When most businesses think about transitioning to Salesforce.com, it is normally with the intent of streamlining the activity of the sales reps. Management starts to realize how many sales have been lost because a rep just forgot to call someone back or forgot a detail that cost the company business. Salesforce is for most companies a way to clean up the business of sales. In their mind it is a system for the sales team. Other companies have made the leap to salesforce because they need more visibility into the sales process and the pipeline. In both cases, management is thinking about the sales process, either cleaning it up or getting more information from it.
Once a business gets started with salesforce.com however, they start seeing the potential to manage aspects of the business that are not sales related. Before long they say, "Hey, what is this cases stuff? Could our support reps be using that?" The next thing you know, you've got the technical support team using salesforce.com. Salesforce built this functionality into the system already with Cases/Solutions.
Campaigns are another early extension to the sales related functions. Marketing is often closely associated with sales and tracking the effectiveness of marketing campaigns is a natural progression from tracking the progress of a sale.
You'll see another built-in part of salesforce.com that many companies start using soon is "Contracts" - don't confuse that with "Contacts!" Once a sale is complete, a contract is typically signed. Why not track the contract right in salesforce?
I think the next logical function that many companies move to next is some kind of tracking of the production/fulfillment of the product. When a sale is complete, somebody in the company gets working on delivering to the customer whatever product or service just got sold. How nice would it be to manage this process in salesforce as well? After all, all the information about the customer and their needs is already in the system. An opportunity fully details exactly what they need, why not just ad a section to salesforce that contains more data about the details of the fulfillment of the deal. In this way many companies begin their foray into custom objects.
Maybe HR and Finance want to get into the act. I've seen an "Employees" tab on one client's system. HR used that custom object to keep employee records up to date. For finance, there are plenty of ways to integrate. In my last post I wrote about a custom object I helped a client create called "Invoices". Others use products from the AppExchange to fully integrate salesforce.com with quickbooks.
The possibilities are truly limitless. The challenge is simply "Salesforce.com Vision". If you can "see" it, there is probably a way to do it. I guess that is where I come in for my clients - I have seen so many neat ideas as I work for multiple clients, that I'm able to recommend extensions to salesforce functionality that my clients may not have thought of. It is a cool position to be in.
I think salesforce.com is reaching the point (I haven't heard them say this, I just suspect it) where they might wish they had called the product something else. The name kind of has them pigeon-holed as a "sales system" when it is really so much more than that.