• November 1, 2009
  • By Ian Jacobs, principal analyst, Forrester Research

A Salesforce.com by Any Other Name

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Displaying no apparent intention of switching to a new moniker, Salesforce.com’s name seems increasingly outdated. The once-ubiquitous “.com” now reeks of a decade well past its sell-by date. And, as the September announcement of the Service Cloud 2 offering makes clear, “the sales force” is no longer the primary focus of Salesforce.com’s technology. 

Applications providing customer service and support represent the company’s next billion-dollar opportunity, according to showman-in-chief Marc Benioff (whose real-world titles include chairman and chief executive officer). The recent launch event put the company’s familiar polished glitz to nice advantage surrounding some social CRM components and the integration of the InStranet knowledge management tools acquired in 2008.

While I may quibble with Salesforce.com’s Service Cloud and contact center strategy — most notably, the fact that the years spent competing against Oracle/Siebel and SAP don’t mean those will be the vendors to beat in the customer service realm — the company seems on relatively solid footing. Still, as someone who observes the space closely, I’d like to offer two pieces of unsolicited advice.

First, Salesforce.com spends a chunk of time at every one of its public events discussing its newest and largest enterprise wins. In the customer service and support space, the truly large enterprise opportunities are with B2C companies with very-high-volume contact centers. The biggest contact centers support customers in retail banking and telecommunications, with some very large retail operations thrown in for good measure.

The Sprints, Citibanks, and Amazon.coms of the world simply cannot tolerate system outages in their contact centers. Agents need to be able to take orders, solve problems, and upsell those exciting ringtones. Salesforce.com has put lots of sweat into minimizing unplanned downtime, leading to a strong uptime record. But the Salesforce.com service still has planned downtime. Salespeople may not be troubled by the inability on a Sunday night to record an opportunity with a 20 percent chance of closing four months away. For an online retailer, however, an order at 1:55 a.m. on a Sunday is just as valuable as one that comes in at 3:15 p.m. on a Tuesday. 

If Salesforce.com wants to compete seriously in the contact center arena, its multitenant platform must be accessible to certain clients even during system downtime. It seems a small issue, but it could easily be a deal-killer for those very large contact centers — and Salesforce.com appears to agree. Cofounder Parker Harris — one of the smartest people I’ve met in my 17 years in the industry — says his team is working on this problem, and the October announcement of an interim solution gives me hope that the company will pull off this necessary change.

Second, Salesforce.com sometimes comes off more as an evangelist for a technology than a vendor of it, but at heart the company is about the software provided via its service. That heritage, however, alters the company’s perspective: Its presentations and sales pitches always seem to return to the theme of technology solving customers’ problems. Seems sensible for a technology company, no? Well, no, actually. 

Technology will account for only a small share of any new initiative. Process change and deploying the right people are the primary keys to success with new solutions, and Salesforce.com has not ventured far enough into these areas, preferring to leave that hard work either to its partners (who are also primarily technology-focused) or to its users (who then have no access to objective advice). 

To help customers create a new, socially enabled idea of contact center–provided customer service, Salesforce.com would do well to recruit a new breed of partners, companies more focused on managing cultural and process change than on deploying or integrating technology. 

Now, if we could just convince the company to change its name. “Force,” anyone? 

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Ian Jacobs (ian.jacobs@ovum.com) is a senior analyst at Ovum. He can be reached on Twitter as @iangjacobs.

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