drop report builder. The report builder has been in Developer Preview for a few months now and having played with it myself it is awesome. It takes a little getting used to but once you get used to it you will never want to go back.

  • New Report Builder - a new drag and drop interface that allows for building reports on 1 screen
  • View Report Type - you will be able to view which type of report is being used to generate a specific report
  • Chatter on Reports and Dashboards - you will now be able to Chatter on Reports and Dashboards


You should also take a look at all the Ideas that have been submitted to the Salesforce Ideas Exchange that are being released in Winter '11. Participating in the Ideas community is a great way to make you voice heard when it comes to needs of you or your users. Salesforce puts an emphasis on delivering a large number of Ideas per release and always allow you to see which features are a result of an Idea from the community.

Overall Winter '11 is a solid release - lot's of new features for Outlook and Chatter. It looks like Salesforce is making a huge bet on Chatter and have really put a lot of resources towards getting Chatter to be as full featured as possible. In my opinion they should focus a bit more on the core Sales Automation product to continue it's innovation but they likely see Chatter as a huge piece of that puzzle and by focusing on Chatter they are enhancing Sales Automation at the same time.

Note - there are far more enhancements then I can review in 1 comprehensive Blog Post - these are just my favorites - let me know what your favorites are by tweeting me @JustEdelstein or @ArkusInc.

 

Wave Saved? - Episode #8 of CloudFocus Weekly

Wave in a Box, Google Instant, Plone 4 & Salesforce.com Integration, Seesmic Chatter as well as our app picks of the week.
Wave Saved? - Episode #8 of CloudFocus Weekly

Wave Saved? - Episode #8

Connecting Clouds to Open Source: Plone & Salesforce.com Integration

With the brand new release of Plone 4, I thought it would be a good time talk about the open source project and how it connects to the cloud.
Connecting Clouds to Open Source: Plone & Salesforce.com Integration

Plone & Salesforce.com Integration

The world of open source website and blogging platforms is pretty big with lots to choose from in many different computer languages. My tool of choice for at least the last eight years has been the Python based Plone which is built on a Zope backend. Plone is a well managed, fully featured and highly adopted application that installs on almost any operating system. Plone benefits from hundreds of developers, products and themes which makes building and launching a website a breeze. The new Plone 4 release brings speed, flexible folders, a new default theme, and a ton of other new features.

Why Not Force.com Sites

While Force.com Sites built on the Salesforce.com platform allows for some great integration, the tools for managing and publishing content are just not rich enough. Take a discussion board for example, in Plone that is just adding a product that gets downloaded and installed in less than a minute. With Force.com Sites that would be a lot of configuration and build including some tricky user licensing. As it stands today, Force.com Sites are good for highly integrated, simple featured, and brochure type websites. Plone is still great for content publishing, complex, and community based websites.

Making The Connection

The good news is that Plone and Salesforce.com have some great connection tools that can be leveraged to get the best of both worlds. Starting with the core of the integration is Beatbox which is the Python toolkit that talks to the Salesforce.com API. From there you add on SalesforceBaseConnector which is the Plone product connecting Beatbox and Plone.

Two Great Integrations

The first is SalesforceAuthPlugin which allows you to leverage any existing object in Salesforce.com, such as a Contact, Lead, or User as the logged in user of Plone. This means users who register on the website can be automatically created as leads or other objects in Salesforce.com. The username and password as well as other information are stored in Salesforce.com and any authentification now happens through the API. One central place to manage all data. A very cool trick.

SalesforcePFGAdapter creates a web-2-anything form within Plone which after being validated and submitted on the Plone side can create or update Salesforce.com objects. The power of this product is that it can not only create one object from one form, but many objects and relate them. An example we did for a client recently was an event registration that when submitted, created an Account, Contact and custom registration object, all related and in real time.

With these and other Plone and Salesforce.com products CRM and website integration takes on a whole new level of sophistication.

To learn more:

Project Snowball - Episode #7 of CloudFocus Weekly

A week off and we are back with a blog post on Google Voice and Gmail, Twitter goes O, free trials of Salesforce.com AppExchange and Apple pings the social network.
Project Snowball - Episode #7 of CloudFocus Weekly

Project Snowball - Episode #7

Google Strives to Include Everything Productivity in Gmail

With an exciting new feature launching this week Google was very busy moving more and more productivity apps into their Gmail platform.
Google Strives to Include Everything Productivity in Gmail

Google's new voice and messaging system embedded within Gmail

    With an exciting new feature launching this week Google was very busy moving more and more productivity app into their Gmail platform.

