While Salesforce.com has established itself as the juggernaut of sales force automation (SFA), many are starting to question the value of the claim the company has staked. Since its inception, SFA has taken heavy fire from front-line users who view it as “all take, no give.”
SFA’s failure to squarely address the needs of the front line has paved the way for a new generation of sales productivity tools. While Evernote, Clari and ClearSlide are just a few examples of solutions that are shaking up the sales world, the torchbearer is LinkedIn. A recent article that appeared in TechCrunch surmises that if there’s any company that can end Salesforce’s reign, it’s the one that boasts the world’s largest professional network.
While this speculation is not entirely unfounded, Salesforce’s best days may still be ahead. In fact, its recent acquisition of RelateIQ could allow it to outflank a new generation of rivals and totally reinvent the space it has come to dominate. Here’s why.
Quality vs. quantity
Today you’d be hard pressed to find a sales rep who doesn’t rely on LinkedIn for warm introductions. But while LinkedIn has mapped a staggering number of social connections, its fundamental weakness is its failure to assess the strength of those connections — I’m not alone in my propensity to indiscriminately accept most invites that come my way.
Enter RelateIQ. Like LinkedIn, it can tell you who is connected to whom, but it can also tell you how strong those relationships are. To do so, it monitors the frequency and the quality of interactions via email and calendared meetings. Granted, this approach isn’t flawless either — while I haven’t sent an email to my college roommate in some time, he’ll pick up the phone when I call — the connections RelateIQ does flag as material are surprisingly reliable. Hence, a sales rep will likely have a much higher hit rate via RelateIQ than with LinkedIn.
Apple vs. Google
How does one compete against Google? Launch a company called Apple. These two tech giants epitomize two contrasting strategies — focus on the data vs. owning the end-to-end experience.
In LinkedIn and Salesforce.com we see a similar faceoff. LinkedIn has proved that people will voluntarily offer up their data and then pay for valuable derivative products. But LinkedIn still feels like a detour when it comes to sales. Territory definition, account and opportunity management, quoting, contracting — these vital functions still live in CRM. And as long as LinkedIn sits outside of that world, reps will need to bounce between systems, manually tying social relationships to the broader set of activities they are driving.
Marc Benioff, a disciple of Steve Jobs, recognized early on the power of a vertically integrated stack. From his decision to put CRM in the cloud to his acquisition of Heroku and his recent announcement of Salesforce Lightning, his Leviathan comprises everything from the platform and the hardware it runs on to the end user experience that it serves up. And Salesforce’s AppExchange is now the business analogue to Apple’s App Store.
RelateIQ is a perfect complement to this “deep stack.” Salesforce pumps in contextual information like territory definitions and the sales stages and RelateIQ pumps out the relationships that can propel the deal to close. And because these processes run alongside all of the other activities involved in closing a deal, no mental gymnastics are required to connect the dots. If Salesforce was once branded as a top-down management tool, it has suddenly become very relevant for the rest of sales.
Push vs. pull
LinkedIn has made it easy for us to tap our networks. Smart innovations like LinkedIn Pulse and InMail allow us to find and connect with just about anyone whenever we’d like. But as effortless as these kinds of outreach are, they are examples of “pull” technologies.
RelateIQ shines because it pushes the right information to end users by using data science to translate contextual data into intelligent inferences about what reps need. This allows it to do things like proactively serve up contacts when you’re assigned a new account and bubble the email from the procurement guy you’re negotiating with to the top of your inbox. In the old world, we’d go to Google or LinkedIn to find information we needed. In the new world, information comes to us.
And the winner is …
In the LinkedIn corner you have a company that is laser focused on curating the world’s most comprehensive network of social connections and spinning out a range of highly valuable products based on that resource. And in the Salesforce corner you have a company with sights set on being the ringmaster of the greatest sales show on earth.
While it’s highly unlikely that Salesforce could replicate what LinkedIn has achieved (there’s only room for one “world’s largest business network”), they probably don’t need to. By enhancing their expansive footprint with social technologies that shine where LinkedIn stumbles, Salesforce set themselves up to define another era of sales enablement. And while it’s too early to count either side out, what we can count on is a great fight.
Justin Shriber is vice president of products at C9 where he leads product management, product marketing and strategy. For two decades Justin has helped companies accelerate growth and profitability by building strategies that align marketing, sales and service with customer needs. At Oracle he headed Oracle’s CRM OnDemand organization, and at Siebel he was one of the early pioneers of the cloud, leading product teams responsible for delivering the first generation of SaaS applications.