Salesforce Thinks Big - And Forcefully Part II

Yesterday, I covered the lessons of Dreamforce 2010 from what it revealed about salesforce.com's going forward strategies, products, vision and other sundries.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Yesterday, I covered the lessons of Dreamforce 2010 from what it revealed about salesforce.com's going forward strategies, products, vision and other sundries.  Concluded that there was some very good stuff. Today we head into the messaging and final thoughts and other resources you might want to read.

The Messaging....Not As Clear

This was mixed.

Even though salesforce.com isn't known for subtle messaging, they are normally astute and very careful about what they present to the public and how they present it.  But, this year, despite the clarity of the strategy and its two themes (at least the ones that I picked out - consumerization of the workplace and developers) it smacked of some hyperbole and seemed to be a skewed attempt at calling something by a name so often and throughout so many different places that just by sheer volume, they were hoping that people would buy into it. A.k.a. the Cloud.

I didn't. At least not the way that it was presented. But I still get it.

Starting with "The Cloud(s)"...

Mark B. et al can call their products whatever they want - after all they are their products not mine.  But, just to be clear, SFDC is not a cloud provider. I think Amazon is a cloud provider. I think Microsoft, via Azure is a cloud provider. I don't think that salesforce.com (or Oracle) is.   I don't think they meet the test among things that need to be considered are a particular pricing model, and the willingness to host something other than your own stuff on it (meaning say, Microsoft hosting Pivotal or something like that). To be fair, I've never heard them call themselves that, but I want to clarify it now as I've been doing over the last year.

I think salesforce is providing some excellent (some only time will tell) cloud services.

I also don't think that they have seven clouds.  Their cloud services are functioning, transmitting, receiving, moving in and providing from the cloud.  THE cloud. The ONE cloud. Not 7 Clouds for 7 Brothers...err, Services.  For more, see Chris Bucholtz on this here. Calling each new product they have a cloud is a bit of a miscommunication - though its the messaging that they want.   In fact, because of that messaging, many of us pundit types are hoping they acquire Cloud9 - just because it would be their 9th cloud.  An acquisition for symmetry.

Continuing with the Competition...

There is subtlety in what I find to be one of their most blatant and poorly conceived campaigns - which is their attacks on other vendors like Oracle and Microsoft.

Marc attacked Oracle at OpenWorld in his speech there, in a very funny way with "(Ellison's) clouds in a box are in boxes taller than I am." Funny, and in response to Ellison's attack on salesforce, but nonetheless, still silly.  Here he went all out with a blatant "Microsoft is the evil empire" campaign, though it too, had its funny moments.  In their defense, salesforce isn't doing anything the rest of the industry doesn't do and in this case it was in response to something Microsoft was doing to them. As was SugarCRM. As was Oracle.   Salesforce feels compelled to do this because everyone does.  That isn't really in their defense, because I find the whole thing ridiculous. As does Denis Pombriant. As does Vinnie Mirchandani.

Here are just some of who attacked each other in 2010:

1.       Salesforce.com attacked Oracle and Microsoft

2.       Microsoft attacked salesforce.com

3.       SugarCRM attacked salesforce.com

4.       NetSuite attacked SAP and Sage

5.       Oracle attacked salesforce.com

6.       And yada yada yada. Blah, blah, blahdeblahblah

I'm glad to say that SAP and Sage don't indulge in that very much. They take the high road, most of the time. If they differentiate themselves, its on the basis of their offerings. Which is how it should be.

All in all, I personally find all this nyah nyah stuff pretty much a bunch of industry leaders acting like little brats and doing what one did when one was a little  insecure kid, which is to try to belittle and bully your playmates. Or at least to one up each other. I've never understood why it was "necessary" to "differentiate" one's company by acting like a four year old. Does that differentiate you from them acting like five year olds?

Stand on the merits of what your offering is. Frankly, while what you, vendors, are doing may be funny to you and your acolytes, you tell me a line of business decisionmaker who says, "Oh, I bought (fill in the vendor) because they had really hilarious infantile attacks on (fill in another vendor)." If you vendors can prove that some company bought your offering because you attacked another vendor - I'm going to find out the names of the executives so that I can see how fast they get fired for spending zillions of dollars of your services because you acted like brats.

The Subtle but Bad....

In all their "history" diagrams about the evolutions of markets, they carefully showed timelines that gave "examples" of companies that were prominent in the different eras of the evolution.  But what made them interesting, they clearly grouped existing companies - rivals like Oracle, Microsoft and SAP with companies like Vantive and others who were no longer in business or absorbed through acquisition - to make the point that their current competitors were "obsolete" and "dinosaurs" without saying that.  For example, it was no coincidence they grouped Microsoft etc. with client/server even though Microsoft could be also legitimately grouped with cloud, given Azure, but were conspicuously missing.  Subtle and disingenuous, though not incorrect in placing them there.

Moving on to the Subtle But Good...

Mark made one and only one reference to salesforce.com being "everyone's cloud company" (not the exact phrasing) but, actually, (I'm listening to Buddy Guy do a great riff while I'm writing this), there is a change in their target markets with that statement.  For the last several years, salesforce.com, while not denying their SMB roots nor ignoring their existing SMB customers, had been publicly and vociferously stating their upmarket  intentions that were built around a large enterprise focus. This conference made it clear they were now targeting all markets - small, midsized, and enterprise - I suppose because they realized that the cloud makes the cost of a small business customer miniscule as the volume of business increases so they can "afford" to readdress this market - especially since it is still a barely mined market segment for cloud services and applications, yet one that is quite interested.

