Big news a few weeks ago was the acquisition of ExactTarget by Salesforce at an eye watering $2.5B valuation. Enough people have opined on that deal already – for a good summary check out this Diginomica post. Less well covered was the Salesforce acquisition of EdgeSpring (more about them here), an assuredly lower prices, yet potentially more important deal. I’ll not pass comment beyond saying that the deals make sense – Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud message had, until this deal, sounds a little bit like hyperbole given the fact that their marketing assets didn’t for a consistent product offering at that stage. With the Exact Target deal the company manages to backfill the whitespace and has a compelling offering that covers off traditional and new marketing channels, marketing analysis and engagement tools. There’s always the questions about how the technology platforms and the sales organizations can be unified but that will be resolved in the fullness of time.
With that said then it is time to take a look at the Salesforce business and make some suggestions as to where we’ll see the company focus attention now.
Core Business Applications
NetSuite‘s CEO Zach Nelson recently quipped (or perhaps snarked is a better description) that Salesforce isn’t a CRM company but rather a prospect management one. While his comments are part of the usual hustle and bustle of the industry, he does have a valid point. Salesforce has built a suite of products that gives their customers the ability to find and nurture prospects, to engage with conversations and to enable collaboration, both internal and external, across stakeholders. What we’re yet to see is a compelling proposition that takes that insight, that data and that relationship and ties in all the transactional elements that are so important when a prospect becomes a real customer.
I’ve watched CEO Marc Benioff articulate a vision over many years of connected organizations. Where the business, the customer and the processes are all connected in a continuous loop. Where visibility is maintained over conversations and where individuals can take action over insights gained. That’s a compelling vision and Benioff articulates it exceptionally well, but without those processes taking into account transactional workflow, the vision rings a little hollow.
Now Salesforce is quick to point out that Chatter is the fabric that ties all this stuff together and that its deep integrations with vendors like Kenandy, Infor and Workday, built off the back of Chatter, enable them to deliver this visibility and consistency all the way to the back office. But in the same way that Benioff is quick to explain that he needed to acquire ExactTarget to make sure that the Marketing Cloud has a consistent product offering beyond what can be delivered through a simple integration, so to is there this requirement for back office integration.
I expect Salesforce to start telling this end to end story – and it will be a real challenge for them Their relationships currently have been primarily with CMOs. As they broaden their story to become an end-to-end platform vendors they’ll need to be talking with more of the C-suite than this – from finance to operations, from manufacturing to (of course) IT will need to be part of the conversation.
I’ve long said that Salesforce is one of the companies that could fill the role of mega platform provider for the next decades – to do so their platform needs to be broad enough to truly cover the organizational use case and lifecycle. There’s significant value behind the operational curtain that Salesforce needs to capture to deliver on that promise
Making Sense of the Noise
Salesforce rival SAP has been making waves telling all and sundry of the value of HANA, its in-memory technology. Now I’d concur with many who suggest that the very SAP-esque approach of focusing on the technology first and articulating the business benefit second isn’t ideal. Many would suggest that should SAP stop focusing so much attention on HANA as a technology but rather tell stories of HANA powered products as enablers, they’d be in far better a position. That said however, it’s hard to argue against the contention that the sort of number crunching analysis that HANA promises to deliver so rapidly will be the key differentiator between technology companies going forwards.
The ability to deliver deep insights at near real-time speed to customers based on analysis of various streams of internal and external data will become a significant value proposition. This is one area that Salesforce has tended to languish a little – they’re told an excellent story about back and front-office business process efficiencies. And they’ve started to provider a really compelling vision of external engagement via the social web, but I’m yet to see a really compelling story that mixes insights gained from the core business data that resides within customers systems of records (and this includes both Salesforce platform and third party applications) alongside the social stream and sentiment data that Benioff has waxed lyrical about for years.
EdgeSpring and its related technologies start to build a technology platform that can deliver upon this vision – although the core EdgeSpring products will be discontinued post-acquisition, their flavor gives some insight into the direction that Salesforce is moving. From my recent post covering their GA:
EdgeSpring offers to distinct products, SalesEdge and MarketingEdge – as the names imply, these two products offer sales and marketing people the ability to gain insights into their area of specialty and to be in a position to assess where to best prioritize their time. SalesEdge offers pipeline management as well as salesperson-centric opportunity visualization and management-centric salesperson reporting. MarketingEdge on the other hand attempts to connect the marketing initiative data to customer acquisition/retention data to more accurately assess the efficacy of marketing initiatives.
The ability to acquire data from both the Salesforce platform and external offerings, manipulate the data to meet specific requirements and then query the resulting data set in order to deliver visualizations is key to adding value in a massively data-rich organization. The EdgeSpring acquisition, while less attention grabbing than the ExactTarget one is potentially even more important going forwards.