I flew home from Microsoft Convergence in New Orleans arriving back in Boston around 9:00 PM last Thursday. I was tired from capturing a week’s worth of information from the Microsoft fire hose for the previous four days. But on Friday a Tsunami named Salesforce.com blew into town to inaugurate a world tour trumpeting the company’s new messaging centered on enabling enterprises to become “customer companies”.
The tour and the messaging was field tested in New York last month and refined over the past few weeks to produce the Boston show and if Salesforce and its CEO Marc Benioff run true to form, the message will continue being refined throughout the spring and summer and delivered in final form at Dreamforce to be held this year in December in Salesforce’s home town of San Francisco.
The big news coming out of Boston, if I understand it right, is that Chatter will become Salesforce’s primary interface. Prognosticators peeling that onion got immediately weepy eyed citing the risks involved. Surely, the logic went, when you change sales people’s UI you are asking for trouble. These people are not happy change agents after all — look what happened when SFA came onto the scene, they opined, look how poor adoption was and how passively aggressively sales people didn’t adopt.
Yadda, yadda. Have they forgotten that early SFA sucked? But look how they took to Salesforce like ducks in your swimming pool.
That was then and then was different or as Mark Twain liked to say history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. So what’s the rhyme? Actually, it comes from two sources as I see it.
First, we need to Segway to Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research at Salesforce, and this is not a non sequitur; it has a purpose, I promise. If you’ve been to a Salesforce event in the last five years or so you know that Coffee does a pre-show to warm up the audience. Coffee is not an entertainer happy to give away prizes or perform skits the way others do at conferences. Coffee’s orientation is news. It’s focused on the matter at hand so that his effort bridges nicely into Benioff’s main event.
So, one of Coffee’s interview guests last Friday was MIT professor, Andrew McAfee who, along with fellow prof, Erik Brynjolfsson just published Race Against the Machine a short book about the ways we will work in the future. The subtitle provides the Cliff’s Notes: “How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy”. Got it? No? I will post a review of this fine work (which I am not sure I agree with in all its particulars) soon. My point here, and I guess it was Coffee’s point too, is that technology is racing ahead and changing how we work and that people who don’t adapt and adopt will be left in the dust. That’s point one.
Point two is the long evolution of CRM, SFA and mobility. For many years we have been touting mobile SFA applications as tools that sales representatives can use to report to their bosses upon leaving the big sales call. But now imagine if during the sales call, the rep had the ability to reach out through the mobile umbilicus to get help on any subject.
Sure, the mobile phone has always been available to do the same but few of us took advantage of it because its use was so disruptive in a meeting setting. But a collaboration feed is more discrete so that not only could a rep report back after the meeting but he or she can now reach out through a collaboration product like Chatter rather than saying those dreadful words, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
Put the two ideas together and making Chatter the primary interface for CRM or SFA makes all the sense in the world. Also, you need to consider that just as we can dream up a realistic use case for selling, the same is true for service and support or even marketing. Quick aside, CMO, Kendall Collins, who was also at the event told me, “There’s only one sin we won’t forgive inside Salesforce and that’s losing alone. If you’re going to lose, lose with all the support you need.” In other words go down swinging and in other, other words, business is now, more than ever, a team sport.
So I am more sanguine about the move to make Chatter the primary interface for Salesforce. It’s a natural evolution, something whose time has come. Cue the music.
I am also skeptical that the big news coming out of Boston was this Chatter tidbit. The discussion involved people from not only MIT but Harvard Business School and Yale as well as representatives from the private sector like the electronics giant Phillips and Stratus the fault tolerant computing company and they are all and already moving the collaboration needle.
Salesforce, as usual, is on to something. The messaging about becoming a customer company is almost right and will improve over time. And if Coffee’s intuition about having Andrew McAfee in the pre-show is right (and I think it is) then in a couple of years we’ll see other vendors ponying up with their own similar messaging just as sure as today they are (finally) “all in”, as someone once said, about the cloud.
The president should have his own blog. Maybe he’d only post once per week but it would be an incredibly effective way to reach young voters. My idea comes in through the back door. The weekly presidential radio address goes out on Saturdays and I have to say that while some news outlets quote it in passing, it doesn’t seem to garner the attention it should.
Ronald Regan instituted the weekly radio address and it fit his style and unique characteristics. He was a trained actor able to deliver a message and to be convincing not necessarily with the substance of his words but with the tone and style. All presidents since have taken up the torch and delivered a Saturday speech that I would say most of us have ignored.
So what’s better about blogging?
Well, it’s social for starters. A blog can collect likes, raw audience numbers and tweets and re-tweets. All of these things generate numbers that can be tracked to gauge audience receptivity. That’s a pretty good start. A blog might be more easily quoted by the op-ed pages of Sunday papers too.
A blog lives on too, which means that if an interested citizen or reporter wanted to research something related to the blog or that point in time, the option would be open. I wouldn’t know where to get the presidential Saturday address from four months ago, would you?
But there’s also the difference between the spoken word and the written word. For a person like the current president who is an introvert and very logical, a written post is an opportunity to lay out a chain of logic that might be more convincing than a tale or a metaphor committed to radio and less likely to be mischaracterized or misquoted.
