Drinking From the Dreamforce Fire Hose: Part 1, The Big Picture

Dreamforce, like Salesforce.com’s ambitions, just keeps getting bigger. This year’s event in San Francisco claimed 90,000 registered attendees and 250 media, analysts and bloggers. The pageantry surrounding the event—from MC Hammer to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and from Tony Robbins to Colin Powell—is also on the rise, seemingly in direct proportion to Salesforce’s enterprise ambitions. Anyway, with so much erupting from Mt. Salesforce, I need to write a two-part blog post. This first post covers the Salesforce.com’s vision and announcements, and my perspective on them. The second post, which will be up in a few days, will cover how Salesforce’s ever-expanding ambitions translate and apply to small and medium businesses (SMBs).

The Big Picture

CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote featured the success stories from marquee customers, including Activision, Burberry, Coca Cola, Commonwealth Bank, GE, Virgin Atlantic and Rossignol. Through these customer vignettes, announcements, demos and, interestingly, IBM’s 2012 CMO Study, Salesforce made its case for enterprises to buy into its version of the social enterprise. While Salesforce isn’t the first vendor to come up with any of the ideas put forward, Benioff and team continue to aggressively extend the Salesforce footprint along cloud, social, and platform themes, and its push beyond CRM into other functional areas. A drink from the fire hose includes a slew of new directions and offerings. A few are available now, but most are slated for general availability later in 2012 or in 2013. They include:

  • Added social selling capabilities. Salesforce Touch and Data.com Social Keyadd new social and mobile oomph for sales people. Salesforce Touch puts Salesforce on any mobile device, giving reps anytime, anywhere mobile capabilities. Salesforce Data.com Social Key integrates data from social networks with company data to provide companies with a more comprehensive view of their customers.
  • Social marketing. Salesforce Marketing Cloud brings social listening, content, engagement, advertising, workflow, automation and measurement into one place through the combined technologies of (recent acquisitions) Buddy Media and Radian6.
  • Platform Push. Salesforce announced Salesforce Identity, touting it as the “Facebook for the Enterprise.” It will provide a single, social, trusted identity service to manage multiple apps and includes single sign-on across apps; social identity to enable Chatter to push information from multiple apps to a user in one feed; and centralized identity and access management to make it easier for administrators to provision and manage users across applications.
  • Work.com: Rypple is now Work.com, and Salesforce is positioning it as a social performance platform to manage performance reviews and provide recognition, rewards and feedback to employees.

As important, in just a few years, Salesforce AppExchange has grown to become a mature ecosystem for developers. Over 350 partners attended Dreamforce 2012, and Force.com development partners such as FinancialForce, BMC Remedyforce and Xactly Express are enjoying a great growth ramp on Salesforce’s coattails. In the analyst Q&A, Benioff explained that Salesforce is trying hard to move from geek speak to talk and walk like the new breed of IT customer, the CMO. In both the keynote and the Q&A, he reiterated that IT spending will increasingly shift from IT to CMOs. He also underscored that Facebook has become the most popular app on the planet because it is so intuitive, and his belief that all business apps will eventually need a Facebook-like activity stream because that is the interface users know and will demand.

Perspective

Really, what could play better into Salesforce’s hands as it tries to expand its enterprise footprint against stalwart ERP vendors? Larger enterprises have pretty much taken care of business in the back office. And smaller companies top priorities most often center on revenue growth and customer acquisition. With a CMO-centric view of the world, Benioff & co. can position Salesforce as chief mentor and leader in the next wave of IT innovation—in the front office, collaboration and user interface arenas. For example, I think that Benioff is spot on with his statement that all business apps will need a Facebook-style feed interface to take the friction out of using them and facilitate user adoption. Meanwhile, compelling customer success stories and strong partner growth underscore that Salesforce is ready to take its game to the next level. Unlike some of its competitors, Salesforce also has social in its DNA from the top down, which should prove to be an enormous advantage. However, rivals are not going to yield turf easily. In fact, it’s ironic that, in addition to helping to fuel Benioff’s agenda with its CMO research, IBM already walking much of the Salesforce talk. IBM coined the “social business” term before Benioff coined “social enterprise,” and many of the solutions that are in the works at Salesforce bear a close resemblance to IBM solutions such as IBM Connections, Smarter Commerce and SmartCloud—all of which are available now. Meanwhile, many of Salesforce’s newly announced offerings won’t be ready for several months or more–and are somewhat lightweight compared to comparable offerings from the competition. But sometimes, lightweight is better. Some apps are so clogged with feature bloat that they actually hinder getting work done instead of enabling it. And, I’ve said many times, Benioff is a marketing genius. He has an uncanny knack for winning by articulating a new value proposition better than anyone else in the industry. While he may need to play catch up in terms of getting his solutions to market, it’s likely that his messages will be the first to come through loud and clear in many corporate boardrooms.

