One thing that I’ve repeatedly said about Salesforce.com is that they have been successful because of the remarkably consistent vision that they have. As Jeff Bezos, Amazon Jeff says, you have to be “stubborn on the vision and flexible on the details” and for many, many years, that’s exactly what Salesforce.com has been. Their vision of being the platform upon which all business applications would run remains steady as she goes while they’ve made a significant number of switches and changes when it comes to positioning, choices of acquisition, “no-software” development direction, etc.
But their ability to remain laser-focused on their vision has largely driven their remarkable story and equally remarkable success.
The other aspect of that which remains important is that Marc Benioff understands that when it comes to that vision, it has to be a vision for actual human beings as opposed to just a marketing message. If a human being is trying to decide whether or not that vision is compelling enough for them to buy into, there are two simple things that vision must be:
- Something they want
The latter is mission critical (or vision critical, I guess). If the vision doesn’t seem to be achievable, then it’s seen as either marketing fluff or fantasy. And buy-in becomes burn out. So the vision has to appeal to the metaphors and memes of the era so that people can respond to it in a human way – a way that makes sense to them as uniquely thinking individuals.
All in all, if you get someone who says, “hey, I want that” and “I can see that”, then you have them. The genius of salesforce is that they are able to do that better than any other company in the technology world – regardless of what they are selling.
But the very success of salesforce and the impact it’s had on the business world in combination with that relentless vision and the revivification of serious competition, makes 2013 an important year for salesforce.com.
From 2011 on, salesforce.com made a significant investment into being the owner-declarants of the “social enterprise.” For many reasons, since mid-to-late 2012, they have dialed back the discussion on the social enterprise, dropping the term and instead, wisely, focusing on business outcomes via cloud delivery and customer-facing services associated with that cloud delivery.
(If you want to see an interesting discussion about all this, check out the summary of an Enterprise Irregulars discussion done by fellow EI and ZDNet Editor in Chief Larry Dignan here).
One reason that gets overlooked and is actually to salesforce’s credit was their abortive (and not too wise) attempt to trademark the term “social enterprise”. The result was an outcry from charitable institutions that have called themselves social enterprises for years, though in a totally different context. Because of Marc Benioff’s honest commitment to charity and doing good – and a foredoomed outcome – they wisely dropped the trademark attempt and the term altogether.
But, as importantly, there also was recognition that “social” as a unique factor is not all that meaningful to business outcomes per se. It is part of the business landscape certainly – and is not a fad – and has to be addressed, but in the same context as other business requirements in a changing world. It may be hot but that doesn’t mean it’s going to replace things more traditional in nature. (More on this in future posts.)
I was made aware of the more dramatic aspects of the change in messaging by something I read about salesforce from astute financial analyst Peter Goldmacher that made me look at their home page, which is devoid of the word social except a single mention in the context of the Marketing Cloud and as an adjective in front of “marketing.”
But despite this “flexibility in the details,” this isn’t going to stop salesforce’s juggernaut – and their continued dominance in the customer-facing world. They are resolute in their determination to be the platform upon which all business applications run – their stated vision as far back as 2003. And while I don’t think that they will be the sole platform upon which all business applications run in the future, I do think they can hold a dominant position in that effort in time.
What they have to do
But in order to do that, they do have to do a few things in 2013.
- Make their repositioning a helluva lot more clear than it is - Their step back from social – if it is that – needs to have the transitional story attached or else it becomes a jarring change that can undermine confidence in the vision – though not the quality of their services and not-software. They have to make it clear as to why they are doing this – and establish the body of knowledge necessary to support it.Trust me, this isn’t as difficult as it sounds. There have been all kinds of indications that social has matured beyond experimental and into mainstream strategic considerations by businesses. Which means it doesn’t have to be unique anymore. Industry writers and analysts have been noting this everywhere.
Also, strategies are not “social” per se but multi-channel. Social business has cultural advances and process changes that have to be considered but salesforce is a technology company. Their job is selling the technology and providing the vision around that technology to the business world. They need to concentrate there. But they have to spend some time making the transition to their more multichannel, business-outcome focused message or they will lose advocates.
