Is Salesforce.com treading water?

Summary:The company's momentum is undeniable. But what's under the covers of its expansive vision?

Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett

Yes

or

No

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright

Best Argument: No

50%
50%

Audience Favored: No (50%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Products we can't see or test

Dennis Howlett: Salesforce.com is telling the world of its expansive vision but what's under the covers? At first blush you might think there is plenty to deliver on the company's transformational vision when in reality some big chunks of what they're claiming are more aspirational than products we can see and test. For instance, the marketing cloud is little more than a mish mash assembly of a few acquired products while the 'work cloud' is Rypple plus vaporware. Sure, the company is crushing it on sales force automation and field service; but as other vendors are quick to point out, these are point solutions that are often dependent upon third parties to deliver full value.

No sign of slowing down

Phil Wainewright: A questioner at last week's Dreamforce annual conference asked CEO Marc Benioff what Salesforce.com has to do to get from $3 billion in annual revenues to beyond $10 billion. That the question did not seem absurd is a measure of Salesforce.com's momentum. Can it continue to grow at 25 percent or more each year, even at such a size? I believe it can.

The hard-won success of Service Cloud demonstrates the company's ability to build strength in a new application sector alongside its sales automation core. It has now set its sights on building a similar business in digital marketing automation, while its new initiatives in performance management (Work.com) and collaboration (Chatter) open up additional markets with similar potential.

Neglected partners or poorly served customers may sometimes feel aggrieved as Salesforce.com expands its footprint, but there's no sign of this 100-pound gorilla slowing its advance.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mic check

    Are my debaters standing by? We'll be starting promptly at 11am ET / 8am PT

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Standing by

    ...And looking forward it

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Ready here

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    My first question:

    Salesforce's Dreamforce product announcements advanced the social business ball, but I wouldn't call them revolutionary. Is Salesforce reaching the maturation point where advances and enterprise bets will be more incremental? And does incremental mean Salesforce is treading water?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Salesforce will argue that everything they do is revolutionary and transformational.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Salesforce has done exactly what it needs to do

    This year's Dreamforce saw not just one but three significant new product announcements -- each of them with the potential to dominate a significant new category. These are not incremental bets, they're important new departures. Far from standing still, the company has done exactly what it needs to do to maintain its rapid growth trajectory by expanding its functional footprint into new opportunities.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Spreading itself too thin?

    The company also has ongoing integration work with BuddyMedia, Radian6 and combining them with existing products and features. Do you think acquisitions and adding new services---Chatterbox for instance---will mean Salesforce.com becomes too thin?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Salesforce needs to be careful

    Which is better - a broad set of app clouds with just enough functionality or fewer clouds with richer functionality? Salesforce can bet on the community filling in gaps but then what if they don't?

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Salesforce's remarkable achievement

    You just asked if they're doing too little, now you say it's too much! One of Salesforce's most remarkable achievements has been to keep scaling its product and management teams in step with its growth and expansion. There are challenges integrating acquisitions, but Salesforce has a really strong management core and has constantly proven its ability to bring in new talent when it needs it.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Relationship with Workday?

    One of the notable items was Saleforce's Work.com (rebranded Rypple) effort. How do you see Salesforce's relationship with Workday evolving?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    HR admin is tough work.

    I don't see any appetite at SFdC for this kind of stuff. And yes, there are overlaps but SFdC is coming from a long way behind.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Working closely to help each other

    Now that it's clear Work.com is primarily a performance management tool, we can see that there's little functional overlap with Workday -- and far more with long-term Salesforce partners such as Xactly and ADP. There's a direct attack on SuccessFactors' turf, too, which will erode trust with SAP (despite Salesforce having many SAP customers, including its keynote favourite Burberry).

    Salesforce can't offer the deep, global transactional functionality that Workday has developed, so the two are a natural complement in cloud-first accounts. I think we'll see the two companies working closely to help each other.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    CMO's spending power?

