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Salesforce.com: Not Your Father's CRM Anymore

Trend Point

When Salesforce.com originally revealed its intent to become a cloud provider to the enterprise for far more than just CRM, Info-Tech Research Group was openly cautious about this strategy. Indeed, in 2007 we said,

“[Salesforce.com]…runs a risk of diluting its core CRM strength by expanding into other enterprise applications and becoming a platform vendor as well as a software vendor.” – Info-Tech Research Group, July 2007.

Four years and 16 product release cycles later, Salesforce.com has not only overcome that risk, and held onto its CRM marketshare, but it has also grown to be one of two CRM vendors that appear on almost every Info-Tech client’s CRM vendor shortlist (Microsoft Dynamics CRM being the other). At the same time, the company has made significant entries into the customer and employee collaboration spaces and has recently released credible products in the platform as a service (PaaS) market.

Situation Analysis

At the company’s recent Dreamforce 2011 annual conference, the official theme was “the social enterprise,” emphasizing the company’s successful Chatter product. However, the more important underlying message was “We want to be at your table as a strategic enterprise partner, because we are now more than just CRM.”

Some of the conference announcements that support the strategic partner theme include:

Salesforce.com Chatter. Chatter is the Company’s social collaboration platform announced two years ago. It uses the Facebook Wall metaphor of activity feeds to display both user-generated content and system-generated content. Today, Salesforce.com reports there are more than 100,000 active Chatter networks. Several enhancements to Chatter will accompany the Winter 2012 release, including:

  • Chatter Now: Thanks to the acquisition of Dim Dim, Chatter will finally gain presence, like instant messaging, so that users can see who is online in the network, as well as real-time chat and screen sharing. Not only does Chatter compete with asynchronous collaboration platforms, it now competes with synchronous (real-time) platforms like Microsoft Lync.
  • Chatter Customer Groups. Enterprise Chatter users may now invite outside users to join private Chatter groups, such as inviting customers and partners. The customer does not have to have a Chatter license to participate. Groups automatically default security to the most stringent access controls, so that outside parties can only have access to what is shared within the group. Coupled with screen sharing in Chatter Now, Chatter Customer Groups will be an effective way to share presentations with customers as well as conduct online demos.
  • Chatter Approvals. Chatter users will now be able to stay inside Chatter and participate in approval workflows that exist elsewhere in Salesforce.com without going to different screens. This is an example of the type of contextual integration between enterprise systems and social collaboration system activity feeds that set enterprise social collaboration apart from consumer tools. Consumer tools focus mostly on user-generated activities, while enterprise systems must include both employee-generated feeds and system-generated feeds, resulting in social collaboration tools usurping traditional portals.
  • Chatter Service. Not really an enhancement to Chatter, but rather a much awaited integration. Chatter Service formally incorporates Chatter into Salesforce.com’s Service Cloud. This enables service agents and customers to engage in a more collaborative type of service. This is especially valuable for servicing high-value customer segments and for servicing complex products and services. Historical questions and answers generated by Chatter Service can be searched. However, when asked by Info-Tech if this is formally integrated with Salesforce.com’s multi-channel service knowledgebase (previously acquired from InStranet), we were told that the two were not integrated. Organizations should be cautious about building yet another customer service knowledgebase if they already are using the main Salesforce.com “Knowledge” product.
  • Chatter Connect. Really a platform announcement, but specifically about Chatter. Chatter Connect is a REST API that enables integration of Chatter into other applications and portals. It will initially ship with a built-in Microsoft SharePoint connector. Info-Tech firmly believes organizations should stop considering SharePoint as a competitor to other platforms and instead integrate other platforms to enhance SharePoint and leverage existing SharePoint content (see Vendor Landscape Plus: Collaboration Platforms).

Platform as a Service (PaaS). Salesforce.com first acknowledged its intent to become a platform vendor some years ago by making its multi-tenant SaaS application platform available to partners and customers for custom development, under the brand “force.com.” Significant announcements concerning this space were made at Dreamforce 2011 and support the Company’s messaging that they should be considered a strategic enterprise partner. The most significant PaaS announcements include:

  • Database.com. While Salesforce.com’s database as a service product was previously available as a beta version, it has now become generally available, sporting new social network based templates and data models.
  • Database.com Data Residency Option (DRO). To sweeten the database as a service value proposition, Salesforce.com is now supporting local residency of data for applications built on Database.com, which will appeal to organizations concerned about privacy and regulatory compliance.
  • Heroku for Java. Having previously acquired Heroku, to primarily add Ruby on Rails support for platform development, Heroku is now adding full Java support. Info-Tech believes this was a necessary step for Salesforce.com to credibly claim that its platform can be an alternative to Microsoft’s .Net family and emerging Azure cloud platform.
  • Touch.salesforce.com. Related to platform enhancements is the unveiling of touch.salesforce.com, the first fully functional tablet/smartphone client to Salesforce.com that is designed for touch interfaces. The company is using its own touch client to showcase what it is now doing with HTML 5 related technologies, as a demonstration of its positioning of the entire platform as a cloud-based mobile application development and delivery platform. The client runs within the mobile browsers rather than requiring a native application.

