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Lightning Strikes at Salesforce: CRM Giant Retools UI, Enables Responsive Design

By Paula Bernier August 25, 2015

In what Salesforce says is its biggest launch ever, the company has unveiled Salesforce Lightning, which represents a complete rebuild of its Sales Cloud and is based on the input of more than 150,000 customers. The company today also introduced its first industry-specific product, called Salesforce Financial Services Cloud, which will be generally available in February.

Salesforce Lightning aims to address a few prevalent trends in the marketplace, according to Sean Alpert, senior director of marketing for Sales Cloud. Those trends include businesses’ shift in investments from applications for accounting, ERP, and supply chain to CRM; the desire by companies to do more with less and increase employee productivity; the demand for solutions that allow for data-driven business insights; and the expectation for user experiences that mirror the ease of use found in many of today’s consumer applications and devices.

The new solution consists of a trio of things:

  • a new user interface called Lightning Experience that is customizable and can be used on any device;
  • the Lightning Design System, which provides developers with frameworks, guides, and style sheets through which they can more easily build components to work with Salesforce; and
  • a platform, called Lightning App Builder, and reusable app building blocks, called Lightning Components, that the company announced last year and are now available.

“Lightning delivers the first real new and greatly improved user interface in Salesforce's history; it brings together a non-coding specification environment with coded and tested components so that a business can deploy an app with speed as well as the assurance that the app will help it meet its customers in their moments of truth,” says Denis Pombriant of Beagle Research.

Lightning Experience, which becomes available in October, allows users to navigate either using icons or with a search tool at the top, explains William Moxley, senior vice president of product management for Sales Cloud, adding the search tool is reminiscent of how people commonly surf the Web using browsers.

The user interface also makes it easy for sales people to track the metrics that are most important to them, and more easily access other important data and helpful tools, says Moxley. For example, there’s a screen that shows the sales goal for the individual sales rep, and where that rep is in his or her quest to meet that goal.

Lightning Experience also presents sales reps with a news feed related specifically to the companies that are their accounts. A feature called Assistant reminds sales reps what they need to do to move their deals forward, and lets them know that they should further analyze what needs to happen with specific opportunities so they’re not overlooked. It also presents a timeline of their activities, so they can easily access their last activity related to account, and the rest of the account history.

Salesforce has also completely redesigned the dashboards that show how a client’s business is doing across the board. The new dashboard has drag and drop capabilities so users can prioritize by position and size what metrics are most important to the business. The dashboard also has been expanded from three to nine columns.

“We did tons of user research with hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals” so it knew exactly what customers wanted in their CRM, says Moxley.

This entire platform is API enabled. In fact, Salesforce—which is now the sixth largest software company in the world and the No. 1 player in the CRM space—has always been huge on APIs, Alpert and Moxley note. It was the first SaaS vendor to introduce an API to let partners plug in to its solution. And it’s now taken that to the user interface level.

“From a user perspective, UI and overall user experience is more important than ever for driving adoption and use of any tool,” says IDC analyst Michael Fauscette. “In the case of Salesforce, the UX of the core Web experience and other apps built on was out of sync with the very good mobile experience that Salesforce1 offers. Responsive design capabilities means that apps built on Force will not be tied to a specific end device, but would cater to the idea of any device any time, which more closely match user expectations today.”

While Lightning Experience provides a new user interface for Sales Cloud, customers aren’t required to use the new user interface. They also can elect to leverage it gradually or only for select users, says Moxley. That enables customers to move to the redesigned solution on their own timelines, so they can get comfortable with Lightning Experience at their own pace.

As for Lightning App Builder, using this tool, customers can drag screens from the company’s app exchange partners, or the applications customers and their partners created themselves, right into the Salesforce Experience user interface, adds Moxley.

Fauscette notes that Salesforce is trying to grow and nurture an active ecosystem of ISVs on the Force platform.

“It’s important to these ISVs and therefore to Salesforce to provide tools/platforms for developing modern apps based on responsive design, which will help those ISVs grow their businesses and keep their clients satisfied,” he says.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

Executive Editor, TMC

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