Flying Through the Cloud: Dreamforce Takeaways at 50,000 Feet

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce event–along with about 19,000 other people. Having had a chance to digest the proceedings (as well as Thanksgiving dinner), here’s my commentary on what stood out as the top takeaways from the conference in terms of where Salesforce is headed and what it means for the software industry and market.

  • Super-charged energy levels. Ever the master of marketing, Marc Benioff did not disappoint. As he continues to thrust Salesforce beyond its CRM roots into ever-widening orbits, Benioff’s passion and enthusiasm remain high—and contagious, as evidenced by  the strong turnout, constant tweeting and feedback I heard in many 1-1 partner and customer conversations. (Not to mention that people were lined up to have their pictures taken with Salesforce mascots Saasy and Chatty…scary!). More to the point, the energy level at Dreamforce was off the charts in comparison to most recent industry events. While it’s easy to be cynical about people drinking the Kool-Aid, it seems the substance is there to sustain Salesforce’s energy. Competitors will need to dig deep to inspire the same intensity of purpose as Benioff breaks new ground in quest to develop Salesforce.com’s next billion dollar market.
  • May the Force be with you. Force.com, Salesforce.com’s cloud computing platform-as-a-service (PaaS), is fueling a lot of this energy. Force.com enables people to build multi-tenant software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that are hosted on Salesforce.com’s servers. A long line of customers and partners testified to the power of the Force–which is basically that it gives them a fast, easy, low risk way to build applications.  According to Salesforce, 200,000 people are now developing on the platform, and 100,000 custom applications have already been built for it. More important, Force.com is racking up wins across many segments, including small end-user customers, such as Ball In Air, to larger corporate customers, such as Kelly Services. On the commercial development side, Salesforce has reeled in an impressive roster of partners large and small, young and established. Here’s a sampler: Xactly launched a new sales performance solution for small and medium businesses (SMBs); FinancialForce, which Salesforce invested in with Coda to to deliver business critical financials solutions on the platform; BMC is partnering with Salesforce to bring Service Desk Express to the Force.com platform in 2010; and CA and Salesforce are teaming up to deliver agile development management via the Force.com platform.  As Force.com development momentum accelerates, it leaves less time and money for companies to invest with  traditional platform powerhouses such as Microsoft and IBM.
  • Unveiling Chatter. The biggest news was about Chatter, Salesforce’s strategy to aggregate social media streams into a single place. According to Salesforce, Chatter will both a collaboration application and a platform for building social cloud-computing apps, and will be available sometime in 2010. To me  “chatter” is one of those words that can get very annoying when overused—and Benioff must have used the word “Chatter” about 80 gazillion times in the keynote alone, leading me to imagine that he will have the Rolling Stones rewrite Shattered to Chattered as a marketing gimmick. But with adoption of social media skyrocketing, Salesforce is likely envisioning Chatter as a good bet for it’s next billion in revenues. After all, collaboration is the one thing every employee does, every day, regardless of role. Naturally, Salesforce has set its sights on the collaboration gorillas,  IBM Lotus and Microsoft SharePoint. Of course, this is unchartered territory for Salesforce, which hasn’t really ventured here before, and it will have to navigate a lot of new turf in areas such as corporate governanc, which bigger rivals have had years of experience with. At the same time, Salesforce will also need to deal with newer, more nimble Davids–such as CloudProfile, which lets small businesses manage both outgoing and incoming social media in one place.
  • No longer David, not yet Goliath. Salesforce has clearly left the David stage of development, but is not yet a Goliath. At the analyst luncheon, a very astute analyst (apologies that I did not get his name) asked Benioff how Salesforce will position itself and operate now that it’s a billion dollar company, with a very large appetite for a bigger chunk of the software pie. Benioff assured us that Salesforce still wants to do good in the world and put customers first, etc. (I’m paraphrasing of course). However, a new crop of Davids, such as Zoho, are nipping at Salesforce’s heels, with effective guerilla marketing, strong viral adoption and no/low cost offerings. As a tweener, Salesforce must navigate and position amidst the competition from both above and below. Just as important, it will need to rethink its “co-opetition” agenda. For instance, Benioff repeatedly cast IBM Lotus as old-school collaboration, apparently unaware (or unwilling to acknowledge) that Lotus has reinvented itself for the world of Web 2.0 and social media with offerings such as Connections, LotusLive, Sametime, Quickr—just to name a few. In fact, the vision for Chatter looks a lot like Lotus Connections.

