Benioff Talks Futures

Salesforce.com have hauled their ‘roadshows’ around England featuring an “inspirational keynote” (their words) speech by their founder.  In the mid-90s, I witnessed a similar event, with a multimedia presentation from Tom Siebel at a Chicago crm show, so I was expecting an experience a bit like reading a how-to book from a well-known chief exec, or megabucks entrepreneur – the kind of thing where they spend every moment telling you how great they are with little true substance.

Siebel’s pitch was at the dawn of internet connection for the masses, and his big idea was that anything you wanted in life would be carried out by your own personal ‘web agents’, which in turn ‘talked’ to other people’s agents, and he showed several amusing videos playing out such scenarios.  Ten years on, reality unfortunately crushes this vision.  So would Benioff’s opinions similarly suffer?

He gained instant credibility with and empathy from his audience with a few ‘hands-up’ questions (‘who’s heard of mash-ups’, ‘who’s used AppExchange services’, ‘who’s realised they’re in the wrong room?’) and when the hotel-supplied laptop decided to kick-in it’s annoying screensaver, he deftly spiked it much to everyone’s mirth.

What about the sausage?  Amazingly, he did not spend a single moment talking about any feature of his crm at all.  It was all about how the future of the web (yes, he did I’m afraid make fleeting reference to web 2.0 firms) would be the combination of different products simultaneously, seamlessly working together, and the further march of SaaS (Software as a Service).  And of the many examples, he particularly enjoyed the Google maps shadow appearing inside his kit (‘that’s not my shadow!’).

So, nothing especially new, nothing earth-shattering we didn’t know already, so what was the point?  For me, their message was ‘we’ve picked a winning strategy, and we’re going to hammer home its advantages for the forseeable future’, so expect plenty of ISVs porting their wares alongside salesforce.com and the like, and more of companies offering collaboration tools for the same.

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