Guerilla Marketing versus the 800-Pound Gorilla

Many call it guerilla marketing and define it as unconventional marketing intended to get maximal results from minimal resources. The term was coined by Jay Conrad Levinson, and is in full swing, with a twist, in the CRM space: It's more about matching wits than matching budgets. Salesforce.com has become the most noted example of guerilla campaigns, repeatedly using such tactics to attract users of CRM market-leader Siebel Systems, and get a little publicity in the process. Denis Pombriant, vice president and managing director of the CRM practice at Aberdeen Group, says its natural that nearly every company wants to beat its own drum and displace the leader: "Its pretty much par for the course that the leader is the company you try to beat. That's what happens when you are the leader," he says. "It's kind of a compliment. But as the leader your success and hard work is not easily erased--that's why others often resort to ad homonym attacks." Jef Loeb, creative director at Brainchild Creative ad agency in San Francisco, says that often, companies want to try and increase their cachet when competing against rivals that are huge and hugely funded. Salesforce.com has done that by being one of the only companies holding lavish parties in an economic downturn and high tech slump. Spending a reported $100,000 to rent out Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco so customers, journalists, employees and family could pretend to be big league players for an afternoon, made the company stand out. The company also participated in star-studded music events like the Tibet House Concert in New York, as well as having a premiere party for Terminator 3, where the movie's star and recently governor-elect of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was the guest of honor. But some of the company's moves have backfired. In the beginning of September Salesforce.com announced it was participating in an event in San Francisco with the Dalai Lama. The company invited clients and potential clients, along with journalists. But the company was seen as overstepping boundaries when it sent out a poster of the Dalai Lama that could have been interpreted as his Holiness endorsing Salesforce.com and it's "end of software" motto. Salesforce.com backed out of the event, apologized, and rescinded its invitations. In addition, the company sent out letters of apology to all those invited. Other tactics also have left industry-watchers scratching their collective heads. At Siebel Users Week, held in San Diego last week, Salesforce.com had people hired from the San Diego area to stand across the street from the gargantuan convention center holding four-foot banners that read, "Salesforce.com. Success. Not Siebel." Many of those hired to represent Salesforce.com were also handing out donuts and coffee to Siebel User Week attendees. "Tom Siebel had a donut and seemed amused," Pombriant says. Cary Fulbright, chief strategy officer and SVP of new market and brand development at Salesforce.com, thought being at this event was a tactical move. "It is a tactical thing for us to target around Siebel announcement and events," Fulbright says. "It's an opportunity to tweak them a little about our model and our success with that model." Jeff Pulver, vice president of worldwide marketing at Siebel, says that it's unlikely that Siebel will strike back: "We are focused first and foremost on our customer, and we do not get caught up with who the competitors are targeting and trying to reach," he says. Pombriant says that with big players like Siebel and IBM entering the hosting space, Salesforce.com "can no longer continue to act like missionaries selling a new technology." For some customers these tactics just leave a bad taste. Michael Fields, director business sales operations for Cingular Wireless, says seeing those guerilla marketing tactics just makes him tune out. Fields is a Siebel user and was attending the conference where Salesforce.com showed up. "That sort of thing turns me in the opposite direction."
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