Salesforce’s just announced Q1 FY 2019 results beating analyst estimates and causing the stock to rise 3.9 percent. The company had been advising investors that it expected to grow to $12 billion and in the fiscal year and the Q1 results of $3.01 billion keep it on track. That’s a 25 percent increase year-over-year with first quarter operating cashflow of $1.47 billion up 19 percent.
The company adopted an alphabet soup of new regulations in the quarter including ASC 606 which deals with how subscription companies recognize revenue. From the press release:
Unearned revenue, representing ASC 606 deferred revenue less the cumulative timing differences of recognized revenue from ASC 606 adoption, on the balance sheet as of April 30, 2018 was $6.20 billion, an increase of 25% year-over-year, and 23% in constant currency.
That’s an important measure, before ASC 606 subscription companies had various approaches to recognizing booked revenues that had been held in reserve to pay future subscription fees. This points out the power of the subscription model. In contrast to conventional revenues that start at zero each fiscal year, subscription customers commit to purchases well into the future making it easier for a company to hit its growth targets.
The rise of subscriptions had caused some inconsistencies in revenue booking across the industry and ASC 606 and other regulations will help regularize that process. Look for other companies like Oracle to go through a similar adjustment as their cloud strategy takes hold.
They did it again. Salesforce exceeded its year over year quarterly earnings by a tidy amount. The numbers are 24 percent YOY growth on revenues of $2.85 billion. Full year revenue was $10.48 billion. Next year their guidance to financial analysts is revenues of $12.60 to $12.65 billion.
Stop for a minute. Do you know how hard this is to pull off? It’s not just that Salesforce exceeded $10 billion for the year, which was an important goal. It’s that they’ve been a growth company for almost two decades. Every year more corporations buy into Salesforce’s version of cloud computing for CRM, for ancillary applications from the AppExchange, and for building their own apps from scratch for a variety of platforms (all at once) ranging from the handheld device to the (dare we say legacy?) desktop.
Forgive me for going on, there will be no free steak knives at the end of this, but Salesforce has for many years been on of the very best companies on the planet to work for. And, again no parting gifts here either, they have built a business model that has philanthropy, a.k.a. doing good while doing well, built in.
To paraphrase Paul and Robert in “Butch Cassidy” “Who are these guys?!”
Okay, okay, they aren’t perfect. They change their marketing strategy as fast as most people change their socks. They’ve been a hosted CRM company, a SaaS company, a social company, a cloud company, they’ve embraced analytics and IoT as if they were the second coming. They’re also into teaching, training, making it possible for ever more people to use their stuff. They’re hard to keep up with.
But Salesforce, more than any company I know about seems to luxuriate in the idea of destruction as a means of creation. If something doesn’t work out exactly right, they have no problem scrapping it and finding something better. They grow because they embrace the new and the difficult.
But back to the degree of difficulty. It is hard, hard to put up better numbers year after year and do the other things but lately that’s become part of their appeal. Other, larger companies now go to Salesforce to discover their secrets and because their secret sauce is embedded in their software and how they use it, selling Salesforce is no longer about product. Actually, it’s still that but now it’s also about knowledge and culture transfer. That, combined with a subscription model that gets customers to commit to multi-year deals, suggests that this growth curve can extend well into the future. We’re seeing something special happening.
Show season changes the CRM market, it always does. One day you’re in the vanilla application software space and a week later you understand the need to incorporate social media, or analytics or machine learning or you see a need for enhanced integration and development through platform services. It goes on.
Today, in the wake of Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft, and many other companies’ trade shows, we’re again taking a look at the available suites. But this time, we need to think less about what’s been added and how well integrated the components are.
With Oracle now a year into rolling out its cloud strategy, we can’t say we’re in cloud computing’s early days any more. We’re in a race to computing as a ubiquitous utility like electricity, water and natural gas.
Oracle was the last cloud holdout, the last company that led with its legacy on-premise products. Today they’ve reinvented themselves to offer infrastructure, platform and applications or any combination as services. They might talk a good game about supporting legacy customers forever, and that will be necessary, but they’d like nothing better than to convert the legacy base to cloud infrastructure. And make no mistake about it new cloud based apps is the eventual goal. Much the same is true of Microsoft whose end user products like Office are now being delivered by subscription even if some of the software still resides on the desktop.
