Salesforce.com Plays In the Enterprise - Again

Back in 1999, I was a salesforce.com user and at that time, it was a rather kludgy sales force automation application that didn't do much right - for example if I tried to export a .
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Back in 1999, I was a salesforce.com user and at that time, it was a rather kludgy sales force automation application that didn't do much right - for example if I tried to export a .CSV file it gave me an .XLS file and vice versa.  I read something by Marc Benioff then that said, "we are going to be the leading enterprise application provider" (or to that effect) which spurred me on to criticize them for their statement - which at the time I saw as ridiculous.

That led to Marc Benioff, who got wind of it because Salesnet had taken my criticism of salesforce.com and put it up on their website, to send me a note that said pretty much literally:

"I love to convince skeptics. Can I take a crack at you?"

My email back to him was:

"Take your best shot."

Which he did and, to his credit, with a few great-story-to-tell glitches, he convinced me.

That's why I saw the recent salesforce.com announcement about their their joint venture, alliance, minority investment, in Unit4 Agresso to create Financialforce.com as something both fascinating and even a little ironically amusing given that decade ago comment by Marc.

What It Is

Financialforce.com seems to be salesforce.com's/Unit4 Aggresso's joint effort to enter the financial/accounting market in the cloud.  Coda 2Go, the original product, now rebranded Financialforce.com is already built on the Force.com platform so this isn't a technological stretch at all.  Given my at least rudimentary knowledge of accounting software and its market place (though I'd trust Dennis Howlett's excellent September 30 take on this before I'd trust mine), this move has advantages for both salesforce.coma and Unit4 Aggresso.  For salesforce.com, they get a force.com created, functionally solid accounting package - they don't have to build their own.  From  the Coda 2Go perspective, despite CEO's Jeremy Roche's comments in Destination.crm's Jessica Tsai's very good article on this joint venture about their "distinct branding strategy" from salesforce.com (yeah, right, that's gonna be really easy to distinguish), this gives them a mighty sword to go to market with.

Here's what their home page looks like for those of you who think that this cloud offering is merely vapor.

Financialforce.com Home Page

Financialforce.com Home Page

My Take on It

I'm not clear on what market they are going after yet.  If its the same market as  NetSuite goes after - the midmarket to upper midmarket, with some bleeding into the larger enterprises, that means that Financialforce is going to put itself squarely in the wheelhouse of SAP also - and Oracle for that matter though SAP probably has more to worry about. But it doesn't stop there.  On the lower end, Financialforce might be competing with financial software juggernaut Sage - which as you may know is much larger in the backend systems market then they are in CRM - not that they're slouches in CRM either. But the bulk of their nearly 6 million customers is ACT! and their varying financial packages.  Plus we got Intuit in the mix here too - who are arguably the small business leader - period. Then there's Microsoft.... In other words, this is not going to be easy for this new venture, though I don't doubt some measure of success since they seem to be able (from what I've seen) to be competitive at least in their functionality.  But its a really tough market to be in because it's very mature when it comes to the quality and range of offerings.

I never count out a salesforce.com-related venture - especially in a market one they set their sites on 10 years ago.  Back then Marc B. convinced a skeptic. Now he has to convince a believer that he can play in the back office. The cloud makes this promising and something of a differentiator. I think it is great that they've made the plunge. They seem to be successful in the areas that they get into more often than not - see the recent Customer Interaction Center announcement combining  their Service Cloud 2 offering with the Cisco Unified Communications Platform for example.  But this is a different kettle of fish - a busy market  that doesn't look for an innovator, though any newcomers (which they are despite Coda 2Go) still need to be an original to succeed.

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