Salesforce.com (s CRM) has moved beyond providing customer relationship management software as a service and wants to be simply the provider of enterprise software as a service, as a recent Facebook interaction illustrates. I’m a Facebook “friend” of Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, which has its advantages. Recently I saw the following appear on his wall:
Others have commented on what a change it is having a billion-dollar software company reach out to the community like this – but beyond social media this shows how Salesforce.com is moving from being a customer relationship management focused player, to being a true multi-disciplined technology company. The question asked by Benioff offers a real insight into where Salesforce.com is.
Clearly it is seen as the quintessential SaaS company — but out of necessity for continued growth, it has moved beyond this — Chatter, the AppExchange, Force.com, VMforce are all examples of Salesforce.com wanting to be much more than a simple (or even complex) sales tool. Initially Force.com created a programming platform to allow Salesforce.com customers to significantly broaden the functionality of their applications while the AppExchange created a marketplace for developers to sell those applications. More recently Chatter has sought to broaden the impact of Salesforce.com by creating a social feature set while VMforce moves decidedly down the stack in an effort to offer a platform as a service.
Which is why the simple question posted on Facebook is pretty telling — the cutlines under the ads tell of two fundamentally different propositions –- one limited and focused on sales, the other offering a broader enterprise toolset. I expect the messaging from inside Salesforce.com to becomes less sales-centric going forward as the product and the target market becomes broader.
This is more than just Salesforce.com grappling with its market perception however. Others in enterprise software consider it a threat as well. For example, Microsoft’s (s msft) patent infringement lawsuit and IBM’s (s ibm) product related reactions to Salesforce’s move to the cloud give an indication of just how seriously the rest of the industry regards the company. While it was a CRM company only, the threat vector was only directed in one specific area, but its moves of late to become a player at every level of the stack has made the industry sit up and take notice.
For those wondering, my advice to Benioff was simple; I told him to chose the image on the right, it’s clearly where Salesforce.com as a business is headed.
Ben Kepes is an independent consultant and contributing writer for GigaOM. Please see his disclosure statement in his bio.