Like any technology company - any company for that matter - salesforce.com has an agenda that they are pursuing and they drive their agenda by making business decisions along the way that are designed to benefit their company, their shareholders and their other stakeholders - a broad and fuzzy term for something defined differently from company to company.
But, one thing about salesforce.com that has always been more than impressive is that they treat their own vision as more than just marketing fluff. To them it's a true vision to be realized and to be planned for and executed on. The vision is what a vision is meant to be - a future state of the company that is effected by putting into action all the pieces that it needs to work.
As I've often said in things I write about them, they have been relentlessly pursuing a single vision since at least 2003 which is when I became aware of it. At the risk of being repetitious, because it bears SO strongly on what they announced yesterday, their Chief Marketing Officer (or Chief Strategy Officer) at the time (I forget which one he was then) Tien Tzuo, told me at breakfast in Shanghai that salesforce.com wasn't trying to be just a CRM company, but instead, wanted to be the business web - the platform upon which all companies ran all their applications. Far from just CRM.
They have been outstanding, diligent, relentless, uniformly laser focused in their pursuit of this - and they've been successful - which allows them to make their claim (unverified by me at this point) that they are the first "Cloud company to achieve a run rate of $2 Billion. I'm not sure if they are the first - honestly, who really cares? Also, I don't get overly excited by run rates, but what does get me excited is that their trend toward serious and continuous growth is unmistakable. They just do a lot right.
What made Cloudforce DC 2011 so memorable is that I think that salesforce has refined its perspective and messaging from Dreamforce 2010 in both subtle and obvious ways that are going to help customers and customers to be decide if salesforce makes sense for them - which is all you can ask of a technology vendor.
The conference itself was refreshing in its approach, and its candor. I knew that we were in for something a bit different because of two things that Marc Benioff did - each bookending his keynote and the supporting presentations (more on them all later). What are they, you ask with a big grin on your smacker? Why, I think I'll tell you.
1. Front End - At the beginning of the conference, Marc announced to the 1400 people assembled at this local event - yeah, you heard me, 1400 at a local event - daaaamn - that they were going to talk about the social enterprise. Okay. Good. Cooooool. But....then he said, (paraphrased): "Look this is a new message for us and this is the first time we are presenting this message, folks, so your feedback on how we are doing with it would be very important." What's great about this? Total transparency in the contemporary vernacular. They weren't only pushing the content of the message a.k.a social enterprise, but were telling the audience that it was what it actually was, a new, somewhat tentative in its presentation, messaging attempt that they'd like the audience to help them tweak.
2. Back End - The keynote from Marc, Marcel LeBrun, CEO of Radian6 and after that, a larger cast of characters, including some excellent demos by salesforce SVP of Marketing, Kraig Swensrud, was to be from 10:30am to 12:30pm ET. If you know salesforce.com's history at Dreamforce, starting and ending on time didn't happen. Marc is usually 30-40 minutes late and thus it ends late. Well, not only was Marc on time exactly, but at 12:17pm - 13 minutes before it was supposed to end, I was shocked to hear Marc acknowledge that they needed to keep to the closing time and he ended the presentation about 3 minutes later - in other words, shock, gasp, my god, wow, early. Yes, finished early.
While these things may not seem like a big deal, to some extent, they are. First, his willingness to publicly say "hey this is a first draft message that we think works. What do you think?" That's honest engagement. Second, being on time is not exactly his forte but indicates a new sensitivity to the audience. If this happens at Dreamforce 2011, it will be a pattern and something to genuinely applaud.
But now to the most important stuff.
The Social Enterprise
Salesforce has been making acquisitions over the past two years that have been interesting to say the least. Jigsaw, Heroku, Radian6, DimDim, ManyMoon among others. When all is said and done - each of the acquisitions fits the salesforce social enterprise mantra - social, open, mobile. Or in some other order. I'm not going to show you how except to say e.g. Heroku = open; Radian6 = social and sub categorically could = mobile too. But you get the idea, right? If not, see me for private therapy sessions. For me, not you.
I've said on occasion that salesforce.com seemed to be the only company that I knew that was attempting to create a Social CRM suite through acquisition and native development They didn't have the marketing piece (more on this later) nor was Chatter able to focus on customer centered networks - at the time it was internally focused (more on this later too) but all in all, they were incorporating the social layers and tying them back to the data in ways that were ultimately consumable and that was a big deal.
But reality is their play was actually a bit wider - they unveiled the messaging for the social enterprise past week at Cloudforce in DC. Check out this diagram of how they see a social enterprise platform.
In a lot of ways, this actually underestimates their resources at the moment. For example, it doesn't reflect in any way, Radian6's contribution to the platform nor does it reflect an open development platform. It tends to be from left to right more of a reflection of the 3Ps of corporate social networks (see immediately below) with a little more (e.g. loyalty programs thrown in). That said, it does reflect where salesforce sees itself going in the near future (though I'd make major revisions to the diagram). Note one key component that is just sort of dropped in there - manufacturing/financials. What does that indicate, I wonder? Pushing into ERP territory with native apps? Or does it mean subscriptions to activity streams that monitor things like inventory or financials? OR more of a "you can build this yourself if you want to, for example" DIY practitioner component? I don't know but it certainly takes saleforce.com beyond its historic strength in mostly customer facing markets.
