Salesforce customers will see new message behind social CRM technology

Salesforce.com emphasized Salesforce customers over social technology at its annual winter conference, according to consultant Denis Pombriant.

Salesforce.com has always displayed an uncanny ability to morph its products and messages to keep itself in the forefront of whatever trend it starts. That was true in Software as a Service and cloud computing, and it is working out that way in social CRM as well.

Rather than wait until its competition plays catch-up by delivering more integrated programs to their front office kits, Salesforce embarks on a round of creative destruction and resets the table.

Salesforce embarks on a round of creative destruction and resets the table.

The company hit the reset button again at its annual winter meeting, held Tuesday in New York. Right on schedule, company CEO Marc Benioff changed the music at the dance, emphasizing Salesforce customers and stepping away from social.

To understand how Salesforce can shift its marketing strategy, it's worth looking back.

The first wave of social integration with CRM largely dealt with attaching commercial social tools like Twitter and Facebook to a front-office suite. You can gain a lot of value from such a social CRM approach by understanding what your customers are saying about you in the marketplace and being able to respond quickly. But this is challenging for companies that have even as few as 100 customers, and more elaborate social outreach is often needed.

Salesforce also demonstrated how to apply social technologies and techniques to common business processes. The company successfully inserted social into the company-employee interface and interfaces between vendors and customers in marketing, sales and service. More needs to be done on this front, but Salesforce has mapped out the playing field to a great degree.

The early Salesforce messaging that positioned social as the next important thing in front-office business suited the market at the time. It was an early-adopter market of visionary business people who needed very little persuasion about social. Companies like General Electric Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and others took the plunge with good results. Many of these companies' first forays into social involved man-to-machine interfaces: sophisticated machines with built-in sensors able to communicate over the Internet to a central database that's coupled with analytics to determine performance and behavior.

But now as Salesforce seeks out the next level of customers -- what can be called the "early majority" -- it needs to refine its message to appeal to this group. These Salesforce customers require more proof about the technology than early adopters such as GE and Toyota.

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Rather than messaging that touts social for its own sake, the new message -- "How to Become a Customer Company" -- holds out the promise that Salesforce customers will accelerate revenue streams and reduce costs when they implement social.

For some who attended the winter meeting, it was a subtle shift, and they might regard the announcement as nothing big. But it represents an important shift for Salesforce and the social market.

Benioff relayed to conference attendees a list of eight critical areas where companies can invest in social technologies to help them become more customer-centric. It's true that we've heard these before, but this is the first time to my knowledge that all eight have come together as a strategy. They are:

  1. Listen to every customer
  2. Engage on every channel
  3. Sell as a team4. Service customers everywhere
  4. Create communities
  5. Connect with partners
  6. Connect your products
  7. Deliver apps everywhere

Naturally, Salesforce has products and, more importantly, experience in all these areas. That's part of the pitch.

There's no doubt we will see refinements to this new message throughout the rest of the year, going into Salesforce's annual Dreamforce conference, to be held in San Francisco in November.

For Salesforce, the change comes at a good time because much of the competition has eroded the advantage of cloud computing, though not of multi-tenancy, and it is now taking on social with both hands. The new messaging enables Salesforce to stay a step ahead in the marketing wars, and that's just as important as any other innovation.

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