Salesforce unveils 'customer company' mantra: Can it deliver?

Summary:Speaking in New York, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff taste tested multiple themes for the company. The gist: Salesforce wants to line up customer company movement that will also happen to sell a lot of software and services.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff outlined a new vision for the company and its customers that integrates multiple technology themes, showed off new technologies and floated a few marketing trial balloons.

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Benioff's new hook for Salesforce: Become a customer company. In his keynote in New York, Benioff noted that he kept coming back to the customer company line after reading an IBM 2012 study of business leaders. "I kept coming back to it," said Benioff.

"We believe strongly that listening as a vendor is the most important thing you can do. We have to listen much much more," said Benioff.

The credit to IBM by Benioff is notable. Why? Benioff just unveiled Salesforce's Smarter Planet-esque umbrella message that will persist for years. Umbrella marketing themes can easily be dismissed, but they matter. Think of the technology companies that lack an uber theme and how they struggle to align their troops and customers. Now Salesforce will be free to bridge out into many adjacent markets as long as the customer is somewhere in the middle of it.

Also:  Salesforce 'doubles down' on mobile, launches Service Cloud Mobile  |  Salesforce.com's Q4, $3 billion in annual revenue on deck

Here's the big picture of Benioff's talk: The customer revolution will tie together multiple themes---location, social, cloud and big data---and ultimately redefine the company. The moving parts that add up to Salesforce's message go like this:

  • Social
  • Touch
  • Local
  • Big Data, 
  • Identity
  • Community
  • Ecosystem
  • Cloud
  • Trust

A skeptic would say that Salesforce is taking most current tech buzzwords and wrapping them under a customer first mantra that will be reinforced with product sales. There's something to that take. But Benioff is tapping into a business theme---every CXO is trying to reinvent, build better relationships with customers and drive revenue growth. Given Benioff's history of calling market turns and marketing the hell out of them---cloud and social enterprise come to mind---you can expect many tech companies to start yapping about building around the customer in a few minutes.

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The keynote was positioned as a warm up act for Dreamforce in December. Benioff was taste testing videos and Salesforce's vision. Sounding a bit like a mix between an evangelist, a motivational speaker and marriage counselor urging a couple to become better listeners, Benioff pushed the customer centered company concept.

Benioff said "it's a magical creative time" where every business will be a software vendor. In other words, every company will have to be customer centric, listen and connect. In Benioff's world, every interaction will be on a single platform and deliver a seamless customer experience. I'll leave it to you to figure out what platform Benioff is rooting for (that would be Salesforce).

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My take:

  1. Salesforce's new mantra---and all the marketing that will back it---elevates the company so it's positioned more as a business enablement brand over a semi-niche technology company (cloud, social enterprise). That positioning is key since technology budgets have more C-level executives beyond the CIO involved.
  2. The company's new vision gives it room to run. Note that Benioff talked a lot about connected products. Will Salesforce come up with a supply chain hook?
  3. Ultimately, Salesforce needs the technologies and products to allow its customers to meet its taglines, but it's clear that the company is gunning to be more of a consultative partner to IT buyers.
  4. Salesforce's message is fine, but it'll have to put some meat around it. Benioff indicated that a lot of the moving parts will be outlined at Dreamforce at the end of 2013.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Cloud, CXO, Salesforce.com, Social Enterprise, Tech Industry

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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