    Marc Benioff has said repeatedly that the CMO will have the technology spending power. Do you agree? Why or why not?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    His customers know differently

    They know that while the CMO may have budget that's not the same as spend. Getting SFA through the door is one thing but as you take on more solutions there comes a point when the CIO has to be brought on board as well. That's when the power balance can and often does shift.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    This is a general trend...

    ...that goes way beyond the marketing domain. From Benioff's perspective it looks true, but only because Salesforce is focussed on sales and marketing. Every aspect of business today has to be far more automated and far more connected than ever before, and all line-of-business executives are getting deeply involved in technology spending. So while I agree the CIO has a waning influence over that spend, I disagree that the challenge is coming merely from the CMO.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Force.com?

    What's your assessment of the Force.com platform, its potential growth and enterprise adoption?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Things have been slow but that could change.

    Force.com is maturing rapidly as a platform. I'm seeing standalone apps that don't require any SFdC solutions in the landscape. That's pretty unique for what is primarily an app vendor.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Force.com is the glue

    I understand the company is now emphasizing what it calls the 'Salesforce Platform', within which Force.com is just one component. The reason for this is that Force.com is closely tied into the company's application stack, whereas more recent additions including Heroku and Chatter are designed to work more widely. But it still remains true that these add-ons tend to follow the Salesforce application into an enterprise rather than leading it. Think of Force.com as the glue that keeps an enterprise stuck with Salesforce.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Technology overhaul?

    What's your timetable for a technology overhaul at Salesforce? In other words, address the Salesforce technical debt issue and how will it impact customers?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Not known.

    This has been a discussion the last couple of years but so far very little has been said. However, some areas requiring critical performance enhancement have been addressed.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Salesforce is constantly overhauling its technology...

    ...but there are some early decisions in its architecture that remain limiting factors. My sense is that the company feels it has no choice but to live with that technology debt while it focuses on bigger opportunities. How it impacts customers is that large, global businesses will not run their financials or other key transactional operations on the Salesforce platform because of those limitations. If Salesforce ever wants to penetrate those areas, it will have to fix its technical debt.

    For the intervening time (at least a decade, I reckon) it can partner with Workday and others to plug the gap.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What do you view as Salesforce's single best opportunity?

    And why?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Identity management

    He who controls identity controls the landscape.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Digital marketing automation

    It's a hugely expanding market with no clear leader. Salesforce can leverage its brand recognition on the path to dominance.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Will Salesforce be challenged with its international expansion?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Yes

    Right now it is only in a limited number of mostly English-speaking territories. Developing for non-English cultures will be a significant challenge.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Absolutely.

    Salesforce has a history of not investing enough in markets where it is weak. It doesn't have a proven strategy for success in foreign markets. This could be its Achilles' heel.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Biggest threat?

    What rival is Salesforce's biggest threat among the established enterprise software giants? SAP? Oracle?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    That depends.

    Many think that Oracle makes a natural foe but then its cloud offerings are a cobbled together melange of technologies that are sort of cloud but not quite.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Rivals give it such a free ride

    Microsoft has the biggest footprint and would be a threat if it could get its act together in CRM. But like SAP, it has too much invested in legacy on-premise assets that won't cut it in the digital age. You only have to look how far behind they are on marketing automation to see how little these two get it. As for Oracle, it will only become a threat through acquisition.

    Frankly, part of the reason why Salesforce has such a rosy future ahead of it is because its rivals give it such a free ride.

    Google could be a threat too were it not so incapable of acknowledging enterprise requirements.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Do you believe that enterprises will truly adopt social business?

    What are the hurdles and impact on Salesforce?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    This is a really big question.

    The handwavers will say 'yes' but as the Bluewolf and Appirio surveys show, it is still very early days. The better way to describe these styles of solution is 'collaboration' but then that's not cool and sexy - is it?

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Stating the obvious

    My biggest bugbear with Salesforce is the way it harps on about social business -- as if business ever was about anything other than people relating to each other. It's stating the bleedin' obvious.

    As I sat through the interminable Dreamforce keynote, listening to the seemingly astonishing revelation that 'business is social, work is social,' I was gritting my teeth, waiting for someone to get carried away with it all and opine that 'people are social, society is social'.