- Work on getting a credible marketing cloud service out now - The term Marketing Cloud is being used by a dozen companies now – ranging from the originator of the term Marketo to Oracle and by agencies like LBi.Salesforce has wisely focused around the technology of social marketing which gives them room to align the Marketing Cloud with their strategic partners like Infor, who can provide the more traditional marketing automation and demand generation functionality that salesforce can’t provide at this time.
Trust me, all the players are realizing the need to do that. Witness Microsoft’s acquisition of MarketingPilot (which resembles Aprimo more than anything else – integrated marketing management). Salesforce also has a very strong team working on the marketing cloud with Marcel LeBrun (former CEO of Radian6) running it; Mike Lazarow (former CEO of BuddyMedia) the CMO; and the incredibly capable Ryan Strythnaka (former head of development for Radian6) driving the application development. So they are in good hands. But their time grows short as the competition heats up and a credible functionally complete product needs to be at least visible if not released sometime in 2013.
Their apparent acquisition this month (as of yet unannounced officially) of content management integration and synchronization platform provider Entropysoft is a good technical buy and adds a needed capability to the marketing cloud.
- Be competitive in the analytics space - Even with the excellent Radian6 Insights platform, they are competitively paltry when it comes to what SAP and Oracle are doing. Because personalized customer experience is once again not just the focus of the CRM world but, more than ever, something that customers feel that they have the right to demand, and with all of the available information about customers, prospects, etc. on the social web, strong analytics become a necessary offering for at least the enterprise customers.
Let me be clear. Salesforce is currently the standard by which other technology companies are measuring themselves and that is a truly incredible achievement. But 2013 is the year that their competitors start to catch up; that social recedes as a differentiator; that customers increase their demand for personalized responsiveness from businesses; and that buyers are looking for things that help them with business outcomes.
The success salesforce has had to date with their vision makes them a company that will have major impact on the business world for years to come, but they are going to have to explain themselves a bit better and move faster in 2013 to maintain their competitive distance. All I can say is that they wouldn’t have won the CRM Watchlist again if I thought they couldn’t do that.
Look, to start this one, I need to be clear. I am part of the world of all things customer facing, which includes CRM, Social CRM, social media, communities, customer analytics, and even internal collaboration as it applies to internal customers (employees, etc.) I am part of those rather lucky folks who get to write about and participate in social business, a new business paradigm that still adheres to the oldest business paradigm: if a customer likes you, and continues to like you, they will do business with you. If they don’t they won’t.
I get to play with new technologies like tablets and get to check out fandom which means sports, games, and technology, movies, TV and star watching.
I get to mess with mobile technologies and see their applicability to customers and to the businesses wooing customers. On an even bigger scale I get to dig into how companies and customers communicate and where they communicate and what devices they use to communicate.
I get to look at the infrastructure and the applications that go into an enterprise’s technology stack and support a company’s business processes – and I get to look at the business processes.
I get to identify and define the customer’s experience with a company and break it down to the point that it becomes repeatable and measurable and thus there is some sense of the value that is provided by that experience.
What makes Microsoft more than just interesting, is that of all the companies on this planet, they are the only ones that can make the claim that they impact everything that I’m talking about in some way. They are the only company on the planet that can impact any one of our individual lives from end to end – from business to home life.
The only one.
What makes Microsoft one of the most interesting companies on this earth is their enormous potential, and the existence inside their portfolio of the pieces to do it. What makes them exasperating is that I’m not sure that –other than a small few there, in the past — they don’t know it at all. BUT….
For the first time in my lifetime, Microsoft is making BIG bets on their ability to do just that. The best go far beyond the customer facing aspects of the Dynamics applications and services. They go to the broader user experience, consumer and business.
Essentially they have two bets that they are making and one that they need to make.
