When to Give Customers What They Didn't Ask For: Q&A With Salesforce.com CMO Kendall Collins
"Customers are always going to be your most important input, but you have to look beyond what they're asking for today and ask yourself what they're going to need tomorrow," says Salesforce CMO Kendall Collins. "For example, it's important that our apps be able to run on the iPad although customers aren't asking for it today, because in our view, the iPad's a very important trend when it comes to the mobile Internet."
Over the years, Salesforce.com has gradually transformed itself from being a CRM company to a cloud services provider.
Along the way, it partnered with leading-edge Web 2.0 companies such as Google and Facebook, and most recently, it teamed up with virtualization giant VMware to offer VMforce, a new platform for application developers.
Its innovations have all been introduced with an eye to fulfilling customers' future needs, chief marketing officer Kendall Collins told CRM Buyer.
CRM Buyer: Where is Salesforce going with the launch of VMforce?
Kendall Collins: The vision is a very simple one -- that any developer anywhere in the world should be able to build any application and do it with incredible speed and ease, and take advantage of all the incredible things that are happening on the Internet in terms of collaboration and sharing.
There are a lot of obstacles in what the competition is doing; the traditional application development paradigm is to buy an application server, buy a database, set up a network, put data in the database, get it up and running, set up an application development team, set up a team of quality engineers. That's a really difficult process.
We let developers focus on the application but outsource the infrastructure, application services, security and reliability to Force.com.
CRM: Who does the testing? The QA? Testing is crucial in app development, as you know.
Collins: One of the things that's great about Force.com is there's a lot less testing to do because we have a team of people testing the security, the reliability, and that lets the application developers hone in on testing the functionality.
So now they can focus on testing whether their business functionality is working. Testing has always played an important role in application development, but now it can be narrowed down to making applications work.
CRM: Does Salesforce.com still consider itself a CRM company or, as it recently relabeled itself, a cloud computing company?
Collins: Salesforce.com is the enterprise cloud computing company. CRM is a core part of our strategy. They're not exclusive by any means, but the broader opportunity for cloud computing and its intersection with social computing is enormous. There's a huge overlap between these markets.
We clearly started with a CRM application, but that required delivering an incredible platform. People have always wanted to have a unique and dynamic process for working with their customers, and in order to do that, they have always required a great platform, and cloud computing provided exactly that.
Over the years, we listened to customers, and they wanted to build custom fields and custom applications that augmented their CRM, and we opened up our tools to customers so they could build best-in-class applications for their CRM.
CRM: One of Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff's principles is to listen to prospective customers. How do you listen to people who aren't your customers yet? What do you say, "Look, you aren't a customer but I'm interested in what you've got to say?"
Collins: We're always going to listen to the customer and listen to the market very, very closely and that's been a source of our innovation. Even something as recent as our Jigsaw acquisition has been driven by customers.
But you have to balance listening to the customer with an open eye to innovation and to where the market is headed. We're delivering Chatter now. Is that something our CRM customers wanted? Probably not, but that's part of a bigger picture -- the Cloud Two.
If you go back 11 years, people at Oracle and Siebel and SAP were listening to their customers. But it took a significant leap, just like Steve Jobs took a significant leap in creating the iPad, to really give them what they needed.
You don't get that just by listening to customers. Customers are always going to be your most important input, but you have to look beyond what they're asking for today and ask yourself what they're going to need tomorrow. For example, it's important that our apps be able to run on the iPad although customers aren't asking for it today, because in our view, the iPad's a very important trend when it comes to the mobile Internet.
CRM: I hear Salesforce thinks so highly of the iPad that it's equipping all its senior executives with one.
Collins: Yes. The iPad is incredibly important because the use case for the mobile Internet is only growing. People are accessing the Internet in increasing proportion through mobile devices and doing it through smartphones instead of computers and, increasingly, through the iPad.
CRM: So, you have to anticipate what your customer wants?
Collins: It's very important to chart your direction as a company not to where the market is today and what customers need today; it's very important to think about what customers will need in a year.
The way we do this is to look at the consumer Web. The No. 1 use case on the consumer Web now is Facebook; the No. 2 use case is YouTube. Video is an important part of our marketing strategy, but what's interesting about YouTube is its whole tie-in about how people are collaborating with rich content and sharing content with people on other networks. YouTube is a social network that's based around video as a content medium.
Looking at YouTube and Facebook defines Salesforce.com's strategy for the next decade. It's about people sharing networks and sharing information with each other, sharing the Internet in new ways like the iPhone and the iPad.
Chatter is really the epitomization of that. It's not something that grew out of customers coming to us a year ago and demanding collaboration from us at a different level. They didn't ask for it. Now that we have delivered Chatter and people are using it, they kinda wonder how they lived without it.
CRM: Chatter leverages social networks like Facebook and YouTube. How do you ensure enterprise security?
Collins: Salesforce.com is a trusted enterprise provider and security is job No. 1 for us. Over the past decade, we have built one of the most trusted enterprise platforms in the world, and the most trusted enterprise cloud computing in the world.
We take all the expertise we have in security and bring it to Chatter. What that means is, if you were to turn off Chatter tomorrow, all the privacy and security settings in Salesforce.com will still be in place.
A very important thing that's different between an enterprise social model and a consumer social model is that the enterprise social model is typically closed and you have to open it up, whereas a consumer social model is open and you have to close it down. They come from opposite directions.
In Salesforce.com, you have a private sharing model and you open up sharing.
CRM: Where is CRM going with the integration of voice and call-tracking and other technologies?
Collins: Increasingly, communication is moving to the Internet, so the way communicating with customers is integrated tightly with CRM is going to be very important in where Salesforce.com and the industry go.
Another area impacting CRM is social media in general. As more and more of our personal data resides on the Internet, you need to be able to reach people on Facebook, on Linked-in. Customers are going to have to look to a much more collaborative CRM that leverages the power of social media, the power of online bases and the wisdom of crowds to have accurate information as to whom they're really marketing to.