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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.