Salesforce CEO admits ‘social enterprise’ pitch didn’t work

Apparently no one knew what "social enterprise" meant -- not even the guys who coined the term.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO---Just two years ago, it seemed like the only words that Salesforce.com wanted to sell were "social enterprise."

Fast forward to this week, and the new catchphrase is "Internet of Customers," courtesy of the CRM giant's CEO and chairman, Marc Benioff.

Speaking during the quarterly conference call on Monday, shareholders and analysts peppered the company co-founder about Salesforce's ambitious revenue growth plans (not to mention a net loss that briefly unnerved investors).

Gushing that Q3 was an "absolute monster quarter," Benioff declared that Salesforce will be the first enterprise software company to deliver more than $5 billion in revenue by next year. He also boasted that there is "no one else in the top 10 enterprise software companies delivering this kind of growth."

A few analysts suggested that Salesforce (and by extension, the cloud market) is at an inflection point, with which Benioff seemed to agree.

Nevertheless, Benioff also hinted that Salesforce could have fallen off track, admitting that the "social enterprise" sales pitch that was so prevalent at Dreamforce 2011 just didn't resonate with customers.

Such a revelation isn't actually all that surprising, considering several surveys (including some published by top-tier Dreamforce sponsors Appirio and Bluewolf) uncovered that the definition of "social enterprise" was cloudy (pardon the pun) at best.

Eventually that buzz term was modified to "social revolution," partly in reflection of the Arab Spring, which Benioff routinely utilized in his rhetoric as an example of the power of social media.

Benioff explained on Monday's call that Salesforce reps took the social enterprise mantra to customers, but "couldn't find the buyers," suggesting even Salesforce.com didn't exactly understand what it meant.

Yet enterprises were still responsive to the Salesforce Service, Marketing, and Sales Cloud pitches, Benioff continued, citing that it has been a refocus on these products that has accelerated growth.

Thus, Salesforce bundled that together under a new "customer company" strategy, unveiled earlier this year.

"We know who the buyers are for customer technologies," Benioff remarked on Monday. "It lets us cross-sell and have a clear point of focus for our employees."

It is this customer-focused approach, much like Amazon Web Services flaunted at re:Invent last week, that Salesforce is going with in pitching its new cloud-based app development platform.

“We’re now entering the third wave of computing where everything is connected,” Benioff declared in discussing the newly-announced Salesforce1, even tossing out a new buzz phrase: "Internet of Customers."

The thought process for Salesforce, according to Benioff, is that behind every device and an app is a customer.

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