Is Salesforce.com Outgrowing SMBs?

Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff is a great visionary with a big appetite for change. From packaged software to the cloud, from CRM to platform-as-a-service, he’s painted a color by number picture for businesses to emulate. But does his latest work, “the social enterprise” come with an easy enough guide for small businesses to paint it?

The Paint-by-Numbers Social Enterprise

Benioff laid out his newest work, the “social enterprise” last week in his keynote  at Dreamforce 2011. He made a convincing and compelling case that companies need to proactively listen to and engage with customers that are vocal and socially connected on a mobile, digital web–or they’ll be brought down in a “corporate spring” the way Egypt and other Arab countries have toppled in the “Arab spring.”

To that end, Salesforce has been acquiring and building the components that companies will need to become social enterprises (also known as social businesses, a term IBM coined a year or so ago). Although Salesforce.com’s Winter 2012 release contains over 150 new features, Benioff provided paint-by-number instructions for companies to become social enterprises in a few broad brush strokes:

  1. Establish a database that maintains and updates social profiles for customers and prospects, in real-time. Paint this part of the picture with Database.com, which Benioff introduced as a social, mobile and open cloud based database, and Data.com, which builds Salesforce.com’s 2009 acquisition of Jigsaw, which uses crowd-sourcing to gather customer info, by integrating Dun & Bradstreet lists and data services. Together, this provides data storage, external data sources, data cleansing. On top of that, Salesforce plans to introduce a new Chatter service next year that will bring external conversations into the database as well.
  2. Create a social network integrated with your business processes. Chatter is the color to use to integrate collaboration services with Salesforce.com and partner apps. Salesforce initially introduced Chatter in 2010 as an internal, employee social network, but is expanding it so that you can open it up to customers and partners and share files in Chatter streams. Chatter is also slated to get instant messaging, presence-awareness and screen sharing capabilities (by way of its Dimdim acquisition) so you do things such as have a video conference on the fly within Chatter.
  3. Analyzing and acting on all the customer comments and data you now have. Once your listening ears are on, you need to do something with all that information. Radian6, which Salesforce acquired earlier this year, fills this piece in nicely, enabling you to view, slice and dice unstructured data and take action based on that data.
  4. Get everything to work for any customer, on any device. To make sure that you can engage with your customers on any device they choose to use, Salesforce is launching Touch.salesforce.com. Based on HTML5, Touch.salesforce.com automatically renders the apps, data and customizations in Salesforce.com and partner apps built on Force.com on any mobile touch devices.

Can SMBs Afford the All You Can Eat Buffet Social Enterprise Buffet?

This vision is compelling for businesses of all sizes. But it sounds like a lot of stuff for a small or medium business to piece together and pay for. As I discussed in Prescription for Subscription Fatigue, there are only so many subscriptions you can tack on before people will start to complain about getting nickeled and dimed. So to make things more palatable, Salesforce is introducing a new Social Enterprise License Agreement, which provides full access to everything Salesforce sells for one all you can eat price.

The only problem is, Salesforce hasn’t told us how much it will cost for companies to become a social enterprise. When queried in media and analyst sessions about how pricing would work, Salesforce execs said that’s where the direct sales force comes in, and that basically, pricing would be determined on a case-by-case basis, in relation to the value that the total solution provides the customer.

This makes sense for Salesforce–it elevates them beyond CRM and into a more strategic platform discussion. And it makes sense for large companies that actually have dedicated Salesforce.com account reps, and enough seats and volume in the account to make the cost of one-off pricing work. But how will it work for SMBs that want to become social enterprises?

A Tough Fit for SMBs

When I followed up with a one-on-one question to Salesforce.com’s Clarence So and Alex Dayon, they assured me that SMBs are near and dear to Salesforce.com’s heart–and that they’ll figure out how to make this all you can eat feast feasible for SMBs. After all, as they said, democratization and leveling the playing field for smaller companies has been a core component of Salesforce.com’s strategy. But, they didn’t offer any specifics, and I suspect that Salesforce.com will need to figure this out as it goes along.

