Benioff preaches his CRM-as-a-utility gospel

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is on a worldwide tour to shake customer hands, court new business and tout the benefits of getting CRM as a utility.

BOSTON -- Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of online CRM provider Salesforce.com, is traveling the world to recruit

new customers, meet existing ones, evangelize his company's utility computing model and preview new offerings.

On a stop in Boston last week, Benioff said that within the next 60 days the San Francisco-based Salesforce.com will deliver an integrated "billing edition," allowing users to build payment processes into their enterprise deployments. He said the goal is to allow companies to utilize Salesforce.com tools to track specific sales from marketing campaign induction to bill payment. Salesforce.com is already piloting the application with several companies, including French telecommunications giant Alcatel in Paris.

"In the past, there was no way to gauge how effective marketing was, let alone how it might show up on the bottom line," he said. "We're working to provide that sort of transparency."

Benioff also acknowledged recent troubles for market leader Siebel Systems Inc., including a damaging analyst report detailing dissatisfaction on the part of some of the San Mateo, Calif.-based company's reference customers. Benioff said Siebel has oversold licenses, leading to expensive installations that often fail to show returns. He also forecasted that Salesforce.com would overtake Siebel in total user seats within the next 24 months.

Among the briefing attendees was Tom Wong, vice president of marketing at Web research advisory firm Gomez Inc. in Waltham, Mass. Wong, whose company has also used software from Siebel, praised Salesforce.com's ability to support complex marketing initiatives.

"Previously, our biggest roadblock was adoption in the sales force," Wong said. "With Salesforce.com we almost immediately saw increased usage and quickly shortened our sales cycle."

As usual, Benioff espoused his company's own marketing mantra -- that outsourced applications, including CRM, will signal "the end of software." Sporting a pin on his lapel with a red line through the word "software," Benioff championed the idea that CIOs want to treat CRM like a utility as opposed to a massive internal effort.

When asked about the arrival of Microsoft to the CRM market, Benioff said the software giant looks at the sector as just another outlet to sell its server software.

"Microsoft and other companies will continue to try to drive traditional software models into the CRM space," he said. "That's where we really differ with them. We want to create a new model. If we can't, we should move on to something else."

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Salesforce.com adds language support, new customers

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