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Salesforce.com Is Spinning Up for Dreamforce

Yesterday I had a quiet lunch with Marc Benioff and 300 of his closest friends at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, off Columbus Circle. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly quiet, and I don’t think Marc actually ate anything, but the fact is he was there. So was a large chunk of the Salesforce.com management, several partners, and a lot of customers.

The purpose, I think, was to get some excitement going for the Dreamforce conference next month in San Francisco. Discussion centered on developments in Service Cloud 2, the company’s social CRM approach to the contact center.Much of the presentation was covering stuff I already knew about, such as the various parts of Service Cloud and the partnership with Cisco that lets Salesforce.com be part of a unified communications environment. Since the audience wasn’t exclusively press and analysts, I have to assume the goal was to put all the information together for the public to show that SFDC will probably be making a major push for contact center business.

One truly new thing (to me, at least) was the announcement of five-minute upgrades. Contact centers can’t afford downtime, and one of the things that has held back adoption of SaaS contact centers systems is the lack of control over when that downtime hits. SFDC will be able to update its customers’ instances in minutes instead of hours, which should go a long way toward making it a more attractive option. Integrating with Cisco, a respected force in communications technology, doesn’t hurt either.

The event may have answered the “what is Salesforce.com up to?” question for most of the attendees, but it created more questions for some. A few of us (CRM magazine’s Josh Weinberger and Yankee Group’s Sheryl Kingstone) were wondering what the threshold is for SaaS update speed. Is it five minutes? Two minutes? Thirty seconds? More important, we couldn’t figure out how the partnership will make SFDC its next billion dollars. Josh spent a good half hour grilling Alex Dayon (senior VP of customer service and support products) about how SFDC and Cisco could each profit from the arrangement—they’re splitting a relatively small pie.

It’s not my biggest worry how they earn their bread. I’m more interested in them making social CRM in the contact center work for customers as well as businesses. When viewed from that perspective, Marc’s got an exciting product to roll out, and I’ll be watching closely.

Disclosure: I have some stake in this discussion, since I will be part of a panel at Dreamforce on Why Collaboration Between Sales and Service Is Imperative in Today’s Economy. If you’re in town, the session is Thursday Nov. 19 at 2:30pm.

More about this as it develops. Tonight, I’m out to dinner with Tealeaf and a roomful of people to hear the results of the 2009 Survey of Online Consumer Behavior. The state of online customer experience is our topic for the evening, and you just know I want to get the details.