Next week I’ll be heading (along with around 30000 of my closest friends) to San Francisco for the epicness that is DreamForce. It’s the first year I’ll be attending the event in person, having followed it remotely in its previous incarnations. In the next couple of days I ‘m going to be briefed under embargo about the product announcements that are coming up from salesforce – but I thought I’d do some crystal ball gazing as to what’s in the offing. Good friend and fellow commentator Sameer Patel has already taken a stab at this – given his collaboration-centricity it’s no surprise he’s focused on Chatter somewhat – Sameer’s predictions were;

  • Some good stories about what people are actually doing with Chatter, beyond the arm waving talk of user numbers
  • More penetration of force.com for particular industry problems (Patel gives the example of FinancialForce and Chatterbox)
  • SocialCRM integration (think intergation of external conversations with the salesforce tool)
  • A deep dive into how the product really stacks up against the broader social software market

So what do I see coming out of DreamForce?

Chatter as a land and expand

When Chatter was first announced at DreamForce, it was met with significant commentary – half of that commentary was simply reiterating Benioff’s aspirational, kool-aide fuelled talk about the social revolution, Facebook for the enterprise and other such hyperbole. The other half were the more circumspect commentators who, while positive about salesforce’s moves in this area, questioned how broad uptake would really be and how applicable a CRM-centric social tool was to a whole-of-enterprise deployment. It didn’t help that, to a certain extent, Chatter was vaporware that didn’t really release until a significant time had passed post DreamForce.

Since then we’ve seen some interesting moves – salesforce has finally released Chatter to general availability and on a recent earnings call, Benioff let slip that salesforce would be releasing a stripped down Chatter that would be available for free. As he said on the call;

We are working on a free version of Chatter that will be a kind of virally-based product. And we will introduce that to our customers at Dreamforce. Some of our customers already have that product. And that is very exciting for us. We have been testing making Chatter more viral by giving our customers the ability to send viral invites

It seems to be that the initial strategy for Chatter relied on the assumption that it had such high inherent value that customers would flock to it. While Benioff has been keen to wax poetic about the significant uptake of Chatter (90k users at Dell and 60k of Salesforce’s 87k customers using it) my assessment is that user numbers and real uptake are two very different things. It’s been particularly telling for me to watch the Chatter application that all 30000 DreamForce attendees have access to. One would have thought that with such a large pool of potential users, all with free access to the application, that the channel would be running hot. However the reality is quite different – I’m seeing pretty limited use of Chatter by conference attendees and even some salesforce staffers are yet to even fill in their profile information let alone use the tool. Sameer hit the nail on the head when he wrote;

Having been around the block a few times with collaborative design and software initiatives with our customers , those numbers in and of themselves may not mean much. “Using” and “Registered Users” are very different things. I’m looking forward to seeing what exactly these customers are doing with Chatter, if they stick around or whether usage is bell curve-esq, and if/how its accelerating performance in a meaningful way (read: positively impacting operating and financial metrics). I realize that Chatter is relatively new and I’d be happy with even early indications of tangible value.

Salesforce has had its honeymoon period with Chatter, it now needs to show true value through the use of social – and judging by the dearth of activity in the DreamForce Chatter app, along with significant use of the #df10 hashtag on Twitter, salesforce needs to find a way to bring the outside in and leverage external conversations within an internal tool. Unless there is a compelling reason for using an internal-only tool, people tend to prefer something external.

I’d hoped to see much more progress on this since Benioff, along with Seesmic CEO Loic Le Meur co-announced a Seesmic/Chatter integration three months ago. As yet we’ve not seen any real progress with this – I’m picking a dual pronged announcement base for Chatter at DreamForce;

  • More detail on the free tool including the ability to really broaden its usage outside of the traditional CRM user pool
  • A meaningful integration with Twitter (initially with Seesmic, but indicative of an externally focus)

[I’ve just been made aware of this pretty amazing integration built by ex-pat Kiwi Stephen Brown. Amazing what one developer can achieve that entire teams (from both the salesforce and seesmic camps) don’t seem to have been able to…]

Pricing moves to broaden the franchise

Salesforce has had a great year, but it’s an ambitious organization that wants to be a multi billion dollar bigco. In order to do so it needs to move beyond it’s existing user base and broaden the size of customers it is suitable for. I’ve been hearing significantly more complaints about the inflexibility of salesforce pricing lately – just this week I was doing some consulting for a Government agency that was looking for a CRM system with a well developed ecosystem – salesforce and a number of appexchange tools would have fulfilled their needs perfectly but the inflexible pricing of salesforce was a deal breaker.

I’m not actually picking any announcements on this at DreamForce this year, but I suspect we’re going to be seeing a much more flexible approach towards pricing from salesforce over the next couple of years as it finds the easy wins in mid-size harder to come by and starts to look up, and down the foodchain for customer growth. I was talking with a salesforce reseller and force.com developer recently and they passed some comments over salesforce pricing;

[re difficulties with pricing] yeah so we find this with proposals to customers while salesforce is expensive you can generally sell someone who will be a core user of the system but the issue is those people on the peripheral who only need sometime access – the licensing doesn’t stack up for those sometime users

Customizations move down the foodchain

Another issue that many comment upon is the fact that only enterprise edition really gives users the ability to customize applications. Part of the value proposition that salesforce articulates is the ability to create highly customized workflows within the application – this proposition is weakened somewhat when only organizations on the highest prices licenses have access to this functionality. While the professional version does allow some additions (custom fields and layouts) there is no real ability to add custom logic or behavior. I’m picking some moves in terms of this to enable smaller organizations to look at salesforce as a viable option.

The (further) evolution of the ecosystem

Another approach towards building salesforce into a multi billion dollar company is to broaden the usage of the platform. We’ve already seen this by way of salesforce’s investment in FinancialForce – creating a discrete application that is standalone from salesforce automation. I’d expect to see lots of announcements about partner products, potentially some strategic investments by salesforce in other applications and a focus on empowering independent developers to create real products on top of force.com. The announcement this week of Zuora’s latest subscription and billing offering that offers AppExchange ISVs and Force.com developers, the ability to enable 1-click “Buy Now” capabilities right from within any app is an indication that salesforce, and it’s partners, are really focused on creating an AppStore for the enterprise on top of salesforce/force/AppExchange.

Summary

DreamForce is going to be huge – 30000 people, multiple sessions, big name keynotes and more dinner invitations than I can comprehend mean that next week will be a stressful, but exciting week. I’m looking forward to reporting further.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

2 Comments
  • Big week coming. Bring it on!

  • I do agree on the pricing point, although not entirely – there are various strategies to get around the pricing model inflexibility (force.com licences for access for infrequent users for example) that have allowed us to get tough pricing deals across the line . The bigger more general problem you seem to face is the perception that cloud=cheap – so when SF is not cheaper than its onpremise competiton (pretty much always especially if measured over 3-5 years) , people dont get it. I wish cloud vendors (google does this a lot) in general would stop focussing on you don’t need hardware so its cheaper and more on the value a cloud platform can bring as buyers seemed to have embraced the cheap bit and forgot the rest.

    I hope to see at DF but really know anyway, its not all about price as SF is clearly a more mature, superior product.

    Anyway, see you at DF,

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