Yesterday I headed out to the Excel center in Docklands for Cloudforce, a free event run by salesforce.com. I was happy to be going along for a couple of reasons – firstly because I had missed the last couple of salesforce events I had originally planned to attend, so it was good to make it along, and secondly because salesforce is continuing to invest in Europe, at a time when other vendors such as Adobe and SAP are reducing their local spend on community events. The euro cheerleader in me approves.
The crowd (in person and on twitter) lapped his keynote up, though if CEO Marc Benioff wants to show he understands Europe he probably needs to support, or at least mention, Nokia phones. Note to Nokia – give salesforce a call. Its absurd the new salesforce Mobile Lite user interface only runs on the Crackberry, the iPhone, and Windows Mobile.
Benioff’s Big New Theme is the Real Time Cloud. I am not sure I fully understand this positioning yet, but the narrative is a work in progress and talks to current, or should that be real-time, Silicon Valley buzz.
As MT-Hacks puts it:
If Twitter is threatening Google its threatening pretty much everybody. Certainly, ideas of synchrony and asynchrony of information flow are firmly on the agenda. Where blogging gave us asynchronous ways to engage with information and people, twitter has reintroduced synchrony: if you miss it, you miss it, if you don’t use it you lose it.
Check out Imogen Heap on Twitter: Real-Time, Real-World Creative Process, an interesting post about how some musicians are twittering and giving us insights into the creative process, drawing us into their world, no PR necessary. Its not just musicians however that are increasingly working this way.
At this point you may be wondering what the hell I am talking about: isn’t this post about salesforce.com, a hosted salesforce automation application (SFA) provider? Well yes. But much of the SFA whitespace has been filled in getting to $1bn in annual revenues. So what is salesforce doing for its “difficult second album” (in tech that’s the difficult second billion). The answer is the Service Cloud: an evolving customer interaction platform and approach. I don’t want to label Service Cloud as customer relationship management (CRM), mostly because a horrifically abused as term. Apparently I kinda predicted Salesforce’s new strategy back in July 2006, which is nice.
Service Cloud brings salesforce into the call center automation game, with early customers such as BT and Orange, telcos with huge customer service organisations and massive installed bases. But what makes Service Cloud interesting, and a strategy for 2010, rather than 2000, is that salesforce understands, and wants to help customers understand, that top down command and control the message won’t cut it anymore.
Customers and prospects talk to each other using Internet services such as Facebook and Twitter- they might provide customer support for one another, or lead a rebellion about poor support or terms of service changes.
As Jeff Jarvis famously said:
“One of the great lessons of the cluetrain era is that your customers are your best customer support agents and marketers if only you allow them … and respect them enough to listen to them.”
Well, Service Cloud is an ear trumpet for all these web conversations – aggregating mentions on social networks and triangulating them with more traditional case management tools.
The other night I signed up for a DVD delivery service called Lovefilm, and tweeted:
“not being blown away by the registration and get started on lovefilm.com. feels like a web app designed by a marketing plan”
One of my followers, geekgirl397, came back and asked whether I had given the same feed back on the Lovefilm site itself… well of course not. If Lovefilm was using the Service Cloud they would have got the same feedback and could have integrated it with my other details. God knows what the implications are for Data Protection law, but that’s a subject for another post. Suffice to say the IP issues of Internet conversation harvesting are going to be very complicated indeed. Who are the gatekeepers? Who are the owners? Who are the mafias?
I broached these questions with Scott Holden, senior product manager, mentioning a post I had recently written on the subject of customer influencer clouds, Whose Conversation Is It Anyway? Scott is very savvy and real time clouded me by simply saying: “I just read it.” All he needs to do now is tweet more regularly
Jeremiah over at Forrester has also taken a good look at Service Clouds – he calls it Social CRM.
I have already mentioned potential IP gotchas. Another issue is that its so early in the curve for this stuff. Salesforce is currently demonstrating what could be done with twitter, rather than pointing to real customer deployments – at Cloudforce the demoware was all about Orange. Early pioneers of twitter for customer service are the now well worn case studies of Comcast, Jet Blue and Zappos. Comcast, which is a salesforce.com customer, but wasn’t actually a Service Cloud customer, is likely to be the test bed for further Service Cloud work.
What do I like about the salesforce.com story here? Funnily enough its not so much about twitter and social software tools per se, but really the understanding that traditional CRM is so broken. Now if they could just persuade BT, another customer, to be just a little less agressive in sales calls to business customers….
So that is the new cool vision stuff. what about the blocking and tackling? A few bullets because I have to get out of here.
- Surprising factoid of the day. Cap Gemini’s biggest salesforce.com cloud project to date was six consultants for six months. If i was a systems integrator that would terrify me- “oh no! not enough complexity to justify a ton of billing hours.” No wonder IBM was always a little ambiguous about saleforce.
- APEX is working. Java developers will learn it and get productive pretty fast. So far, APEX adoption has been ISV led (see Coda2go), but second order adoption will take it into the enterprise.
- The audience make up was very interesting- pretty much 1/3 SMB, 1/3 nidmarket and 1/3 large enterprise
- Salesforce is offering some simple content management services, and in the cloud everyone loves a bucket of bits – consider all sales and marketing collateral associated with relevant cases.
- After Service Cloud we can expect to see others. Financial Cloud and Marketing Cloud are likely to be the next
My strong advice – a prediction
salesforce.com may at this point be Fabric only, but I can’t see see the situation lasting. in order to drive volume we’re almost certainly going to see salesforce.com offer instance-like clouds a la Amazon EC2. Many salesforce.com customers, and cloud integrators such as Appirio, are using a dual cloud topology, with salesforce for transactions and AWS for large scale business intelligence. Economically and technically speaking it would make a great deal of sense for force.com to offer Intel as a service instances, especially if they plan to go after enterprise developers. Don’t make them learn something new, but offer them the opportunity to do so.
disclosure: salesforce.com, Amazon, and Appirio are not customers. IBM is.
picture credit: j4mies photostream on Flickr