Salesforce’s SMB Story: Great Vision, But a Complicated Plot Line

“Why can’t business software be as easy to use as buying a book on Amazon?” At the Dreamforce 2012 SMB keynote, Hilary Koplow-McAdams, President of Salesforce.com’s Commercial Division, told the crowd that this was the question that Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, originally set out to answer when he founded the company. When you think about it, this question was particularly prescient in 1999, when Salesforce was in start-up mode and conversations about the “consumerization of IT” were scarce. This perspective also provided a welcome breath of fresh air for small businesses, which were Salesforce’s chief target market at the time, and were in dire need of technology vendors that could keep things simple. Fast forward to 2012 Dreamforce. As I discussed in my first post about the event, Drinking From the Dreamforce Fire Hose: Part 1, The Big Picture, Benioff showcased several large enterprise customers, a slew of new directions and offerings, and a compelling case for enterprises to buy into its version of the social enterprise. 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. Even if Salesforce can make products Amazon-easy, can it tell the story so that SMBs “get it?” In addition, as combinations of products and pricing options multiply, will SMBs be able to wade through, figure out their best options, and be able to afford them?

“A” for a Compelling Vision for SMBs

Which leads to this, my second post. How and how clearly is Salesforce making its case to SMBs? For starters, this year’s event featured the first SMB track ever at Dreamforce–certainly a big step in the right direction. In the SMB keynote, Koplow-McAdams discussed how the cloud model helps democratize and level the playing field for smaller companies, and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to them. According to Koplow-McAdams, SMBs are also racking up good returns on their investment: Salesforce studies show that their SMB customers have boosted win rates by 25+%, increased sales productivity by 34% and increased revenues by 30%. While it’s not surprising that Salesforce has been transformative for the SMB customers that shared this stage with Hilary Koplow-McAdams, their stories were as interesting–and maybe a little more fun–as the large enterprise customers featured in Benioff’s keynote. They discussed how, despite limited IT staffs and budgets, they’ve used Salesforce to grow their businesses. For instance:

  • PlayerLayer, which sells performance athletic apparel, had customer data in Excel, and “had all the customer data, but no way to look at it.” It wanted a solution to help “interrogate” the data so that the company could expand into new countries without a big ad budget. Salesforce and Chatter have helped PlayerLayer gain a better understanding of its customers, collaborate on products more efficiently, and “compete with giants in industry.”
  • Yelp, the now well-known search and review site for local businesses, has grown from 2 employees in 1994 to over 1,000 employees today. When Yelp hired its first full-time sales rep for its original San Francisco site, it deployed Salesforce. Geoff Donaker, Yelp COO described how as Yelp branched out into new markets, it was “easy to expand with Salesforce.” Now in 18 countries and 90 cities, Yelp has 800 Salesforce users.
  • Square, the mobile payments vendor, has grown to process $8 billion in payments/year, and 400 employees over the past few years. According to Sarah Friar, Square, CFO, “selling is a team sport” at Square, which uses Salesforce Sales Cloud, Chatter, and Desk.com for support. Square shared a demo of how Desk.com automatically brings tweets, Facebook posts, email and phone conversations into Desk.com to help it provide more responsive customer service.
  • Leviev Diamonds, with 25 employees and 5 showrooms around the globe, was founded in 2006. An offshoot of a successful wholesale diamond business, Leviev wanted to start a retail channel to market very high quality diamonds. As the company CEO, said, “the most important part of the business is schmoozing, which you call CRM.” Leviev decided to use Salesforce because it did what they needed it to do and fit the budget. No Leviev has its entire inventory in Salesforce, and when potential clients open mobile alerts, they are redirected to Salesforce for more information. According to Leviev, “I love Salesforce. It changed everything for us.”
  • Carlo’s Bakery, made famous by the TLC reality show Cake Boss, featuring owner Buddy Valastro, served up the final story. Once Cake Boss started airing, “all hell broke loose.” The problem was, although the bakery starting getting millions of hits a day on their website, it wasn’t able to turn them into sales because Carlo’s Bakery was still a pencil and paper business and according to Valastro, “a lot of people have to interact to make a cake.” In about 8 weeks, the bakery switched from pencil and paper to Salesforce and Radian6 to convert more of its millions of Facebook fans and Twitter followers into customers, and get better visibility into its sales funnel. Carlo’s Bakery can take orders on iPads and mobile phones, and the orders come together in one system, which enables everyone to collaborate. The bakery now does $20 million worth of sales from its Hoboken store, has increased productivity by 60%, and improved customer experience.

