Salesforce finally solidifies European data center plans

The UK-sited data center, which should help settle the compliance worries of many of Salesforce’s European customers, will be completed in 2014. The firm is also running a €5 million Innovation Challenge for EU startups.

SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff plays ‘what’s my metaphor?’

I attended the Salesforce event in New York City today, and I should have just watched the video stream and saved myself the trouble.

As had been hinted at in a recent interview (see SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff backing off social?), CEO Marc Benioff has reoriented the company’s positioning around ‘becoming a customer company’, and he’s dropping the former marketing messaging around social business. Strangely missing was any real recapitulation of the reasoning behind his efforts in the past around social business, including the company’s failed attempt to trademark that term. Also unmentioned is the widely known bad smell coming from the Buddy Media and Radian6 acquisitions. Maybe it soured his appreciation of social, or maybe he decided that too many other companies were using the term and — like marketers generally do — they were watering it down until it ceased to have meaning.

Marc’s story is that he spent some time last summer reading ‘everything’ he could find about where the modern business was heading. And specifically, he found some insight in an IBM report called Leading Through Connections, and this caught his eye:

For some time now, businesses have been refining and optimizing their networks of suppliers and partners. They’re streamlining supply chains, creating massive back-office efficiencies and perfecting everything from just-in-time inventory to predictive merchandising. But something just as meaningful has been happening in the marketplace — the sudden convergence of the digital, social and mobile spheres — connecting customers, employees and partners in new ways to organizations and to each other.

Benioff and company now think of social as a force — principally arising in the ‘consumer’ or personal sphere — so that various user experience motifs are changing how we think about communication. But in the new schematics he offered in his presentation, social is on a par with mobile, touch, and local, not as the end goal of company-wide transformation. The purpose of business is now to become a customer company, by which he means putting the customer at the center of everything, involved as that prime mover in all activities.

I think this is mostly sizzle and not much steak. Yes, companies are beset by a long list of challenges (mostly having to do with coping with a radically changed economy and wildly accelerating and changeable markets), and there are a short list of new disruptive technologies — including mobile, social, etc. — that offer opportunities to counter the challenges and exploit these technologies to move the company forward. But I don’t think customer obsession is the central theme of what we will see companies doing in the near term. I am still betting on innovation around business operations, based on the transition from business process to social networks for communication, collaboration, and  coordination. We’ll have to see — as Salesforce rolls out more information over the course of the year, leading up to DreamForce — whether this vision is more process or network. At this point, it’s not clear.

One aside: I think at one point in a demo I saw a SalesForce-to-SalesForce communication. I am going to track someone down to find out if I was seeing things because that, no matter what metaphor is being waved about, would be very, very interesting.

This is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

Winston Churchill was searching for a phrase to capture the sense of a turning tide in the war with Nazi Germany after the defeat of Rommel in North Africa, and came up with ‘the end of the beginning’.

In the past week a number of events and observations combined to give me the sense that we are, perhaps, at the end of the beginning with regard to social business.

Several of those stimuli came at last week’s Social Media Week. At one session, I was impressed at the transition that the various panelists recounted going on in businesses large and small, as they adopt social media tools for customer support, and the changes that this is causing:

Stowe Boyd, We’re at the customer support stage of social business

The big take away for me was that social customer support is happening, and it is growing fast. More importantly, tools that people use for social media marketing are likely to be a mismatch with the needs of customer support staff. However, in a lot of companies, marketing ‘owned’ the social channel to the business. They were the first out there, using Twitter and Facebook, analyzing sentiment about the company’s products and services, and trying to influence influencers to advocate.

Then, as people online saw that GoDaddy was on Twitter, they naturally assumed they could use that medium for customer support issues: How do I do this? Why doesn’t that work? Why did I get charged for a domain registration? And, at first, those messages were received by marketing folks. Marketing folks who are not necessarily trained in technical issues. So they were being passed along to customer support, and so, we enter a new stage of social business: the customer support stage.

