Benioff: Customers want integration, customization

Once Salesforce started to meet success with its on-demand applications, the company had to respond to customer demands for integration and customization capabilities.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

When I met with Salesforce.com founder and CEO Marc Benioff last week, I started off by asking him about the long-term mission for the company and its newly-launched AppExchange platform. He started his answer by looking back five years, and tracing the product development path that ultimately led to the creation of AppExchange.

"Well, you know, it's very customer driven. If you'd asked me five years ago if we would be here today,Customers would say, "Yeah. So what?" I'm not sure I would have given you exactly the answer. Certainly five years ago I had a feeling that Salesforce would be the most successful in on-demand CRM, offering scalable systems, all of those things. But I'm not as sure if I could have articulated how this has all worked out. Certainly, I did not have words like mashup. I could not have visualized Google Maps and how it's going to interface with our system.

"You really look at what we did, first and foremost, we built a really good salesforce automation app, that was step one. Step two was, we turned it into a very good customer relationship management app — [as a] closed system — for a lot of companies to run their operations, whether it's globally or on an individual basis.

"Then companies really asked us for two things.

"First they asked us for integration support. A lot of them were like, 'This is a really nice app, but can you integrate with my internal systems' — whether it's Outlook or something else. [And now] if you look at the billions of transactions that we're doing, a very large percentage of them now are through the API. We've invested a great deal, as you know, in our web services APIs — more than anybody else, we've had that vision, since 2003 and sForce, and the robustness of an API when we had those announcements with Microsoft, BEA and all those guys early on.

"Once we had the API really working well, then customers really started to hammer me on customization. They would say, 'Why can't I change this tab name, why can't I change this field name, I want to be able to do this, and I want to be able to that.' Well, [we would say] the problem is that the tab name is through the whole documentation. It's in the singular, it's in the plural. It's not just in one language, it's in twelve. And then customers would say, 'Yeah. So what?'

"It turned out, in many ways they were right. To get the custom tabs, to have that level of customization, is very tricky — but very, very important, especially for vertical markets.

"So we started to see customers really start to customize everything. If you look at the application Kerry Foods demonstrated [at the AppExchange launch] last week, it is not a CRM application. They’re dealing with very advanced data management work."

The evolution of integration and customization capabilities is a path that all successful on-demand vendors have followed over the past five years. In the case of Salesforce.com, those capabilities have been fused to create AppExchange, which, as Benioff went on to explain, is now positioned to become an enterprise-wide platform for custom integration — or 'enterprise mashups' as they are now becoming known. More of the interview follows in my next posting.

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