Collectively, Salesforce and its customers did a great job of summing up how cloud offerings–and Salesforce in particular–can give SMBs a faster, more user-friendly, and streamlined way to run their businesses. In some cases, these customers moved directly from Excel or from pencil and paper to Salesforce, illuminating both the ease and value of having real-time information access, anywhere from any device. So I’ll give Salesforce an “A” for telling the story.

“C” for an SMB Friendly Social Enterprise Plot Line

But, I’m experiencing some cognitive dissonance when I look at the plot line. Sure, Benioff’s big picture social enterprise vision is compelling for businesses of any size. But as I asked in my 2011 post, Is Salesforce.com Outgrowing SMBs?, can the average small or medium business put the piece parts together? Thankfully, the company does seem to have put a simple naming convention in place (and renamed several acquisitions accordingly), but I’ve lost count of how many solutions Salesforce provides…along with what’s included in what. For instance, Salesforce Touch is included as part of Force.com. But do most SMBs even buy Force.com? And if they don’t, can third-party development partners somehow pass relevant Salesforce Touch capabilities through? Likewise, the question of how much it will cost for SMBs to become a social enterprise ala the Salesforce model is also cloudy. Fortunately, Chatter is included in all Sales Cloud editions. But how many small businesses can jump from Group Edition ($15/user/month) to Professional ($65/user/month) to get some fairly basic marketing functionality such as email marketing, campaigns and analytics snapshots. And what about Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which starts at $5,000 per month? When it comes to software (on premise or in the cloud!) SMBs don’t want mystery. They want solution clarity, and transparent, predictable pricing. At the upper end of SMB, companies may have enough staff, expertise and time to sort through and figure this out–or the budget to hire a consultant to do it for them. But, many smaller businesses won’t have these resources. So I need to give Salesforce a “C“ when it comes to making it easy for SMBs to identify, assess, configure and price the best mix of Salesforce solutions to turn the social enterprise vision into reality. And, while Salesforce will likely rely on its partners to help SMBs navigate these areas, it seems difficult to see how partners can profitably provide the services SMBs need to evaluate, select and deploy the right formula of Salesforce solutions. How will Salesforce.com grow and remain true to its small business roots? Most software vendors have found it very difficult to succeed in both large enterprise and small business worlds. Can Salesforce succeed where others have failed? I’ll be looking forward to Dreamforce 2013 to see if the details are as clear as the vision by then.

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.

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: Xactly Express Integration with Intuit QuickBooks

If you’re one of the four million small and medium businesses (SMBs) that uses Intuit QuickBooks and are wrestling with a clunky sales compensation process, I’m serving up this next tech tidbit for you.

Last week, I was briefed on Xactly’s new Express integration with QuickBooks. This sparked my interest because SMB Group survey respondents always cite “attracting new customers” and “growing revenues” among their top three business challenges in almost every study the SMB Group conducts. But, it can be very difficult for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to execute well in this area. Sales and finance are typically coming at this from different vantage points, and its unlikely that the SMB has a dedicated sales comp expert–or the time and money to set up an enterprise-grade comp system.

So, if you’re like the vast majority of SMBs, you probably manage compensation with a concoction of Excel spreadsheets, emails, paper documents and manual processing. Besides giving everyone a headache, it can de-motivate sales people or head them in a direction that doesn’t sync well with your company’s goals.

Xactly (which also has an enterprise solution, Xactly Incent), introduced Xactly Express in 2010 to give companies with fewer than 100 sales reps–and without dedicated sales compensation staff–a cloud-based, self-service solution to “Incent right = pay commissions accurately, on time, reward behavior.” Xactly built Express on Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform, but as it grew the business, Xactly realized that a good 35% to 45% of its Express customers were also Intuit QuickBooks users. For them, QuickBooks is often the primary system of record. So Xactly decided to create new out-of-the-box connectors between Express and QuickBooks. The solution, which was introduced this week, will be available from the Intuit App Center later this summer.

This built-in integration provides an automated data feed from QuickBooks to Xactly Express, as well as single sign-on. Users can access Xactly through their QuickBooks logon to plan and manage sales commissions, bonuses and SPIFFs. Likewise, when you enter a transaction into QuickBooks, commissions automatically get calculated and credited to the right members of your sales team. If you’re doing business outside of the U.S. Xactly’s solutions support over 150 currencies and it provides customer support worldwide, 24/7. Currently, however, English is the only language that Xactly officially supports.

