Marc Benioff, chairman of Salesforce.com, met with dozens of reporters and analysts at the company’s annual Dreamforce conference this week and fielded a wide range of questions, from clarifying plans for its marketing cloud (it will happen) to expressing opinions on the U.S. economy (what recession?). Benioff stayed on message, promoting the cloud and his plans for the social enterprise throughout this exchange.
The following is a selection of questions and answers:
You showed the napkin on which you mapped out Burberry Ltd.'s strategy for a social enterprise and talked about other big-name customers highlighting Salesforce.com's work to help them create social enterprise strategies. How do you help everyone else?
Marc Benioff: We have 100,000 napkins (laughs). We have come up with a template. The Burberry template [is based on] things that are important to them, their brand and the feelings associated with their brand, which is important to them, but if you look at that napkin and compare it to the Toyota template, the Coca-Cola template, they're all very similar. We sent 300 executives out to 1,000 customers [this year], and they are building a catalogue by industry, and we will have hundreds of these [templates] within a year. This is a huge shift for us and for our sales organization.
What is with the new pricing strategy and how do you address concepts like “enterprise user” or “lite user”?
There isn’t a good answer [on pricing]. You have robust users in the enterprise using all these apps. There are developers using them at the developer level and many different kinds of users.
As Alan [Boehme, chief technology officer at Coca-Cola] said, “I don’t care.” He wants a whole social enterprise license. [The licensing agreements] will all be different. We need to define it and then we need to price it. Maybe this will be dominated still by per-user pricing. Our pricing has evolved, as we move into this C-suite of selling. It also appeals to small companies [where] we aren’t a massive part of budget.
Will Apex be central to Salesforce’s multiple programming language push?
Benioff: At the last Dreamforce, we saw a huge reception for having a more open platform. Apex is great, but there are other languages, and Java is not the end of it. You will see more languages emerge [and supported by Salesforce.com]. Developers want choice. Once they get in they don’t change often. It becomes to them very much a religious decision, and we have to meet them where they are. That’s one of the reasons the Heroku acquisition was critical.
Is Chatter more a CRM tool or are you pitching it to a more general enterprise customer?
Benioff: We see Chatter as an enterprise social network. When we talk to our customers here, we approach it more as CRM, but you will see video capability coming in Chatter; that is a generalized group capability. You can create a group in Chatter and now you can include others, and that is a generalized function. We have the evolution of Chatter as an open service, and you will see it, it is the most successful of all the enterprise networks. When we say we have 100,000 networks, those are active networks. No one has more active networks than we do.
What happened to the idea of a marketing cloud?
Benioff: We are evaluating building a full marketing cloud. The hottest category in marketing is social monitoring, and we are building out a complete marketing cloud.
Now that you showcased Kenandy, a new cloud-based ERP company, as one of your key independent software vendors, it raises the question of the robustness of the Force.com platform for mission-critical applications. How is Salesforce going to provide the assurance manufacturers are going to need about availability?
Benioff: We have a 13-year operating history, and you can see the level of transparency we have. I would put it up against any world-class [data centers], and we will be better. It isn’t that we won’t have problems. We occasionally have a problem, but these are the problems that CIOs [chief information officers] have. You have to look at our operating history. We aren’t trying to hide, if we have an outage, something not running. I am confident to put it against anybody else. That’s why we have our trust site. Are we perfect? No. Do we need to improve? Absolutely.
With the announcement of the Data Residency Option (DRO) you are recognizing that some companies do not want all their data in the cloud. How much leeway are you prepared to give customers?
Benioff: I think for us, the No. 1 thing is, we need to really hold on to our apps; we are in charge of them, of upgrading them, and the reality is the vast majority of data management we are very good at. But there may be specific situations, say, a financial services customer, where they don’t give us certain fields. They want to hold onto them for corporate policy or it could be a local government reason. The DRO lets you selectively choose which fields you want to keep in the data center. The vast majority [of customers] won’t be interested, but for some very large companies with very specific issues, we will do that.
Has recent economic news, including concerns about another recession, shaken your confidence? Are you slowing down hiring?
Benioff: I am only accelerating. We are adding more than 1,000 positions this year and we are aggressively growing our company. We had a fantastic quarter; I don’t know if this is true of all companies, I am not an economist. I feel good about jobs, the global economy, [but I understand concerns] when I see volatility in the stock market. I think this [conference attendance] is the way to take the temperature.
Isn’t it time to retire the no-software slogan?
Benioff: No, it’s not. It’s fantastic. It’s what people identify with. It’s the cloud. It’s not about software. We need differentiation. [Sometimes even I ask] ‘can’t we just let this go? Who cares?’ But, [competitors] are going to say, ‘We have everything they have,’ and that is false. Beware the false cloud.