Another major indicator of an inflection point — perhaps of a different kind — is coming from Salesforce.com (see Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff backing off on social?). Apparently the acquisitions of Buddy Media and Radian6 have not turned out too well, and as a result it seems the company is moving away from — or dropping altogether — its former focus on social. The company even tried — and failed — to trademark the expression. I am attending a Salesforce event in NYC tomorrow, where CEO Marc Benioff is giving a keynote, so I’ll have more to report then. I am betting that even if Benioff opts to rally around new marketing based on ‘customer-centric computing’ it will turn out to be social at the core, anyway.

Also on the corporate knife-fighting side of things, Cisco attacked Microsoft the night before its first Lync User Conference for being too PC-focused in a post-PC world (see  Cisco goes after Microsoft Lync on breadth of collaboration). This demonstrate only that the competition is heating up in the social software marketplace, and the stake are getting serious.

My bet is that other indications of us moving into a new phase, where social business moves from experimental and used exclusively by innovators and early adopters into mainstream early majority adoption, to use the Ev Rogers’ terminology.

Everett Roger's Diffusion of Innovations curve source Wikipedia

Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations curve
source Wikipedia

Adam Pisoni, the CTO of Yammer, made the case for the kind of adoption going on in the earlier stage being driven by a desire to have the same sort of communication they were using on the open web  but in the business context:

Yammer exists because companies weren’t offering these [many-to-many] communication tools to their employees, and employees really wanted efficient communication that lets them connect to each other, wherever they are, whenever they need to.

I think we’ll continue to see rogue adoption, but also increasingly, companies moving more deliberately to roll out social tools and practices across the company as a means to get the next stage of productivity and innovation.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff backing off on social?

I wrote recently (see We’re at the customer support stage of social business) that social business is entering a customer support stage, and moving past the social media marketing phase. Maybe there is a faint echo of that in recent movements at Salesforce away from the ‘social enterprise’ concept they’ve been hawking.

Aaron Ricadella, Salesforce CEO Benioff Tries Out Some New Material

For the past couple of years, Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff has been pitching prospective customers on becoming “social enterprises,” capitalizing on the buzz around social networking. In an interview, Benioff revealed his company’s new tagline: “customer companies.” After withdrawing a trademark application for the old brand last year, Benioff plans to formally introduce “customer companies” at a Feb. 26 event at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. The presentation, which he previewed during an interview at his home in San Francisco this month, will include a smattering of everything that’s hot in tech: Facebook, Twitter, iPads, “big data,” self-driving cars and the Nest thermostat. […] “We are our customers’ customer platform,” Benioff said. “That’s not where Oracle or Microsoft or SAP have focused.” […] But the company’s long-touted “social enterprise” concept wasn’t winning many fans, Peter Goldmacher, an analyst at Cowen and Co., said in a Jan. 24 research note. It’s against the backdrop that Salesforce is making changes to how it sells the strategy. The “social” component has been a big part of Salesforce’s pitch to businesses. Benioff said he’s spent about $1 billion acquiring software makers that help companies place ads and communicate with users of their products through social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Yet the biggest such deal, for Buddy Media, hasn’t met Salesforce’s projections, said Brent Thill, an analyst at UBS. “They’ve been pretty up front that the Buddy deal didn’t work out,” he said.

And Peter Goldmacher specifically said this in that Jan 24 research note (according to Larry Dignan):

Despite making a big splash around Social at its user conference in October, conversations with the CRM ecosystem around weak “Social” pipeline conversion, a lack of customer traction around Social Marketing and accelerating declines in sales productivity lead us to believe that Salesforce’s latest marketing gambit isn’t paying off.

Personally, I don’t think Salesforce has the right tools to be promoting the social business, or even social CRM, which is where you’d think they’d be strongest. But Benioff seems to be heading the company toward a new push in task management, although they aren’t releasing those tools until October. I have asked for press credentials for the 26 February event. More to follow.

Do you really want your CMO in charge of IT?

It makes sense for the CMO to help pick which technology marketing uses — but marketing is just one of many departments of a company. In this age of BYOD, all that autonomy will lead to more “rogue” IT. That’s not always a good thing.

Salesforce pushes Heroku into big biz with full Java stack support

Heroku is morphing from what was a Ruby-focused PaaS for web developers to a fully Java-supportive PaaS for big business. At least that’s what Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff hopes as he integrates Heroku — purchased in 2010 — more tightly into the company’s overall platform.