On the sales side, reps and managers can track their performance real-time on Express dashboards via the Web or with a mobile device. They can see where they are in terms of quota or what their commission will be when they’re working on a quote, or figure out which deals will deliver the best commission returns.

Xactly provides a library of customizable sales compensation templates (prospector, hunter, farmer, specialist and captain) to help small businesses get started.  Xactly says that it takes about 6 to 10 hours to get up and running with the integrated Express and QuickBooks solution. Most of this time goes to verify that the data is feeding correctly between the two programs.

According to Xactly, even very small businesses can get value from the solution. Some of its 200 current customers start out with only one sales rep, but have plans to grow their sales teams, and want to get things automated from the get-go.

Pricing for Express is $30 per user/ month, and there is a onetime set up fee that ranges from $1500 to 5000, depending on the complexity of the implementation and set-up–perhaps a bit pricey for the lower end of the SMB market.But Xactly does offer a free 30-day trial so you can see if it will give you what you’re looking for.

The net-net is that if sales compensation is giving you a headache, Xactly Express and its new QuickBooks integration can provide  relief–with the added bonus of helping align and empower your sales team to meet the ever-present challenge of growing your business.

The Small Business Forecast for Cloud Computing

(Originally published October 5, 2011 in Small Business Computing)

What’s changed about cloud computing since 2009, when I wrote What is Cloud Computing, and Why Should You Care? In terms of the basic definition and benefits of cloud computing, not much. But in terms of market trends and adoption, the landscape has changed considerably.

Status Quo: Cloud Computing Basics

Here’s the definition that I provided in 2009: Cloud computing is a computing model in which you access software, server, storage, development and other computing resources over the Internet, in a self-service manner, as illustrated in Figure 1.

What is cloud computing graphic display
Figure 1: An illustrated depiction of cloud computing.
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The benefits that drive cloud computing adoption remain the same as well; instead of having to buy, install, maintain and manage these resources on your own servers, you access and use them through a Web browser.

Since many small and medium businesses (SMBs) lack the time, money and/or resources required to buy, deploy and manage the increasingly complex array of applications and infrastructure they need to run their businesses, this is a huge plus.

Cloud computing lets you access these resources as a service, without having to worry about the care and feeding of them. You can expand or shrink services as your needs change, and do it all on a pay-as-you-go subscription basis instead of forking over capital to buy hardware and software.

The concerns that people raise about cloud computing haven’t changed much either. They continue to revolve around reliability, security and support questions, such as how do providers protect your data? What happens if a service goes down, and you can’t access the application or your data?

Even highly reputable cloud providers — including Amazon, Google, Intuit and Microsoft — have experienced outages. Customers still need to do their homework and get details from providers on uptime guarantees, data protection, service levels and other policies and practices.

Cloud Computing Adoption Becoming Mainstream

Cloud computing has been around since 1997– albeit under different labels. But cloud adoption was more evolutionary than revolutionary for a long time. In the early going, many of the technologies required to effectively take advantage of cloud computing — such as ubiquitous high-speed Internet access — weren’t ready.

Equally important, people tend to be creatures of habit, and they felt no need to rush away from packaged software to the cloud. Finally, many IT people were reluctant to go to the cloud for fear it might put them out of a job.

But in the last 2 or 3 years, studies from both researchers and vendors indicate that cloud computing is becoming a more mainstream choice, especially in categories such as online marketing, collaboration and contact and customer management, as shown in Figure 2.

What’s Driving the Change?

Several factors that have coalesced to create the right conditions for cloud computing’s increased popularity. To begin with, cloud computing providers have grown up. NetSuite was founded in 1998, and Salesforce.com was founded in 1999.

Small business cloud-computing adoption rates, by application category
Figure 2: Small business adoption of cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions in selected application categories. Source: SMB Group 2010 SMB Routes to Market Study.
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Meanwhile, “old guard” players including IBM, Microsoft and SAP have also created rich portfolios of cloud solutions. Cloud vendors continue to address reliability, security and performance concerns with more redundant services and controls.

Many are also providing more visibility into performance. For instance, Trust.salesforce.com is Salesforce.com’s site for real-time information on system performance and security. Zoho Service Health Status provides a similar service.

