Airline goes on-demand to push collaboration

The North American sales arm of Singapore airlines is deploying Salesforce.com software to improve collaboration and efficiency

The North American sales arm of Singapore Airlines is halfway through a project to use on-demand software from Salesforce.com to improve collaboration between its home-based corporate travel staff.

Following the lead of some of its peers in the industry, Singapore Airlines is requiring corporate business travel sales staff to work out of their homes to pare down infrastructure costs. The sales staff is spread out in cities including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia and San Diego. The issue the airline and other companies are grappling with is how best to foster collaboration between such geographically scattered staff while also increasing efficiency and driving more sales.

Prior to initial deployment of Salesforce.com's hosted sales automation and marketing software in April, the sales staff relied on e-mail and offline meetings as its main method for communication and collaboration, according to Michael Stellwag, manager of direct sales and marketing for the Americas at Singapore Airlines.

About 18 months ago, the airline decided a sales force automation tool could help bring its home-based sales staff into closer collaboration with each other.

Singapore Airlines took an in-depth look at products from three vendors over the course of six months -- Sage Software's Act contact management software, enterprise applications vendor Saratoga Systems' CRM (customer relationship management) product, and Salesforce.com's hosted sales force automation and marketing offerings.

The airline particularly liked Salesforce.com's on-demand approach since the application could run without support from Singapore Airlines' IT staff. The airline closed a deal to use Salesforce software as the software vendor's fiscal year ended on Jan. 31, 2006.

From late 2005 through early 2006, Salesforce.com experienced a series of much publicized service outages. "We didn't place too much emphasis [on the failures]," Stellwag said. "Companies like Salesforce.com live and die by availability and we were confident the problem would be fixed. It didn't seem like anything more than a blip on the radar screen."

Once the application was up and running, Stellwag began to check out Salesforce.com's AppExchange Web site where the vendor showcases both its own on-demand add-ons and applications developed by third parties to be used with the Salesforce software. "I looked at the broad array of applications and got hooked," he said.

Of particular interest have been applications that address the specific needs of the airline industry, according to Stellwag. So far, Singapore Airlines is using 14 AppExchange applications including user adoption dashboards that measure how frequently the sales staff use the software. He also highlighted an application that integrates the Hoover's company database, an important source of sales leads for the airline's staff, with the Salesforce software.

Looking ahead, Singapore Airlines wants to find ways to help sales team members be more efficient in how they set up trips to meet customers by doing mash-ups between Salesforce and mapping software from Mapquest and Google.

So far, about a dozen home-based salespeople are using the Salesforce software, with several more individuals to go live shortly. "Longer term, the number of home-based sales team members could jump considerably," Stellwag said.

The sales staff particularly like the hosted software's offline module which enables them to access the basic functionality of Salesforce without needing an Internet connection.

"People are communicating more than ever before," Stellwag said. "Everyone can see everyone else's details to facilitate greater cooperation and communication and for everyone to see how everyone else is doing." That ability to view colleague's sales progress acts as a self motivator for staff to ensure their efforts are at the level they should be, he added.

Sharing calendars and task lists is proving extremely helpful in enabling the airline to put together an account team focused on a particular company, despite the sales team being based in different locations.

Soon, the airline will roll out IBM's Lotus Notes groupware to its sales operation in the U.S. and Canada, which had previously been using Microsoft's Outlook Express. Stellwag is looking forward to the integration of Notes with Salesforce to enable further collaboration.

"Salesforce has been successful at increasing productivity and has had a significant impact on our sales success," Stellwag said. "This is an experiment being watched very closely by executives in our worldwide headquarters in Singapore."

When the project ends in about a year's time, if it has continued to meet a number of preset key performance indicators, the door could be open for a wider deployment of the hosted software.

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