Salesforce keeps ahead of the conversation

Marc Benioff has an uncanny sense of how to stitch together the multitude of social media and Web service resources that dominate the technology space. While many of the audience decry the notion of the enterprise applicability of these tools, Benioff and Salesforce think they’re on the way to what he calls “the next billion dollar opportunity” on top of this realtime platform.

On stage at Salesforce’s announcement of its Service Cloud, vendors like Google, Facebook, Plantronics, and even the Obama/Biden transition team are solving business problems with existing services. Salesforce spaces these announcements out over time at about one every two months. Sometimes the progress seems substantial, other times more incremental. Stitched together into a CRM service spanning Google Search, social media communities, and best practices databases, the net result delivers real value at just the time corporations are looking for leapfrog technology.

Benioff has always understood the marketing value of talking the Web services talk, the Web 2.0 walk, the social media move away from the public portal to the enterprise service fabric. But what is even more strategic is his ability to orchestrate those same promises of the future into leading edge value propositions that he can upsell as part of the multi-tenant architecture. Somehow, Salesforce has used Web technologies to turn liabilities into assets, from a site that provides user-managed reports on uptime to a Salesforce to Salesforce private channel between subscribing companies — a kind of Sam’s Club for data.

Oddly, Salesforce’s successes don’t undercut its competitors, at least not directly. Benioff touts connectors to Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine to extend the offerings, all the while enhancing developer allegiance with a form of incentivised buy in instead of lock in. Although Benioff loves bashing Microsoft, the time will soon come when Azure will interoperate. And watch Microsoft build connectors in the opposite direction to make switching costs a marginal part of the investment in the Cloud.

It may seem like a strange choice to latch onto the “conversation” brand well after that Cluetrain seems to have left the station, but Benioff understands the power of delivering on the science fiction of the last rev of disruption. In the process, he sells the next set of iterative announcements, overlapping them with customer wins and the slow build of coordinated endpoints and the harnessing of Web standards. Salesforce has moved beyond the failed promise of code reuse to the provable premise of platform reuse.