    If you are like me, you live in your email. My favorite web based email client is most definitely Gmail. Here at Arkus we run our entire business in the cloud which includes using Google Apps for email and productivity. It's great to have the ability to email and chat all on one page but sometimes that just isn't enough - sometimes you need to actually speak to someone on the phone - I know, so last century. Google recognized this and recently launched Gmail Voice and Video Chat.

    With this new service Gmail users have the ability to make calls via the Gmail interface to any phone around the world. Calls are FREE, yes, free to the US and Canada and for low rates to anyone else around the world. It's as easy as clicking the Call Phone link within the embedded Google Chat widget within Gmail. A dial pad pops up and you just dial the number you want to call and use your computer's internal microphone and speakers to make the call.

    Google is striving to bring every aspect of communication and collaboration into their suite of products and this is just another step in that direction. They have already launched Contextual Gadgets which helps connect applications and emails using contexts and now they are allowing you to make phone calls directly from their service. 

    Perhaps Google will create a brand new paradigm for email even giving the option to replay how the conversation got started so they can catch up to the entire thread - maybe even with the ability to add third party widgets to these emails. Oh wait...they did that already with Wave and are killing it off... As you can tell we at Arkus are a little bitter about Google killing off Wave. You could read more about our coverage of Wave and Google in prior blog posts linked below in the related content section. As Google continues to add more and more feature to Gmail maybe they will reconsider with Wave as it would add a really great feature set to a now really beefed up and feature rich Gmail experience. One thing is certain, Gmail has come a long way over the last few years.  

 

Take a Victory Lap - Episode #6 of CloudFocus Weekly

Secure Communications in the Enterprise, CIO Article on the lack of quality CRM experts, Are we coders and the CloudFocus App Picks of the Week.
Take a Victory Lap - Episode #6 of CloudFocus Weekly

Take a Victory Lap - Episode #6

Sixth episode down and now a week off to take a victory lap.

 

CloudFocus App Pick of the Week

 

Follow Us

Secure Communication and Collaboration in the Cloud without Email

Yammer vs. Chatter - 2 different approaches to social networking and collaboration in the in the cloud - advantages and disadvantages of each service.

Yammer

Yammer is an enterprise social network akin to Twiiter for your company. It has feeds, profile pages, an external communities product, and can act as a knowledge repository. You can start it up for free where only people with your company's email address can join the network then later have the company claim the domain and administer the network yourself. Yammer is really easy to setup - takes minutes, and allows for employees to collaborate using a variety of different platforms.

 

Apps: 

  • Web App
  • Cross-Platform Client Desktop App
  • Mobile Apps (iPhone, Windows, Android, RIM, and SMS)
  • Browser Plug-ins
  • Twitter Integration
  • Email Integration
  • 3rd Party Products

With a plethora of different ways to interact with Yammer adoption is easy to achieve particularly with all the plug-ins to existing popular services and products - Twiiter and Google Reader to name a few. Yammer also includes a rich API for building social apps directly within your own infrastructure - they provide developers with the same API that they use to build out all the integrations mentioned above.

Salesforce Chatter

Salesforce Chatter is a collaboration tool embedded within Salesforce.com CRM and any other custom App built on top of the Force.com platform. Chatter turns all Apps within the Force.com platform into social apps allowing both people and data to talk or Chat. Users of Salesforce can choose to follow people via their profile pages or data via any record's detail page within the system. Chatter is embedded on any page within Salesforce that the system admin decides it should be on and it creates a stream of news much like a Facebook News stream essentially socializing data within the Salesforce.com system.

 

Apps:

  • Web App within the Force.com UI
  • Integration with any Application built on Force.com
  • Mobile via Salesforce Mobile (Lite and Full Version) on iPhone, Windows, and RIM
  • Many 3rd party apps built in the Chatter Exchange on the Appexchange

 

Each Product has their Advantages and Use Cases

 

Yammer

Yammer can act as a standalone application creating the always needed Enterprise Class Social Network. Being standalone has it's advantages and disadvantages. Advantage being that users don't have to already be a Salesforce user in order to use Yammer. Every employee within the company can use Yammer. Disadvantage being that it calls for adoption of an entirely new standalone tool which could be challenging.