Clearly, Salesforce.com will continue to be pestered for answers in this area. Customers–especially SMBs–want transparency in pricing, and to date, Salesforce.com and most cloud vendors have provided them with that transparency. They’ve gravitated to the cloud model in part for the predictable pricing it affords, and are wary of vague or open-ended commitments that might be budget busters.

As important, its hard to see how Salesforce.com or even most of its partners could transact these one-off deals profitably with most SMBs. The time needed to account for the number of users, the technologies used, the value derived from those technologies, etc. might be quickly recouped in a large enterprise deal, but would be a very steep sales cost to absorb in SMB deals.

SMBs not only need affordable, predictable pricing, but many require a lot of hand holding and guidance to help them through the cultural and business process changes required to transform into social enterprises. How will Salesforce.com and its partners help them with this transformation? As of now, there are no clear answers.

Can SMBs Keep Up with Salesforce.com as it Grows Up?  

At Dreamforce 2011, Benioff underscored his vision for the Social Enterprise with great testimonials from big companies such as Coca Cola, NBC Universal and Disney, which are using Salesforce.com solutions to recreate their businesses as social enterprises. But these big companies are used to one-off enterprise-wide license negotiations, have the undivided attention of Salesforce.com sales reps, and can afford to bring in Accenture or Deloitte to help them as needed.

Clearly, Salesforce.com has grown up and evolved into a multi-faceted company with a rich portfolio of technologies and solutions that extend well beyond its CRM roots. But with this kind of growth comes complexity. In Salesforce.com’s case, it looks like they are doing a great job of shielding customers from a lot of the technical complexity that underpins these quantum leaps. But can it figure out how to take the business complexity out of the equation for SMBs? And will it want to devote the time to do this as demands from its large customers rise?

More often than not, other vendors, faced with a similar dilemma, have been unable to find a formula that allows them to live comfortably in both worlds. But Benioff and team seem to relish Rubik cube-like challenges–and it will be interesting to watch them try.

Reflections on Dreamforce 2011: Now the Cloud Can Ride the Waves

This year, Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce event–with a record-setting 45,000 attendees–got me thinking about the early days before the cloud was the cloud, how far its come, and how perfectly poised it is to ride the waves now driving technology adoption–mobile and social solutions.

Traveling in the Way Back Machine

In a galaxy long ago and far away, I was an analyst at the former Summit Strategies when the first cloud seeds were being planted in 1997. NetLedger (now NetSuite) and Employease (now part of ADP) were among the first to visit and brief us in Boston, followed soon after, of course, by Marc Benioff and Salesforce.com.

These vendors were among the early pioneers of what was first called the internet business service provider (IBSP) model. They built their solutions as multi-tenant software-as-a-service solutions, designing them  business from the ground up to be delivered as a single instance, to thousands of customers, in a subscription-based pricing model.

In the early going, these pioneers survived the confusion wreaked by the traditional software vendors, who put their traditional packaged apps–never designed for a services model–up on servers in the application service provider (ASP) hosting model. Then, they persevered through the onslaught of the software establishment at the time–from Siebel to Microsoft to SAP–who insisted SaaS was just a passing fad. They forged on even as multitudes of IBSP wannabes–from Agillion to Red Gorilla to vJungle–crashed and burned when the Internet bubble burst. They even survived the problems they created for themselves as they kept renaming themselves, from IBSP, online services vendor, software-as-a-service (SaaS) and then to the “cloud” label that would finally stick.

Evolutionary Vs. Revolutionary

From the start, analysts such as myself and counterparts, such as the luminary Phil Wainwright, thought that IBSP/SaaS/cloud was a great alternative to the packaged software model–and that it would catch on much more quickly than it has. But, though cloud computing has grown over the last 13 years or so, it’s growth has been more evolutionary than revolutionary. In the beginning, many of the technologies necessary to enable widespread cloud adoption, such as ubiquitous high-speed Internet access, just weren’t there. As important, IT people were often reluctant to go to the model because they were afraid it might put them out of a job, and decision-makers in some companies didn’t feel a compelling need to change the status quo.

