Know thy competitor

Some of Salesforce.com's sales and marketing teams seem to be overstepping the mark in what they're telling customers about one competitor.

It's a well-known fact that Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff hates to lose a deal. But some of the company's sales and marketing teams seem to be overstepping the mark, according to a document forwarded to ZDNet by Entellium, one of the following pack of on-demand CRM vendors snapping at the heels of Salesforce.com.

Title page of Salesforce.com document
 

Headed "How to Perform a CRM Evaluation," the 13-page Word document concludes with a four-page checklist of over a 100 comparison points between Entellium and Salesforce.com. Nothing wrong with that in principle — except that the checklist is 80% incorrect, according to Entellium. "In my entire professional career I have never seen anything like this," Entellium's feisty chief marketing officer Natalee Roan told me an email today.

Before I go any further, let me pause and disclose to you why I must tread carefully here. Back in the mists of time I was a director of Entellium, and as a result I still hold a residual equity stake in the company, and I have provided advice as a consultant from time to time. So I must take pains to be scrupulously fair to Salesforce.com in my coverage of this matter, as I think anyone who knows me would expect of me.

My understanding is that this is not a published document in the sense that it is openly available from Salesforce.com's website, but Entellium reports that it has been privately circulated to a number of their customers and prospects, presumably by members of Salesforce.com's sales team.

If it was intended to give Salesforce.com an upper hand in its dealings with Entellium, it now seems to have backfired. Entellium has published an extract on its own website, complete with a corrected version that shows a column of 'No's attributed by Salesforce.com to the Entellium product corrected to 'Yes's. A covering statement from Ms Roan (who I've not met but appears to be handling the incident with great panache) takes the opportunity to score some points against her competitor, talking up distinctive Entellium features such as its pay-per-month contracts and formal SLA (with rebates for non-performance). "I am proud we are having such an impact on companies that don't do business this way that they are now using underhanded tactics to compete," she concludes.

Whatever the intended effect, issuing a document so apparently ill-researched has ended up handing Entellium a tremendous marketing coup, and is an object lesson in how not to deal with competitors. Naturally, I contacted Salesforce.com first thing this morning to ask about the source of this document and the alleged inaccuracies, but the company has not come back to me with any official statement. Most likely, this was an unauthorized initiative by a relatively junior member of staff and should not be seen as symptomatic of the company's entire approach to sales and marketing. But that doesn't excuse it.

Looking at the document's comparison checklist, I see that under the heading of Risk Mitigation, there's a solid 'Yes' in the Salesforce.com column against 'High degree of professionalism throughout organization', while the Entellium column sports a question mark. On the evidence presented today, it seems the question mark is in the wrong column.

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