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Salesforce at 15: Industry disruptor wards off midlife crisis

Chris Kanaracus | April 23, 2014
Salesforce.com recently celebrated its 15th year in existence, and as the SaaS (software-as-a-service) vendor races toward US$5 billion in revenue its influence on the industry is being felt more than ever. At the same time, some signs indicate that Salesforce.com is having a few growing pains, as well as showing some trappings of the mega-vendors it once mocked with its "End of Software" marketing campaign.

Customers can post their ideas for new features on the site, and then vote up or down on others' suggestions. Salesforce.com product management teams monitor the site and keep customers updated on which ones have been chosen for inclusion in the software, and when they'll arrive.

The IdeaExchange's transparency has perhaps inadvertently caused Salesforce.com to make significant business decisions. In 2012, it announced that a set of new analytics capabilities would be provided at no charge, after an outcry from users who had made IdeaExchange suggestions along the same lines.

The Present

Happy customers: Both through acquisitions and organic growth, Salesforce.com continues to add customers at a heady pace. What's just as important, and telling, is the fact it is keeping the vast majority of those customers. Customer "churn," or turnover, was in the "high single digits" as of Jan. 31, down from a "low double-digit" range one year prior, according to Salesforce.com's latest annual report.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is one happy Salesforce.com user. The nonprofit organization began with a modest website in 2004 and now serves 200,000 members, said CEO Paul Rieckhoff.

IAVA uses the system to record veterans' personal data and connect them with services and educational opportunities.

"Salesforce has been really like jet fuel [for IAVA]," he said. "I don't think most of our growth would have been possible."

IAVA has a "pretty vast and often daunting network of partners" across the country that Salesforce.com helps weave together, he added. "I don't think we can overstate how much energy and time it saves to have all your data in one place."

Salesforce1: Despite Force.com's success, Salesforce.com's core architecture had begun to age in recent years, and the company had also brought in additional application development tooling with the 2010 acquisition of Heroku.

November's Dreamforce conference set the stage for Salesforce.com to hit the reset button on its platform story with the announcement of Salesforce1. The name is meant to invoke a sense of unification between the vendor's development tools, which now also include ones from its acquisition of marketing software vendor ExactTarget.

Salesforce1 also introduced a vastly larger set of APIs (application programming interfaces) and a new mobile application that runs not only Salesforce.com but partners' software.

"It was time for Salesforce.com to come up with a new platform vision - and it did with Salesforce1 - with great ambition and a promising design," Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller said in a blog post.

However, gaps remain in Salesforce.com's platform, particularly regarding big data and analytics, he added.

Marketing mojo: "In order to continue growing, Salesforce needs to grow outside of sales force automation," Scavo said.

 

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