The 3Ps - No, not Product, Price, Placement
The centerpiece of salesforce's social enterprise technology strategy in practice is corporate social networks - their term here. Given the way that they've integrated Chatter with Sales Cloud 2 and Service Cloud 2 means that they are treating Chatter the way they always should have - as a layer in Force.com. This way it becomes a foundation for the social enterprise and its corporate social network core.
Their "3Ps" are three classifications of corporate social networks - public, private and, hang on for this one, product. I'll get to the latter last. Simply stated, here's the distinctions in a list:
- Private corporate social network - this is the more "traditional" social network; in salesforce terms, the most Chatter-like. Chatter is designed to support the internal collaboration networks that we all know and, on occasion, love. I'm not going to go into great detail here. Suffice to say, they are what most of the Chatter users have created.
- Public corporate social network -When you integrate the backend - both data (e.g. database.com) and administration/security - with a corporate Facebook page. In a more sophisticated way, it also allows you to use your private social network as the backbone. For example, Marc used the Facebook page of one of my favorite case study companies - KLM Airlines. He showed how they use their twitter channel to converse immediately with customers who follow them, then capture the conversation thread and bring it into customer records. Here's the stats for them on a slide that Marc showed: There's considerably more to KLM and their social CRM strategy actually, with their Club China/Club Africa programs and with the late, great and sorely missed KLM Surprise. They are an awesome company who I've been tracking for almost 5 years. They are a great example of what Marc is talking about as a public social network.
- Product corporate social network - When I first heard this term I thought of innovation focused, product creation-based social networks. Meaning what SAP does with a several of its B2B customers. Buuuuuuut....it wasn't that. It turns out what Marc B. and later Peter Coffee meant by that was a network that incorporated the product communicating with the owner or an authorized person. In fact, Peter Coffee and I had an exceptionally cogent discussion about this at lunch which led to this post by Peter on the salesforce Cloud Blog - well worth reading. Now, this isn't a particularly new idea per se - how many times have you seen your mouse telling you on your PC - "battery low" or the same when your smartphone tells you the same thing about itself? Actually, if you are subscribed to an activity stream that has its filters set properly, say one around inventory management, so that your sales person is tracking the status of certain products in real time and gets updated as there are changes, its the same thing too. The example that salesforce is touting is the Toyota "friends" network (lowercase theirs) which not only allows you to communicate with Toyota employees and other customers but with your car - in particular, at this stage, the Prius. You can go to Toyota friends or check your mobile device when its tied to Toyota friends and you'll get pushed notifications/subscribed streams that tell you what your car is doing and how well it's running at the moment. Where it is? Does it need to be charged? What has been the drive time between two points at a given time of day on a specific date? When is a maintenance check due? Again, this isn't new nor is it that innovative. Anything device with a network connection and a subscribable activity stream can fit this bill. For example, years ago I was a judge for the Software Information Industry Association (SIIA) awards, CRM category. One of the entries (of the 27, 20 including the one I'm about to mention, had nothing to do with CRM, due to incredibly lax entry standards - pay $250 and say you're CRM. That was it) and one of the products we reviewed was a company that could detect problems with individual cellphones over the air, notify the customers of the problems and then fix them over the air. While not CRM, it was very cool and very much a "telematics for telco" that had huge possibilities - though I have no idea what happened to this outfit. Nor do I even remember the name. Damn me. In any case, this "product social network is a way of communicating with devices and gathering data about customers and the devices and their interrelationships. There is indisputable value provided by this when it comes to improved customer relationships and the value of the data captured and then, hopefully, appropriately analyzed for insight. But is this really a category of social network? Ultimately, I don't think so, though if salesforce wants to continue to call it a separate category, hey, who am I to stop them? What this is in my eyes, is an added capability to a public or private social network, but not way that markedly differs technically with that object-driven subscription-based activity stream that platform layers like Chatter and similar services have always provided. Its just looks and sounds so much cooler. With Toyota friends for example, I'm still communicating with the company and other Toyota advocates/fans and even logging on to see how my car is doing and following what it is transmitting to me is just so that I have information to take action. E.g. the "car will need to be recharged in 2 hours" message which leads me to recharge the car in the next two hours. Does this deserve a separate category? No. Does this deserve notice and incorporation into public and private social networks? Yes. Absolutely. Its still progress, its still cool. Its still important. It just doesn't stand on its own.
