Cloud Computing

San Francisco's darling Salesforce dreams of superstar status

As the annual Dreamforce extravaganza kicks off in its native city of San Francisco today, is powering on and advancing on a broad front. Never short of ambition or shy of celebrating its own successes, this week will doubtless be used describe to mark its relentless progress as its charismatic founder Marc Benioff closes in on becoming perhaps the most successful CEO in business technology today. is a phenomenon. It was founded in 1999, a time when many observers felt that the model of accessing software services online was a busted flush, but it defined and validated the whole cloud applications sector and went on to become by far its biggest company. Starting out as a customer relationship management and sales cycle automation specialist, it has become a platform for others to build on as well as a broad business management player itself, growing especially fast in marketing technology but also in service and analytics clouds.

Today, Salesforce is a fixed point in the IT landscape, as unavoidable as the towers it builds as a totemic tribute to its own power and status. It’s the default choice for companies in managing customer interactions, is highly popular among customers and hugely respected among peers. This week as the company assembles thousands of customers and partners – as well as stars like Goldie Hawn, Jessica Alba and Patricia Arquette – for Dreamforce, I spoke to a closely related firm for a perspective on Salesforce today.

Salesforce in focus

Vera Loftis is UK managing director at Bluewolf, a company that was born a year after Salesforce and has grown in large part via Salesforce consulting services. Bluewolf has just produced its latest report into the state of Salesforce, an impressively balanced take on the company’s progress and the views of its customers.

“We’re trying to create a bit of diversity away from the big whoops and high fives,” Loftis says. She adds that while Salesforce tends to be lauded by customers, the notion that deploying services is simple is wrong: companies need to put in a fair amount of effort to get the best return on investment possible.

“Users don’t necessarily feel they’re getting a lot of value for the data they’re being asked to put into the system. On ROI, it’s not that people feel they’re not getting enough but people say ‘this takes more investment than we thought it would’. It’s not just licensing and implementation; adoption and the change management perspective need to be factored in. There’s a misconception that Salesforce ‘just works’.”

Dirty data

For marketers, data is a particular challenge with six in 10 marketers saying poor or patchy and struggles to access data as their biggest obstacle, according to the Bluewolf research.

“Nobody is doing this perfectly and probably the biggest component that stood out in the research for me was data. It’s not the sexiest of topics but people are looking at predictive analytics - what customers they want to target from marketing automation and customised experiences - and the only way to do this is if you bring together all these sources and data.”

Loftis says many Salesforce users seeking that elusive “single view of the customer” are facing “a bit of a roadblock” where data is “not actually the cleanest and doesn’t match up”.

This challenge, she believes, can be partially addressed by investing in the Salesforce ecosystem, either by buying tools directly from Salesforce or from its AppExchange partners.

“Salesforce today isn’t just a CRM system: you can run your business on it. Customers are naturally getting more out of it where there’s one seamless data system rather than a siloed CRM tool.”

Pressing on

Loftis says that after a period of stasis while it digested acquisitions, Salesforce is beginning to accelerate again, citing progress on its Wave Analytics and Lightning application development efforts.

“They did tend to slow down and are gearing up for the big push now. When you compare Salesforce to peers, they’re one of the best at integrating acquisitions… I don’t think Microsoft and Oracle are as strong [even if the Salesforce] marketing cloud had longer evolution than everybody would like.”

Salesforce continues to grow, passing $5bn in revenue for its last financial year that closed at the end of January 2015. It claims to be the fastest-growing enterprise software company of all time… and may well be if you forgive that claim after years of marketing itself under the ‘No Software’ logo. Bluewolf’s report suggests that 64% of customers will increase their Salesforce spending this year and 11% will make more than a 50% increase. Almost half of customers have more than one Salesforce cloud.

Now that the stories about Microsoft buying it for huge sums have died down, Salesforce it can go back to its focus – growing relentlessly to become a towering presence in business technology.


Also read:

Marc Benioff takes his Tower of London

Salesforce + Sage = bigger than you’d think 


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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