Customers have also learned that they like many things about the cloud model. They like the responsibility being on a vendor 24/7 — and that it’s easier to switch to another provider if their expectations aren’t met. They like what I call the “virtuous feedback loop,” which means that when a cloud provider fixes a problem for one customer, it gets fixed for everyone.

Meanwhile, a funny thing happened on the way to the cloud — an explosion of mobile and social technologies. In both cases, the adoption curve has been truly revolutionary.  In contrast to cloud computing, these revolutions didn’t require IT managers or business decision-makers to take off.

Individuals could drive adoption, which in turn required businesses to interact more effectively with these newly empowered customers, employees, constituents, etc. — when, where and how they wanted.

This has had a profound effect on cloud computing. Although it 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 need to create, reiterate and reinvent.
  • Continuous customer-feedback loop and data aggregation required to spot trends, identify opportunities and get a leg-up on the competition.
  • Real-time collaborative environment that’s necessary to accelerate new ideas, launch new solutions and solve problems.

Finally, the curve to take advantage of new technologies and new ways of using technology is getting steeper. Most individual companies can’t tap into these opportunities on their own, however. They need IT solutions that will empower the business without draining it — and they are more likely to get this with cloud computing than with traditional on-premises software.

The net-net is that we’ve reached a tipping point. Increasingly, small businesses that want to use technology to move their businesses ahead will need to move to the cloud — or risk falling behind the competition.


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.

Intuit and Salesforce Partner Up: Who’s the Big Winner?

Last week, Intuit and Salesforce.com announced that they would partner to integrate Intuit QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online small business accounting software with Salesforce’s small business CRM editions (Contact Manager, Group and Professional).

Under the terms of the deal, Intuit will resell a pre-integrated version of the Salesforce CRM application via Intuit’s App Center (as well as Intuit channel partners). Data will be automatically synchronized across QuickBooks and Salesforce, giving customers a real-time, unified view of the data, regardless of which application the customer is working in.

Intuit and Salesforce indicated that the integration should be completed this summer.

Above the Surface

Clearly, the deal provides Salesforce with a great entrée to Intuit’s 4.5 million QuickBooks users, gives Intuit a marquee CRM partner in the App Center.

This is also a very big deal for customers. While the small business CRM market is fragmented, Salesforce is a top CRM vendor in small business. Demand for integration between QuickBooks and Salesforce is evidenced by the fact that so many integration vendors—Dell-Boomi, Pervasive, Informatica, IBM-Cast Iron and others—offer this integration, which is typically priced at about $50 to $75 per month. With a direct QuickBooks-Salesforce integration, small businesses get a seamless way to synchronize data between QuickBooks and Salesforce.com without having to buy an additional integration service or solution. (Although pricing has yet to be announced, I’ve been told that it will be more economical than using third-party integration tools).

Below the Surface

The partnership also provides Intuit with substantial validation for the approach it has taken with the Intuit Partner Platform  (Intuit Partner Platform: Changing the Rules of Cloud Platforms with Federated Applications). Intuit’s “federated applications” approach means that instead of having to rewrite applications from scratch, partners that have built their applications on other cloud platforms 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.

This approach removes a lot of development and partnering barriers—in fact, it seems that it removed enough barriers for Salesforce that it is, for the first time, providing its solutions via a partner’s platform, rather than requiring the partner to develop on Force.com.

Salesforce also gains a new venue for Chatter (free with all of its CRM offerings, including the small business editions noted above). As I’ve said many times, collaboration is the only activity that every employee in every company engages in everyday. In addition to getting another on ramp for CRM, Salesforce can also make new market inroads for Chatter and its collaboration strategy ( Salesforce’s Dimdim Acquisition–Adding to a String of Collaboration Pearls).

Quick Take

Many analysts and pundits have been asking (and arguing about) whether this is a bigger win for Salesforce.com or for Intuit. At first blush, my take was that Salesforce would potentially have more to gain because Intuit would be promoting and selling Salesforce CRM and Chatter to its installed base.

Giving it a little more thought, I’m thinking it’s a pretty balanced deal. Having a high-profile partner such as Salesforce should help Intuit attract more end-user customers to its App Center, and pull in more developers as well—in line with its goal to establish the App Center as “the” app store for small businesses.

Small businesses win big too. Integrating business solutions shouldn’t cost more than the business solutions themselves, and this partnership should make integration and the benefits it provides more attainable for more small businesses.

