Birth of the Modern

Nearly every generation sees the birth of what, for it, will define modern life going forward. As uncertain as the twenty-teens have been, in retrospect economists may point to this decade as being as important as the tipping points of the 1870s and 1920s.

If that turns out to be the case, there may be no better event to symbolize the beginning of the era than the Salesforce fiscal-year kick-off in San Francisco this week.

It has been an eventful year so far for the company, its city (with Super Bowl festivities taking over much of downtown) and even the nation. The day after polling began in the presidential primaries (which were eventful in their own right), Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff laid out an annual plan and announced a reshaped product line that will contribute much to the story of what will be the new modern in enterprise software.

Just back from the annual confab of the rich and the forward looking at Davos, Switzerland, he gave revenue guidance to the financial analysts pegging his company’s work product at $8.1 billion for the fiscal year that was only a few hours old. As a subscription company, Salesforce reasonably can be sure of its guidance because most of those revenues already are under contract as unbilled deferred revenues, making climbing that $8.1 billion mountain much easier.

Benioff mentioned the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a topic of discussion in Davos, which might correspond to the launch of a new long economic wave (aka a K-wave). Long waves often are associated with the late Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev, and I correlate K-wave formation with what I see as the inflection points around us today.

Business Impact

The product line received the lion’s share of visibility, but in one way, it seemed to me under-reported. While the technology was impressive, its impact on business is the real story, and that will take years to write.

The Salesforce product line has been renamed using a Lightning moniker attached to nearly every cloud. For instance, Sales Cloud Lightning is now how to reference what was once simple SFA.

Lightning-izing the product line brings a great deal of complexity to the technology, but this is largely hidden from the user so that we can more truthfully refer to it as sophisticated rather than complex. This is important because it directly affects the perception of new modernity.

For a long time, CRM product sets have been on a ramp up to complexity as vendors, including Salesforce, layered subsystems on top of subsystems. These included collaboration, community, analytics, journey mapping, and wireless and mobile accessibility.

The evolution of the multitenant, metadata-driven cloud platform is a key piece of the puzzle. Under this umbrella, all complexity can be consolidated and managed so that users can construct business processes on the platform without necessarily getting hip deep in code.

That’s not sophistication, however. Sophistication happens when one can achieve Arthur C. Clarke’s vision that new technology should be indistinguishable from magic. I think that’s where we’re going.

Making Magic

Salesforce didn’t get all the way to magic with its Lightning announcement, but it certainly put down a marker, which I believe will serve as a reference point for the birth of the modern.

Fundamentally, the technology is accessible easily by those who need it, but it has been abstracted. A new layer that supports the user as if it were an assistant in a business process hides the complexity with a sophistication that borders on magic. As users are reminded, they are presented with data and information to enlighten their activities, and data that surfaces within a business process directly or through inference is captured and teed up for future analysis that will again inform users in their processes. This is cool stuff.

Let’s have a look at the announcement’s big parts.

Lightning: The Platform

Everything starts with the platform now known as Salesforce Lightning. Co-founder Parker Harris has, over several years, guided his developers to build a platform and stack that makes the magic possible.

The Lightning-ization of Salesforce is largely the story of building the new platform full of services and of enabling all the apps to access these services and deliver them to the customer- and employee-facing applications.

Sales Cloud Lightning

SFA has been reimagined and added to so that it is a very different species than the one we started writing about in the 1990s. Then, SFA was a system of record, a tool for tracking basic contact information and the size of an order or a deal. The latest incarnation includes the following:

  • CPQ from recently acquiredSteelBrick, which will accelerate, and for many companies standardize, the configuration, pricing and quoting process.
  • Lightning Voice, an embedded telephony service for use in sales as well as service. Lightning Voice will enable reps to connect with prospects within the Salesforce application with all of its suggestions and prompts. Its functions include click-to-call, autologging of calls and call forwarding.
  • SalesforceIQ Inbox, which brings the email inbox into the CRM suite through a suite of iOS, Android and Chrome apps that weave together Sales Cloud data with email and calendar apps of one’s choice.
  • Sales Wave App, which, just as you’d expect, is analytics for the sales process. It is one of the sources of the information and suggestions that will change selling. Early SFA users could only imagine new dashboards for things like pipeline trending.
  • Salesforce1 Mobile. The big news here is full offline capabilities for iOS and Android devices.

There are also 20 new Lightning Sales Components, but I am getting tired and I recommend checking with Salesforce for even more detail. Check out Sales Path and Kanban.

Service Cloud Lightning

Service Cloud got the same treatment in that service processes have been reimagined, but I’d say that this process of enhancement has been more evolutionary than revolutionary, occurring over several years.

Nonetheless, there were some big announcements, including Field Service Lightning, which provisions CRM tools to dispatchers who will receive suggestions for service assignments based on location, technician training and skills, and availability.

An Omni-Channel Supervisor gives call center managers more insights to better manage agents’ workloads.

Product Milestones

Salesforce is noting its 49th and 50th product releases in the coming year. Those milestones will bring to market further enhancements in virtually every part of the product line. For instance, the company will release Heroku for the Enterprise, aimed primarily at developers of highly scalable customer-facing apps.

There will also be Marketing Cloud announcements later, in line with enhanced uses for Journey Builder, which in my estimation may be the most important part of any CRM going forward.

Briefly, journey mapping enables vendors to bring scientific management to what have always been chaotic customer-facing processes. When used appropriately, journey mapping will enhance significantly the customer experience and drive better engagement. It’s going to be a big deal.

Pricing and Packaging

Salesforce continues to use a gold, silver and bronze approach to product packaging and pricing, and it has taken this opportunity to reset the packaging to reflect the bulging product line.

It would be a sales nightmare to sell this product line a la carte, and it also would be counterproductive to the user who needs all the pieces and parts to fulfill the vision of modern sophistication. The company will continue with three levels of pricing, albeit at somewhat higher rates, and it will pack more technology into each level, Benioff told me. See the company for details.

Intelligent Engagement

The Lightning-ization of Salesforce completes the solution set transition from a system of record to a system of intelligent engagement. Using all the capabilities together makes it difficult to do business as we always have done it, which is a good thing. I don’t think it’s possible to sandbag deals anymore or generally hide things from the boss.

CRM is no longer a chore to be performed on Friday afternoons. It is an assistant that will enable many people to work better, smarter and maybe more productively.

But long as customers are involved, nothing I have seen will truly accelerate business processes beyond the acceleration on the vendor side. Customers still will think and deliberate about offers, thus presenting us with a kind of speed limit, much as the speed of light is the ultimate speed limitation in the universe.

However, these reimagined tools do something as important as speeding up customer-facing processes, which I have discussed here before. They open the door to managing many more customer situations per employee.

That will, of course, raise productivity. Even more important from a sales process standpoint, however, it make it possible to expand skinny pipelines, to make them fat and thus enable revenue acceleration, if not exactly shortening individual deal times.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, writer and speaker. His new book, Solve for the Customer, is now available on Amazon. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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