Apart from feeling a bit too chattered, my overall take is that Salesforce will continue to rearrange the competitive landscape as it moves into new areas. While it’s not always the first to innovate, Salesforce is among the best when it comes to helping customers “get it” in terms of  using new technologies and tools to solve business problems. Competitors who underestimate its ability to reframe the market—whether the market is development platforms, collaboration or character mascots—risk ending up on the short end of the stick.

FinancialForce: A New Force in Cloud-based Accounting

Last week, Unit 4 Aggresso, parent company of CODA, announced that it has teamed up with Salesforce.com to launch FinancialForce.com. FinancialForce.com is actually Coda2Go, the cloud based accounting application that CODA built from the ground up on the Force.com platform, and sold through AppExchange. The deal pushes FinancialForce into the spotlight as a poster child for Force.com, and underscores Salesforce’s determination to break down the barriers that have kept companies from running their accounting and financial applications in the cloud.

But how much will this move the needle for cloud-based accounting–which has never been able to gain the kind of market momentum that cloud CRM has enjoyed? There are many reasons for the gap, but mostly because the financials/accounting function is a very different than CRM. In comparison to CRM, accounting solutions usually serve a much smaller, more bounded set of users. CRM users typically span several line of business areas, from sales to marketing to customer service, while accounting users reside primarily in the financials area. CRM users are more likely to be geographically dispersed and mobile, whereas accounting users are usually located in headquarters or major branch or divisional locations. In addition, those financial types have a reputation for being pretty set in their ways.

And, let’s face it, it’s not like cloud-based financial solutions are anything new. NetSuite (which launched as NetLedger in 1998) has actually been around a year or so longer than Salesforce. Intacct, Intuit QuickBooks Online, and several lesser-known companies including Workingpoint, Clarity, Less Accounting, Freshbooks and others offer cloud-based financials aimed at small and midsized businesses.  These players have made some headway—especially in the SOHO space—but the vast majority of companies still choose to deploy traditional, on premise accounting solutions. In comparison, close to half of all new CRM deployments are cloud-based.

However, with the formation of FinancialForce, Salesforce is now bringing its considerable marketing clout and savvy into the ring. While Salesforce.com’s stake in FinancialForce is undisclosed, my call with Jeremy Roche, Coda2Go CEO, who will continue in the helm at Financial Force, leads me to conclude that the investment and alliance is considerable:

  • FinancialForce has opened a new headquarters location in Salesforce.com’s incubator building, supplementing existing offices in Manchester New Hampshire and Harrogate, England.
  • FinancialForce is earmarking a good chunk of the Salesforce investment to aggressively ramp up its sales personnel and initiatives.
  • The two companies are using Salesforce.com’s service cloud to link their support systems, and Salesforce will provide front line support for FinancialForce.com customers. This will enable  FinancialForce to scale quickly to support all the new customers that they expect to gain from the expanded sales team and the fresh cache of the Salesforce association.

I believe that financials and accounting will never be as obvious a choice for cloud computing as CRM, collaboration and other applications that need to serve a bigger, more diverse and more mobile set of users. However, this new venture will bring cloud-based financials into more frequent and serious consideration for more customers—especially as Gen Y/Millenial workers replace retiring baby boomers and Gen-Xers. Salesforce has more marketing DNA than any other B2B company that I can think of, and a large, growing user base that it can prime for FinancialForce. It can appeal to CEOs with a message of tight integration between the two solutions on Force.com and in the Service Cloud, and reassure CFOs with CODA’s 30 year of financials experience.

In fact, as it’s done in the CRM arena, Salesforce will create a rising tide that will lift the boats of other cloud-based financials vendors as well.  After all, FinancialForce won’t be the best fit for every company, but Salesforce will do what it does best—and get more people interested in considering the cloud-based option. As the tide rises, vendors of traditional, customer premise financial software—particularly in the small and medium business markets—will face more pressure to rethink re-think their cloud strategies—or lack of them.

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