Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is still in a buying mood

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.

Salesforce.com, which hasn’t exactly been shy and retiring on the acquisition front over the years, plans to keep right on buying companies and technologies it needs to bolster its marketing and support services push.

“We need to buy more marketing companies. We want to be the company you turn to for sales, service, marketing and the platform,” CEO Marc Benioff told analysts on the company’s fourth quarter earnings call Thursday afternoon. “We want to grow organically and via acquisition.”

For its fourth quarter, the company reported a loss of $20.8 million, compared to a loss of $4.1 million for the same period last year.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff speaking in New York this week.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff speaking in New York this week.

Marketing technology has become a hot spot over the past few years. Salesforce.com ponied up $326 million for Radian6 (social media monitoring) in 2011 and then $800 million for Buddy Media (social marketing) to buy both mind share and market share. But rivals have also spent big — Oracle bought Eloqua a few months ago for $871 million. The working theory behind this activity, as Benioff said on the call, is the belief that at some point in the near future chief marketing officers (CMOs) will have more IT buying power than CIOs.

Asked what Salesforce should do to counter Oracle/Eloqua, Benioff returned to the acquisition trail: “I think we’ll buy small and big. We’re going to be aggressive and look at everything.”

Salesforce.com, which started out as a customer relationship management (CRM) or sales-force automation (SFA) company, now also focuses on three other businesses: marketing; help desk type services (desk.com) and “the platform.” The latter is presumably both Force.com, the company’s internal development platform and Heroku, the Platform as a Service it bought three years ago.

But it’s difficult to get any feel for how those newer businesses are faring — although Salesforce did lay off a hundred or so employees from Buddy Media and Radian6 last fall. Asked about traction for its “non-SFA businesses,” CFO Graham Smith didn’t get specific, referring to comments made at the company’s Dreamforce show last fall. “It’s been a pretty gradual shift. I suspect it’s close to what we said then with 55 percent [of business] SFA and 45 percent non-SFA … As our more recently acquired businesses grow at a faster rate than sales cloud we’d expect a shift away from SFA but hopefully not too fast.”

Benioff did say that social advertising — in the marketing group — is probably the company’s fastest growing business. But it would be really nice to hear what sort of new, non SFA accounts are buying these new services and how much overlap there is between its CRM customers and consumers of these other services.

Your guess is as good as mine, because Salesforce.com ain’t sharing.

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