Furthermore, there’s nothing exclusive about the deal for either party. Salesforce, will, of course, continue to partner up with FinancialForce, Intacct and countless other financials vendors, and Intuit can do the same with CRM and collaboration vendors.  Which is a good thing—because small business is anything but a one-size-fits-all market, and neither vendor should presume that this is the best accounting-CRM pairing for all of their small business customers.

Salesforce’s Dimdim Acquisition–Adding to a String of Collaboration Pearls

The SMB Group has followed (and used!) Dimdim, which has provided innovative, easy to use Web conferencing services in a freemium model with very liberal terms of use, for a couple of years. In January, Salesforce.com acquired Dimdim for $31 million.

Immediately after the acquisition, Salesforce announced that while Dimdim would remain “fully operational during the transition,” it would “no longer be accepting new registrations.” Instead, Salesforce is focusing on bringing Chatter and Dimdim together to provide what it terms “Facebook for the enterprise.”

What’s Next

Last week, we had a follow up briefing with Salesforce’s Mike Micucci, VP Product Management, and Steve Chazin, Senior Director, Product Strategy, to learn more about these plans. Essentially:

  • Salesforce will peel off the Dimdim front end and reconstitute Dimdim’s real-time collaboration capabilities into Chatter. This will give Salesforce a way to provide Chatter users with real-time presence capabilities, so users can see who else on their team is online and their status via a button on their Chatter screens, and start “in context” meetings on the fly.
  • Salesforce will focus initially on connecting internal team members via Chatter, but over time, will broaden this to connect partners and customers as well, integrating them with its Activa acquisition. (Salesforce acquired Activa, an enterprise chat startup that provides on-demand live chat software for customer service, support and online sales interactions last September).
  • The vendor will also explore incorporating audio, screen sharing and video capabilities from Dimdim into Salesforce as well.

While Salesforce is currently deferring to standalone Web conferencing partners (they actually conducted their briefing with us via Citrix GoToMeeting!) in the realm of scheduled meetings, I believe that its only a matter of time before they turn this service on, as users will want it.

Quick Take

With over 1 million registered users, it’s safe to say that Dimdim’s service will be missed by many SMBs–including the SMB Group!

But Salesforce has set its sights on a much bigger picture–one in which it is building, acquiring and integrating the components it needs to become a major player in the collaboration space. As we discuss in Moving Beyond Email: The Era of SMB Online Collaboration Suites, Salesforce’s collaboration strategy is oriented towards social media, real-time activity streams and tight  integration with its CRM offering.

The Dimdim acquisition gives Salesforce the ability to aggregate and integrate real-time capabilities across the Salesforce cloud, via a single mechanism, with multi-device access. Combined with its own Chatter platform, and acquisitions of Activa and GroupSwim, which provides collaborative semantic analysis technology (a fancy way of saying that it has technology that allows people to automatically analyzes and tags content with keywords in a collaborative way to make for easier, more relevant searching), Salesforce is stringing together an impressive set of collaboration capabilities.

Salesforce indicates that more than 60,000 companies have already deployed Chatter, and the vendor recently unveiled Chatter Free, a freemium service to entice non-Salesforce customers to the Chatter fold. With viral routes into both installed base and off base customers now in place, look for Salesforce to give the existing collaboration powerhouses–Google, IBM Lotus and Microsoft–an interesting run for the money.

HubSpot: From Breakthrough to Breakout

I’ve been very impressed by HubSpot, which helps small and medium businesses (SMBs) optimize and streamline their inbound marketing programs (see my 2009 interview with HubSpot Marketing VP Mike Volpe) for a while now. Looks like others are impressed too—as evidenced by HubSpot’s announcement that it has raised $32 million in a Series D funding round from Sequoia Capital, Salesforce.com, and Google Ventures. This round brings total investments in HubSpot up to $65 million.

What HubSpot Does and What Makes it Different

HubSpot’s online (aka cloud-based) solutions help SMBs manage their web sites and social media activities so they can increase inbound marketing leads, track those leads and optimize lead conversion to sales. HubSpot pricing ranges from $250/month to $1,500/month. The company has been on a roll, with a current annual run rate of $25 million annually, up from $10 million a year ago, and about 4,000 paying customers.

In addition to these fee-based services, HubSpot offers a slew of great free services to help SMBs optimize their content, including Twitter GraderPress Release Grader, Facebook Grader, and Website Grader (all fairly self-explanatory)—and one of my favorites, Gobbledygook grader, which checks your content for gobbledygook, hype, jargon, other meaningless words. As you’ve probably guessed, HubSpot uses these clever and helpful sites to drive its own inbound marketing engine—with fantastic results.  For instance, Website Grader has over 3 million users.

