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Message Perspectives: Salesforce.com

As promised, here’s my evaluation of Salesforce.com’s messaging, as compared with that of RightNow Technologies. This is the continuation of a previous article, so please read that one for any context you might find absent.

Salesforce.com is a big company. It’s on its way to being a $2 billion company, with current annual revenues of approximately $1.7 billion and growing. Despite this, the company still tries to position itself as an upstart, leading the software-as-a-service revolution against the entrenched interests of traditional software vendors. In many instances, it succeeds—but there’s no question that it is an established business in its own right.

Like many other big businesses that have reached “mission-accomplished” phase, Salesforce.com keeps adding new pieces to its core value proposition. It does this by adding “clouds,” of which it can now boast more than a half dozen. These include:

  • Sales Cloud
  • Service Cloud
  • Jigsaw Data Cloud (new this year)
  • Chatter (the collaboration cloud)
  • Force.com development platform (development cloud)
  • Database.com (cloud database, coming soon)
  • AppExchange (the application marketplace cloud)

Somebody at Salesforce.com will probably want me to clarify that all of these things exist within Cloud 2, the next-gen cloud computing world that is way advanced over everybody else’s cloud.

While it irks me to no end that there are multiple clouds instead of a single cloud with multiple possibilities, I understand Salesforce’s desire to compartmentalize its many available functions, and to differentiate itself from other SaaS providers. But the end result is what I have decided to call the Hype Cloud.

Salesforce.com is always innovating, and provides the tools for businesses of all kinds to transform their operations and achieve greater closeness to their customers. Its industry events (such as Dreamforce) illustrate these points, and do a lot to increase enthusiasm—but sometimes it feels like a circus.

It’s hard to imagine the company any other way, though. All this drive and energy comes from Marc Benioff and the team of extremely talented individuals he’s assembled. I seriously doubt that Salesforce.com would be anywhere near as big or successful with another person at the helm. Marc is a great showman—probably a shade too great for my personal taste—but he is also a shrewd businessman, a steady leader, and a philanthropist. He believes his message, and he believes in the causes he supports.

The showmanship may have led the company into a strange place. The Salesforce.com message has changed so much in the time I’ve been paying attention that the starting point is barely recognizable from the current position. There’s very little messaging about sales force automation, or CRM in general, despite CRM being the company’s NASDAQ stock ticker. The ability to create and trade apps on the AppExchange hasn’t gotten much press lately either, although it was the company’s lead for a couple of years. (I expect it to make a comeback now that database.com and Heroku are part of the story, but this remains to be seen.)

If I had to say what Salesforce.com’s message is, rather than what it isn’t, I’d go with it being a provider of possibilities. You can run your business with the core functions of SalesforceCRM. Internal communications and customer outreach are available via Chatter. You can add your own business functions designed on Force.com, and even sell them on AppExchange. You can manage mobile apps via database.com, which by the way is going to be open-standards for your convenience. It’s not quite operating-system-as-a-service, but it’s starting to get close.

The flexibility of Salesforce.com is clearly one of the company’s main strengths. Could it also be a weakness? Maybe so—when you have a product as broad as Salesforce.com, operating in what’s already called a cloud, one can be forgiven for thinking the benefit of a relationship with the company is a bit … nebulous. With most other vendors, you know what they do and what they don’t do. Salesforce says, “What don’t we do?” and that leaves a lot of room for a competitor to steal deals off the table. I don’t know how often this happens, but I do wonder.

All of this criticism, though, comes from a place of respect. Salesforce.com built itself into a billion-dollar company in a decade, and continues to be the most vocal proponent of cloud computing. It donates heavily to what I consider good causes, and helps businesses serve their customers better. I think Marc and company can take a little flak from me.