Info-Tech believes that touch.salesforce.com is a significant development. It is not significant because it is a touch client for Salesforce.com or that it is fully functional versus only having a subset of features; we expected Salesforce.com to release such capability as well as their competitors to do the same. What is significant is that it is arguably the first major mission-critical enterprise application vendor to do so. Most IT shops are developing strategies for deploying tablets to knowledge workers in general, beyond just the vertical and field low hanging fruit use cases. A fully functional touch client for CRM provides organizations with the valid use case they have been waiting for to demonstrate tablet value among a broader employee segment. As a result, we believe touch.salesforce.com will be instrumental in lowering the barriers to more generalized tablet adoption in the enterprise. This will in turn have a derivative impact on other ISVs that have been sitting on the fence, waiting for broader tablet adoption, before committing to tablet touch clients themselves.

Salesforce.com Social Enterprise Licensing Agreement. A new enterprise licensing agreement is being offered for comprehensive access to sales, service, Chatter, Radian6 (social media monitoring and management), Heroku and Database.com. This is long awaited and much needed licensing simplification for large enterprises.

Salesforce.com Messaging & Positioning

While these product announcements support Salesforce.com’s goal of becoming a strategic enterprise partner, beyond CRM, it’s messaging is lagging behind its products.

Much of CEO Marc Benioff’s repertoire at Dreamforce 2011 was still the feisty and combative rhetoric that served him well as he was building the company against great odds, and within the shadows of technology giants such as Oracle, IBM, SAP, and Microsoft.

But now that Salesforce.com has single-handedly established SaaS as a valid and beneficial application delivery method, Info-Tech believes it’s time to tone down the rhetoric in order to advance the company to the next stage and truly be seen as a strategic partner.

Case in point, the closing Keynote #3 became quite controversial when it degraded into a volley of cheap, sophomoric remarks concerning individuals at competing companies and concerning controversial political figures that have nothing whatsoever to do with Salesforce.com’s market or the primary interests of attendees. When speaking to thousands of IT professionals, who already consider Microsoft to be a strategic partner, you do not convince them that you too have earned a place at the strategic table by questioning Steve Ballmer’s personal abilities as a CEO. Negative attendee feedback concerning the tone of this session was swift, ironically aided by use of the Company’s own Chatter social collaboration product, demonstrating the power of “the social enterprise” at work, indeed.

Recommendations

  1. With the enhancements to Chatter, in the Winter 2012 release, and the continued growth in the product’s market share, Info-Tech recommends that organizations considering a new or additional collaboration platform add Salesforce.com Chatter to their initial vendor evaluation list. We will formally evaluate the product against competitors in the 2012 refresh of the Vendor Landscape Plus: Collaboration Platforms, which will be approximately six months after availability of the Salesforce.com Winter 2012 release.
  2. Organizations that are unfamiliar with Salesforce.com’s non-CRM products should maintain awareness of the Company’s evolving platform services, especially Database.com (database as a service), Siteforce (Web content management), and the overall development capabilities of the Force.com platform. Salesforce.com’s PaaS solutions should be particularly watched for their evolving mobile application delivery capabilities, especially to deliver in-browser applications to smartphones and tablets. This is an area for strong potential growth by Salesforce.com.
  3. Salesforce.com customers, that are also developing employee tablet strategies, should evaluate touch.salesforce.com as an application that can demonstrate the value of tablet deployment to a wider employee audience, beyond just field workers.
  4. Of course, Salesforce.com remains a leader in customer relationship management and should be on every CRM vendor shortlist, unless SaaS has been entirely eliminated as a CRM application delivery method. But Info-Tech predicts that even the remaining SaaS exclusion criteria will be less frequent if Salesforce.com implements its Data Residency Option (DRO) to enable local CRM data storage instead of cloud storage.

Bottom Line

Salesforce.com has announced enhancements to its Chatter collaboration product that make it a true enterprise collaboration competitor. Significant enhancement to the platform add credibility to the company’s positioning as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) vendor, but the Company’s messaging needs to mature.

 

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