The two they are making:
- Completely transform the user experience so that it is consistent (but not identical thankfully) across all devices and all devices are synced to respond to data and information presented appropriately with the results reflected on all devices.The look, feel and actions that Windows 8 provides Microsoft with the ability to effect is the key to that. This is a HUGE bet because the fundamental architecture of Windows has been changed as has the look and feel which leads to slower short term adoption but better long term results. And, BTW, stop whining about how tough it is to use it. If you want to, there is a desktop that resembles Windows 7 and for the most part works the same. Plus, it’s just not that hard.
- Revamp the core technology and the look and feel around their business products – Microsoft Dynamics. To that end, at least on the CRM side, they’ve brought in a key industry player – Bob Stutz who was a big part of the success of Siebel and the new SAP CRM 2007 – to take apart and put together Microsoft Dynamics CRM – which he is doing successfully.Aside from the technological changes, they began to fill out significant holes in their portfolio with the acquisition of MarketingPilot, a company that focuses on Integrated Marketing Management (IMM) which means a strong emphasis on things like Marketing Resource Management (MRM) even more than, say, campaign management. This is a smart acquisition, filling out what was a major hole in the Microsoft customer facing portfolio. The look and feel of all their Dynamics software is being aligned with Windows 8 and what used to be Metro.
The bet they need to place:
- Is on a full-bore unified communications push. They have 13 products that qualify as part of a unified communications program ranging from Communications Server to Lync to SharePoint to a verb – Skype. But they have 13 separate products, some of which integrate and some which don’t. Some of which are market dominant – Skype and SharePoint and some of which aren’t – Lync and Azure though it’s gaining some traction. But they need a unified unified (unified squared?) communications strategy and offering that they can provide to the market and they can then dominate that category like they dominate operating systems and productivity.
These bets for Microsoft in 2013 are HUGE and are probably the most important made since the creation of Windows. However, even if they succeed at this, there are a few other things that Microsoft Dynamics CRM has to do to have the market impact that is expected for 2013.
What they have to do
What’s interesting about Microsoft’s “To Do” list is that a decent chunk of it has to do with product gaps and evolution rather than what plagues most companies. But these are gaps and additions that are necessary for a major player in the market – an actual competitive choice rather than a pretender – need to have. And, at least in theory, can afford to take care of.
Let’s look at the product requirements:
- Social – As I outlined last year, social as an “entity” separate from anything else is going away and we are seeing increasing evidence of that everywhere with the focus on the full bore customer experience – CRM’s and certainly “SociaL” CRM’s raison d’etre. However, social is now part of business strategy, culture, processes and communications – and it is a fact that customers and employees are using social channels to communicate. Thus, technologies that access those communications channels that capture the information in those communications channels and respond to the discussions in the communications channels are all part of what is needed when it comes to a contemporary business software and services offering.Microsoft still is at the stage where they are able to aggregate the Twitter and Facebook information and at least present it relatively live and place it in the customer record. But that is not enough. They have to be at the “what-is-not-quite-but-becoming-table-stakes” level of being able to provide the means to respond to those communications within the Dynamics CRM applications because of the near-real time response expected by the customers involved. And there is one thing which goes to an even bigger gap in the Dynamics portfolio – relative to other vendors.
- Analytics – Yep, analytics remains a hole in the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem and one that goes beyond just social analytics. Even though there are professed analytics that are part of the Dynamics portfolio, they lag far behind their competitors at SAP and Oracle, though not Salesforce.com so much.
- Vertical Strategy – For quite awhile, I’ve seen Microsoft make significant headway in several verticals – in particular sports and retail. But, given the personalization and specialization that are demanded by enterprises and even medium sized businesses in specific domains, I still have no feel for a clear verticals strategy from Microsoft at a time when Oracle and SAP are already strong in many areas and Salesforce.com is investing a lot in developing the tools and process maps that are needed to compete in this new business world.
If Microsoft continues down the path that Bob Stutz and his team – Bill Patterson, Jujhar Singh and others there are setting, the impact that I expect them to have in 2013 will be history in 2014 and they will be rolling. But their bets go beyond that and this makes it a seminal year for Microsoft in more than just CRM. It’s a tougher road, but you know what, even with that in consideration, they won the Watchlist so I’m going to say they’ll make it.
(Cross-posted @ Social CRM: The Conversation | ZDNet)