A Barb-Less Benioff? Salesforce.com Grows Up

| About: Salesforce.com, Inc. (CRM)

By Brenon Daly

In just a half-year, it sounds like salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) has done a fair amount of growing up. We were thinking that Thursday as the San Francisco-based company once again hosted an event in its hometown. But the tone was markedly different from the event it put together here last fall. Most notably, salesforce.com stopped throwing punches and started throwing hugs to other enterprise software vendors.

Rather than blasting Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) as a ‘false cloud’ provider or taking swipes at SAP as a dinosaur, CEO Marc Benioff extended olive branches to those rivals. In his keynote, he talked about ‘coexisting’ with those companies, stressing the need for ‘deep integration’ between salesforce.com’s products and the widely deployed software. (But Benioff wouldn’t be Benioff if he didn’t put his own marketing spin on the relationship: he positions salesforce.com as the ‘social front office’ for rival existing back-office systems, such as general ledger apps.)

It was a rather dramatic change in tone, suggesting that salesforce.com is staking its claim as a full-fledged member of the fraternity of enterprise software vendors. The company certainly has the numbers to back up that claim: in its previous quarter, salesforce.com announced its first-ever nine-digit contract and is on track to generate close to $3bn in revenue this year. (And don’t forget that salesforce.com also sports a major-league market cap of $20.7bn.)

For their part, Benioff and other people at the company say that détente is in response to customers’ need for software vendors to work together. That’s certainly understandable as most companies run a mishmash of software from a variety of providers. But we might suggest that the tone also reflects a new reality that has only emerged on a grand scale since last fall: the division between the old-line license model and the emerging on-demand model is not as irreconcilable as once thought.

Just since salesforce.com’s last event in San Francisco, SAP and Oracle have done landmark acquisitions of high-profile SaaS vendors, ones that were often mentioned in the same breath as salesforce.com. (The spending spree cost the old-line companies more than $7bn.) So if the old software guard – and even more importantly, their customers – figure they can work with SaaS providers, maybe it’s not too farfetched to imagine SAP and Oracle perhaps taking a run at salesforce.com in the future.