Yesterday, my colleague Helena Schwenk and I attended Cloudforce London 2011, Salesforce.com’s regional customer and partner event. While a much smaller affair than the company’s main San Francisco conference, the London event has become increasingly popular—with demand for attendance meaning that it had to extend to a second day this year, as well as streaming the content live for those who were unable to attend.
As ever, Marc Benioff (the company’s founder, chairman and CEO) was centre stage, this year focused on the company’s new “social enterprise” vision, which he delivered through a rather long keynote speech in his usual subtle and understated (ahem) style. As much as I like the Chatter technology (you can read my analysis of Salesforce.com’s opportunity in the social technology market here), I do find it unnerving how quickly the company has changed its strategy and branding from being all about cloud and CRM to being a social collaboration player. Clearly Salesforce has *not* abandoned its cloud/CRM focus, but both were wholly relegated in emphasis at this event in favour of “social”. There was a certain sense of bandwagon jumping to the proceedings—the Cloud2 focus of last year’s Cloudforce event was broadly glossed over this year—and I felt there was far too much “your organisation must be social” and not enough about *why*. In general, the main arguements which came across from Benioff were that:
- Facebook is huge now, so you have to embrace social
- If you don’t, you’ll be left behind.
To demonstrate this, he showcased a number of customer organisations—including Dell, Burberry and Toyota—and how they are using Chatter for internal collaboration around sales and customer service processes, and how they leverage Facebook and Twitter to engage with customers. At the centre of Salesforce’s social positioning and offering is the creation of a “social profile” which captures details of, for example, customers’ Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn identities, and tracks social interactions relating to the organisation concerned.
Some of these are excellent case studies, and will no doubt be inspiring to similar organisations who are considering their opportunities with social technologies. However, it was noticeable that all the case studies were (typically large) consumer-facing brands; there was no evidence of how the technology would be useful to organisations who sell to businesses rather than individuals. In fact, the social profile concept seems to fall down here—if you are selling to a business, the social identity of the corporate brand (assuming the customer has one) will be primarily marketing, and therefore largely useless for customer support purposes.
However, it’s easy to forget that it is still early days for Chatter—the product has only been available for 15 months—and the company has done a great job in that time of marketing the product and driving adoption across its existing customer base. So far, there is little evidence of significant success beyond that captive market, but that is nothing to worry about yet. I do think Salesforce is on the right track with its social enterprise positioning, but there is definitely room for improvement in terms of communicating the arguments to organisations, “just do it” just isn’t enough.