Dreamforce 2012: Revolution Is Out
The CRM industry is used to getting a jolt every year from Dreamforce, Salesforce.com's annual mega-event. Each year, the number of attendees swells -- this year, it's more than 70,000 -- and that makes CEO Marc Benioff's bacchanal the epicenter of the CRM industry for a week.
That give Salesforce a chance to make a serious splash. Some years, it succeeds spectacularly. In other years, like in 2011, the attempt to change the game seemed strained -- the news didn't match the bombast.
This year, the company seems to have found the way to align the importance of the news with the degree of hype more effectively. Of course, this year's Dreamforce keynote was just as full of bombast and spectacle -- it kicked off with MC Hammer singing a modified version of two of his hits with Salesforce-centric lyrics -- but the presentation didn't go overboard in framing what looks like a year not of revolution but of integration, rationalization and incremental improvements for Salesforce and its product lines.
Solid but Not Sensational
For example, Benioff demonstrated new integrations between the technologies Salesforce acquired through its acquisitions of Radian6 and Buddy Media, dubbed Salesforce's "Marketing Cloud." It's a great social marketing tool, but it still lacks core marketing automation functionality.
Last year, one of the big buzz topics around the show was the idea that Salesforce would announce the acquisition of a marketing automation vendor; this has yet to happen, although it seems there's a clear spot in the Salesforce application constellation for such technology to reside.
Chatterbox, another technology unveiled on Wednesday, is a tool that syncs files across devices, allows users to read documents and securely share files. This application takes aim at Box.com, Dropbox.com and Microsoft's Sharepoint -- and it can be used for certain sales and service functions. It's useful -- but not exactly revolutionary.
Then there's Identity, which combines single sign-on with the ability to import data into Chatter. And Work.com, the result of Salesforce's acquisition of HR application creator Rypple. A cogent point was made about recruiting becoming more social, which is true -- just ask LinkedIn about that -- but again, Salesforce is not first on the scene, nor is it offering a revolutionary story.
Social's Not Surprising
The word "social" was used repeatedly -- the early part of the keynote felt like a rehash of what most of the industry has realized about social media for the last few years, although Benioff backed it up with some useful numbers. But the idea of social media is no longer revolutionary -- and it's certainly not new news for the folks who'd attend an event like Dreamforce.
The availability of Salesforce Touch may have been the most significant announcement, although its significance may be more evident to developers than to users. It not only allows Salesforce apps to operate on iOS and Android devices, but also provides a platform for Force.com developers to deploy their own applications. It was previewed a year ago, though, so its general availability was not a surprise.
Here's what Salesforce was great at offering: compelling visions and customer stories. A demonstration of how Virgin Airlines had recreated Chatter to enable its customer service agents to be nimble and collaborative was compelling, although it omitted anything about the process of customizing the application and, unfortunately, left out the key ingredient for long-term customer satisfaction -- the linkage of the improvisations agents can make back into the customer record.
Also strong was a case study showing how Commonwealth Bank was using the ingredients of the marketing cloud to surface conversations that reveal opportunities to create new customers and using Chatter for collaboration. Coca-Cola, Burberry, Activision and GE were also participants in the three-hour keynote.
In all this, however, it was clear that core CRM is fading further into the background for Salesforce. With the bulk of the keynote devoted to social marketing, single sign-on, Chatter communities, Data.com, Chatterbox and Work.com, core functionality of the CRM application at the center was all but overlooked. This suggests that the trend of Salesforce moving toward a platform play is only becoming stronger. Does that trend -- which strongly mirrors Oracle's past evolution -- leave any space for truly revolutionary technology and thinking? We'll have to wait roughly a year to learn the answer to that.