Finishing with the Most Important and Right

What is evident was that salesforce.com is not only all in on the cloud as is evidenced by the sheer number of cloud service releases they unleashed at Dreamforce, but they recognize that their market differentiator is going to be familiarity for users and customization for the companies that are using the services.  What I mean by that is that they not only are going to provide a complete set of cloud services for companies to choose from in the configurations they want; not only are they going to make them exceptionally flexible and innovative when it comes to design and customization (the Heroku Ruby on Rails development environment acquisition), but, when it gets down to the user level, they are going to make it comfortable and familiar, so that no matter how complex the underlying development environment is/was, the user will not only never have to deal with that, but will be entirely comfortable in what he is using because he/she "uses it at home."  Salesforce.com doesn't laud Facebook and mobile devices galore (Mark's now famous pulling the iPad from his pants) just because they are cool, but because he wisely and with foresight realized how important the consumer experience at the workplace was for his now and future customers.  This MAY be the most important thing that salesforce realized since 2003 because it drives all generations of users, not just Gen Y.  Without getting into it too deeply, it goes to the heart of the customer experience as the 21st century has provisioned it.  Salesforce's knowledge of that is as good, no, its better than any other company's in the world - in any industry I would venture to say - though you can argue that, I would imagine,  if you want to spend or waste some time on it.

Their messaging was in a nutshell around the consumerization of the workplace and those in it - and all about the developers who are key to their desire to "own the business web."   That meant all force.com, all the other forces.com and their take on data for the latter, and communicating in Chatter as it is integrated into Sales Cloud 2 and Service Cloud 2.

Their messaging clearly expressed both of these pieces and was something that I think other companies need to consider as a clarion call. You want to compete publicly on something other than infantile attack-counterattack stuff - go at the consumerization of business because it may be the most important business theme in the 21st century. But what do I know?  Not much really.

A Final Story - MB and Me - Analyst/Influencer Relations

I'd say that when it comes to influencer relations, salesforce.com is very good at it - though I have some personal (meaning particular to me) issues with them in that realm.  Notwithstanding my gripes, I have to admit that they understand the need to get to key journalists, analysts and other kinds of influencers and make a serious effort to get them to their conferences and events on a regular basis - doing what they should do to make the experience useful (1 to 1 meetings) and easy - handling the expenses for the influencers within reason. Their outreach is very good, even if in the case of some individuals, the execution suffers.  But thats a handful. Most of the analysts like what salesforce.com does for them. For example, this year, I saw multiple Gartner superstars like Michael Maoz, Ed Thompson, Chris Fletcher, and Sharon Mertz all in one location - when I often see one or no Gartner analysts at any event but their own. Says a lot about salesforce, doesn't it.  They are the smallest (about 1/30 the size of each of the other three) of the Big 4 (SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, them) but they are "the one to beat" even by the competitors standards.

They pay attention too. My story.

I've known this company since 1999 and I was in the earliest stages a public critic of the company.  In fact, it was one of my public criticisms that sparked Monsieur Benioff to send me an email saying, "I see that you're a skeptic. I love convincing skeptics. Can I try to convince you?" I responded in turn with an email that said simply "Take  your best shot." And, with ups and downs, head bumps between us, he convinced me. Now I am an admirer of the company but not unabashedly. I will tell you Mark's attempt to do that is something that resonated with me and was a true lesson to me in engagement.  AND he is nearly as responsive today as he was then.  He responds to anything I send him via Facebook (100% of how I engage him) with a day or two at most.

I compare this to the abject behavior of the analyst relations programs at many of the companies (this doesn't apply to the other Big 3 or Sage, by the way. They are good.) that I track in terms of their either responsiveness to me when I send them a query - and even their lack of simple courtesy honestly.  I have several companies who I otherwise admire greatly who are at the level of getting me royally p.oed because I have to go to incredible efforts to get a press release from them, much less a response. And they can thank Mark B for setting the standard that he personally still maintains despite his rather busy existence. They can learn a lesson from salesforce.com in this category.  At least for the most part.

The Final Word -Up

I admire salesforce.com a great deal.  Why? Because they are true to their vision and they are determined in their strategy. They might be hyper competitive in the wrong way sometimes, they might be hyperbolic in their declarations, but they do two things well - they usually produce very good products and they are innovators who continue to lead the market. Dreamforce 2010 showed me that they not only understood the trends that are predominant in the world of business, but they were on top of them with actions that indicate their ability to meet the needs of customers as they roll forward.  They have their issues, as I hope I've pointed out. But on the whole, they rocked this time around - both literally and figuratively.

2011 is going to be interesting.

Other Takes On Dreamforce 2010

  1. Chris Bucholtz - Some Final Thoughts on Dreamforce 2010
  2. Denis Pombriant - Dreamforce Day 1
  3. Denis Pombriant - What to Make of Database.com
  4. Ray Wang - Salesforce.com Buys Heroku for $212 Million: Shows Commitment to Next Gen Apps
  5. Anshu Sharma - Database.com. How? Why? What?
  6. Vinnie Mirchandani - Marc Benioff's Rainbow Coalition
  7. Sameer Patel - Free Chatter, Death of Enterprise 2.0 Startups and All That Bunk
  8. John Taschek - Dreamforce 2010: Decade of Inspiration
  9. Dennis Howlett - Salesforce's Database.com as a Gamechanger Now That They've Acquired Heroku?
  10. Dennis Howlett - Salesforce and SAP: an obvious comparison
  11. Mike Fauscette - Dreamforce 2010
  12. Michael Krigsman - The new age of sexy enterprise software - Part 1: Salesforce.com gets mojo
  13. Blake Landau - May the Force Be With You; The Salesforce Dreamforce Festival

Editorial standards