Salesforce was, of course, born in the cloud and it hasn’t suffered through a transition though for almost 20 years it has been undeniably causing one. The disruption impacted everyone else but the next disruption, or whatever we’ll call it, is affecting even Salesforce. With typical poise Salesforce is taking it all in stride and is even taking a leadership position.
The disruption turns form purely delivering technology to focusing on how it is used. The focus is very important to Salesforce and all the others because it will have a direct impact on how much of its services (we used to call it software but this is now) get bought and deployed.
So we see increasing emphasis on learning how to develop apps and administer them even to the point of opening up the training platform, Trailhead, to enable partners to develop training programs for their custom apps.
In the background there’s also an effort to standardize on processes that deserves attention. Back in the day, a process was carved in stone. Your organization used a 7 step sales process or maybe a 5 step one. Introducing a 7-step process into a 5-step organization was enough to set off a riot. It was something you did only very carefully if at all. In that era there were sales methodology companies (still are) and there were software companies and each would tell you their products were agnostic. They were too, with a little coding.
But today it’s different. The introduction of AI and machine learning has made both methods and applications secondary. Yes they’re still important but, no, they don’t rule the roost. Everywhere sales people seem to be sidestepping the argument about which method is better in favor of adopting an attitude of doing what the AI system suggests is the next thing needed to advance a deal. As it should be.
Platform based CRM with robust partner communities and their apps have brought us to the point of fully integrated and automated business processes. Customization has never been easier thanks to the platform too. The next step in our journey will be inventing new business processes that derive from our need for, and attempt to be, more agile, to flexibly approach new opportunities.
That’s what has been most interesting to me about show season. Each vendor has, in it’s own way, made a tacit nod to the primacy of data and analytics for automating processes. In that event, they’ve also begun closing the door on business processes that momentarily pop out of the automation sluice and into a spreadsheet or other manual thinking.
The change isn’t only recognizable in sales though selling is a big beneficiary with solutions that include SFA, CPQ, admin functions, AI, ML, compensation management and gobs of graphically rich reporting. Marketing is a rich area with its newfound abilities to identify, target, hand off, score, and journey map. And service has its own rich tool set most significantly analytics married to multi-channel abilities to take customers from beginning to end of a support journey without necessarily bringing in a human.
In all of this businesses are freeing up employee time for higher-level tasks that add value to customer experiences well beyond getting a deal or a right answer. This is where the customer facing jobs of the future will come from. They will demand more and different people skills as well as technical mastery.
That’s why this show season has been a turning point. I think it will be looked back on as the time we began a more disciplined approach to customers and employees as people who interact with technology, not just as various flavors of technologists.
Salesforce recently announced the partial attainment of one of its long-range goals. In its second quarter earnings announcement the company said it had eclipsed its goal of a $10 billion run rate. This will be followed by similar announcements over the next year (first $10 billion year, etc.) and why not? They should celebrate.
Second quarter revenue hit $2.56 billion a 26 percent increase year over year, but for all the fanfare, anyone watching the evolution of the company and the market should not be surprised. Take nothing away from the skillful engineering and deft management over a prolonged period, but this day should surprise no one in that it was inevitable that some company would reach this milestone.
It’s also not surprising that a long list of established software companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, or others didn’t get there first. To understand the moment, we need to understand some of the economics behind it all.
First and foremost, Salesforce embraced a disruptive innovation like no other company. Established businesses like Oracle and Microsoft initially gave SaaS no attention and if they did, they denigrated it. The denigration was a great sign that the big guys were concerned but as always it seems concern didn’t turn into action until very late in the game. Siebel was upended by it. Oracle and Microsoft are right now still trying to establish their credentials. Established markets and business models prevented others from taking advantage of what SaaS could offer.
At the same time direct competitors of Salesforce did something just as foolhardy, they underestimated what they had. As an analyst covering the emergence of SaaS I could see that most other vendors saw SaaS, or hosted computing as it was briefly called then, as merely another delivery mode for software. As far as they were concerned they’d sell you the same product with various delivery options, such as a VPN, and call it a day.
