SAN FRANCISCO — According to Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's cofounder, chairman, and chief executive officer, there has never been a more important time for CRM. With an economic crisis looming and the nation undergoing a change in leadership, these are times of instability. "It's time to double down," Benioff told attendees here at the start of Day Two of Dreamforce, Salesforce.com's annual user and developer conference. "We have to over-communicate. We have to over-listen," he stressed during the morning keynote. Bearing that in mind, Benioff went on to share that the software-as-a-service (SaaS) company -- or anti-software company, as it is now calling itself -- is increasing its research-and-development budget for CRM.
Benioff told attendees that Salesforce.com now has a three-prong mission in giving customers what they want:
- Provide applications to help users manage their own information.
- Help users share that information within their own companies and among vendors, suppliers, and key stakeholders.
- Provide a platform for building and customizing applications, and let industry partners access those applications to sell to other customers.
During the applications-focused keynote, Benioff revealed that the Salesforce CRM Winter '09 release -- the company's 27th iteration in the previous nine years -- includes 200 new features.
Upon taking the stage to provide further details on the company's marketing, customer service, and collaboration efforts, Executive Vice President of Applications and Marketing George Hu made an Election Day appeal to attendees: "Regardless of how you voted, we can all agree we need change. We need more innovation, more success." The Winter '09 release, Hu said, is all about taking the Salesforce.com "secret sauce" and delivering that technology to users. He also talked about how the focus can't just be on creating new features -- there needs to be an emphasis on doing more with less.
Hu then went on to introduce what he called an "enormous technological breakthrough" that utilizes -- and allows customers to capitalize on -- what's already out there in the cloud. The announcement was Salesforce-to-Salesforce -- technology that essentially allows Salesforce.com partners to share CRM data. To illustrate the application's benefits, Hu referred to the airline industry -- and, in particular, partners Air France and Delta Airlines. The two airlines, both Salesforce.com customers, have shared CRM systems to be able to co-sell, increase visibility, and operate as a single unit within the SkyTeam alliance of global airlines.
Rob Bois, research director at Boston-based AMR Research, says that he finds this partner announcement most grabbing out of all the news coming out of Dreamforce. "I think Salesforce.com has a unique opportunity that has yet to be fully realized," Bois says. "When you think about how many companies are doing business with each other and...are both using Salesforce, there's an opportunity there because all of this data is...in the same data center already. All they need to do is connect those wires."
Bois notes that Salesforce.com has the technology to provide this value for partners and the company has the critical mass necessary for it to be viable. In fact, he says, any challenges in deploying the Salesforce-to-Salesforce capability would be squarely on the customer side: It might take a while for some companies to warm up to the idea of sharing customer data. For many organizations, he notes -- especially those in retail -- customer names are still viewed as competitive advantages and are guarded accordingly.
Continuing with the theme of doing more with less, Hu addressed Salesforce.com's collaborative and content management initiatives. The collaboration element is partially a result of the integration with Google Apps. Since the April integration launch, he said, more than 5,000 Salesforce.com customers have signed on with Google Apps. Collaborative efforts, which are integrated with Google applications in addition to Salesforce CRM, include the sharing of slide presentations and marketing campaigns. A keynote demonstration showed the ability to link in content management with Force.com Sites, the first big announcement at Dreamforce this week. Although it will not be available until spring, users will eventually be able to direct partners or customers to a personalized landing page to view a presentation or sales pitch. In other words, no more emailing bulky PowerPoint presentations.
In terms of customer service, Salesforce.com executives say that the company is still ironing out details surrounding its August acquisition of on-premises knowledge base company InStranet. Executives say they are on track with converting the InStranet pieces to work as a SaaS solution.
Bois says that the motives behind Salesforce.com's acquisition of InStranet in particular were somewhat in doubt at the time -- mostly because of InStranet's on-premises structure -- the company was wise to pick up a knowledge management solution in general. "Especially in this economy, self-service is going to be skyrocketed to the top of the list in terms of where companies will spend money, because you can save money there," Bois says. "I think that [the acquisition] was really good timing." Good timing, he says, that not even Salesforce.com itself could have predicted. Bois adds that it will be interesting to watch how Salesforce.com's development of the InStranet tools plays out.
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