Although some people put HubSpot in the same category as marketing automation vendors such as Eloqua and Marketo, HubSpot has been the poster child when it comes to building the inbound marketing pipeline. I think that HubSpot invented the term “inbound marketing” (founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah literally wrote the book on how to get found online, Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs in 2009).  While competitors have tended to focus on helping companies nurture the leads they already have,  HubSpot has blazed the trail in helping companies make the pipeline bigger.

Quick Take

This latest investment round adds momentum to HubSpot’s already solid growth trajectory. It should give current and prospective HubSpot customers a new infusion of confidence, and help HubSpot accelerate innovation.  HubSpot will undoubtedly use a good chunk of the funding to educate and move more SMBs up the curve and into this new era of marketing. After all, HubSpot’s 4,000 customers who are already “get it” are the very early adopters, and only a fraction of the vast SMB universe.

Some of the other areas I’ll be keeping my eye on include:

  • Possibilities with Salesforce.com and Chatter. HubSpot had been working on opening up it’s APIs already, and it’s not hard to envision using Chatter to integrate sales and marketing in a more collaborative, intuitive way. The bonus here is that HubSpot is a heavy Salesforce.com user, giving it a ready-made test-bed.
  • Serving up HubSpot via the Google Apps Marketplace. HubSpot’s all-in-one solution is great, but it can be a bit daunting for smaller companies to take on all at once. It would be great if HubSpot could package some of the key functions in smaller, bite-size pieces, which would then integrate with each other in Lego-like fashion.  That way, smaller companies could take baby steps but move into a full stride as they grow.
  • International expansion. 95%-plus of HubSpot’s customers are in the U.S. The investment should help HubSpot accelerate global sales and marketing. HubSpot can potentially take advantage of Google and Salesforce international data centers, translation capabilities, etc. as well.

While we’ll have to wait for HubSpot to reveal its plans, one thing is evident. HubSpot has plenty of opportunities to put it’s newly minted investment money and relationships with two technology powerhouses to work to change the rules of the digital marketing game in a very substantial way.

Will the Appliance Approach Gain Traction in the Wake of Recent Cloud Outages?

This week’s service outage at Intuit is fueling a new round of speculation about the dark side of cloud computing–and whether businesses can depend on cloud-based services to run their businesses. Intuit’s problems come on the heels of other service outages this month at WordPress and Sage, and as well as service outages earlier this year at Salesforce.com and NetSuite, among others.

Clearly, Intuit is not alone, and cloud vendors across the board will need to redouble their efforts to harden, backup, continuity and disaster recovery services.  Customers will also demand more transparent, accessible visibility into ongoing performance, downtime and problem resolution, and compensation when downtime exceeds guarantees in vendor service level agreements. And, as stated so well in a Hubspot blog, cloud vendors must put a a proactive social media strategy in place to lessen the fallout when a problem does occur.

That said, I don’t think that customers should leap to the conclusion that the sky–or the cloud–is falling. Smaller companies, in particular, are likely to have much more trouble keeping their systems up, running and productive than a cloud provider.

However, it does seem to me that now is good time for vendors and customers to consider a hybrid appliance-cloud approach–which has had a difficulty getting air time amidst the cloud hype and exuberance. As I discussed in What is a Business Applications Appliance and Why Should You Care?, business application appliances come pre-configured with all of the hardware and software components required to run a specific business application, such as accounting or CRM packaged together in one box. The appliance vendor pre-integrates the hardware, databases, security, storage, virtualization and other technologies with the business application to provide a complete solution.

This means that users can set up an appliance in a matter of minutes, instead of the hours or days it would normally take to source, install, integrate and tune all of these component parts on a general purpose server. And the appliance vendor (or a business partner) can deliver remote system management, monitoring, updates, patches, support and backup over the Internet, and deliver additional Web-based services, and/or download new applications as needed.

As a result, the appliance approach can bridge the gap between traditional, customer-premise deployments and cloud computing or software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, integrating on-premise, integrated appliance systems with cloud services. In many respects, this model could offer the best of both worlds to companies that want something easy to use and maintain, but are still uncomfortable with complete reliance on the cloud.

Let me know what you think–will recent cloud vendor outages shed new light on the appliance model?

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