Clarifying the Cloud
Of course, there is no social enterprise strategy without the cloud and Marc spoke of the cloud throughout the day. But they made a fundamentally important distinction that I think was critical for putting salesforce.com squarely where it belongs in the cloud pantheon. During my post on Dreamforce 2010, I made the point that " But, just to be clear, SFDC is not a cloud provider. I think Amazon is a cloud provider. I think Microsoft, via Azure is a cloud provider. I don’t think that salesforce.com (or Oracle) is." I was concerned that salesforce would muddy their vision by messaging that didn't clarify the distinction between them and Amazon/Microsoft. Well, I don't have a thing to worry about anymore. To my happy relief and surprise, they made that distinction clear as a bell in public and private conversations. Microsoft Azure and Amazon EC2 are infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers, salesforce.com is a platform as a service (PaaS) provider. They don't compete with Azure or EC2 nor do they want to. I heard this from Marc on the stage and from, once again, the always smart constantly intriguing, Peter Coffee (a longstanding great industry writer prior to his joining salesforce.com. A man who knows from whence he came).
This is a distinction that only benefits salesforce in their definition of how to become the company that powers the social enterprise. It clears up what was detritus in their messaging - the equivalent of a floater in an otherwise clear eye. Now its no longer the case. And it clarifies what it is about the cloud that they bring. Way to go here for sure.
But they introduced another floater that will need to be cleared up at Dreamforce 2011.
Radian6 Integration and The Marketing Cloud
I need to say something flat out before I go through what I think was the only mistake of substance that salesforce.com made at this event.
I think the world of Radian6. I think they are, bar none, the best social media monitoring tool on the market and that they are evolving fast. They are a client of mine and easily have been one of my favorites for years.
But, to be labeled "the marketing cloud" by salesforce at Cloudforce and even before that is disingenuous at best. They are not that. They are not even close to that. They are missing the requisite functionality that even a basic marketing suite needs to provide, including campaign management, lead scoring & nurturing etc. Marketo is a marketing "cloud-like" company; Crowd Factory is a cloud-based social marketing company. Radian6 is the best social media monitoring tool on the market. With the addition of their "extensions"architecture, they can be the hub of much more than that, though not natively. I think given salesforce.com's historic weakness in marketing, this smacks of desperation since both the independent marketing automation companies who are rebranding themselves as Revenue focused marketing automation and demand generation companies) and the suite providers especially Oracle, are making great strides in this area. Salesforce, to be blunt about it, ain't.
If I were them, I'd get serious about it, buy someone since they seem to be on the acquisition runway in any case, and be done with the weakness. Radian6's strength is that it can be incorporated into all three traditional customer facing pillars - sales, marketing and customer service as a fully integrated service - and in the future, provide even a way of integrating substantially granular analytics and other business services providing the Extensions architecture integrates itself well with force.com. Calling it the Marketing Cloud is both a bad mistake for salesforce.com and actually shortchanges Radian6's value to salesforce.com.
But, none of this can dampen my enthusiastic interest in what I heard last week. Salesforce is definitely starting what will need to be a long and consistent journey on the right path.
Overall...Salesforce just keeps rollin'. They will fall off the wagon sometimes, the wagonwheels break even when they are on the wagon, other times, but they move inexorably forward in their vision and they continuously impact the market. By moving toward the social enterprise as their rallying cry and as the foundation for executing on their roughly 8-9 year old vision, they are doing it right, perhaps more right than they have ever done. But it comes with a risk. Not only are they up against their their historic rivals like Microsoft and Oracle, but they're going into a realm that IBM is staking claim to and that's the addition of a formidable competitor. By widening the perception of their scope (this always in one fashion or another was their actual scope) by trying to become the backbone of the social enterprise and by opening up the platform to Java, Ruby on Rails, C#, whatever, they are putting themselves in front of many other technology companies that they in the past didn't compete with. But they've always been a confident crew, so I'm sure they are at least into the challenge. Now we'll see if they're up for it. I would think they are. From the products side, they're going to have to do a few things yet - among them develop or acquire enough assets to have an actual marketing cloud. They're going to have to build in the pieces to do what Marc said they would do at a luncheon almost a year ago (October 2010) where he said the the customer facing side of Chatter would be attended to. They are starting to do this as is evident with Toyota Friends but that's only a start. On the messaging side they need to stick with this particular approach/message for a long while and not get floored by the "we gotta do something new and cool every time we have a major event" sucker punch that many of the tech companies take to the jaw each conference. Meaning, I'll be a happy camper if this "social enterprise" pitch is repeated at Dreamforce 2011 almost verbatim.
There are several other things they will need to do over 2011 and into 2012 involving influencers, Radian6, marketing foci, etc. but they fall beyond the purview of this post - so I'll just leave y'all hanging on that.
What makes the social enterprise very important and is to salesforce.com's credit, is that they are showing that they are genuinely attuned to what the customers want now and in the near future. Then they are acting on that, not just listening to it and not just talking about it, and they are doing in a way that is genuinely appealing to the customer base while providing substantial enabling technologies for conducting business in the 21st century. Bravo to them.