What nobody saw, perhaps not even Salesforce, is that SaaS was and is a dramatic commoditization of IT. The SaaS era is the second half of what I refer to as The Age of Information and Telecommunications in a forthcoming book. In every age the first half is expansionary and inflationary and the period from 1971 to 1999 did that for IT. Those were years of costly systems, over runs, and big commission checks. But sooner or later markets revolt against runaway costs especially because a new technology has become so integral to life as we know it.
That’s when an industry turns its attention to efficiencies and economies and that’s precisely what Salesforce offered out of the shoot. Where other CRM products were complex and hard to customize, Salesforce positioned itself as easy (it had to be—the original product only had 4 tabs). Where others had expensive licenses, Salesforce charged by the seat-month. And where others needed expensive hardware and training, Salesforce bundled the hardware and promised an intuitive interface (again thanks to having just 4 tabs).
It all worked. Many people, including me, have explained Salesforce’s success along the lines of “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” and there was certainly a grass roots, bottom up factor operating as there is with most disruptive innovations. But the fact that Salesforce has been able to grow to dominate the industry that it was a late entry to suggests more was at work.
Perhaps the biggest question now is where we go from here. Most of the time, a company in this situation consolidates its position and rides off into the sunset. For Salesforce that would mean becoming the biggest name in CRM which they’ve done, at least by measures like Magic Quadrants. But so far they’ve resisted the temptation to go on autopilot. Every two years or so, they introduce new wrinkles that roil the markets and make everyone scramble to be the fastest follower.
Concentrating on their platform, machine learning and analytics, mobility, social networking, its partner ecosystem, and other topics has given the solution set a breadth and reach that is more appropriate for a general purpose software development house. That’s clearly where the company is taking this. There might still be 50 percent white space in the CRM market but it’s very niche oriented. So it makes sense to take a broader look at the market to ask where a 10 billion dollar company can have an effect that will move its revenue needle enough for Wall Street to notice.
Small companies especially have a distance to travel in adopting CRM-like solutions and much of their future adoption will depend on ease of use driven by the analytics and machine learning that Salesforce and others are building. Another growth possibility is IoT but I see yellow flags in the distance. IoT is in many ways another approach to commoditizing IT, but for non-human customers, and it is a market that will consolidate quickly around a few standards. More worrying, I think IoT will reach commodity status very quickly with few vendors able to make a living there.
For now it’s all in the future. Salesforce has done an amazing job of navigating this far for so long with such good results. It’s one of the biggest software companies in the world right now, the fastest to grow to $10 billion. Good job! Now back to work.
I swear I was getting through this and trying to move on. She wasn’t my favorite candidate but when you consider the alternative she looked like George Washington in a pantsuit. Like many people I had moved on from denial and anger to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ next stage in the grief pyramid called bargaining. He can’t be that bad…they can tame him…I’m going back to work, he can’t chase me there…I’ll be okay.
But noooo! A brief story in the New York Times today says Donald Trump, incipient POTUS is planning to hold a technology conference next week. It’s right here under this headline, “Trump Plans Technology Conference With Silicon Valley Executives.” The article by David Streitfeld, Maggie Haberman, and Michael D. Shear covers a lot of ground what with Trump also seeming to have cancelled the next generation of Air Force One today, which is also in the piece.
Says the article, “The list of those being invited was not immediately clear, but they could include Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Timothy D. Cook of Apple and Sundar Pichai of Google.” Sure, that’s right, Silicon Valley CEOs have nothing scheduled that far out so of course they’ll all trudge over to Trump Tower. Whatever it is, when a president asks for your time, he’s doing it in the name of all the American people so you more or less have to attend.
The one saving grace in all this might be (and we really don’t know all the details yet) the fact that these are all consumer technology mavens so far. Maybe Trump has a punch list of social media enhancements to go over or maybe he intends to build a wall between our electrons and the rest of the world. Or maybe Trump just wanted to call a fly-in for rich guys to compare private aircraft. His is bigger, you know.
Regardless, I’ll withhold judgment on Trump’s tech chops until I know if this is just show and tell for social media or if he really wants the skinny on what to expect in areas like machine learning, AI, the IoT, and a half dozen other techno-wizbangs that will rock his world soon. I’ll begin to worry when Ellison, Benioff, and Gates get summoned.