Yammer's integration with desktop clients, existing web apps and services, as well as their API's ability to integrate into existing infrastructure is a definite bonus. People love Client Apps for Twitter because they are much easier to use then the rather blah twitter.com interface. The desktop element mixed with the mobile element make Yammer adoption much easier to stomach for most users. Add to that the ability to send something to Yammer from my Google Reader and now we are talking about true integration of Enterprise Collaboration with the Consumer Web - a sweet mix.

 

Chatter

Where Salesforce Chatter really takes the cake is it's ability to turn an already familiar and highly adopted system in Salesforce.com into a full fledged social network. People already use Salesforce every day to manage their CRM, their Service Desk, and many other uses so it's easy enough to turn that platform into a social network. The other main point is that not only can people talk BUT data talks. If you subscribe to a record like a top customer anytime someone changes that record you could be notified in your feed - something like that really turns information into a push mode and makes it easier to follow what is going on within your company - not only with people but with your customers and your data.


Where Chatter falls short thusfar is it's integration with other 3rd parties. While there is a robust API for building these integrations they haven't surfaced just yet. A desktop App seems like a must and while Chatter is embedded within Salesforce mobile apps it feels as if a Chatter specific App would be a great thing. Not to mention integrations with Consumer Web products such as Twitter and Google Reader which Yammer already concurred. It's understandable that Chatter doesn't have these integrations just yet but with the release of the Flex Toolkit for Force.com and the Adobe Flash Builder for Force.comI imagine an Air App for the desktop is soon to come for Chatter.

 

All in all both of these products, Yammer and Chatter, have the ability to change the way communication and collaboration occurs within the Enterprise in a safe and secure way. If you are already a Salesforce.com user it's likely Chatter is the way to go as it's one of those things you just turn on. If you aren't and are looking for a Twitter type solution for your company I would recomend taking a look at Yammer because it has some great features and integrations. Either way, both solutions are game changers in the world of communication and collaboration.

Google Shows No Vision by Killing The Wave

With the recent announcement that Google is stopping development and eventually shutting down Google Wave, Google might be doing more harm than good.

We have been posting, tweeting and talking about our love of the Google Wave product since they included it as an opt-in feature in Google Apps. While hard to describe, Google Wave has gone from being a quick curiosity to a daily productivity tool. Google has publicly said that they embrace their failures and learn from them but I think they are hurting the overall cloud computing movement by shutting down Wave, with little vision of foresight into the decision.

The Labs Excuse

The first thing that people point out is that Google Wave was a Labs experiment and that any company that took it too seriously or rolled it out to many users didn't do so wisely. I take issue with the term of "Labs" where most things are done in private and there is a big difference between adding a few features to Gmail and making them opt-in and making a huge splash with a new product and including it with Google Apps. If Google wants to do things in the labs, they should keep them in the labs and not announce them to the world in press releases and on stage for the world to evaluate. That is not what most scientist do with thier lab experiments.

Enterprise Pushback

Having worked in some large companies hand-in-hand with technology groups, I know what it is to have fought them about the difference between traditional IT and cloud computing. I argued about features, scalability, and ROI. They countered with conservative control and data security. Google has now given those old school IT arguments a bit more fuel to add to the fire. This is where large enterprise IT managers will point to a company that doesn't care about the effect on the end user. A company that will turn on and off features as it wants, when it wants, without any true roadmap or visibility. Those managers will point to Google shutting down the Wave and say, "See, I told you so. If we had started to roll that out to any significant amount of users, we would have to spend more time and money now replacing it and with no tools to recover the data."

They would be right.

Don't Be Evil

It is short-sighted for Google to shut down a product without providing a roadmap, without visibility into the numbers it sought to gain, or even try to monetize it using tools like Adsense.

In the end it shines a harsh light on the cloud computing industry and points out a very old addage, "You get what you pay for". Google likes to give a lot away for free, which is great, but it is a hard day when they come and take some of it back.

I would argue that goes against their self impossed motto of "Don't be evil".

To share your thoughts with me on twitter.com/JasonMAtwood

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