Salesforce has been a bastion of acquisitions for some time now but, after missing out on LinkedIn, will the strategy change in future? Siliconrepublic.com spoke with Will Wu of West Monroe Partners about Marc Benioff’s masterplan.
Salesforce is disputing Microsoft’s $26bn purchase of LinkedIn at the moment, with the Marc Benioff-run company seeing competition as an issue.
But, more tellingly, Benioff seems bitter at missing out on an acquisition that made perfect sense but ultimately charged too high a price.
A confusing ‘Salesforce wants Twitter’ story emerged recently as a response to the original miss but, after Benioff poured cold water on that rumour, the details behind the LinkedIn attempts trickled out.
A bidding war was not on Benioff’s agenda, according to Jim Cramer on CNBC and, despite the clear value in housing LinkedIn’s data and platform under the Salesforce umbrella, he walked away.
The difficult scenario that the $26bn price tag created is something made more clear when speaking to those enjoying close relationships with Salesforce; one such example is business consultancy firm West Monroe Partners.
“There is a sentiment amongst a lot of our customers in the market that LinkedIn is almost the most valuable CRM tool that anyone has,” said Will Wu, senior director at the company.
We all do it
“If you just think of connecting, or understanding how you connect with customers,” he said, “most of my colleagues don’t go into a meeting without doing LinkedIn research on that meeting, the session, the speakers.
“Having that data integrated into a CRM tool, at your disposal as you create account plans, deriving you a true understanding of the customer; for me, LinkedIn is hands down more effective than other data enrichment service.”
So Salesforce missed out big time, but it’s hardly the company’s first foray into acquisitions.
In the past 12 months, it has acquired Krux, HeyWire, BeyondCore, Quip, Coolan, Demandware, Implisit, MetaMind, PredictionIO, SteelBrick and MinHash. Some of those deals were minor, others massive. Demandware, for example, set Salesforce back to the tune of $2.8bn, its costliest purchase yet.
“The Demandware deal is one that I am very focused on, in terms of the value add that that can bring to our customer base,” said Wu, though it’s the recently revealed Einstein artificial intelligence platform that is catching most people’s eye.
It was at Dreamforce earlier this year that the potential for Einstein, or the marketing behind it, was given its full fixture of fame.
“With Salesforce Einstein, we are delivering the world’s smartest CRM,” said Benioff when unveiling the product. “Einstein is now every customer’s data scientist, making it easy for everyone to take advantage of best-in-class AI capabilities in the context of their business.”
Some are excited, some sceptical, but the reveal was always coming, given the strong flavour that machine learning and artificial intelligence has added to Salesforce via its dozens of acquisitions.
Still though, knitting the 40 companies already purchased all into one seamless Salesforce package is not easy.
Slow and steady
“If you look back to when Salesforce’s acquisition strategy wasn’t as prevalent, it has taken years to pull their historical acquisitions together,” said Wu. “Jigsaw, for example, took a number of years,” he added, noting the components behind Wave as an example.
Salesforce also announced LiveMessage at Dreamforce, a bot platform that will allow customer support representatives to communicate with customers across multiple messaging apps.
The company is getting in on the conversational commerce industry as quick as its competitors. Amazon, for example, has just hired the founder and chief executive of conversational commerce start-up, Angel.ai.
Facebook, Google and Apple are in on the act too. Not one to be left behind, Oracle recently announced its own plans for a chatbot-building platform. However, Oracle may not be the company that Salesforce should compare itself to.
Salesforce & Oracle
“I don’t want to say this is the way Salesforce are headed,” said Wu, “but I’ve spent enough time in the Oracle world to see a lot of commonality. Continuing to grow through acquisitions but not really being able to tie them together.
“Major Oracle acquisitions, JD Edwards for example, PeopleSoft; today they are not seamlessly knit together. They still look like legacy applications.”
Salesforce sales teams are out trying to sell packages, so added implementations can ease that process, according to Wu. “You will continue to see acquisitions,” he said, with the ecosystem of ISP partners making that all the more sensible.
SteelBrick was built in Salesforce, then bought by Salesforce. The integration timeframe, therefore, is far shorter than the average. Kenandy and Coveo could be future targets in this regard.
“Coveo, I know Salesforce use it internally to help them augment their search capability,” said Wu. “This is one that could be in that predictive AI space in future.”