Salesforce1: platform or puff stuff? Benioff answers

SUMMARY:

Is Salesforce1 just a bunch of APIs wrapped around some mobile goodness? Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff answers

A long Twitter discussion thread on the topic of Salesforce1 aka SF1 broke out, involving a variety of analysts including Estaban Kolsky and Alan Leopfsky. In response to something I tweeted, Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce chimed in with:

Kolsky was none too satisfied, arguing that Salesforce had succeeded in confusing the audience into believing that (SF1) Salesforce1 was really a mobile thing:

The argument went back and forth for a while and then – as always happens, the conversation petered out. The full stream was captured by Zachary Jeans – it is well worth skimming through.

Over the weekend, Ray Wang, CEO Constellation Research got in touch saying that while the company has no public comment on this topic for the moment, it will have something related to say in Harvard Business Review. Given Wang sent the email in confidence I won’t reveal the content other than to say that Constellation takes a more expansive view of what is driving technology.

Benioff came back earlier today with an email in response to Wang:

“As the customer examples emerge over the next year it will be clearer that there has never been an enterprise platform like this that combines the best of:

  • mobile – native iOS and android support (as well as deployment to any browser)
  • social – deep collaborative enterprise user interface (the key elements from Facebook, Line, et al.)
  • cloud – proven scale and reliability over 15 years
  • connected – deepest api structure for any customer platform I’m aware of

combined with:

  • business logic
  • work flow
  • stored procedures
  • triggers
  • visual development tools that cross platform (visual force1)

The combination will yield amazing new apps for sales, service (including communities), marketing, customer touch points, internal collaboration and solutions for developers, ISVs, admins, end users, and customer entry points.
The app gap can be filled finally. This is an ambitious project, and its only just started.

Aloha.Marc”

This is an interesting and revealing response on several levels:

  1. In providing this detailed response, Benioff has taken some of the criticism over lack of clarity to heart. That’s a  net good, largely because it is rare for a CEO to crank out an email of this kind. It has all the hallmarks of being an authentic, unfiltered response, largely because Benioff had no need to come back on the discussion beyond what is in the Tweetstream.
  2. Benioff is unequivocal – SF1 IS a platform that happens to have a mobile component.
  3. This is a vision that will take time to work through. Think 1-2 years minimum but with tangible results in less than one year.

The bigger picture

Salesforce is at a stage where it has to do two things:

  1. Develop a vision that positions itself as leading the ERP world. By that I define ERP as Financials + HR admin + CRM. In the past financials has lead the deal with HR and CRM following. This vision assumes that CRM comes center stage, largely because of both a perceived need and available technology to make it possible. In short, Salesforce wants to flip the power relationship inside large company deals based upon what it sees as a logical extension of its current roadmap.
  2. Execute against the vision in such a way that it puts differentiating clear space between itself and the incumbent vendors.

Verdict

It is great to see a large company CEO who is more comforting in marketing going toe to toe with some of the more technical analysts. It’s the kind of dialog we all welcome because it both clarifies our understanding and helps the company see where the critique lays.

This is not a done deal. Salesforce vision and its component parts represent a big ask across multiple platforms. For example, I don’t see where the transaction itself figures in all of this. That part is important in the longer term and especially for the glaringly missing analytics piece fo the puzzle.

However, this vision clearly places mobile at the center. Is Benioff right? According to today’s London Evening Standard: “Tripwire revealed that 63% of UK consumers will use their mobile at least once for Christmas shopping this year.” In our own traffic analysis, we see mobile accounting for 25% of total traffic.

Disclosure: Salesforce is a premier partner, I am a board advisor to Constellation Research, Estaban Kolsky is an occasional contributor for our Spanish readers.

    Comments are closed.

    1. A product matures into a platform when third parties start extending it’s functionality by building on top of it, rather than just connecting other products through integration. On this regard, force.com is considered as a platform. These days, unless you have followed salesforce religiously, its difficult to understand which part of salesforce is the product and which part is the platform. 
      If Salesforce is truly positioning to be the next ERP with the intention of replacing Oracle and SAP installations, would this not leave them vulnerable to a new entrant into their dominant CRM space? At present, CRM space is very much fragmented at bottom and middle markets, which gives Salesforce the freedom to be ambitious. We all know what happened to likes of Kodak and others. Lets hope Salesforce in its desire to be the major software vendor does not end up been careless in diversification. 
      Whilst SaaS is maturing, the ease of use of Software has not become easier. At user level, we all need slightly different set of information to increase our effectiveness. Ability to surface information and present in a thin layer, just the way each user like it, can makes a significant different.
      [Can’t wait to show you what I am working on Dennis]

    2. Krisgo says:

      A platform is real when billion dollar companies are built on the platform. Amazon has Netflix, Dropbox….Google has snapchat, apple has Rovio, Facebook had zynga… We will know that salesforce1 is real when I see a 100 million dollar company

    3. says:

      Krisgo Did you see Veeva go public and with a current valuation of $5 billion? Kenandy, FinancialForce, others…all based on Force.com?

    4. says:

      manojranaweera To fully appreciate Salesforce.com’s potential to become ‘the next ERP’ you need to look at the emergence of systems of engagement and their relationship with systems of record. The ‘next ERP’ will not look like the last one. See my article here for more:
      http://diginomica.com/2013/11/11/two-tier-systems-record-engagement/

    5. Dennis Howlett  Would be interesting to know the level of revenues FinancialForce is generating

    6. philww If the interim solution is to adapt a two-tier solution, how would information from both new and legacy ERPs surfaced to ensure effective decision making at CxO level?

    7. Krisgo says:

      dahowlett Krisgo I knew about Kenandy and Financial Force, but not Veeva. As an ISV I would like to see in a platform all the APIs and computing infrastructure for me to build a viable product/business. It is even better if the platform provides a viable distribution and commercialization channel (Google Play, Appstore, Identity Service a la Google for Business, XBox). An even stricter definition would be that a third party business would not be there if it were not for the platform. 
      The real issue for enterprise appstores is the complexity of enterprise buying for anything over 99 dollars. The complexity adds several layers of friction to the buying process. And it is not clear that third parties can generate significant revenues from the Salesforce distribution/commercialization channel. Especially for areas unrelated to CRM.
      Without the distribution/commercialization potential, the case for using Salesforce as platform for building applications is weak. ISVs are better off with Amazon, Google or Azure.

    8. lfrseset says:

      KrisgodahowlettAre you aware of the Salesforce AppExchange ? There are tons of third-party companies developing and distributing apps there. Behind all the marketing, lays a huge platform that is already there and many companies are building on top of that and distributing via AppStore. As for your comment on thrid-parties,cCheck out this company called Apprio. Also as Den mentioned above, third parties like FinancialForce would not exist if it wasn’t for the platform.