In contrast, adoption of mobile and social technologies has been truly revolutionary. Not only were the right technologies were in the right place, at the right time, but individuals–not IT people or business decision-makers–called the shots. Employees are also consumers, and are spending their own money to BYOD (bring your own device) instead of using a company-issued brick. They started questioning why it was easier to keep track of friends on Facebook than keep track of contacts in CRM.  Armed with iPhones, iPads, Facebook and Twitter, as Benioff so rightly pointed out, individuals are now empowered not only bring about the “Arab spring” that has toppled dictators, but also stir up a “corporate spring” for companies that don’t listen to customers and employees.

Now the Cloud Can Ride the Waves

As a result, the pecking order of the IT universe is being radically altered. Apple is worth more than HP, Google is more powerful than Microsoft, and Facebook has changed the world–and what we expect from software–forever.

Though cloud computing has been on a slower trajectory than social and mobile technologies, cloud is increasingly the critical enabler for both mobile and social solutions. It provides the economies of scale and skill that developers and companies need to create, reiterate, and reinvent. It provides the customer feedback loop and data aggregation necessary to see where the puck is going and get there first. It provides the collaborative environment required to accelerate new ideas and new ways of solving problems. But it is very complicated for individual companies to piece together all the components that they need on their own.

As this perfect storm of social and mobile rapidly forms, how much time do the software vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle, Sage and SAP, have to straddle the fence and ride out the storm? You can bet that I and a lot of other storm chasers will be watching closely as the waves build.

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.

Intuit Partner Platform: Changing the Rules of Cloud Platforms with Federated Applications

Cloud platforms, or “platforms-as-a-service” (PaaS) are quickly becoming a key channel for application developers. By writing and publishing their applications to integrate with those of a major PaaS provider, such as Salesforce.com or Microsoft, smaller developers can gain instant access to a large installed base of customers.

With so many vendors creating their own clouds, however, it’s easy for software developers to get lost in them—or potentially, locked into in a cloud. After all, it takes a lot of time and effort to write an application that conforms to the requirements of a particular cloud platform. Smaller developers, without extensive resources, have to place their bets carefully, as they may not have the resources to rewrite their applications for different environments when a new or better opportunity arises.

But recently, Intuit unveiled a new capability called “Federated Applications”, which opens up the Intuit Partner Platform to developers that have existing software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications built on other cloud platforms, programming languages or databases. Instead of having to rewrite applications from scratch, developers can use basic XML integration to configure or “federate” their solutions with key integration points, including the user interface, billing, account management and permissions, data and single sign-on to ensure that their solutions integrate with QuickBooks and other solutions on the Intuit Workplace. For example, the partner solutions that Intuit announced at its launch—Expenseware, DimDim, Setster, Rypple and Vertical Response–are built on a wide range of different platforms.

Intuit also provides a wizard to help developers create their pricing plans, and checks each application to ensure that it meets Intuit security and privacy requirements. Once the process is complete, applications are published to the Intuit Workplace, where four million small businesses and their 25 million employees that use QuickBooks can access them.

With its Federated Applications model, and tremendous presence in the small business market, Intuit is poised to change the rules for cloud computing platforms, both for small business developers and customers, as well as rival PaaS vendors. Intuit’s model makes it much easier and faster for developers to leverage existing investments and reach a new market than for PaaS competitors without this capability. In turn, millions of Intuit customers get access to one-stop shopping, account management, connected data, and single sign-on for applications in the Intuit Workplace.

Intuit’s business model represents a dramatic shift from that of the current PaaS gorilla—Salesforce.com. In the Salesforce model, every user of any AppExchange solution must also pay a platform fee to salesforce.com, whether they need to use the Salesforce solution or not—a tax that many small business customers, in particular, are unwilling to pay. In comparison, Intuit charges Workplace developers a percentage fee (typically 14% to 20%, depending on volume) when they sell their solution on the Workplace. In return, developers get a sales channel, platform services, and a friction-free route to Intuit’s large installed base.

By lowering the bar to entry to its platform so significantly, Intuit’s federated approach makes it easy for developers to place a bet on the Intuit Workplace. Intuit customers, meanwhile, can look forward to a flood of new solutions that will work with QuickBooks. At the same time, its more likely that these solutions will be available on other cloud platforms, should the customer decide to move to another accounting solution. Seems like a win-win-win for Intuit, its partners and its customers—and a challenge to PaaS competitors with more proprietary models.

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