    What is happening today is that we are discovering how to use technology to help us navigate better and faster through the social interactions that we always have engaged in, ever since prehistory. And of course enterprises will adopt that technology once they understand its value.

    The danger for Salesforce (and indeed for everyone else trying to make headway with this) is that early adopters get blindsided by the hype -- by collecting Facebook 'likes' for example-- and miss what really matters.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Dependent on big deals?

    Is Salesforce becoming too dependent on big deals of $1 million plus?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Likely so...

    ...but it does have a very good strike team to put on the case. The problem is, that team cannot scale and so it has to poach sales resources from the Oracle/SAP/IBM's of this world. But to do that, SFdC better had a great comp plan in place.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Larger deals are inevitable

    More and more of these larger deals are inevitable as it scales up its reach across the enterprise. Those deals have high sales overheads because of the type of focus required to close them, so they need to be big to turn a profit. There's nothing wrong with that, provided the company doesn't lose focus on the very different skills required to maintain the flow of smaller deals.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    OK, final question:

    What new markets and developments would you want to see out of Salesforce going forward? Why?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    I'm liking the direction of the 'work' project

    And -- while it's more vision than reality -- I'd like to see how this turns out because this is one area where there is the potential to wring significant value out of employees albeit in a win-win manner.

    Dennis Howlett

    I am for Yes

    Salesforce must concentrate on refinement

    The latest batch of new offerings will keep it busy for a while and I think Salesforce must now concentrate on refining what it's got rather than extending further. Although the flexibility and constant renewal of its platform makes it look good compared to conventional on-premise alternatives, there's still much more it can to do refine ease-of-use and connectivity.

    Currently, Salesforce doesn't deliver value to a lot of smaller companies that don't have the resources to tailor the platform to their needs. I'd like to see it invest more in making it easy for small businesses to get started with Salesforce.

    Phil Wainewright

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thank you, gentlemen -- Great Debate!

    Look for closing arguments from Dennis and Phil on Wednesday -- and check back Thursday as well for my final verdict.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

Closing Statements

Treading water - or sinking?

Dennis Howlett

It is clear that despite Phil's valiant attempt at bloviating the Salesforce pitch, his evangelstic posture is way ahead of reality. That said, he makes occasional (although somewhat limp) points about aspects of Salesforce.com offerings that are little more than vaporware on marketing steroids. If Salesforce.com is treading water, one wonders whether it will be sinking under the weight of its acquisitioned melange of non-fitting technology in the coming year. We will see - but in the meantime, I know where I am placing my bets.

Trampling everything in its path

Phil Wainewright

There's one simple reason to vote 'no' in this debate: Salesforce.com has become an unstoppable juggernaut that can't slow down. It's a latter-day Oracle, straight from the pages of Geoffrey Moore's classic Silicon Valley textbook, Crossing the Chasm. Back in the 1990s, Oracle's SQL database was hopelessly buggy, constantly behind schedule and suffered from dire customer support. Yet it had the momentum to succeed, simply because it was what the crowd was adopting, which meant it could afford to ignore the gripes of dissatisfied users and put-upon partners. Salesforce executives will know this story well, since many of them -- Benioff included -- earned their stripes at Oracle. Like it or loathe it, Salesforce is on a similar trajectory today: not so much treading water as trampling everything in its path. Vote 'No' or you're roadkill.

Debate is a snapshot in time

Lawrence Dignan

The most interesting part of this debate was the ZDNet community's vote, which was basically split down the middle.

Another thing to keep in mind here is that this debate on Salesforce is a snapshot in time. Given that Salesforce is coming off what I'd call an incremental customer conference, the treading water argument is obvious.

Phil made his points well, as did Dennis. In the end, Phil won the argument that Salesforce is pushing the enterprise forward. However, a year from now this debate could look different. In other words, Salesforce may be at the beginning of a treading water phase, but it's too early to tell.

Phil wins by a very slim margin.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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