Dreamforce ’12

As you read this, Dreamforce 2012 is underway and Marc Benioff is giving his keynote presentation. I’ve been in San Francisco since Monday and have watched the city — especially near the Moscone Center — swell like a pumpkin on a vine in late summer. If Salesforce’s 70,000 registered attendees doesn’t impress you, consider that they have another 30,000 people attending a Web conference as well.

It’s big alright. Lots of people wonder and ask for predictions about what the company will announce. And while features and functionality are important and make up a sizable part of the show, rather than discuss them — you can find them in the press releases — I’d rather concentrate on the messaging that the company is delivering in more subtle ways.

How Big Is Big?

It’s clear to me that the company is making a sophisticated direct appeal to CEOs and other C-level officers at major corporations. Benioff will note that his company is on a US$3 billion run rate, which is impressive, but the meaning behind the number is important too.

Do you know what the 500th place in the 2012 Fortune 500 list represents in revenue terms? The company in that spot is Molina Healthcare with revenues of $4.769 billion.

This is important — Salesforce is on track to crack the Fortune 500 list in the near future. That’s significant, not for bragging rights, though they go with the territory, but because companies in the Fortune 500 buy and sell to each other.

These companies require business partners that have the ability to scale and to consistently deliver on their promises. If you’re a $3 billion company, it takes a lot of deals with companies your size or smaller to drive growth, or you need a few very big and very demanding customers, and that’s what’s ahead.

Knowing Your Customers

So, I look for Salesforce’s messaging to have a good dose of “we understand the complex needs of big companies that are embarking on a shift to become social enterprises.” Those messages come through with words like compliance, access control, performance management, calibration and other things you hear in business school but not so much on the street. I think you’ll hear them a lot in the Moscone environs.

We’ll also see a decided effort to appeal to more SMB companies and not just because they make good customers. While some SMB companies are small and built to stay that way, many, if not most, are in transition from embryonic to big. You need only look at the successes of companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google and Salesforce itself, to understand that the appeal that Salesforce can make to them will resonate the same as it does with the Fortune 500.

Companies that want to get to that pinnacle are now shopping for the foundational technologies that will get them there because if there’s one thing they all want to avoid, it’s swapping out the technology foundation that got them to the $100 million revenue level in order to get something that will help them get to $1 billion and beyond.

The Goal

So, Salesforce’s mission this week is equal parts about introducing new products and services AND convincing guest CEOs that its subscription enterprise strategy is a keeper. The company will be assisted by the presence and testimony of CEO customers Angela Ahrendts of Burberry, Jeff Immelt of GE and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin.

The messaging started this morning and will go until well after midnight for several days. It will be a great and exhausting show.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].

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