When you get down to it, the difference between a blog and a weekly address are small considering the effort expended. But the audience reach and the viral capability seem to me to favor blogging. No doubt someone will point out that the radio address goes out to a population that may not have or use computers. To that I say, keep talking. Just remember to publish the speech to your blog when you are done so that the digital natives have it too.
Look, we know the old truism that if you don’t have customers and profits you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. But could we please get a little balance on the profit idea?
Emerging companies typically don’t declare profits because they use excess cash to fuel growth. Anything left over is plowed back into the business. If the company is public, its stock price rises not because of some magical ratio of earnings or dividends to share price, but because the money the company invests in its people, processes, technologies, research and development and products make it a more valuable entity to anyone looking at its future. The mini-computer makers were famous for this. I recall Digital rising to $199.50 per share with never a dividend. It’s a good model.
This is the basis for my argument that subscription companies are being given short shrift by Wall Street analysts because they apply metrics more in tune with the manufacturing era than the information age. You might disagree because companies like Salesforce, NetSuite and many others not yet public get plenty of attention. But that misses the mark.
Because the analysts don’t track things like unbilled deferred revenue, a measure of how much money is under contract but not yet on the books, they don’t get a realistic view of a subscription company’s health. And since the analysts influence who buys what stocks and at what price, the market pricing mechanism in the stock markets may not be giving subscription companies — or investors —a fair shake.
I caught up with Tien Tzuo last week to discuss this. Tzuo, you may recall was CMO and chief strategy officer at Salesforce before co-founding Zuora, the subscription billing and finance company. Say what you want about Tzuo but he isn’t shy when it comes to expressing his ideas about subscriptions. Last week he was seen speaking on CNBC and wrote an article for All Things D on subscriptions with NetFlix’s recent stunning 40% appreciation in the background. He believes some companies’ meteoric growth spurts are directly attributable to eschewing conventional Wall Street wisdom regarding profits and earnings. The examples he gave me say a lot.
“Salesforce vs. WebEx. For years, WebEx was on a growth path that was 6 months ahead of Salesforce’s. Then they went public, and listened to Wall Street’s insistence on earnings. Wrong move. Salesforce ignored it, overtook WebEx within 6 months after WebEx went public, and went on to soar to much greater heights.
“Successfactors vs. Taleo. Same thing, Taleo cared about earnings, SFSF went contrarian and said, ‘Hey not only are we not going to show earnings, we’re going to spend all our IPO money on growth, and show losses for years.’ SFSF started off a fraction of Taleo’s size, overtook them, and wound up with a $3.4 billion exit [SAP bought SFSF in 2012] which was almost two times greater than Taleo’s [Oracle bought Taleo for $1.9 billion in 2012].
“And finally, to bring it back to current events, Netflix. They didn’t listen to Wall Street (they never have); they knew their strategy was focusing on customers, and customers more and more want movies anywhere, on any devices, not just on DVDs, and they followed their customers’ lead. This week when the stock soared 40% higher was a big vindication for them.
Tzuo has a point and essays like his and speaking out are ways that the establishment eventually changes. Of course this isn’t a statistically valid study though I am sure such things exist but it does raise some important questions. If Wall Street is not valuing subscription companies correctly it is causing a lot of money to be left on the table.
Traditionally, it takes the establishment some time to come around on a shift this fundamental. After all, we wouldn’t want standards and controls to change so frequently that they failed in their primary mission. But at the same time, as a wise man once told me, no one should have to be hit over the head with an old tire tool to see what’s so plainly obvious.
All this affects CRM because the financial analysts have a great deal of influence. But too much influence can inhibit companies developing the next great application by preventing capital formation where it’s needed. Given how much of CRM and social are delivered as subscription applications by emerging companies today, it’s a concern. So Wall Street really does need to kick it up a notch or two.
We have too many social platforms according to Dorie Clark in a Harvard Business School Blog posting and I am speechless. Good thing I can still write. One passage in Clark’s piece is amazingly illustrative:
“During a panel I moderated with well-known blogger and tech expert Robert Scoble, he said there was no alternative to constant, ubiquitous engagement and held up a spare battery he carried for his smartphone, so he’d never run out of juice. No time to respond to tweets? Do it while you’re walking down the hallway, he said. Plenty of people agree with him.
Ok? But at some point there are only so many minutes in a day, so many hallways to walk down and so many more social platforms.
Please allow me to offer a modest alternative. Why not stop and listen and analyze what’s coming in over the transom rather than constantly bailing. You are, after all, in no real danger of sinking your little social boat.
This posting is largely good news because it indicates we might be nearing the end of the social hype curve. This could be the year of focusing on all the other things that social is really good at like listening and through analytics, helping us to synthesize novel responses.
If we get away from pure broadcast mode and apply some analytics we might discover things like sentiment, emotion, intent, demographics, likes, interests, influence and who knows what else.
Of course, back in the day all we had was broadcast, which might mean that social really is maturing. That always happens at the end of the hype curve and miraculously we start getting some of the productivity that was promised way back at the beginning.