Salesforce.com's big customer: Mystery solved

Salesforce.com's big enterprise customer that will be announced Tuesday is apparently Merrill Lynch.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Salesforce.com's big enterprise customer that will be announced Tuesday is apparently Merrill Lynch.

BusinessWeek reports in its latest issue (subscription required) that Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is looking to take on Bloomberg. For the non-Wall Street types Bloomberg provides a box much like a PC that pumps financial information and real-time tools into bond and stock trading houses. On Wall Street Bloomberg terminals are everywhere. (And they are a bit addictive if you are a financial nerd.)

Benioff's play, which was teased during Salesforce.com's earnings call, is to try to undercut Bloomberg, which charges $1,500 a month.

BusinessWeek reports:

Benioff isn't targeting hard-core traders but rather the roughly half-million U.S. financial advisers and stockbrokers, some of whom also hold Bloomberg subscriptions.

Salesforce.com's new wealth-management service, slated to be unveiled on Feb. 27, costs $500 a month per user. It combines the company's usual customer-relationship-tracking features with data streams and market intelligence from a range of free or for-a-fee sources, including Thomson Financial and Dow Jones. Predicts Benioff: "We're going to move Bloomberg off the desktops of the brokerages and replace it with commodity PCs and Internet services."

Merrill Lynch will be the first customer and has signed up 25,000 Salesforce.com subscriptions for its financial advisers. This move makes total sense since "financial adviser" is a nice way to say "broker." These brokers can use the customer relationship management tools Salesforce can toss into its wealth-management system to track commissions and calls. The Merrill Lynch announcement will happen on Feb. 27 and the invite from Salesforce.com does note some financial partners in attendance—notably Thomson Financial and Dow Jones.

Salesforce.com is reportedly trying to use financial advisers as a beachhead that will eventually take the product vertical by targeting insurance, real estate and other markets.

Will it work? A few years ago I'd say Salesforce.com had a shot to upend Bloomberg. On the surface, it only makes sense that some Web tool could put a dent into a business that relies on putting a fancy terminal on your desk. However, Bloomberg terminals stay put and Wall Streeters love them. Bloomberg has fended off encroachment from Reuters, Dow Jones and Thomson Financial to name a few and made Michael Bloomberg billions of dollars. Salesforce.com's best hope is to share the desk with Bloomberg.

Case in point: BusinessWeek reports Merrill Lynch is keeping its Bloomberg terminals too. 

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